Best Beaches on Earth
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.
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.
Wailea Beach, Maui, HI
Best for Activities: Thanks to a clutch of mega-hotels along Wailea’s small beach coves, there are plenty of expert guides on hand at this top-ranked beach for activities. They’ll lead the kids on snorkeling, canoeing, and boogie-boarding excursions.
Black Sand Beach, Waianapanapa State Park, Maui, HI
Best for Dramatic Landscapes: Ranked No. 1 in its category, this protected Hawaiian beach may be small (only a quarter of a mile long), but it makes a big impression because of its black sand and abundance of spiny Hawaiian hala trees.
Seaside Beach, Seaside, FL
Best for Families: Pastel wood-paneled houses border dunes on this picture-perfect Gulf Coast beach, ranked No. 1 for families. After games of waterfront Frisbee, the entire crew can take cruiser bikes into town for a casual seafood dinner.
South Beach, Miami
Best for People-Watching: Gym-goers in short shorts vie for attention with women in skimpy bikinis at this No. 1 people-watching beach along the Atlantic Ocean, famous for its waterfront parties and pastel-colored Art Deco hotels.
Bahia Gardner, Española Island, Galapagos
Best for Wildlife Viewing: Most travelers visiting Darwin’s famous islands stop at this top-ranked beach, Bahia Gardner, where explorers share the sandy shore with sea lions, red lava lizards, Española mockingbirds, and other native wildlife.
One Foot Island Beach, Cook Islands
Best for Seclusion: There are no permanent residents on One Foot Island, ranked No. 2 for seclusion, where travelers can walk through shallow blue waters to long sandbars. Drumbeats at sundown signal the last boat back to neighboring Aitutaki island.
Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia
Best for Activities: This second-ranked beach for activities, just south of Melbourne, plays host to Rip Curl Pro, the world’s longest-running surfing competition.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CA
Best for Dramatic Landscapes: The miles of cliff-lined Pacific Coast that parallel California’s Highway One are all scenic, but Pfeiffer beats out nearby stretches for its rocky coves and unusual purple sand, earning the No. 2 ranking for its dramatic landscape.
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
Best for Families: This island’s fine sand and tranquil blue waters would impress any traveler, though parents are especially taken with the all-inclusive hotel options, and kids love the laid-back activities, from snorkeling to shell-hunting, at this second-ranked beach for families.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles
Best for People-Watching: The two-and-a-half-mile promenade along this California beach, which came in second for people-watching, might as well be a runway for bodybuilders, street performers, and fortune-tellers. Closer to the waves, surfers and volleyball players strut their stuff.
Trunk Bay, St. John
Best for Wildlife Viewing: Located within the Virgin Islands National Park, Trunk Bay, the No. 2–ranked beach for wildlife viewing, is famous both for its marine life—an underwater snorkeling trail has signs to identify coral, sea urchins, and other fish—and the surrounding 7,000 acres of protected jungle.
Voutoumi, Anti Paxos, Greece
Best for Seclusion: No. 3 in the secluded category is Voutoumi beach on Anti Paxos, the smallest of the Ionian Islands. To get to the remote crescent of white sand surrounded by steep cliffs, take a short boat ride from Paxos Island.
Playa Kalki, Curaçao
Best for Activities: Curaçao has seen an influx of visitors thanks to its appearance on NBC’s Bachelorette. But Playa Kalki, No. 3 for activities, has long been prized by expert divers for its reefs and limestone coves, home to eagle rays and damselfish.
Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Best for Dramatic Landscapes: With a ring of white sand surrounded by mangroves and limestone walls blanketed by dense foliage, it's easy to see why this beach on the Andaman Sea nabbed the No. 3 landscape ranking—and why director Danny Boyle chose it for cult-favorite The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hapuna Beach, The Big Island, HI
Best for Families: At 200 feet, Hapuna is the widest beach on the Big Island. It’s also ranked No. 3 for groups, thanks to well-paved parking lots, picnic pavilions, and plenty of concession stands.
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Best for People-Watching: Along this sexy city beach, ranked No. 3 for people-watching, boardwalk stands sell beer and caipirinhas to throngs of beachgoers, who spend their days sunning in thongs (and little else) or flexing at one of Rio’s waterfront gyms.
Assateague Beach, Virginia
Best for Wildlife Viewing: Rated No. 3 in this category, Virginia’s barrier islands Assateague and Chincoteague are indeed famous for their wild horses and also draw crowds for bird-watching (herons and egrets are common).
Turtle Beach, Buck Island, St. Croix
Best for Seclusion: The offshore reefs on Buck Island, less than two miles north of St. Croix, get most of the attention, which means that the long, forest-lined beaches like this one, rated No. 4 for seclusion, are often empty.
Montezuma Beach, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Best for Activities: This Gulf of Nicoya beach is ranked No. 4 for activities, which include sea kayaking and snorkeling. Nearby, you can go horseback riding or take a zipline canopy tour over waterfalls.
The Baths, Virgin Gorda
Best for Dramatic Landscapes: House-size granite boulders are evidence of the island’s volcanic origins, creating pools and grottoes that line this popular Virgin Gorda seashore. For dramatic scenes, this beach ranked No. 4.
South Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Best for Families: New Englanders flock to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer months, when lifeguards are plentiful and large sand dunes protect expansive beaches that are perfect for sandcastle-building, notably No. 4-ranked South Beach.
Bondi Beach, Sydney
Best for People-Watching: On Sydney’s famous moon-shaped beach, ranked No. 4 for people-watching, boards often outnumber bikinis and sporty Australians generously share the waves with beginner surfers.
Bahía Inútil, Tierra del Fuego National Park, Chile
Best for Wildlife Viewing: Bring on the happy feet—this expansive, rocky beach is home to a small colony of king penguins, which are surprisingly easy to spot from a distance. Voters rated it the world's fourth-best beach for such wildlife encounters.
Cayo Costa, Florida
Best for Seclusion: This beach on a protected Gulf island just west of Fort Myers is one of the Sunshine State’s best-kept secrets, and ranked No. 5 on the list of top secluded spots. It’s accessible only via a one-hour boat ride, so its seashell-dotted shores and miles of waterfront trails are empty even during Florida’s busy spring season.
Railay Beach, Thailand
Best for Activities: Rock climbers from all over the world descend on this fifth-ranked, activity-filled beach east of Phuket to scale the soaring limestone boulders, accessible only by boat from Krabi.
Pink Sands Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Best for Dramatic Landscapes: “Briland” is famous for its sand, which gets its rosy color from coral, rocks, and shells. The three-mile beach, ranked No. 5 for its dramatic landscape, is especially wide—100 feet in places—and has gentle aquamarine waves.
Magens Bay, St. Thomas
Best for Families: Glassy waters make this almost-mile-long Caribbean beach a carefree spot for swimming, snorkeling, and setting sail in the small boats that are available for rent along the shore. No wonder readers considered it the fifth most family-friendly beach.
Pampelonne Beach, St.-Tropez, France
Best for People-Watching: One of Europe’s most glamorous shorelines naturally ranked highly in this category, coming in at No. 5. The half moon–shaped beach attracts the champagne-and-high-heels crowd that’s willing to shell out $40 for lounge chairs and umbrellas.
Las Baulas National Park, Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Best for Wildlife Viewing: Playa Grande, ranked No. 5 for wildlife viewing, is best known for its surf-worthy waves, though parts of its shore are also protected nesting grounds for ridley and leatherback turtles. During nesting season (October to March), travelers can visit only with a park guide.