Stephen Leatherman unveils his latest list just before Memorial Day weekend
Editor’s note: This article was corrected on the morning of May 26 to include a third Florida beach on the list.
Once again, Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University — known as Dr. Beach — has named Siesta Beach No. 1 in the United States.
The beach previously won that accolade in 2011.
Leatherman traditionally unveils his Top 10 list at the start of Memorial Day weekend, but this year’s honorees were named in a press release issued on May 25.
Of Siesta, Leatherman wrote on his website that it “boasts that it has the finest, whitest sand in the world, which attracts sand collectors and beach lovers from all over. The clear, clean waters along this gently-sloping beach-face make for ideal swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide, attracting fitness fans and volleyball players. Siesta is a year-round beach that is very popular with snowbirds during the winter months. There are lifeguards along this crescent-shaped beach along with full amenities. Recent upgrades include expanded parking, while maintaining the beautiful natural environment, and a free trolley to transport beachgoers.”
In early 2016, Sarasota County completed a two-year-long, $21.5-million project at the beach that included new buildings — some of which have won architectural awards — and more parking.
During a December 2016 appearance at a Siesta Key Association meeting, Leatherman made it clear that his affection for Siesta Beach remained strong. “It’s part of the community,” he said. “Without that beach, I don’t know what the community would be like. It certainly wouldn’t be what it is today.”
However, he emphasized that an effort needed to be made to increase non-motorized access to the beach. On March 20, Sarasota County Area Transit launched a free, open-air trolley service — the Siesta Key Breeze — that is scheduled to operate through August. The future of the service beyond that point was scheduled to be part of a County Commission budget workshop discussion on May 26.
Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association, told The Sarasota News Leader that she learned of the honor through a message that Carolyn N. Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, left her early on the morning of May 25. Brown also notified her of the designation in 2011 — about 6:20 a.m. on the Friday of that Memorial Day weekend, Luckner said. At first, Luckner laughingly told the News Leader about the message this week, “I thought I was mishearing it.” She could not help but wonder whether that 2011 voicemail somehow had reappeared in the phone system.
For years, Leatherman “retired” each No. 1 beach; it no longer could be considered for placement on subsequent lists. However, in 2016 — marking the 25th anniversary of his Top 10 list — he decided to let past winners have an opportunity to shine again.
No. 2 on the list this year is Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui in Hawaii, while No. 3 is the Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Two other Florida beaches are on the 2017 list: Grayton Beach State Park on the Panhandle, at No. 4; and Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater, at No. 7.
Leatherman has been naming the Top 10 beaches since 1991, using 50 criteria to evaluate them. For example, he considers water and sand quality, as well as safety and management, a press release points out.
Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist. Not only does he handle consulting work around the world, but he also is a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami.
Following Siesta’s ascension to the top spot on Leatherman’s list in 2011, business owners on the island reported a boom in business, given the widespread attention the Top 10 list receives.