Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, christened Siesta Beach the best beach in America Thursday. Sarasota’s local hotspot beat out places like Maui, Cape Cod and San Diego, to name a few.
This is the second time Siesta Beach has worn the crown; the first coronation occurred in 2011. Siesta Beach has warm water, nice weather and easy access, but so do a lot of the other places on Dr. Beach’s top 10 list.
What set our beach apart? The sand. Siesta Beach’s sand, which isn’t just any regular coral sand but quartz crystal, was the MVP of this championship run.
“To me, it’s the best sand in the world,” Leatherman says. “I think it’s almost like a sin to walk out there with shoes on. If you can’t feel that salient, cushy sand on your feet, you’re missing a lot of the experience.”
Dr. Beach can't perform surgery, but Leatherman does have a doctorate in environmental science from the University of Virginia. His career has focused mainly on coastal research. Leatherman became Dr. Beach when a call from a travel magazine in 1989 forced him to name the 10 best beaches in America. The list received a shocking amount of press, and Dr. Beach was born. He's ranked beaches every year since 1991.
50 criteria decide the winners. The criteria are ranked 1-5 (5 being the best), which would give a flawless beach a 250 score. Dr. Beach has yet to find his perfect 250, but says Siesta is pretty close. Some examples of the criteria are water temperature, presence of sewage, ability to access and size of breaking waves.
Leatherman disagrees with those who think the list should stay the same every year. He points to Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as an example. Seals are coming back to the area, which bring great white sharks, he explains. So far these modern sea monsters haven’t been an issue in Cape Cod, but their presence would obviously hurt the “safety” category in Leatherman's calculations. (Coast Guard Beach holds the sixth place spot for now.)
The crowd at the press conference Thursday morning erupted in applause when Dr. Beach announced his winner. Paul Caragiulo, chair of the Sarasota County commission, threatened to hold him here at Siesta for the next five years, much to the crowd’s amusement. Caragiulo reminded everyone about the nearly $22 million the county invested into the beach.
“I don’t think there is anyone who would ever say this is not public money that wasn’t very well-spent,” Caragiulo says. “It is a tremendous, tremendous place to be.”
What can Sarasota do to retain a top ranking? Leatherman says environmental factors are huge. Beach erosion, trash and smell can all hurt a beach’s ranking. Siesta Beach does not have a smoking ban, which Dr. Beach worries about.
The short answer? To stay No. 1, don’t use the sand as your personal ashtray.
To see Leatherman's 2017 list of the best beaches in America, click here.