40 Favorite Beaches

We searched the world for the most enticing stretches of sand, from the Bahamas to Boracay.

By Stirling Kelso, Whitney Lawson, Heidi Mitchell, Libby Sentz and Terry Ward

It’s been months since summer, and frankly, we’re tired of these short, chilly days—which is why we’re dreaming of the beach. Pick your sunny swath and get packing!

United States & Canada

Polihale Beach
Kauai, Hawaii

Dunes frame this wild 17-mile stretch—which is not only the westernmost public beach on Kauai but also the longest sandy shoreline in Hawaii. Since Polihale is accessible only via an old five-mile farm road, few travelers venture here, so the  isolated coastline, known for great shelling and bloodred sunsets, is even more rewarding.

Venice Beach
Los Angeles, California

Sure, the water is nice, but Venice Beach’s raison d’être is its wackadoo scene. Here surfers and soccer players strut their stuff along the water’s edge while street dancers, body builders and tattoo artists hang out near the city’s two-and-a-half-mile promenade. There are plenty of shops where you can buy hippie wear, have your palm read or invest in old-school vinyl; otherwise, camp out in a coffee shop and watch the parade march by.

Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island, Texas

Forget the party beach of South Padre Island. Right next door is the longest expanse of undeveloped barrier island in the world: the Padre Island National Seashore, which ambles along for an impressive 70 miles. Empty beaches are almost guaranteed here—many accessible only by boat or four-wheel drive—and the coastline is home to dozens of endangered animals, including Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

Footbridge Beach
Ogunquit, Maine

The Algonquian Indians called the 3.5-mile stretch of powdery white sand Ogunquit, which means “beautiful place by the sea.” Centuries later, just when Ogunquit Beach faced the threat of overdevelopment, the city declared it a public park and limited access to three entry points. To find serenity, follow the footbridge across the Ogunquit River to Footbridge Beach.

Head of the Meadow Beach
Truro, Massachusetts

For a quiet retreat along 40-mile Cape Cod National Seashore,  visit Head of the Meadow Beach. Its warm summer waters are great for swimming and wading, and the ever-changing sandbar makes for awesome bodysurfing. Keep an eye out for seals, dolphins and whales as you stroll the beach or bask in the sun.

Hither Hills Beach
Montauk, New York

After a morning spent exploring Hither Hills State Park’s woodlands and the walking dunes of Napeague Harbor, spread a blanket on this wide two-mile stretch of sugary sand. Families return year after year for a prime front-row seat at the edge of the Atlantic and water that’s great for swimming, paddleboarding and fishing.

Oceanfront Beach
Virginia Beach, Virginia

At 89 blocks, the Oceanfront is the longest beach in the city. Its wide yellow sands are divided into two distinct sections: The North End, great for families, is quiet and fairly residential; the South End packs a punch with hotels, waterfront restaurants, music venues and a three-mile boardwalk lined with ice-cream shops.

Nags Head Beach
Outer Banks, North Carolina

A 2011 beach replenishment reinforced 11-mile-long Nags Head shore, protecting it against the wrath of Hurricanes Irene  and Sandy, which would batter many of its fragile sister beaches. This is the Outer Banks area’s first resort, settled more than 150 years ago, and it continues to attract vacationers with endless diversions, like snorkeling around shipwrecks, sailing the sound, sea kayaking and hang gliding over sand dunes.

Delray Beach
Delray Beach, Florida

In this chilled-out town, between busy Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, the oceanfront is lined with sea grapes and there’s not a towering building in sight to cast a shadow on the sugary sand. After a day of building sand castles, stroll pedestrian-friendly Atlantic Avenue, Delray’s main drag, and browse among the independent shops and laid-back restaurants.

Chesterman Beach
Tofino, British Columbia, Canada

Surfing is a favorite sport on Chesterman, but adventure addicts of any stripe are welcome here. No matter the weather (and it can be brisk!), you’re sure to find joggers, hikers and kite flyers along this beach, famous for its hard-packed sands and nearby trails that twist through cedar forests.

Cavendish Beach
Prince Edward Island, Canada

The gorgeous red sands offer something special every hour of day: In the morning, take a dip in the temperate waters; late in the day, walk into an unforgettable sunset; at night, gaze at the star-filled sky. It’s also the ideal place to settle in with the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, penned in the town of Cavendish by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Caribbean & Mexico

Punta Cana
Dominican Republic

The 20-mile coastline here is the stuff of dreams: bikini-clad sunbathers soaking up the rays, warm Caribbean waters lapping the shore, lazy palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze. Yet while the area continues to grow in popularity—there are more than 35,000 hotel rooms within this community—there’s still enough space to stake out an isolated patch of waterfront.

