SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The Hamptons elite probably assumed it was always No. 1.
Long Island's Coopers Beach, with pristine white sand gently sloping toward a shoreline of lapping waves, convenient parking and amenities, and nary a gum wrapper in sight, has been selected as America's best beach in an annual survey released on Memorial Day weekend to coincide with the start of the summer vacation season.
"New York has world-class beaches, but I don't think a lot of people in the United States know about them," said Stephen Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.
This is the 20th year that Leatherman, known as Dr. Beach, has compiled a list of the country's top 10. None of New Jersey's coastal resorts made the cut this time.
The 2010 list includes two beaches in Florida: Siesta Beach in Sarasota took the No. 2 spot, and Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne was No. 10. Leatherman said he was not worried that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would affect either one.
Cape Florida, on the southeast coast, "doesn't get the wave activity" that can lead to tar balls washing up, he said. As for Siesta Beach, he said he had looked at currents and believes "there's very low probability the oil will get to southwest Florida."
Leatherman's list also features another New York beach, Main Beach in East Hampton, Long Island, not far from Southampton. Main Beach takes the No. 5 spot on this year's survey.
"When most people think of a beach vacation destination, they go south," Leatherman said. "I kind of think the east end of Long Island is a well-kept secret for most Americans."
Rounding out the top 10 are Coronado Beach, Calif.; Cape Hatteras, N.C.; Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Honolulu; Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.; Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, S.C.; and Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii.
This is the first time a New York beach has made it to No. 1, Leatherman said. He considers factors such as water quality and temperature, cleanliness, weather, sand, safety, and facilities in making his list.
Once a beach makes it to the top spot, it is retired from consideration in future years, he said. Leatherman added that designation as the country's No. 1 beach usually brings as much as a 20 percent bump in tourism.
"Both Main and Coopers Beaches have been recognized in the past as being among the top 10 beaches in the country - and to now hold the top spot is especially significant when you consider the quality of the company we're in," Moke McGowan, president of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in a statement.
In Coopers Beach, locals trying to get a jump on summer spoke about the cleanliness of the beach and described it as a welcoming, family-oriented playground.
"It's wide. The sand is like baby powder," said Carol Gerbereux, a visitor for at least 40 years. "It's just a beautiful location."
Joseph Graygor, another longtime devotee, said litter is a no-no. "It's a very, very clean beach," he said. "There's no garbage on it." He also said a concession stand, showers, and other amenities are key assets at Coopers. "The parking area is very, very close to the beach. There are some beaches where you have to park a long ways away and walk a long way."
Village residents get access via a beach parking permit; those without permits face a $250 fine. But nonresidents can also visit for a daily fee of $40 - it is the Hamptons, after all.
1. Coopers Beach Southampton, N.Y.
2. Siesta Beach Sarasota, Fla.
3. Coronado Beach
4. Cape Hatteras
Outer Banks, N.C.
5. Main Beach
East Hampton, N.Y.
6. Kahanamoku Beach
7. Coast Guard Beach
Cape Cod, Mass.
8. Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island, S.C.
9. Hamoa Beach
10. Cape Florida
Key Biscayne, Fla.