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How to choose the right beach vacation

Want to hit the beach, but not sure which one? I've found three resources in recent weeks to help you choose.

TripAdvisor published its picks for the top 10 beaches in the U.S., based on its Popularity Index and editors' judgment. Beaches in Florida and Hawaii dominate the list, but there are also winning stretches of sand in California, Georgia, and South Carolina. Beaches earned top honors for soft sand, activities, clear waters, and more.

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Orbitz has just come out with My Ideal Beach. A link off the Orbitz homepage takes you to a three-step quiz in which you select your traveler type (family, couple, solo traveler, etc.), activity interests, and amenity options. Ocean sounds, sand, and gently lapping waves provide the backdrop for the quiz, and your preference options wash up on the beach at the beginning of each step. This is a fun way to narrow down beach hotel and resort options, and one I'll use again.

And though it would be great if you didn't have to think about it, water quality is another issue to look at when you're choosing a beach. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) publishes an annual beach water quality report with information about 3,600 beaches (in coastal and Great Lake regions) in the U.S. If you want a quicker way to check your destination, there's also an interactive map with water-quality information about 100 popular beaches in the U.S. Clicking around, I quickly discovered I'd be comfortable swimming in Hanuama Bay on Oahu, but would think twice before hopping in the water at McGee Beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is published by Smarter Travel Media LLC, a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network.)

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