Cabbage Beach
Paradise Island, Bahamas

The masses lining up at Atlantis are just a few steps down the sand, but on this postcard-perfect beach you’ll feel you’ve been swept away to your own Bahamian paradise. Steep dunes blanketed in foliage back a narrow but stunning stretch of powder flecked with the pink fragments of conch shells. The water is such a mesmerizing blue, you’ll want to dip Easter eggs in it to capture the color.

Eagle Beach
Aruba

Ditch the crowds at Palm Beach for more serene sands in Aruba’s low-rise hotel zone. Along Eagle Beach, brisk winds twist gnarly divi-divi trees into gravity-defying angles, so it’s easy to find a shady spot in which to spread out a towel and spend some time catching up on your vacation reading.

Seven Mile Beach
Negril, Jamaica

The rum punches and Red Stripe beer start flowing early in the day within the palm-thatch huts strung along Seven Mile Beach. Resorts line the shore of Negril, Jamaica’s “Capital of Casual,” but the beach itself is long enough (although not quite seven miles!) that you can usually locate a serene spot to swim in. A shallow sandbar close to shore keeps the tide fairly shallow and the water as colorful as a child’s imagination.

Rum Point
Grand Cayman

Set aside a day to experience this island’s best road trip: an hour-long jaunt from Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach to the palm-shaded crescent of sand at Rum Point. The water is usually shallow enough that you can wade well out toward the horizon, but you’ll find yourself returning to shore frequently for the frozen Mud Slides, said to have been invented here (and perhaps best enjoyed while swaying in one of the plentiful hammocks).

Pigeon Point
Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidadians, who have some nice beaches of their own, head to Tobago for its dreamy sands—and Pigeon Point, at Tobago’s southwest tip, is widely regarded as the fairest of them all. A path through swaying coconut palms opens onto the long coral beach, which stretches out along warm, aquamarine waters. Pigeon Point is also home to that much-photographed thatch-roofed jetty that has become the international symbol for Tobago.

Playa Las Animas
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

You can hike to this secluded beach south of Puerto Vallarta, but it’s much easier to reach by boat or water taxi. Once you’re there, walk along this stretch of Pacific coastline—sands give way to smooth stones and plenty of palm trees—or rent a Jet Ski or boogie board and hit the waves. Local families visit in droves on weekends, so go during the week if you’re hoping for privacy.

Playa Bonita
Cozumel, Mexico

It’s hard to find a pile of sand to call  your own close to Cozumel’s port, where cruise ships decant eager sunbathers daily. So head to the island’s eastern shores, where wide-open beaches stretch out along coral-reef-lined coasts. One of the best spots for swimming is Punta Chiqueros, a section of Playa Bonita that has a thin crescent of talcum-soft white sand and generally smaller waves.

Central & South America

Playa Conchal
Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The white sands here are made of millions of washed-up conchas (shells) that have been crushed to fluffy granules over time. As you walk south, the beach grows wider and more spectacular—and Playa Conchal’s relatively calm, crystalline waters almost beg you to take a dip in them.

Ipanema Beach
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This sexy city beach near the Dois Irmãos (Two Brothers) mountains may be one of the best places on Earth to people watch. Boardwalk stands sell beer and cachaça, a sugarcane spirit, to tanned, well-built beachgoers. Locals play soccer and sand volleyball after a hard day’s work, or simply flex their muscles at one of Rio’s waterfront gyms.

Atacames
Province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Bounce up to any of the thatch-roofed bars lining the wide beach of Atacames, order a fruity cocktail and let the reggaeton, cumbia and merengue rhythms move you. Locals come to Atacames mostly to party—especially on weekends and holidays, and all throughout the dry season (June through September). If you prefer a chill scene, come midweek and snag a hammock, or head to the quieter, western end of the beach.

Playa Brava
Punta del Este, Uruguay

The iconic La Mano statue by Chilean artist Mario Irrarázabal has made this beach Punta del Este’s most photogenic swath of sand. The sculpture—massive concrete-and-plastic fingers reaching through the beige beach—is only part of what makes the playa stand out among Punta del Este’s long peninsula of enviable shorelines. Some other enticements: bike tours, upscale fish shacks and dancing at the Ocean Club.

Pinamar Beach
Pinamar, Argentina

Pinamar Beach is where porteños on the hunt for warmth and sunshine go on holiday in the southern hemisphere’s summer. High season peaks in January, though March generally offers better deals and more privacy.

