There’s a certain mythos ascribed to finding a “secret beach.” The very phrase conjures visions of The Blue Lagoon, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island. It’s deeply sensual, evokes adventure, and promises silent reflection. Year after year, travelers and vagabonds scour the globe to find isolated slivers of sand. Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio — who nailed the giddy joy of arriving at his own private paradise in the movie The Beach and has a secluded resort launching in Belize later this year.
Here in the United States, secret beaches abound. This sounds absurd in a country of 300 million, but our endless stretches of coastline, rivers, and lakes afford us plenty of chances to escape the crowds and bask on the warm sand. With summer ’19 upon us, I asked Uproxx writers to share their favorite secret beaches in the country.
I hadn’t heard of most of their answers, which is an excellent sign.
OZETTE BEACH — OZETTE, WASHINGTON STATE
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Ozette is the very definition of “hidden.” The beach, inside Olympic National Park, is only accessible via a long 9.5-mile loop trail. The wooden boardwalk leads hikers through a dense temperate rainforest to a striking beach and archaeological site. Ozette was once a coastal town that was destroyed in mudslides and earthquakes. That mud acted as a preservation tool and, today, the beach, sprinkled with craggy rock outcroppings, is home to a massive collection of Indigenous artifacts from the Makah Nation. That alone makes this one of the most unique beaches in America.
Getting to Ozette is a mild trek. It’s pretty much flat the whole way in and out. You’ll need to bring wet-weather gear, as it’ll likely rain even in the summer. You’ll also need to get a special permit from the National Park Service to enter the area. There are spots to camp on the beach, but it is 100 percent natural camping. Choose your spot wisely, keeping the weather in mind. Also, you’ll need to bring in everything you’ll need and be sure to pack it out too. There are more classic camping sites, a food mart, and picnic tables up at the Ranger Station at the top of Ozette Lake, where you can make base camp if you’re so inclined.
SECRET BEACH — BROOKINGS, OREGON
Hidden off the Samuel L. Boardman Scenic Corridor, underneath the Thunder Rock Cove overlook, is a tiny pocket of perfect sand called, aptly enough, Secret Beach. Park in the unassuming gravel lot about a third of a mile south from milepost 345 on the famous Pacific Coast Highway. From there, enjoy an easy hike for about a quarter mile before an unmarked but clear trail turns off near the overlook and curves down to sea level.
Reaching the sand, and the freshwater stream that cuts through to the crashing Pacific, is easy. Getting back up is a little more rigorous, especially if you get distracted by the enchanting waterfall tumbling down the headlands. This is a lovely spot to pack a picnic with goodies from The Hungry Clam or Bounder’s Crab in the nearby seaside town of Brookings. It’s also a welcome respite on the Oregon Coast Trail, which runs the entire length of Oregon’s western shore from Washington to California.
Whether you’re popping in for a few hours of listening to the surf pound the weathered arches or visiting as part of a longer adventure, Secret Beach lets you feel like a local. Slow down to fully appreciate the unparalleled access provided by the early Oregonians who fought to protect The People’s Coast from development when Oregon territory was first settled by pioneers.
LECHUZA BEACH — MALIBU, CALIFORNIA
Malibu is home to some of the most expensive homes in Southern California, thanks in no small part to the beautiful beaches that act as backyards to these mega-mansions. You might think that means that Malibu’s beaches are private and left exclusively to the super rich, but the California Coastal Commission has deemed all beaches in the state as public land — so long as they land below the mean high water level, which applies to most of the beaches across Malibu.
Lechuza Beach is one of the more hidden stretches of sand in Malibu and is accessible via small, foliage covered stairway in a residential neighborhood. Because it’s so hard to find — especially when you’re barreling up PCH at over 50 MPH with the flow of traffic — it’s never packed with people, so it’s the perfect semi-secluded getaway for you to chill at. Keep in mind if you’re looking for a great swimming or surfing spot, Lechuza is not for you. The shoreline can be quite rocky but that only adds to the natural beauty.
To reach Lechuza, take Broad Beach Road off of PCH. If you map Lechuza Beach, you’ll eventually find yourself at a gate that reads, “Private Property: Vehicular Access To Sea Level Drive is Restricted.” Park your car nearby — the sign is referring to vehicular access, not pedestrian access. You may also see signs that read “Right to pass by permission and subject to control of the owner.” But nope, that’s not a thing. Ignore them. The fat cats in Malibu don’t want you to know that chilling on “their” beach is your right.
Once you see a sign that reads Lechuza Beach Access — you’ve found it! Finding Lechuza is almost as fun as being there, but note that while you have a right to be on the beach, your dog doesn’t. So you’ll have to leave your buddy at home this trip. It’s a small price to pay for the beautiful views and tranquil vibe though.
TOTUAVA — LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA
Totuava isn’t even known in Laguna Beach, let alone the wider world. At first glance, it seems private — property owners at the beach have been dragging their heels on setting up good public access — but the California Coastal Commission mandates that the beach be free to all (as mentioned above).
