No beach is quite like another; each is defined as much by natural beauty—windswept dunes; colorful sands; sheer cliff sides—as by the travelers it attracts. After all, how do you compare the pink sands of Harbour Island, Bahamas, with the glitterati lounging along the red sands of Santorini? Considering Earth counts some 370,000 miles of coastline, how does one crown that perfect beach getaway?
Luckily, there’s no need to pick just one, and you’ve got a lifetime of beaches to sample. Start with T+L’s bucket list of recommendations from our editors, contributors, and notable globe-trotters, such as fashion designer Rachel Roy. She favors Shell Beach on the see-and-be-seen island of St. Bart’s, which she describes as “equal parts shopping and paradise.” You’ll find equally fantastic people-watching at Sydney’s celebrated Bondi Beach, which welcomes all comers (Sydneysiders; wave riders; foreign tourists). Its rushing tides and ideal surf make donning a wet suit the order of the day.
Of course, a secluded beach has its own undeniable appeal. If you can manage the 11-mile hike along Hawaii’s Kalalau Trail, in northwestern Kauai, you’ll be duly rewarded with the Na Pali Coast beaches—patches of sand in valleys hewn in ragged rock faces, following millions of years of being battered by crashing tides.
If the hidden beaches of Kauai promise scenic isolation, the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, delivers a light show courtesy of bioluminescent microscopic organisms that make their home in the reef-protected waters of Mosquito Bay. They emit a resplendent blue glow when disturbed by passing boats and curious swimmers. Come nightfall, nothing appears so ethereal, unless, perhaps, you find yourself on Seychelles, an island nation east of Kenya. It’s the site of what is rumored to be the world’s most-photographed beach—L’Anse Source d’Argent—and white crescents of sand studded by sky-high palm trees make a persuasive case. A bit of exploring uncovers coves, pink granite rock formations, and a shallow, near-stagnant shore that keeps the ocean impossibly turquoise.
Whatever the specific allure, beaches collectively remain one of our last true escapes and as close to paradise as we’re likely to get on earth. See which beaches made our list, and share your favorites in the comments below. — Lindsey Olander