Soothing and warm, with a rhythmic wave massage and muscle-melting vibe of maximum relaxation, beaches are nature’s day spas. A beautiful sandy stretch with stunning views and a gentle waves lapping at your feet is surely worth roaming half the planet to find. In California, they can also be as close as a short drive — or maybe right outside your door. Here we profile seven of the world’s most fabulous beach destinations.
A jewel of the Turkish Riviera, historic and metropolitan Antalya is the country’s largest international sea resort, with several gorgeous beaches offering crystal-clear water, soft sand and much more. Where to start? Cleopatra’s Beach was beloved by the monarch temptress for its shimmering, shallow surf and fine golden sand. Lara Beach Park is long and wide, rimmed by pine trees and lined by five-star resorts and lively nightlife (some call it the Las Vegas of Turkey). Explore Antalya a bit and discover scenic rock formations, waterfalls, secluded coves, watery caves and recreation galore.
Set amid majestic towering cliffs and lush greenery, La Jolla is a prime destination for beachcombers who prefer a range of options and activities. La Jolla Cove — the best spot for swimming, snorkeling and diving — is ecologically protected, with calm water full of colorful fish. Next door is Scripps Park’s wide grassy expanses for spreading out and enjoying the view. A family favorite, La Jolla Shores has soft sand and good surfing. Perched beneath lush Torrey Pines and its PGA-caliber golf course is Black’s Beach, a secluded spot that’s clothing-optional at its north end. Looking for more? San Diego is just a short putt away.
Catalina is California’s only island resort destination, making it an excellent choice for a quick beach getaway. Best of all, it’s just an hour away by boat (quicker if you take a helicopter), so you can be relaxing in an island paradise in the time it takes to get across town. The island is almost always delightfully sunny, with water temperatures warm enough to enjoy all the activities Catalina is famous for: boating, snorkeling and relaxing on the beach.
Where land ends at the southern edge of Baja California, lush Los Cabos has much to offer, not the least being sapphire surf and lazy strips of white sand. A must-visit spot for couples (Cabo is a popular wedding destination, after all), the secluded Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach) is a romantic hideaway surrounded by abstract, arching rock formations and schools of colorful fish that are a magnet for snorkelers. A short jaunt away is, ahem, Playa del Divorcio (Divorce Beach), a perfect spot for surfing and sun worshiping. Cabo San Lucas is celebrated for its resorts and nightlife, sport fishing, golf and fine Mexican and international cuisine.
This charming town on the west coast of Australia — a magnet for surfers of all stripes — is acclaimed for its spectacular beaches with fine talcum sand and brilliant South Pacific water that sparkles in all shades of blue. Perhaps the crown jewel is Conto’s Beach, an Aussie favorite that’s gaining international acclaim for its surreal natural beauty and a number of spots with excellent surf and clean breaks. Not incidentally, Margaret River is home to scores of acclaimed wineries that offer tours and tastings. Wine-sipping paired with the area’s many art galleries, a product of its bohemian heritage, is highly recommended.
On the pristine shores of New Zealand’s Waiheke Island is Onetangi Beach, a 1.5-mile stretch of white sand that’s home to Onetangi Beach Races, a historic horse-racing event that’s been staged here for more than a hundred years. Swimming and fishing conditions are just about perfect, and Onetangi transforms into a sublime surfing spot when the wind blows in from the north. There are two stellar beachfront restaurants nearby, perfect for refueling after a day in the sun.
A strikingly beautiful paradise, Thailand’s Maya Bay — the setting for Leonardo DiCaprio’s 1999 film “The Beach” — is tucked amid tall jagged cliffs on three sides, with silky white sand and coral reefs. Exotic and secluded but far from alone, Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh island draws hordes of tourists by boat, including snorkelers who come to swim with the colorful neon fish. No food is available; day trippers and campers bring their own. If you’re not into roughing it, stay in nearby Phuket, where luxury accommodations abound, and take a speedboat or long boat to Maya Bay. Getting there is half the fun.
CALIFORNIA’S CENTRAL COAST
Pismo State Beach
Towering sand dunes and oceanfront recreation meet small-town allure at Pismo Beach, proving that SoCal denizens needn’t go far for a world-class beach experience. Just 170 miles up the coast from L.A., Pismo is another world, a haven for surfing, skim boarding and ocean kayaking. And Oceano Dunes has more than 3,000 acres for off-road activities and horseback riding. A popular attraction, Monarch Butterfly Grove draws thousands of beautiful orange-and-black butterflies to Pismo from late October to February. Just a half hour away is Santa Maria wine country, a short drive for that perfect glass of Pinot Noir or Syrah.
—Bob Young, Custom Publishing Writer