With its current setup, Totuava is as remote as any beach in the fourth most populous county in the country could ever hope to be. To get there you either have to live at the condos built right on the sand or you have to walk the 218 steps at Thousand Steps Beach (itself pretty remote), then walk north, rounding a rock outcropping to arrive at your private sliver of white sand heaven. Here’s the wrinkle: at low tide, you can walk from one beach to another. At high tide, you have to wade. At super high tide (dependent on the lunar cycle), you could be stranded at Totuava all together — begging residents for a way back to Pacific Coast Highway.
All that said, this beach is well worth the effort. On the most crowded of days — let’s say Fourth of July — you could still have tons of elbow room here. We’re talking towels splayed, paddle ball court drawn in the sand, and multiple umbrellas without disturbing a single soul. Heck, you could have a soccer game, if you wanted (though the beach is sloping and not ideal for that). If you’re into skimboarding, Laguna Beach is the absolute epicenter of the sport and Totuava is a favorite spot amongst locals. It’s also a beloved spot for “body whomping” — the SoCal sport of body surfing shore break waves that slam you onto the sand.
LAKE MCDONALD BACKCOUNTRY CAMPGROUND — GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA
Glacier National Park is a stunning slice of nature in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. The massive glacier-covered peaks, dense evergreen forest, rivers, and lakes make up one of our nation’s wildest parks. Wildlife is abundant in Glacier NP with deer, elk, bear, fish, and birds running and swimming and flocking all around. One of the best places to enjoy the full-on splendor of Glacier is to post up at Lake McDonald on one of its pebble beaches. The Backcountry Campground is a secluded spot away from the traffic of the highway and the bustle of the lodges.
There are two options here. You can approach the lake from the south end at the Fish Creek Campground and hike up the western trails along the lake to the Backcountry Campground. It’s about five miles along the lake, which will take two hours if you’re really taking your time. Glacier, overall, is fairly well connected with grocery stores and well-fitted campgrounds. After you camp out, you can carry on north around the top of the lake and end up at Lake McDonald Lodge on the eastern shore for a little pampering after a night or two in the wild.
SKAKET BEACH — CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
This beach located on the inner elbow of Cape Cod is something straight out of a dream. When the tide is out, beachgoers can walk for more than mile into the ocean without ever reaching water that goes past their hips. Imagine playing water football! Or reading a book in the water for hours! Or jogging a few miles to get resistance training so that you’re incredibly fit by the time you get back to the sand and everyone admires your physique!
This extreme low tide is home to all kinds of interesting and fascinating ocean creatures, too. From the illusive Horseshoe Crab, to the Hermit Crab, and even the occasional Cuttlefish — the beach has everything a marine biologist or wannabe marine biologist could want. Adjacent to the beach, you’ll find multiple tidepools containing even more exciting ocean dwellers. It’s definitely a beach for waders and wanderers and not a beach for those craving a bit of chaos. You’ll find that on the other side of the elbow at popular Nauset Beach. If you head to that side of the Cape, bring a towel, comfortable chair, tools for digging, food and drinks (although there is a food bar at the beach). Be warned: unlike Skaket Beach, Nauset fills up quick and stays crowded through the day.
CANOPUS LAKE — FAHNESTOCK MEMORIAL STATE PARK, NEW YORK
This small pristine lake is nestled within the beautiful Fahnestock Memorial State Park. Due to its smaller size, the lake heats up faster than most — making it unusually warm and all the more welcoming. There’s a perfect little hike that leads to the lake and will get you properly hyped to jump into that that cool, clear water. There’s also free parking on the road, so just shut off the engine and step into the woods.
Bring a blanket to spread out on the lake’s large, sandy beach when you reach it — a unique jewel that pops out of the wilderness. Putnam Valley Country Store and Maple Lawn Farm Market are nearby, so stop there first for some snacks to hike into the park. The sunsets are perfect here; so planning to hit it at the end of the day is ideal, especially after trekking some of the epic trails nearby. The park is actually a crossing point of the iconic Appalachian Trail, so the routes are primed. For those who want to get out on the water, there are rowboats available for rent, so you can bask in the beauty from both sides.
It really it doesn’t get much better than seeing the day end here, drying off after a dive and listening to the birds sing.
CAROVA BEACH — CAROVA, NORTH CAROLINA
How does picking up seashells while wild mustangs gallop in the distance over sand dunes sound? Only accessible by 4×4 vehicles, Carova Beach located on the Currituck Banks north of Bodie Island is worth a little extra effort. This expansive and desolate shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean is a dream for anyone looking for a little serenity. Getting there is easy, provided you have the right tools for the job, like a Jeep or Land Cruiser.
The NC Highway 12 ends and a ramp takes you to the tracks in the sand that are as close to a road as you’re going to get. Pack up the car with everything you’re going to need (from snacks to sunscreen) because there are no grocery stores or food stands here. The only structures in the area are a few rental homes and being respectful of those areas is important to locals.
