Ask a hundred people what their favorite beach vacation spot is, and you’ll likely get a hundred different responses. Amazing beach trips are often a combination of the perfect spot, ideal companions, and memorable experiences. While we certainly can’t choose your traveling partners for you, we can compile a list of fantastic destinations that are sure to fit the bill, whether you’re longing for a natural wonder, a secluded getaway, or a spot to dig your toes in the sand with your kids. Here are a few for your consideration.
Beaches for active vacationers
For diving and snorkeling, lush Raja Ampat in Indonesia is paradise. Scientists, photographers, and divers of all levels marvel at the startling biodiversity — nearly 1,500 species of fish and more than 10 times as many coral species as found in the entire Caribbean. Divers pay a tourism fee that helps preserve this underwater wonder.
Australia has an ample supply of surfing beaches, including a wonderful array near Gold Coast in Queensland. The city boasts more than 40 miles of coastline, 300 days of sunshine a year, and some of the most popular surf breaks in the world. From Snapper Rocks to Currumbin Alley, surfers of all skill levels can find waves to tempt them.
If you prefer a little variety in your beach trip, Quepos, Costa Rica, is ready to oblige. Although the tiny village is best known for its world-renowned big-game sportfishing, visitors can also try zip lining, hiking through rain forests, whitewater rafting, and sea kayaking.
The most photographed beach in the Mediterranean, Ölüdeniz in Turkey, has glorious panoramic views, making it ideal for paragliding. The name Ölüdeniz refers to the calmness of its delicate-green to sapphire-blue waters, serene even during storms.
Golfers will find a paradise of their own in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, home to five world-class courses. But that’s not the only thing to do. Take time to explore marsh-lined creeks by canoe or play a match or two at one of the finest tennis resorts in the United States. For history buffs and foodies, beautiful Charleston, South Carolina, is just a short drive up the coast.
Just 18 miles around, Bora Bora is a magical retreat among the islands of French Polynesia. From twin volcanic peaks rising from the island’s center to white-sand beaches surrounded by a peaceful lagoon and barrier reef, Bora Bora is a tranquil retreat with several beaches. Matira Beach is a popular option.
Visitors to Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island in the Bahamas will find abundant natural beauty — yes, the sand really is pink — and perfect temperatures year-round. The island’s easygoing Bahamian vibe will put you at ease as you fish, dive, snorkel, or take a romantic walk alongside turquoise waters.
Escape to crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore and reap the rewards of some of the most spectacular views in the islands. A popular location for movies, from "South Pacific" to "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Hanalei Bay doesn’t let celebrity go to its head; it’s still simple and laid-back, a peaceful alternative to some of Hawaii’s more cosmopolitan beaches.
Northeast of the main Seychelles island of Mahé, La Digue is truly a paradise for those who want to unplug and enjoy a romantic retreat from the world. Bicycles outnumber cars, and rare birds and giant tortoises roam this tiny island, almost unchanged in the nearly three centuries since it was discovered. Snorkeling and diving are popular activities, as are boat rides out to the several uninhabited islands nearby. Or just relax on the beach and bask in the fragrant breezes.
Artists and poets have long made their way to Taormina, on Sicily’s eastern coast, for its dramatic landscapes and intoxicating atmosphere. The medieval town, situated between volcanic Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea, boasts Greek and Roman ruins and is a delightful journey into the past. Visitors in the present, however, will enjoy delicious cuisine, a variety of festivals that run throughout the year and, of course, one of the loveliest beaches in Europe.
Chosen by Dr. Beach as America’s Best Beach for 2012, San Diego's Coronado Central Beach boasts near-perfect weather year-round on its two-mile stretch of sand and surf. Gentle waves make it ideal for boogie boarders or beginner surfers, and the north end of the beach is dog friendly. Fire rings dot the sand for those interested in a nighttime bonfire and s’more party. When you want a break from the beach, the celebrated San Diego Zoo is close by.
Head up the West Coast to find kid-friendly Cannon Beach in Oregon, 80 miles west of Portland. The setting is breathtaking — lush old-growth forests and giant rock monoliths, including 235-foot-high Haystack Rock — and the atmosphere is charming. Cannon Beach is perfect for an old-fashioned family vacation — flying kites, tide pooling, or joining in one of the West Coast's largest sandcastle-building contests each June.
Hunt for shells; go snorkeling, kayaking or biking; or say hello to dolphins and manatees. All are on the agenda at lovely white-sand Coquina Beach Park in Bradenton, Florida. This peaceful beach on the southern tip of Anna Marie Island gets its name from the colorful little seashells — "coquinas" — that arrive on the shoreline each morning, waiting to be discovered by adventurers. Pack a picnic to enjoy in the shade of Australian pines, splash in the warm gulf waters, and soak up the charm of this unspoiled bit of Floridian paradise.
For a different kind of beach experience, try West Beach at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Although the Chicago skyline is clearly visible, this beach couldn’t be further from the bustle of the city. The park, which is open year-round, offers 15 miles of beaches for swimming, boating, and fishing; hiking trails; horseback riding; and a Junior Ranger program where your kids can earn badges while learning about this treasure of a national park.
Your older children with an adventurous streak may enjoy a journey to Jobos Beach in Puerto Rico. Located in Isabela on the northwest corner of the island, Jobos has a bit of everything: wild, rugged, fossilized sand dunes; consistent waves that can be enjoyed by surfers of all levels; a beautiful beach for those who don’t surf; and great local eateries. For those who enjoy a full slate of beach activities, Jobos also offers excellent fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, and kiteboarding.