The Sunshine State boasted eight of the nation's top 20 beaches this year, but it was the Hawaiian island of Oahu that earned the top honor.

The powdery white sand, bed and breakfasts and plentiful parking helped earn Kailua Beach Park in Oahu the top spot in the annual list compiled by Stephen Leatherman, an environmental studies professor who has released his list as "Dr. Beach" for eight years."Well, yes, of course," a matter-of-fact Peggy Hastings of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce said Thursday when told of the distinction. Kailua was second on last year's list.

Kailua was among six Hawaiian beaches, known for their volcanic formations, clear water and wonderful sand, on the list.

New York's Long Island earned two spots in the top 20, as did the North Carolina coast. Perennial favorite Coast Guard Beach in Massachusetts also made the list, and so did Children's Beach in La Jolla, Calif.

The beaches are ranked on 50 criteria, including lifeguard protection, wave size, sand softness and amenities, such as nearby hotels and restaurants. Previous winners are excluded.

Leatherman gushed over improvements that have been made at the Cape Florida State Recreation Area on Key Biscayne, which was nearly annihilated in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.

"It was like a tropical forest, and (then) there wasn't a leaf left on the trees," said Leatherman, who teaches at nearby Florida International University in Miami.

Now a historic lighthouse has been reopened, trees have been replanted and a salt marsh that was filled in 50 years ago has been restored.

A spot on the list is rare for California beaches, which normally are too crowded or too dangerous due to strong currents. But Children's Beach has recently improved its accessibility, and it has grown to be a popular spot for visiting sea lions, Leatherman said.

"It's amazing," said Emily Merritt, whose high-rise condominium overlooks the beach. "I look over the beach, and there's always seals on the beach."

Long Island's two beaches moved up two spots each in the rankings this year. Leatherman said he was impressed with how East Hampton Beach and West-hampton Beach focused on conservation and were not littered with high-rise buildings.

"It's hard to believe it's the same Long Island that's connected to New York City," Leatherman said.

The list, with 1997 rankings in parentheses:

1. (2) Kailua Beach Park, Hawaii

2. (8) Kaunaoa, Hawaii

3. (10) St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Fla.

4. (5) Wailea, Hawaii

5. (3) Caladesi Island State Park, Fla.

6. (4) Hamoa, Hawaii

7. (6) Cape Florida State Recreation Area

8. (7) Hanalei Beach, Hawaii

9. (9) Fort Desoto Park, Fla.

10. (12) St. George Island State Park, Fla.

11. (11) Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Recreation Area, Fla.

12. (14) Ocracoke Island, N.C.

13. (15) East Hampton Beach, N.Y.

14. (16) Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

15. (13) Perdido Key, Fla.

16. Cape Hatteras, N.C.

17. Crescent Beach, Siesta Key, Fla.

18. (18) Coast Guard Beach, Mass.

19. Children's Beach, La Jolla, Calif.

20. Poipu Beach Park, Hawaii