As part of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is one of the most popular beach destinations in the world. The tropical blue waters are crystal clear, acting as a window through which to view the coral reefs and colorful fish below. The most popular beaches are located on the island’s western shore. Kaanapali Beach, separating the ocean from a row of high-class, ritzy hotels, is the go-to beach for the area, covered in silky white sand and one-of-a-kind sunset views. A bit further south, Lahaina is Maui’s artsy, historic town.
Here, you can attend a seaside luau or set out on a whale watching tour. Along Maui’s southern shore, stop in Maalaea for an all-day snorkeling trip to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town or head to some other popular beaches like Kihei or Wailea. To the east, visit the truly unique Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach. The island is also home to Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, and the Road to Hana, a waterfall-filled drive through the tropical rainforest.
Located on the Yucatan Peninsula between the Gulf of the Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, the tropical destination of Cancun is definitely a little slice of paradise. The turquoise waters, powdery sand and watercolor clouds have captivated millions of tourists. While there is a certain appeal to relaxing on the beach all day, Cancun is filled with unique activities. Cancun’s best beaches are set on a narrow strip of land out on the water.
These include Playa Tortugas, Playa Forum, Playa Choc Mool and Playa Delfines. Another popular spot, North Beach, is located just north of Cancun on the island of Isla Mujeres. Visitors can go snorkeling or scuba diving in Cancun, but fishing is especially popular—go sport fishing, fly-fishing, deep-sea fishing or simply enjoy a day out sailing on the colorful waters. When you wander away from the water, you’ll find chic boutiques and Mayan step pyramids like Chichen Itza.
The islands that make up Turks and Caicos—eight main islands and plenty of other smaller ones—are less traveled, and therefore, less crowded. Vast expanses of tan sand meet deep turquoise waters that sit below vibrant blue skies. Though they’re actually located in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean, the tropical atmosphere is the appeal of the vacation. The best beaches can be found on the islands of Providenciales, Grand Turk and Middle Caicos.
For the best snorkeling and scuba diving, head to Providenciales. The island is home to the Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef, which are filled with diverse marine life and colorful coral, but you can also snorkel right from the beach at Northwest Point or Malcolm’s Road Beach. This island is also home to the world’s only conch farm. On Grand Turk, go on a stingray safari or kayak out to Madison Point past the mangroves.
The beach town of Destin lies along Florida’s Emerald Coast and it’s easy to see where the name comes from. Destin’s bright green waters and soft white sand provide the aesthetic appeal, but the clarity of the water makes it a great place for fishing. Charter boats whisk visitors out on the water to fish for red snapper, blackfin tuna, king mackerel and even sharks.
Water sports like parasailing, surfing and kayaking are also popular at Destin beaches, of which there are 13 access points throughout the city—some with spacious green waterfront parks. Destin also offers sandcastle lessons for those that prefer to stay out of the water. Aside from the beach, this Florida town has plenty of places for golfers to practice their swing and a restaurant-filled harbor boardwalk as well as annual events like the Destin Fishing Rodeo and the Destin Seafood Festival.
Miami is well known for its vibrant energy, colorful beaches and Cuban influence. Miami Beach, located on a barrier island over the bridge from the mainland, is one of the most popular beach destinations in the world. The Miami Beach neighborhood of South Beach is a popular spot for sunbathing, waterskiing and tubing. Diving is also a popular pastime, with a variety of sunken ships and reefs lying in the waters near Miami.
Directly behind the sand in South Beach lies Miami’s Art Deco District, featuring colorful retro architecture from the 1920s and 30s. Miami’s nightlife is always a hit with visitors—choose from live jazz or Latin music, energetic dance clubs or salsa dancing. And don’t forget to stop by Little Havana to experience the a little slice of Cuba. It’s filled with art galleries, Cuban restaurants and cigar shops.
The popular tourist destination of Punta Cana is quickly becoming one of the most visited islands in the Caribbean, giving lovers of sand and sea a tropical vacation destination they won’t soon forget. In the northern part of Punta Cana, Playa Bávaro is lined with resorts that provide a luxury stay along the sugary-white sands. The area is full of activity with speedboats zipping by and tourists windsurfing, parasailing and scuba diving offshore.
For a more serene environment, pay a visit to Playa Punta Cana. Located further south, this beach has less traffic so you can swim, kite surf or snorkel along the nearby reefs in peace. Many spots in Punta Cana allow for outdoor exploration alongside native animals. Dolphin Island Park near Bávaro escorts you offshore where you can swim with dolphins or sea lions and Manati Park gives visitors a chance to see some local wildlife like crocodiles, iguanas and various species of tropical birds.
The Hawaiian island of O’ahu is home to Waikiki Beach, a shoreline neighborhood in Honolulu that features the deep tan sands, vibrant blue skies and sparkling waters Hawaii is known for. This ever-popular beach draws visitors from all over the world, offering exciting activities for anyone and everyone. Some choose to soak up the sun on the sand, but there is so much to do in the water at Waikiki.
