For lots of travelers, the beach is the raison d’être of any vacation; the real reason you’re packing those bags and jetting off. From white-sanded strips fringed by coconut trees in the Caribbean to dune-backed sweeps of golden sand in Scandinavia, coral-teeming lagoons in the Philippines to surf-bashed bays in California, there are all sorts out there. This guide has done the legwork to whittle it down to the very best on the planet. Happy beach hopping!
Best Beaches in the United States
With shorelines on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, states in the tropics and in the Arctic north, and – importantly – the land of Aloha up its sleeve, the USA is prime beach-hunting territory. There are umpteen beaches that deserve a spot among our three best in the nation, ranging from pine-haloed bays in Alaska where grizzlies stalk the shores to Floridian paradises with quartz sand.
Santa Monica Beach
Best time to visit: Fall (September-October). Temperatures stick at around 71ºF but the big summer crowds disperse.
Santa Monica Beach is quintessential SoCal stuff. Occupying pride of place on the shores of Los Angeles, it’s a world of whirring rollerbladers and chichi cafe-bars. The beach itself is tinged a perfect yellow, has volleyball courts, and a super-cool oceanside promenade. Head to the Santa Monica Pier to see and be seen.
Best time to visit: April-June and then again from September-October.
The former retreat of Hawaiian royalty is now known as the birthplace of modern surfing. Spreading across 1.5 miles of the Oahu coast just south of Honolulu, it’s prime real estate, with slick 5-star hotels rising to its back. There are waves for all levels and plenty of space to settle in for some proper Aloha State R&R.
Best time to visit: March to April – after the Christmas rush but before the summer storms kick in.
With a name like Siesta Beach, you’d expect this one to crank up the relaxation factor. It doesn’t disappoint. A whimsical bend of cotton-colored quartz sand on the Gulf of Mexico, Siesta is all about soaking up the endless rays of the Sunshine State and enjoying quality time with the family. Watersports are big business – jet skis, fishing expeditions, and sea kayaks are all on offer.
Best Beaches in the Caribbean
Ah, the Caribbean. People daydream of the beaches here. For good reason, too. This is the original honeymooner’s escape. The likes of the Bahamas and Barbados are now bywords for vacations of hammock-swinging and rum drinking under a bent coconut palm. Perfectly white sands and azure seas are the order of the day pretty much everywhere you go, save for a few brooding black-sand beaches on the volcanic isles of St Lucia and Dominica. Let’s take a closer look.
Best time to visit: April to August. Aruba is one of the few Caribbean islands that’s far enough away from the hurricane zone to stay nice well into the summer.
Spilling off the north side of Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba, Eagle Beach is a regular mention on lists of the best in the Caribbean. It’s got all the basic ingredients: Perfect white sand that’s so soft you’d think you were treading on flour, sky-blue waters, and a cluster of rum bars. The compulsory Instagram shot comes courtesy of the gnarled divi-divi tree that sprouts out of the sand.
Best time to visit: December to April – but try to avoid Christmas and New Year, when things get busy.
Cable Beach is one of the most iconic spots in the Bahamas. Just outside of the capital of Nassau, it’s a run of 400 meters that has milky waters and scintillating sand from head to toe. The western end of the beach is emptier and rockier, great for snorkeling. The eastern end, nearer the city, has some top sunset cocktail bars and swish hotels.
Location: Turks and Caicos
Best time to visit: December to April
The bath-warm Caribbean waters that slosh around Grace Bay are so darn clear that they make it seem like you’re in a swimming pool. Fringing the lot is a run of cloud-white sand and a series of uber-opulent hotels. Talk about the perfect honeymoon escape!
Best Beaches in South America
Beaches in South America are a tale of diversity. Up north, you’ll be wowed by the green-blue seas and talcum sands of Brazil’s tropical beaches. Down south are wild and windswept bays that form at the end of Patagonian glacier tongues, home to penguins and cormorants and colonies of rare seabirds. Then there are the amazing isles, from the Galapagos to Easter Island, with their own unique coastlines and biodiversity.
Praia do Sancho
Location: Fernando de Noronha Island, Brazil
Best time to visit: December to March. That’s peak summer but this far-flung island is rarely too busy.