Playa Negra
Concón, Chile

The rocky coastline in this seaside town, 15 miles north of Valparaíso, is awash in fine black sands rich in volcanic mineral. That dark hue attracts heat, but don’t let the beach fool you: The water stays cold in these parts thanks to the Humboldt Current, coming up the coast. Still, people enjoy swimming in the comparatively gentle waves. Not one for a brisk dip Find a tidal pool, or consider renting a wet suit.

Europe

Inch Strand
Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

If it’s epic beauty you seek, visit this three-mile-long stretch of golden sand and dunes in the southern foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains, where the 1970 classic Ryan’s Daughter was filmed. A certified Blue Flag beach (a mark of high environmental and quality standards), it’s popular for angling, surfing, windsurfing and sunbathing. Though the Gulf Stream warms this peninsula in southwest Ireland a bit, you’ll need a wet suit and a windbreaker.

Dona Ana Beach
Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Of all the magnificent beaches that define the Algarve coast, in southern Portugal, the scenic coves in Lagos may be the most beautiful, thanks to their dramatic limestone cliffs and clear turquoise waters. Dona Ana in particular has striking archways and offshore rock islands as well as a small crescent of white sand.

Las Salinas Beach
Ibiza, Spain

This beach is a social place, whether you chat with your neighbors on the white lounge chairs or spend time at one of the many nightclubs, where young socialites mingle with Spanish footballers. Las Salinas is a fun time, but the sand and surf aren’t too shabby: Soft pine trees hug the sugary coastline, and relatively calm waves can be good for bodyboarding.

La Grande Plage
Biarritz, France

La Grande Plage at France’s ritziest Atlantic coast beach is a wide, sweeping arc backed by stately 19th-century residences and bookended by rugged cliffs. The reliable waves draw surfers by the busload—and the supermodel types who cheer them on—all of which makes for great people watching during the busy summer months. When high season ends, there’s still beauty to behold, and you pretty much get this wild swath of Basque Country entirely to yourself.

Cala Mariolu
Sardinia, Italy

It’s hard to see the beach for the beachgoers during high season on Sardinia’s congested Costa Smeralda beaches. So make a break for this hidden snorkeling cove on the Gulf of Orosei, where cliffs shelter a secret inlet and turquoise waters lap at smooth white stones. Hiking to the beach down the cliffs is tricky; Cala Mariolu is best reached by boat tours from the harbor at Cala Gonone, on Sardinia’s eastern coast.

Red Beach
Santorini, Greece

Don’t expect long white-sand beaches when traveling to Santorini. Hidden inlets, many with red- or charcoal-hued sands, are much more common here. Visitors to this island rarely skip Red Beach, which gets its name from its volcanic rock sands. Don’t feel the need to lug much gear: Umbrellas, chairs and paddleboards are available for rent.

Africa & The Middle East

Essaouira Beach
Essaouira, Morocco

When it comes to beaches set beside exotic villages, few compare to the windswept stretch of Essaouira, one of the most popular windsurfing and kitesurfing beaches in Morocco if not the world. Just three hours west of Marrakech, this ancient trading center offers more than just water sports. Here you can also ride a camel on the sand; dine on fresh sardines near the city’s ramparts, built in the 1500s by the Portuguese, where fisherman sell seafood straight from their boats; and walk the narrow lanes of the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

South Beach
Durban, South Africa

South Beach is popular for swimming and sunbathing, but its biggest draw is the 40-acre Ushaka Marine World (1 King Shaka Ave., Point Durban; 27-31-328-8000; ushakamarineworld.co.za). The largest marine park in South Africa, Ushaka has an aquarium with dolphins, seals and penguins; a water park; and a beach area teeming with activities, such as Jet Skiing, paddleboarding, kiteboarding and beach rugby.

Asia & The Pacific

Baga Beach
Goa, India

Part of the long section of sand that makes up the Goan beachfront, Baga offers much more than just umbrellas and shelling. Water sports are huge here—you’ll find everything from parasailing to wakeboarding—and when the sun goes down, the party really gets going. Holidaymakers writhe on the dance floor at the nightclubs along Tito’s Lane. For those looking for a quieter time, Mackie’s Night Bazaar sells sarongs, spices, jewelry and curios every Saturday night.

Uluwatu Beach
Bali, Indonesia

Located at the end of a long walking path, Uluwatu is one of the world’s most famous surfing destinations, and no wonder: Its waves usually deliver seriously challenging barrels. The waters are flooded with boarding regulars on weekends, so it’s a great people watching spot, too.