The waves aren’t huge, but they’re large enough to draw a fair amount of surfers; if you’re new to the surf life, lessons are available. Visitors can also go parasailing, jet skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and waterskiing in the waters along the shoreline. A row of luxury resorts lines the beachfront and the area has a very lively nightlife. The nearby Hilton Hawaiian Village shoots off fireworks every Friday, providing a magical lasting memory for all who visit Waikiki.
Whether you’re seeking romance or adventure, Nice has something to offer. Located in the French Riviera along the Mediterranean Sea, there are numerous coastal bays that draw in gentle azure waters. The weather is moderate and sunny for almost the entire year so every season is fair game for tourism. Rather than the smooth sand of many beach destinations, the seaside in Nice is covered in tiny pebbles.
Many of the area’s beaches are crowded, but Nice is also filled with private beaches that you can visit for a fee. While the amount gives you access and your own lounge chair, you can pay a little more for an umbrella to stay out of the sun. These simple beaches are beautiful places to relax and go for a swim under the low cliffs that pepper the shoreline. Aside from the beaches, Nice is famous for its culture, filled with historical sites and museums.
While the Opera House is Sydney’s most identifiable point of interest, it is also home to some exceptional beaches. Bondi Beach is a must-stop, with rough waves perfect for strong swimmers. Surfers line both ends of the beach with surf lessons provided by a variety of local companies. From Bondi Beach, walk along the cliffs to Coogee, another nearby beach. Your stroll will take you past panoramic views, signs detailing stories about the Aboriginals and sea baths.
Take a ferry across the harbor to Manly, where you can bike along the shoreline, swim with sharks, take stand-up paddleboarding lessons or dine at a waterside microbrewery. For tranquil swimming, visit Balmoral, Bronte or Redleaf beaches. Other popular attractions in Sydney include the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Royal Botanic Gardens and The Rocks neighborhood, full of cobblestone streets and traditional architecture.
The tourist town of Varadero, situated on a narrow peninsula east of Havana, technically lies in the Atlantic but has all the makings of a Caribbean island: soft white sand, warm turquoise waters and tall palm trees with their fronds swaying in the wind. Most visitors to this part of Cuba are looking for an upscale experience at one of the town’s all-inclusive resorts; they want go for a dip, lie on the beach and sip fruity cocktails.
This sleepy vacation town lies on the north side of the peninsula, along with Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course, but if you head to the south, you’ll find boats that will take you fishing and spectacular shipwrecked diving sites. You can also take a day trip to Matanzas, where you can take a boat ride through the crocodile-filled everglades, or visit Havana, a city filled with colorful culture and history.
The majority of Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, is either mountainous or used to cultivate palm oil, but it’s got plenty of beautiful beaches. Patong Beach runs the entire length of the city, offering chances to jet ski, parasail or kayak. Experienced divers flock here to plunge into the area’s blue lagoons, while rainbow-colored umbrellas shade visitors who choose to stay on land.
Near Patong Beach, a street lined with food stalls offers a chance to taste grilled meats, Thai soups, fresh fruit and crepes. When you head into town, visit Bangla Road for dinner. You can spend all evening here, shopping, visiting bars and nightclubs, going to shows and listening to live music. Head north of Patong for quieter beaches like Bang Tao Beach and Kamala Beach.
Located in Central America, Costa Rica is sometimes overlooked as a beach vacation destination but it shouldn’t be. Though it is small, Costa Rica—which means “rich coast”—has varied landscapes on both the Pacific and the Caribbean sides. Scattered resorts draw visitors to the warm northwest Pacific coast, known as the Gold Coast, where there are beautiful seaside views as well as surfing, yachting and fishing.
To the south on the Pacific side, verdant rainforests border the rather secluded beaches, making for a private destination with no resorts in sight. The Caribbean coastline on the eastern side of the country has a lot less tourism, but it is filled with plenty to entice nature lovers. Snorkeling at a rainbow-colored reef, whitewater rafting and dolphin watching are all available at some of the most beautiful beaches, like Punta Uva and Manzanillo. You can also find horseback riding tours throughout the country, both on the coast and through the lush rainforests.
With a 300-mile long coastline bordered by barrier islands, North Carolina is a major destination for beachgoers. Popular areas to visit along the coast include the Outer Banks, the Crystal Coast, the Brunswick Islands and the Wilmington area. The rolling sand dunes along the Outer Banks make it the top spot to visit on the North Carolina seashore, with Cape Hatteras National Seashore being a must-see.
While it’s possible to surf and swim here, the real appeal is on land; go crabbing or collect shells that wash up on the sand, or climb to the top of the lighthouse for a different view of the area. Rent a beachside cottage along the Crystal Coast, explore the five barrier Brunswick Islands or visit Carolina Beach, Kure Beach or Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington to experience east coast beach town charm.
