You could spend hours daydreaming about the world’s best beach destinations. But how do you choose one that’s right for you?
The following list can help. All of the beaches below offer exceptional beauty, clean sand and water, and nearby tourist infrastructure—and many of them are trending upward in traveler popularity.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
Providenciales is home to Grace Bay Beach, which made Tripadvisor’s list of the top 25 beaches in the Caribbean as well as SmarterTravel’s own list of the 10 best Caribbean beaches. (Tripadvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)
“Provo” is the picture-perfect Caribbean destination, one that’s been discovered but not overrun. There are clear turquoise waters, coral reefs for snorkeling, and soft white sand where you can beach comb for miles without encountering crowds. Groove to ripsaw music with the locals and savor conch fritters and jerk chicken at the outdoor island fish fry on Thursday nights.
Where to stay: The Oasis at Grace Bay offers rooms, suites, and villas just a short walk from the soft sand of Grace Bay Beach.
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Find your beach nirvana on the southern peninsula of Bali, where scenes from Eat, Pray, Love were filmed. Spirituality infuses many aspects of daily life here, so expect encounters with local traditions that prompt a little soul searching.
Among Bali’s best beaches are Kelingking Beach, which requires some 500 steps to access (but don’t worry, the jaw-dropping views from above are worth it); and Gunung Payung Beach, one of the island’s hidden gems.
Where to stay: Highlights of a stay at the dreamy Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa include the warm, friendly service and the infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
Maui is among America’s most iconic bucket-list beach destinations. Its beaches—including Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua Beach—consistently rank among the best in the world. And what Maui lacks in affordability, it makes up for in beauty and novelty far beyond the perfect palm-fringed beaches.
Experience fire dancing at luaus, sunrise hikes to dormant volcano summits, and countless waterfalls along the curvy drive to Hana. And it’s now a little more affordable to get there: Southwest started regular service to Maui (and other Hawaiian destinations) from select West Coast cities last year.
Where to stay: Each spacious unit at Aston at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach includes a full kitchen and a private balcony.
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Ringed with silky white sand, Grenada, the Caribbean’s “Spice Island,” even smells like paradise with all the nutmeg grown here. While you can find cruise passengers and hawkers if you go looking for them (at Grand Anse Beach, for instance), the beauty of this island lies in its quieter corners, including Morne Rouge Beach, the underwater sculpture park, and rainforest trails.
Grenada tourism is on the rise, with growth in visitor numbers over the past couple of years.
Where to stay: The cottages and hotel rooms at Petite Anse Beachfront Hotel & Restaurant are located on a secluded beach in the northern part of the island.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
A 21-island archipelago and natural UNESCO World Heritage site 224 miles off the northern coast of Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is home to three of the world’s top-ranked beaches. One of them, Baia do Sancho, topped Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in the world.
The archipelago limits the number of visitors to protect its delicate ecosystems and wildlife. Those lucky enough to experience Noronha’s secluded beaches will see crystalline waters flanked by reddish sand, volcanic cliffs covered in lush vegetation, and dramatic sightings of the local spinner dolphins.
Where to stay: Rooms at Pousada Del Mares are simple but comfortable, with a location near restaurants, beaches, and shops.
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Clearwater Beach, Florida
White sand as soft as powdered sugar brings spring breakers and retirees in droves to Clearwater Beach, where restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops vie for space within sight of the calm waters. Clearwater made Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in America.
The most pristine beaches in the area are at Caladesi Island State Park, an undeveloped paradise accessible only by ferry.
Where to stay: The family-owned Barefoot Bay Resort & Marina overlooks Clearwater Bay and is just a short walk from the beach.
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The 2018 release of the Mamma Mia! sequel brought the buzz back to the magical Greek Isles, where the storyline is set. Crete isn’t as popular—or pricey—as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still offers plentiful sun, sand, and history.
You can split time between the island’s rich culinary culture, ancient ruins, and alluring beaches. Laze in sheltered coves or on the top-rated Elafonissi Beach, a nearly mile-long protected stretch of white sand with shallow turquoise lagoons and sea turtles.
Where to stay: The intimate Theodore Boutique Hotel has just nine rooms, most with full or partial sea views.
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A favorite of honeymooners, St. Lucia is growing more popular with tourists of all types. Last year, this exclusive tropical paradise saw a record-setting number of visitors.
In between adventures such as swimming in waterfalls, hiking to the summit of Gros Piton, and kayaking to Pigeon Island, you can relax on St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches. Traveler favorites include Anse Mamin and Jalousie Beach.
Where to stay: The all-inclusive Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort offers a little something for everyone, from half a dozen swimming pools to a spa and wellness center.
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Praslin Island, Seychelles
Secluded and romantic, the 115-island Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, has a mystical draw. Seychelles’ beaches, including Anse Lazio on Praslin Island, are among the most photographed in the world.
Anse Lazio is a sweeping white crescent framed by granite rocks and tropical rainforest. It’s isolated but worth the effort to get to Anse Lazio, where solitude and nature reign. Or hop a 15-minute ferry from Praslin Island to La Digue to see the stunning pink sands of Anse Source d’Argent.
Where to stay: Hotel Cote d’Or overlooks a stunning white beach on Praslin Island and offers activities such as canoeing, beach volleyball, and even archery.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach is one of the most family-friendly and affordable beach destinations in the U.S. Here you’ll find 60 miles of sandy shores with nonstop fun for kids, plus reasonably priced condo-style accommodations that parents love.
There’s always something happening in Myrtle Beach, from the opening of new restaurants and breweries to special events year-round.
Where to stay: One of the newest hotels in town, South Bay Inn and Suites, is an ideal option for families with its indoor water park and convenient boardwalk location.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 7 Tropical Vacations Under $500, Including Airfare and Hotel
- The Essential Beach Packing List
- What Not to Do at a Nude Beach
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.