A C-shaped banana of ochre sand that bends around the shores of Fernando de Noronha Island some 215 miles off the coast of mainland Brazil, this one’s not the easiest to reach. The reward? A jaw-dropping piece of coastline that’s got azure waters to its front and steep cliffs to its back, all often completely deserted.
Cabo San Juan Beach
Location: Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Best time to visit: February to March, for low rainfall and steady temperatures.
Cabo San Juan is the jewel in the crown of the Tayrona National Park, a whole reserve that’s packed to bursting with gorgeous tropical sands on the Colombian Caribbean. You’ll have to hike a boardwalk trail through the jungle to get there. The prize is a lovely tombola-style beach that’s shaded by runs of mango trees and divi-divis.
Location: Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Best time to visit: December to May
Tortuga Bay is a whole other world. Located on the south side of the Isla Santa Cruz in the heart of the Galapagos, it’s over 650 miles from the coast of mainland South America. You’ll walk through groves of UFO-like cacti to get there and be greeted by strangely colored crabs and sun-basking sea lions.
Best Beaches in Africa
Africa ranges from the Mediterranean Sea to the wild southern Atlantic Ocean, spanning multiple climatic zones and 54 individual countries in the process. In all, the continent counts just shy of 19,000 miles of coastline, including some of the most legendary beach destinations on the globe. Yep, Africa is home to the glittering isles of the Seychelles and the pristine tropical sands of Zanzibar. In other places, you’ll meet groaning camel caravans on the beaches, witness the Sahara crashing into the ocean, and gaze back at the snow-capped Atlas Mountains as you ride the waves.
Camps Bay Beach
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Best time to visit: March to May or September and October. These are either side of the peak summer season. That means slightly cooler days but way smaller crowds.
Camps Bay Beach might just be the most photographed beach in Africa. Table Mountain stands tall and proud right behind, a symphony of gnarled and twisted peaks that’s pure drama from end to end. Down below, the whitish sands give way to calm tide pools protected by big boulders and frothing surf further out at sea.
Location: Praslin, Seychelles
Best time to visit: April and May, or October and November – the seasons between the two main monsoons in the Seychelles.
A short dash of alabaster-white sand that’s hidden away on the northwest side of Praslin island in the Seychelles, Anse Georgette is a real looker. The north and south ends fragment into piles of salt-washed boulders below a cluster of sea-grape trees, while coconut palms lean over the back to offer pockets of shade. Arrive in style by hopping in a yacht to sail across.
Location: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Best time to visit: June-October. Daytime temperatures then are regularly above 84ºF.
The star of Zanzibar is Nungwi Beach, a squiggle of sugar-hued powder that runs along the northern end of the island. During the day, come to hop between the sunbeds and the ramshackle fish market that takes place here. At night, arrive to watch the sunset glowing ochre and orange across the Indian Ocean.
Best Beaches in Europe
Europe has a stock of beaches that would make the Maldives blush. Go south to where the islands of Greece fragment into the Aegean and you’ll find coves of pure turquoise water fronted by hearty tavernas. Go north to Scandinavia and you’ll discover lands where mighty fjords tower over wisp-white sands. Between those are the stunning beach havens of Portugal, the UK, and France. There’s just so much to get through!
Location: Zante, Greece
Best time to visit: Spring or fall are best in Zante. The summer can be super busy and windy. There should be plenty of days that see the thermometers push 85ºF in early September and in late May, too.
Shipwreck Beach is one to make the jaw drop. Surrounded by an amphitheater of chalk-white cliffs on the wild west coast of Zakynthos (also known as Zante), it’s impossible to reach by road or foot. You have two choices: Go to the lookout points above to wonder at the ivory-white sand and the rusting shipwreck that gives it the name from a bird’s eye perspective, or hitch a boat taxi in to swim in the clear Ionian waters below.
Location: Cote d’Azur, France
Best time to visit: September. Wait for the vacation crowds to disperse. It still stays warm in the fall, with average daily highs of 74ºF. Plus, the Med is at its balmiest – think water temps over 68ºF.
Porquerolles is the name by which everyone knows the Îles d’Hyères, the jewel at the end of the Cote d’Azur. There isn’t just one beach here. There are more than 10. The west coast of the island has the best – think slivers of shell-crushed sand backed by scented stone pines and fronted by waters of teal-blue sea. There are no cars; just bikes. It’s pure paradise.
