What to Expect: Majestic granite peaks jut from a jungle-covered range to create a spectacular backdrop for this mile-long, 300-foot-deep white-sand beach, which is covered in brightly colored umbrellas year-round. While the rocky Cagarras Islands off in the distance make for gorgeous vistas, many would argue that the best views are of the scantily clad locals, repeatedly called the most beautiful people in the world. The boardwalk lined with palm trees is made for strolling—and it’s the ideal place to soak up the sexy scene.
What to Do: If you want to hang out with celebrities and Rio’s in-crowd, throw your towel down near Posto 10 in the middle of the beach at the "Coqueirão," a big palm tree. Thirsty? Stop at any of the cabanas behind the beach and order a fresh coconut; the bartender will open it right there. Be sure to ask for a spoon, so you can enjoy the sweet meat afterward. Four blocks inland is Garota de Ipanema, the bar where, legend has it, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Morais wrote the song "The Girl from Ipanema," and where you can still hear live bossa nova.
What to Expect: All walks of life flock to this 500-foot-deep golden-sand beach, which stretches over seven miles between Marina del Rey and Pacific Palisades. The seven-acre seaside park-full of palm trees, green lawns, basketball courts, and roller dancers-is also a draw, but most head straight to the Ocean Front Walk. Lined with festively painted galleries, cafés, ice cream parlors, and surf shops, it bustles with an eclectic group of beach boardwalk veterans; bunnies and surfers rub tanned elbows with rollerbladers, skateboarders, jugglers, stilt-walkers, guitarists, and palm-readers. It’s a people-watcher’s paradise.
What to Do: Rent some wheels—bicycle ($18/day) or Rollerblades ($15/day)—from Venice Bikes & Skates and zoom seven miles north on the smooth, flat, and car-free Venice Bike Path to Will Rogers State Beach. Want to update your swimwear?Check out the smart selection at Venice Beach Bikini.
What to Expect: Framed by Diamond Head, one of the world’s most climbed (extinct) volcanoes, and with nearly two miles of continuous white sand and palm trees, this iconic beach is almost always full of tourists and surfers. It is deepest, about 100 feet, in front of the bright pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The bathtub-temp turquoise water is ideal for swimming, and waves are usually gentle. One of the safest spots is near the shallow section in front of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa, where even nonswimmers can feel comfortable venturing far from shore for a view of the beach—and Diamond Head—from the water.
What to Do: Walk a few blocks inland to Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, where Hawaiian shirts sell for as little as $4, but vintage varieties from the 1930’s will set you back thousands of dollars. Wear that new purchase to the Royal Hawaiian and sit under a pink umbrella while drifting off to the island melodies of slack-key guitarist Ledward Kaapana. Later, sip Hawaiian rum at the volcanic island’s new hot spot, RumFire.
Kitsilano Beach (Kits Beach) Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
What to Expect: Backed by the snow-capped North Shore Mountains, this stretch of gray sand is a haven for active types looking to do more than just lie on a towel and contemplate the universe. For starters, it has 10 tennis courts (free), two basketball courts (free), and two city parks, not to mention the largest saltwater swimming pool in Canada. A trail to the east leads to Vanier Park, with its spinning-top-shaped H. R. MacMillan Space Centre, home to a great observatory and planetarium. To the west of Kitsilano lie five other beaches: Jericho, Spanish Banks, Point Grey, Tower, and Wrecks, the city’s only clothing-optional sunbathing spot.
What to Do: Kick the sand off your feet, head to Vanier Park, and look for red-and-white tents-the telltale sign you know you’ve found Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. This year, the summer-long event will feature Twelfth Night, King Lear, and The Tempest. Or wrap up in a blanket to watch the sunset and gaze at the lights of the downtown skyline. If you’re lucky enough to visit in late July, don’t miss the annual Celebration of Light, an astounding international fireworks competition with wild displays over English Bay.
What to Expect: The four small white-sand beaches that face the Atlantic Ocean on the west side of town are often called the South Beach of South Africa. Boulders the size of small cars separate the beaches, which together total half a mile in length. Locals from nearby luxury apartments hang at 1st Beach, while the smaller 2nd attracts everyone, including a sizeable gay contingent. A trendy young set makes the 100-yard-long 3rd Beach the most lively. At nearly 300 yards long, 4th Beach is the biggest and most family oriented. All of them tend to be crowded in summer (December-March), when they’re protected from a biting southeasterly wind. Be warned: the water is always icy, though clean; the beaches have been awarded the Blue Flag for excellent environmental standards by the international Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
What to Do: To the beat of African drums, fire-dancers—accompanied by belly- and martial-arts capoeira dancers—entertain crowds on 2nd Beach on Monday nights throughout the summer. On a warm Friday or Saturday evening—preferably one with a full moon—experience a romantic "sundowner" on 4th Beach. As evening descends, locals light candles until the whole beach is full of hundreds of tiny flickering flames.
