Every hue of the rainbow can be found scattered across America's shorelines.
Although travelers typically daydream of soft, brightly-colored sand beaches for a relaxing escape, there are actually an impressive variety of sands with unique colors to explore, right here in the U.S.
From Hawaii’s green, red, and black sands, to California’s purple shores—and yes, even over to Florida’s crystalline white dunes, here are ten of the most unique beach hues of the U.S. and Puerto Rico that truly stand out against traditional coastline colors.
Top Picks for You
“Rainbow" Sands (Glass Beach)
WHERE: Fort Bragg, California
There are three glass beaches in Fort Bragg, the largest and most well-known of which is located in MacKerricher State Park. All of these rainbow beaches are actually former city trash dump sites now turned into modern natural art exhibits. For more than 60 years from 1906 to 1967 rubbish in this seaside city was simply tossed into the ocean. It’s important not to take the glass because as people have taken pieces over the years, it’s slowly diminished. After visiting the beach, grab a bite at the women-founded, owned, and (princess) operated Princess Seafood restaurant, at Noyo Harbor. Spend the night at the historic Noyo Harbor Inn, set in a secluded spot above the Noyo River which is just two miles from the beach and offers views of the forest, river, and harbor.
WHERE: Pfeiffer Beach, California
Getting to the purple sands of Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach is well worth the effort. To reach the beach heading south down Highway 1, take the second road after Pfeiffer State Park on the right. After the rain is by far the best time to see these sand’s beautiful violet hues, but don’t fret—pockets of the purple can be found at most other times, too. This purple sand color is said to be the result of manganese garnet deposits that are washing down onto the beach from neighboring hillsides. While at Pfeiffer, be sure to check out other iconic sights such as the majestic Keyhole Arch and the beautiful coastal bluffs. After hiking and exploring the land, spend the night at nearby Alila Ventana Big Sur, an iconic Big Sur property perched on the coastline in the heart of the region overlooking the pacific.
WHERE: Glacier Bay, Alaska
Those who make the trip to Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska must plan a visit to Summer Bay Beach—it’s a short drive out of town, and takes travelers to beautiful, panoramic sights of this black sandy area with enormous dunes and stunning views. This spot has even become a popular surfing destination. It’s settled between the shore of Unalaska Bay and a beautiful freshwater lake and holds significant cultural value to the Indigenous Unangax peoples. In the summer months, travelers can oftentimes encounter archaeologists who are digging at geological sites nearby for ancient artifacts. As Summer Bay land is owned by Ounalashka Corporation, make sure to purchase a land-use permit before visiting this destination.
WHERE: Kaihalulu Beach, Maui, Hawaii
The Red Sand Beach of Maui is a hidden gem with crystal clear blue waters sharply contrasting against the dramatic reds of its crescent-shaped sands. It’s cut into the cliffs of rusty red colored Ka’uiki Head cinder cone, which gives the beach its coloring. It’s a generally sheltered beach, making waters oftentimes calm for wading in to cool off. And speaking of safety, visitors should make sure they’re aware of the risks of taking the hike down as the trail can be steep and slippery, making for a challenging descent. After a day of waterside adventures, grab a bite to eat in nearby downtown Hana, and spend the night at the Hana-Maui Resort, which is walking distance to the beach (this Hawaiian retreat even recently purchased its own private aircraft, cutting travel time to this remote part of the island from a 2.5-hour drive to just 14 minutes).
WHERE: Papakolea Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
There are few green sand beaches in the world, one of which is on the southern tip of the Big Island, in Hawaii, officially known as “Papakōlea.” The beach is inside a cone scientists agree formed almost 50,000 years ago, either when hot magma met cool ocean, or through a primary vent in which magma erupted. The cone contains the green crystals called olivine (which supplies the green hue to the gemstone peridot), and when the lava brought the green olivine crystals up to the surface it mixed with cold ocean water, shattering the mixture into tiny pieces of green “sand.” The simplest way to get to Green Sand Beach is hiking scenic roughly six miles round trip from the parking lot. Trekkers should notify the Department of Hawaiian Homelands they’re making the trip, be respectful of the land and leave no trace.
WHERE: Playa Negra, Puerto Rico
Playa Negra is located on the south side of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. It’s a rare and mesmerizing beach with stunning black sand coating the shoreline alongside dramatic cliffs, and decorated with driftwood that’s strewn about the landscape. Black Sand Beach is just a short drive from the town of La Esperanza, and while Vieques offers many beaches that are well worth a visit, this destination is a definite can’t miss. To reach the beach, park alongside the road and take a short hike along the dirt road that leads to the sands.
WHERE: Pensacola Beach, Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola offers beaches with miles of sugar-white sands which are made of 100% quartz washed down from the Appalachian Mountains. Check out Pensacola Beach specifically, which is located along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the nation’s largest national seashore in the park service. The squeaky, soft, white sands of Pensacola Beach have traveled thousands of miles over the course of many millennia, carried down rivers like the Apalachicola before eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico (where they can now be found wedged between visitors’ toes!). This destination is also an ideal location to plan wheelchair-accessible travel, as the beach can be reached by five Mobi-mat access points equipped for non-slip wheelchairs and strollers. After exploring the shores, spend the night at Portofino Island Resort which is located just steps away from the sand and offers idyllic Gulf-front water views.
WHERE: Nome, Alaska
The discovery of literal gold in the beach sands along the Bering Sea first drew tens of thousands of prospectors from across the globe back during the gold rush days. Those seeking to explore the Seward Peninsula hoped to find fortune in the land and its sands. Due to the influx of travelers, by 1899, the community of Nome was becoming a flourishing, full-fledged city. These “golden sands” can still be explored today, as the beach is easily reachable and runs parallel to Front Street, the town’s main commercial center. During the summer months, when the surf of Norton Sound breaks on the sand, visitors can still find the sparkles of gold nestled within the sands.
Black Petroglyph Boulder Sands
WHERE: Wrangell, Alaska
The seven-acre Wrangell Petroglyph State Historic Park sits near the northern tip of Wrangell Island, and features a collection of roughly 40 sketches that were carved into rocks about 8,000 years ago by the ancient Tlingit people. These petroglyphs are fully visible only at low tide. It’s considered one of the most concentrated collections of prehistoric petroglyphs in the region. When the waters are low, visitors can see the historic artwork that includes the outlines of salmon, whales, and even human faces. There’s a boardwalk overlooking the beach and replicas of several of the glyphs that are placed on a deck for visitors to make their own art pieces.
WHERE: San Francisco, California
Those who don’t want to travel all the way to Puerto Rico to see dark sands can check out San Francisco’s Black Sands Beach sitting below the Marin Headlands in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. To get to this destination, drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County and head for the lot at the Upper Fisherman’s Trailhead. Then, descend the steep dirt path down the hillside on the east side of Bonita Cove (there are wooden steps to assist the climb), but be sure to check the tides before making the trip down. After strolling along these scenic sands, relax and spend the night at Cavallo Point Lodge which is located in nearby Sausalito, within the 75,000+ acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and just minutes from the city.