Three Cliffs Bay
Location: Wales, UK
Best time to visit: High summer. Come between June and August to get this one at its best, with just-warm-enough waters for swimming and the most likely sunbathing weather.
Three Cliffs Bay cuts out a huge cleft in the Gower Peninsula of South Wales. It’s drama from end to end, with a trio of spiked coast mountains stringing like a tiara on one side and a muscular headland reaching into the center, all framed by a snaking riverway that runs beneath a Norman-era castle. It very much sums up the wild, rugged coastline that Britain is known for.
Best Beaches in Asia
Asia is a much-see corner of the globe for beach lovers. The largest continent in the world, it encompasses some of the most glorious coastline out there – think travel-mag cover regulars Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. There are sands here to cater to all types. You’ve got hotel-backed resort meccas aplenty, but also Robinson Crusoe bays with just lonely palm trees and cheeky macaques in residence. Different parts of Asia are in season at different times, so be sure to pay attention to when the monsoons are around.
Best time to visit: May to September.
Pink Beach is one of just a handful of naturally pink beaches on planet Earth. It’s right in the heart of the Komodo National Park and gets its color from rare organisms that live in the surrounding coral reefs. The setting is spectacular, what with sweeps of totally deserted scrub-topped mountains rising on all sides. Watch out for the native Komodo dragons!
Location: Sri Lanka
Best time to visit: November-March, when it’s dry season on this side of the island.
Hiriketiya Bay is one of the upcoming surf towns of southwestern Sri Lanka. Waves cruise and bend into the bay to offer something for beginners and experts alike. And what a bay it is! A perfectly horseshoe-shaped arc of daffodil sand, it’s shaded by rows of palms and has rickety curry houses spilling down to the shoreline.
Best time to visit: January to April – the dry season. The rain usually starts around mid-May.
Capping off the long, thin island of Palwan at its northern end, El Nido spills into the Sulu Sea in grand style. The main town beach is okay, but the real joys come when you hop in a boat to explore the surrounding archipelago of karst peaks and secret lagoons. They’re strewn with coconut-covered sands that are so white you’ll need to pinch yourself to believe they are real.
Best Beaches in Australia
Beaches are part of life in Oz. From the chalk-white runs of the Whitsundays and WA to the wave-washed shores of Queensland and New South Wales, there are stacks and stacks to get through. The ones that usually hit the headlines are the iconic likes of Byron Bay and Bondi. They’re happening places, with rambunctious surfer bars and surf schools to their back. But there’s 21,100 miles of coast here, so get ready for some fantastically remote regions and beaches that are truly off the beaten path to boot.
Location: Sydney, NSW
Best time to visit: December-February, the peak of summer in Sydney.
No list of the best beaches in Australia could possibly miss out on Bondi. This super-famous beach is the epicenter of Sydney’s surf and backpacker culture. Everyone from learners to pros comes to hit the waves and there’s a buzzing vibe to the bars and eateries that crowd the promenade just behind.
Location: The Whitsundays, Queensland
Best time to visit: September and October – early spring is a sweet spot for temperatures and sunshine here. The water is a pleasant 78ºF, too.
The 74 Whitsunday Islands have beaches that look like something out of a dream. Imagine wisps of white sand that resemble clouds as they swirl through the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland. Whitehaven Beach is one of the most iconic of the lot, what with its bands of gleaming sandbanks and turquoise lagoons.
Location: New South Wales
Best time to visit: December to March – summer in Australia.
There’s a string of about five beaches that make up greater Byron Bay as the town filters off the head of Cape Byron. They’re each more glorious than the next, offering stretches of gleaming sand framed by scented eucalyptus forests. The surf here is epic and the atmosphere is downright cool – get ready for boho coast cafes and farmer’s markets and more.
Beaches galore – From Cape Town to LA, the Bahamas to Byron Bay
There are spectacular beaches to look forward to no matter what continent you’re planning on visiting. Asia boasts the tropical paradise isles of the Philippines and Sri Lanka. South America has mountain-backed beaches in Cape Town and idyllic honeymoon sands in the Seychelles. North America has surfer meccas and R&R escapes. Just be sure to pack the sunscreen!