What to Expect: The frantic intensity of Hong Kong’s downtown business areas contrasts sharply with this peaceful stretch of pale golden sand on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Sheltered by a cove and surrounded by upscale apartments with imaginative architecture, its positive feng shui does not go unnoticed by locals. On weekends the soft-sand beach can get crowded with young professionals as well as families who come to enjoy the "protection" provided by the 1,300-foot-tall mountains behind and the "abundance" signified by the South China Sea, and of course, the spectacular views.
What to Do: Don’t miss the brightly colored Tin Hau Temple, with its red Bridge of Longevity and 15-foot-tall statues of Tin Hau, the Queen of Heaven and Protectress of Seafarers, and Kwun Yum, Goddess of Mercy. You’ll find them just past the east side of the beach. Or join joggers and dog walkers on a beautiful stroll along the paved Seaview Promenade, which follows the coastline nearly a mile to a narrower beach at Deep Water Bay. When you’ve had enough sun, visit the upscale colonial-style shopping arcade, The Repulse Bay. There, sip tea, sit under slow-moving wooden fans at the Pacific Coffee Company, Asia’s answer to Starbucks, and imagine this beach scene 80 years ago.
What to Expect: The palm-studded beach encompasses more than nine miles of the east coast of the barrier island that holds this narrow city; as the matching names imply, the city and the beach are fully intertwined. Be sure to hang out in the historic Art Deco neighborhood of South Beach, the southernmost area of the city and island, arguably the most fun and flamboyant 23 blocks of this hip seaside city.
What to Do: Start your day like some locals do: with yoga on the beach. Meet on the sand near Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Park at 7 a.m. After you’re warmed up, take a half-day bicycle tour of South Beach; modern-day highlights include the Versace mansion and locations from Scarface and Miami Vice. Check out Mansion, which swings till 5 a.m., to get a taste of Miami’s wild, beach-inspired nightlife.
What to Expect: Not one but two deep, curved pale-pink-sand beaches, each a mile-and-a-half long, make up Isla Verde. Both have gentle waves and are hugely popular with families, but the easterly option is a Blue Flag beach under strict environmental regulations; on weekends, Blue Flag officials set up a booth and talk with children about the environment. Stake your space early if you want to secure one of the beach’s 50 popular hexagon-shaped picnic shelters.
What to Do: Book an outdoor four-poster bed draped with gauzy netting at the Café La Plage at the Beach House Hotel, and order a lemony salpicon de mariscos (ceviche made with scallops, shrimp, lobster, and mussels). After dark, the café runs European and Latin American films such as Motorcycle Diaries, Y Tu Mamá También, and Volver on the big beachside white wall above the bar. Be sure to reserve your bed ahead of time to ensure extra-comfortable viewing.
What to Expect: Located partly on a peninsula near the old-but-still-working harbor in the traditional fisherman’s quarter of town, this three-quarter-mile-long family- and tourist-friendly beach was once a funky, working-class area with to-die-for seafood restaurants. All that disappeared with the city’s 1992 Olympic renovation, but the new promenade has its own charms, as you’ll see when you stroll along this walkway lined with palm trees and outdoor cafés behind the beach. Walk to the far northeast end, where you can’t miss Peix, a nearly 200-foot-long abstract golden fish sculpture by Frank Gehry.
What to Do: When in Barcelona, do as locals do and snag a seaside table overlooking the sand, order some sangria, and gaze at the Mediterranean. An excellent seaside spot is the family-run restaurant Can Majó, identifiable by its blue-and-white tables. Try Catalonia’s version of seafood paella, called fideuâ; instead of rice, it’s made with short vermicelli noodles bathed in briny broth. If you’re hitting the beach and need a good read, check out the Beach Centre in front of the Hospital del Mar. From July through September, it runs an interesting lending library for books and newspapers.
What to Expect: The curve of the bay and the rocky outcroppings called Ben Buckler and Mackenzies Point make the waves just right for surfing here at Sydney’s beloved beach, whose name rhymes with the Aussie greeting "G’dye." Laid-back surf-and-beach culture dominates everywhere—along the half-mile-long white-sand beach, on the wide promenade, in the adjacent 10-acre park, and throughout the neighborhood beyond. And while surfing rules, many Sydneysiders come out just to see the sunset. Still, when conditions are right—which is most of the time—surfers in black wet suits are the predominant species in the sea.
What to Do: Grab your "cossie" (swimming "costume") and take a surfing lesson with the experts at Let’s Go Surfing. When you’re done and ready for lunch, walk three blocks inland to the Gertrude & Alice Café Bookstore, named for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, where you can browse used books, settle into a comfy couch, or munch on "modern Australian cuisine" like mushroom and leek soup or sweet soy chicken with broccoli; there’s no menu, just a changing list of a dozen specials.