Say you’re packing your swimwear and heading to the beach – which state would you go for? Kansas? Probably not. New Mexico? Again, you might rethink that one. Most likely it’d be California or Florida that got your tourism dollars…but which state actually has the greatest amount of coastline? There seems to be a difference of opinion between experts on how you actually measure these things, the chief difference seeming to be whether you count inland tidal areas or not (Method 1 doesn’t, Method 2 does). The two different methods have produced two different lists of states – one of 23, one of 30 – so is frustratingly inaccurate on which states actually have the most coast. So, we’ve decided to split the difference – work out each state’s average position on the two lists and then make a top ten from there. But be warned, having a lot of coastline by no means guarantees golden, sandy beaches – it could be more like polar ice. Find out more in our Top 10 States by Coastline.
The number 10 slot on our list was a difficult choice – three states averaged at number 11.5 over the two lists. But Virginia, which came in 15th on the Method 1 list and 8th on the Method 2 list, had a higher average amount of coastline than its two competitors. It really shows up the difference between measuring inlets or not – without inlets the state has just 112 miles of coastline, but add in Chesapeake Bay and the various tidal estuaries around it and suddenly the figure is 3,315 miles. So, split the difference and it’s still an impressive 1713 miles, dwarfing the averages of South Carolina (1531 miles) and Washington (1591 miles). And the state of Virginia seems proud of its miles of “clean beaches, outdoor recreation…and coastal cuisine.” so they would probably err towards the bigger figure!
If you were to order these states by a third method – what percentage of their border is coastal – then Hawaii would probably top the list. Similarly if you were ranking them by the ones you’d actually want to vacation in, Hawaii would score highly. But as it is, it comes in 4th on the simpler list (not measuring coastal inlets), but falls way behind to 18th place when all those states with wobbly coastlines are counted. So, it’s an average of 11th place for the Aloha State, despite its alluring beach culture. Even with the simpler method, it still has 750 miles of those beaches, so deserves its reputation as a sunny vacation spot.
Another great example of the disparity of the two methods. As any high school Geography student knows, Michigan is not on the coast. Going due east from Detroit, you’d have to cross two states before hitting the ocean. Therefore, it’s one of the 7 states that doesn’t appear on the Method 1 list at all. But Method 2 counts the Great Lakes, and so Michigan appears at number 9. And using my (admittedly flawed) methodology, it retains its average number 9 position. So, it’s not the kind of state where you’re likely to be sweltering in extreme heat, but there are still a number of beaches on the edge of the lakes which are worth visiting.
7. North Carolina
One of three states that averaged out an a 6.5th position (7th Method 1, 6th on Method 2), it has a similar total coastline to neighboring Virginia, with 3,375 miles of coast including the inlets. But it had more to start with – 301 miles of undisputed coastline, compared to Virginia’s 112 miles. This is probably because the southern state line suddenly dives down at a diagonal (following Highway 74), rather than carrying on in a straight line to Jacksonville. It makes the most of its extended coastline with clean beaches, watersports and even dolphin spotting! The dolphin spotting trips go from Emerald Isle, a part of a long thin island separated from the mainland by just a few miles of water, known as the Bogue Sound. The Island itself is only 200m wide at some points, barely enough space for a road to go through!
Maine also averaged out at 6.5th position, being 9th on the Method 1 list and 4th on the Method 2 list, thanks to the waters around Deer Island and North Haven. In fact, the whole coastline of the state is positively fjord-like in its complexity. But there’s bad news for sun-bathers -the coast is mainly rocky and forested rather than sandy. As the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay put it, “All I could see from where I stood/Was three long mountains and a wood/I turned and looked the other way/And saw three islands in a bay”. It’s also not dazzlingly hot, with 80F only being reached at the top end of the scale, in the warmest town, in July. But on the other hand, the seafood is legendary so that’s a good reason to go to the coast!