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America's most crowded beaches

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More than 16 million visitors a year are drawn to the street life at Venice Beach in California.

Independence Day brings to mind fireworks, barbecue, and, if you live in Ocean City, crowds. More than 300,000 sun-seekers flood this small Maryland town each July 4th, packing restaurants, boardwalk attractions, and, of course, the beach.

When the summer holiday strikes, fleeing to the beach seems like a no-brainer. After all, what could be better than a sea breeze to cool you off? You and those hundreds of thousands of fellow beachgoers, that is.

That’s the kind of maritime mosh pit you’re likely to encounter at America’s popular beaches. And Ocean City, with 4.5 million annual visitors, is hardly the worst offender.

Slideshow: See more of America's most crowded beaches

The state of Florida has the greatest number of congested beaches on our list; its two coastlines offer seemingly endless stretches of sand, from Miami’s party scene to secluded Caladesi Island. But it’s California, famous for surfing culture, that claims the questionable honor of America’s No. 1 most crowded beach: Venice Beach, to be precise, which swarms with 16 million sunbathers, fortune-tellers, street performers, and people-watchers.

Arriving at that estimate isn’t an exact science as beach crowds are fluid and dynamic. To crunch the numbers, we relied on the United States Lifesaving Association, which keeps attendance stats for more than 200 beaches. When unavailable, we turned to government organizations like the New York City Parks Department. Not only did Coney Island make our list with 11 million annual visitors, but so did Rockaway Beach, a longtime destination for city-dwelling surfers that’s recently become a hipster favorite. It’s worth braving the crowds both on the sand and in line at the Rockaway Taco food truck.

Though not everyone may be convinced. Once New York and other local authorities have the stats, they might like to boast about how many visitors their beaches receive. But if they proclaim those numbers too loudly, they might scare people away. As the great Yogi Berra put it, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

If you do follow the wisdom of crowds, try to time it right by skipping the weekends or going early in the morning—so that you can appreciate the combination of natural beauty and boardwalk amusements that made these beaches popular in the first place. And if you just can’t take the crowds, seek out one of the world’s secret beaches instead.

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