Over the high tide line, you’ll see the coast peppered with sandcastles, which only add to the area’s charm. Find yourself an unpopulated piece of beach, set up shop for a long afternoon, and watch the horses play along the dunes.
SHACKLEFORD BANKS — CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE, NORTH CAROLINA
Many people visit the famed beaches of North Carolina’s outer banks, but far fewer have heard of Shackleford Banks — the southernmost island of Cape Lookout National Seashore.
The whole region is a collection of undeveloped barrier islands. Undeveloped and remote beaches are great, but the 8.5 mile long Shackleford Banks has something special: over 100 feral horses that inhabit the island. As if wild horses on a beach wasn’t enough, Shackleford Banks also boasts miles of beautiful untouched coastline full of scallops, shells, and crabs. There are no services on Shackleford Banks, and because you must take a ferry or personal watercraft to the island, it truly feels like you’ve stumbled upon a deserted island. Once you get there, it’s the perfect place to relax, swim, fish, kayak, birdwatch, or shell. Bring everything you need for a beach day: sunscreen, chairs, bug spray and snacks. Don’t forget water — there isn’t any on the island.
If you have a couple days, camp! Beach camping is free on the island, and chances are you’ll be the only one there. Ferries leave frequently from downtown Beaufort, NC and from Harkers Island Visitors Center. Twenty minutes and $15 later you’re in a whole new world.
FORT MORGAN BEACH — GULF SHORES, ALABAMA
Surrounding the historic Fort Morgan, this isolated beach sits at a crossroads between the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. While everyone else is flocking to the overrun hotspots in Florida, opt for Alabama to lay on the same smooth white sand while savoring a little serenity. Operated by the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the area is biologically rich. So while you won’t run into many people, you may bump into a little sea turtle making his way into the water.
Be on the lookout for a diverse range of birds and dolphins making their commute out in the bay. Enter in by the Dune Road to get out to the main drag. There aren’t any stores or restaurants or resorts, just untouched sand and sea — so bring in everything you need (from snacks to sunscreen). Once you’re done strolling the piers, set up a picnic on a beach blanket for an afternoon of dipping your feet in the waves and enjoy the sunny solitude while watching the ships sail into the ports of Alabama.
TYBEE LIGHTHOUSE — SAVANNAH, GEORGIA
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Savannah, Georgia is a personal favorite of mine for its eclectic Southern charm, wheel-me-out-in-a-barrow style comfort food, and all around picture perfect surroundings dripping with Spanish moss and peppered with cemeteries worth wandering through for hours.
Twenty minutes from downtown Savannah is a little gem of a barrier island on the Atlantic coast called Tybee. The stand out features are long, wide beaches; bathtub warm summer waters and stunning lightning storms that roll in to set the sky on fire. If you want to be active, you can surf, boogie board, stand up paddle, or kayak. If you’re feeling more of the beach bum vibe just float in the tepid water and dig for sand dollars with your toes. Perhaps a friendly local will invite you over for a low country boil — the region’s signature dish with shrimp, corn, and sausage.
Tybee Lighthouse, built in 1736, is one of the nations oldest about as picturesque as they come. Restaurant offerings are fresh, local seafood, strong drinks and the occasional stuffed alligator for photo opps. If you want cuisine to properly blow your mind, head back to Savannah and dine at Elizabeth’s on 37th, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, or The Olde Pink House. The best options for a place to lay your head at night are oceanfront cottages and bungalows found on Airbnb or one of the cute bed and breakfasts that dot the coast.
Even in the heat of southern summer Tybee never feels too touristy. Like a proper southern belle, she’s laid back and beautiful…albeit a little sweaty. Bring copious amounts of sunscreen and bug spray.
PLAYA LA CHIVA — VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO
When I was in Vieques in January, an island full of less-trafficked beaches that take a little effort to get to, we wound our way across the island to Playa La Chiva. It feels literally hidden. We parked in a spot by ourselves off the road and pushed through the brush to find a beach that is draw dropping.
Sorry for the cliche, but I think I actually said, “Oh my God,” with my mandible wagging in the breeze. Seriously.
The water is the clearest, brightest blue with swirling bits of teal. Green vines snake along the edges of the sand and then, beyond them, the sand is a powder soft white that stretches forever. When you type Playa La Chiva into Instagram, you’ll find picture after picture of perfect beach and water without another soul in sight. This isn’t because people got up early in the morning to capture that empty paradise beach feel. It’s just a giant, gorgeous beach with even its most crowded days leaving stretches of empty sand for you to bask on.
This may be part of the United States but it feels like you washed up onto a deserted island straight out of a pirate yarn or a movie with a young Brooke Shields. Bonus: sometimes wild horses run by – which is just like… a thing there. And because Vieques is a little off the beaten path itself, you’ll find a younger more adventurous backpacking type set chilling here. It’s just a tucked away gem in Puerto Rico that is a thousand percent worth a visit.