(CBS/AP) Like a Hollywood star, Coronado's 1.5 mile-long beach literally sparkles, thanks to the mineral mica glinting in its sand. That's one of the reasons why Coronado flanked by the iconic hotel featured in Marilyn Monroe's 1958 film "Some Like It Hot" has been named the No. 1 beach in the United States in the 2012 survey by professor Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University.
It is the first time "Dr. Beach" has given the top slot to California in the more than two decades that he has been ranking beaches in the United States based on their environmental quality and safety for swimmers.
Coronado Beach, on a peninsula across the bay from San Diego, has near-perfect Mediterranean weather and a postcard backdrop.
"I think it's one of the most super beaches around," said Leatherman, director of FIU's Laboratory for Coastal Research.
Click through this gallery to see other beaches on the Top 10 list.
California's chilly coastal waters have cost its pristine beaches points when they've been up against balmy contenders in Florida and Hawaii in the past. Coronado Beach was runner-up last year to Florida's Siesta Beach. Once a beach tops Leatherman's list, it is retired from consideration for future rankings.
Leatherman said he visits top 10 candidates incognito to collect sand and water samples for study. He ranks beaches on 50 criteria, including the look and feel of the sand, water quality, weather, facilities and crowds. A top score is 250. Coronado came in the 230s, losing points because its water temperature hovering in the 60s allows for only a quick dip for most, Leatherman said.
Leatherman said Coronado is great for skim boarding (gliding on the water with a small, finless surfboard) and walking. The wide, flat beach is lined by majestic mansions and the Hotel del Coronado. Known as "Hotel Del," the National Historic Landmark with its peaked red roof was built in 1888 and is the last of California's Victorian seaside resorts.
Coronado is also the name of the swanky-yet-quaint city on a peninsula populated by Navy officers and some of California's wealthiest. It can be reached by ferry boat for a few dollars from downtown San Diego.
There is free parking at the beach but it is on a public street so it can be challenging, Leatherman said.