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Travel + Leisure’s first-ever best beaches survey reveals where to plant your umbrella in the sand, whether you’re looking for seclusion or wildlife viewing.
Polihale Beach, Kauai, HI
Best Beaches on Earth
Polihale Beach, Kauai, HI
Best for Seclusion: Barrier dunes frame this wild, seven-mile stretch, ranked No. 1 in this category. It’s the westernmost public beach on Kauai, accessible only via sugarcane farm roads that date back to the early 1900s.
Travel Advisory: The area's unpaved roads can be hazardous. Check with your rental car company for restrictions before heading out.
There are an infinite number of beaches around the globe, but this year, to determine the best sandy spots, Travel + Leisure launched our first annual Best Beaches Survey—and asked savvy travelers to reveal their favorite places.
Related: Best Beach Weekend Getaways
The list started with 54 famous beaches, grouped by type, and voters ranked the idylls they love. One point came across loud and clear: you don’t have to travel far to experience a spectacular beach. In fact, U.S. beaches won out in almost every category, from seclusion to people-watching. (You’ll have to travel the distance to reach the ultimate destination for wildlife spotting: Bahia Gardner, in the Galápagos Islands.)
Related: Best Beach Gadgets and Gear
Every traveler knows that the perfect family-friendly beach has to deliver more than just a picturesque scene. Beaches with wide sand, calm waves, and easily accessible amenities are what parents need when the little ones are in tow. Take Seaside Beach, FL, for instance, known for its emerald water and cruiser bike–filled streets.
Further afield, in the Caribbean, all-inclusive hotels and endless kid-friendly activities—snorkeling, bodyboarding, and sea kayaking—are some of the reasons that parents of kids and teens love Seven Mile Beach, in the Cayman Islands.
Those in search of an off-the-grid stretch of sand will want to note the beaches that T+L readers deemed best for seclusion, starting with Polihale Beach, Kauai. Its wild, seven-mile shoreline is accessible only by old farm roads. But voters also gave a nod to One Foot Island Beach in the South Pacific’s Cook Islands. Perhaps this beach is so alluring because the visit is inherently ephemeral: flip-flop-wearing travelers are not able to spend the night. Instead, drumbeats at dusk signal the last boat to nearby Aitutaki island, where a small airport welcomes four flights a day from Raratonga.
Read on for the top 30 beautiful beaches, both familiar and lesser known.