Bo’ao Yudai Beach
Hainan, China

Locals on the island province of Hainan, nicknamed China’s Hawaii, consider Yudai Beach the region’s most precious gem—its name, after all, translates as “jade belt.” This crescent-shaped sliver of white sand snaking between the Wanquan River and the South China Sea is said to be the world’s narrowest and longest stretch of beach separating the sea from freshwater. Hire a boat to transport you from town.

White Beach
Boracay, the Philippines

Royal palm trees hang gracefully over the crystalline sands of White Beach, which is often included in the world’s best lists. Visitors from Asia and beyond flock to its mythic shores despite its far-flung location. They come for its glassy waters, its snorkeling adventures, its boho-chic beach shacks and its infinite opportunities for Instagramming.

Natadola Beach
Viti Levu, Fiji

A turquoise sea, pure white sand, palm shade trees: Natadola Beach has it all and has earned a reputation as the greatest treasure of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. The reef forms a lagoon, providing a haven for swimming, and at low tide you can walk all the way out to the reef. Along the water’s edge, vendors hawk fresh coconuts with straws and saddle horses for you to ride.

Byron Bay
New South Wales, Australia

One of the things that Australia has in spades is beaches, and the sparkling sands at the country’s most easterly point are among its most enviable. Surfers, families and global nomads strumming guitars all converge on Byron Bay’s Main Beach to dip into the frothy blue water and stretch their legs with long, quiet walks.

Mount Maunganui Beach
North Island, New Zealand

A long sandy peninsula in the beautiful Bay of Plenty dead-ends at Mount Maunganui, a striking 760-foot hill that seems to skyrocket straight out of the sand. The ineffable scenery and some of the best weather in New Zealand has earned the beach a stellar reputation with surfers and families alike, who have built up a cool café scene in the adjacent town, almost as enticing as the beach itself.

STAY
RCI affiliated resorts near some of the featured beaches include:
Innseason Resorts The Falls at Ogunquit C309
This resort is situated on Ogunquit’s famous trolley route. 639 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine
Barclay Towers 1407
Steps from Virginia Beach, with Atlantic Ocean views. 809 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach, Virginia
Barrier Island Station—Kitty Hawk 3679
Located within a maritime forest that adjoins some 700 acres of wildlife preserve. 1 Cypress Knee Trail, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Palm Beach Shores Resort and Vacation Villas 4856
Relax by the pool or on the beach. 181 Ocean Ave., Palm Beach Shores, Florida
Pono Kai Resort 2491
Immerse yourself in the island’s culture and traditions at this oceanfront resort. 4-1250 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii
Pacific Shores Fractional Residences A717
A verdant 15-acre oceanfront resort on the east coast of Vancouver Island. 1-1600 Strougler Rd., Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, Canada
AI Cozumel Palace 1845
A 175-room beachfront resort. Av. Rafael E. Melgar Km 1.5, Cozumel, Mexico
Mayan Palace Nuevo Vallarta 4350
A beachfront resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Ave. Paseo de las Moras, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
PPAI Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana A795
This resort has nine restaurants, the largest casino in Punta Cana and white-sand beaches. Blvd. Turistico Este. Km 28, Macao, Dominican Republic
Occidental Grand Aruba 5764
This resort has a pristine beach studded with palm trees and a lagoon-style pool. 83 J.E. Irausquin Blvd., Oranjestad, Aruba
Royal Goan Beach Club at Monterio 3820
Located in north Goa, this resort, with Portuguese-inspired architecture, is near great beaches. Arpora-Baga Rd., Bardez, Goa, India
Mariner Shores Resort 1726
A family-friendly resort near Burleigh Heads National Park. 260 The Esplanade, Miami, Queensland, Australia
For member reviews and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts
Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa
A modern oceanfront hotel. Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman; 800-937-8461; westingrandcayman.com; doubles from $295* per night
Blue Waters Inn
This 38-room hotel is on Tobago’s northern end and near birding and diving. Batteaux Bay, Speyside, Tobago; 868-660-4341; bluewatersinn.com; doubles from $150 per night
Mandarin Oriental Sanya
A 30-acre resort with beautifully landscaped grounds. 12 Yuhai Rd., Sanya, Hainan, China; 86-898-8820-9999; mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $245 per night
Trinity Wharf Tauranga
This boutique hotel offers easy access to Mount Maunganui Beach. 51 Dive Crescent, Tauranga, New Zealand; 64-7-577-8700; trinitywharf.co.nz; doubles from $290 per night
  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Spring 2014