Aruba lies in the heart of the Caribbean with western and southern beaches brimming with beauty waiting to be explored. With a drier climate and a flatter landscape than other tropical islands, it remains unique, despite its typical colored water and smooth white sands. The island maintains a mystical, romantic air highlighted by the brilliant sunsets and calm, sheltered waters. Eagle Beach and Palm Beach are two great choices, but head to Arashi Beach to get away from the resorts.
A shallow reef lies just offshore, making it the perfect place to snorkel. Sea turtles sometimes lay their eggs here so if you time it right, you jus might get to see them hatch and head for the water. Snorkeling and diving are big all over the island, giving you a glimpse into what lies below the pristine water, but try something new and take a Seabob tour. These underwater sleds act as personal submarines to take you down below.
Bora Bora is one of many tiny islands near Tahiti in what is known as French Polynesia. Although water plays an important role in any beach destination, even some of the accommodations sit over the water in Bora Bora. These famed bungalows sit on stilts in the middle of tranquil electric blue lagoons, giving visitors the memorable experience of staying close to nature and waking up right on the water. The vibrant colors are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere.
Many newlyweds visit this tropical oasis due to its romantic isolated atmosphere. Your trip won’t be complete without a visit to the southern Matira Beach. Since water is such a prominent part of life in Bora Bora, it’s no surprise that they have plenty of water-based activities: go snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, paddleboarding, kitesurfing or parasailing. Get a bird’s eye view of the island via helicopter or test your courage as you swim with and feed sharks and stingrays.
As Hawaii’s oldest and least developed island, Kauai provides some of the most spectacular views in the world. The Poipu area is located on the island’s southern tip and is definitely a vacation spot. With condo rentals and resorts limited to the size of a coconut tree, it is busy but not overdeveloped—some of the beaches here remain untouched, making it a special place to visit.
Poipu Beach Park is one of the most popular spots for swimming and snorkeling, but the really exciting part of the coastline is Mahaulepu Beach. This more remote, rugged area is great for windsurfing and kitesurfing because the bays help eliminate strong currents and winds.
A barrier island located off the western side of Florida, Siesta Key is a lazy beach town perfect for those who just want to relax and soak up the sun. The green waters roll in from the Gulf of Mexico, wetting the quartz-white sand. This quiet town is full of beaches on which to unwind, including Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach and the shell-covered Point of Rocks.
As you might expect, water activities are abundant here. Visitors can parasail or paraglide, stand-up paddleboard, go whale watching and do all kinds of surfing. Kayaking, canoeing and other boat tours are also popular.
Just a few hours south of Siesta Key is Sanibel Island, another barrier island off of Florida’s western shore. Just like the key, this island is filled with fun activities and plenty of space for relaxation. Sanibel Island is famous for its seashells and sand dollars, which arrive on the beaches in massive quantities. While rare shells do wash up, it’s fun to hunt for any that you find appealing.
The island is also home to a historical lighthouse that is still functioning today. Another exciting thing about Sanibel Island is the presence of causeway beaches, where visitors can drive their cars up on the sand directly to the water. Hop out and get ready to swim, windsurf or have a picnic on the beach. Nearby boats will take you out on the water to look for playful dolphins or to catch some fish. If you’re looking to escape the beach crowds, head to Bowman’s Beach.
Located further south of Cancun on Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, Tulum is a quiet town that is rapidly gaining popularity. Also located in the Riviera Maya, ruins of a Mayan temple rise up over the turquoise water at Mayan Beach. This former walled city offers mystery and intrigue along the shore that other beach destinations lack. Further inland, other well-preserved temples draw many visitors.
For more water-based fun, visit Xel-Ha, an amazing aquatic theme park where tourists can swim with dolphins. A similar park, Xcaret, takes you through an underwater river and teaches you about Mayan history. The area is filled with other underwater caves and natural swimming holes—called cenotes—to explore. If you prefer to stick to the beach, take part in activities like kitesurfing, paddleboarding and scuba diving, or stop by a nearby restaurant to have a drink overlooking the sea.
The Cayman Islands are made up of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Grand Cayman, the largest and most populous of the islands, has plenty to see and do. Its famous Seven Mile Beach is crescent-shaped, and houses many of the island’s resorts and condo rentals. Stingray City gives visitors a chance to learn about, feed and swim with stingrays and the reefs and shipwrecks along the coastline make it a popular spot for scuba diving.
The island is also home to some natural blowholes that spew water into the air and several reefs. Little Cayman is also known for its diving spots, but also for its rocky beaches. Only one beach—Point of Sand—is suitable for swimming. Cayman Brac is more popular among those who want to stay on land; it has some great hiking trails, rock climbing and caves to explore.