10 Unique Beach Vacations for Discerning Travelers
I’ll never forget the first time I set foot on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia. Turquoise waters, palm trees swaying in balmy breezes, and dark green volcanic mountains set against a clear blue sky—it was a travel magazine story brought to life. I was in Tahiti on a work trip, and whenever I had a free afternoon, I hopped on the ferry for the short ride from Papeete to Mo’orea to explore on bike or foot, relishing in the laid-back atmosphere that was a quiet alternative to the main island. I couldn’t believe such places really existed, and the technicolor dream that is Mo’orea lives happily in my memory.
Beach vacations are something we all dream of, yet the type of beach experience we want can vary wildly. In Mo’orea, I was not content to lie on the beach all day sipping Piña Coladas. I wanted to explore the island’s wilds so I could take in as much as possible, knowing that it was unlikely I would return. The list of great beaches to visit is long—we are lucky to live in a world with extraordinarily beautiful places and could spend our lives on a quest to find the best beach in the world.
To make this list, we found beaches that offer something unique, whether you want to relax under an umbrella with a book and a drink in your hand or spend all of your time in the water learning about marine life. Pick the one that best suits your interests, but know none will disappoint.
Bathsheba Beach, Barbados
Bathsheba Beach, located on the east coast of Barbados, is a rugged and picturesque beach known for its impressive rock formations, pounding waves, and natural tide pools. The beach is popular among surfers due to its consistent swells and challenging breaks but also attracts those seeking a peaceful escape from the more crowded beaches on the west coast. Legend has it that the waters of Bathsheba are rich in minerals and possess health-giving value. One way to reap the benefits of the island is to take in the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean while relaxing in the natural pools formed by the coral reef while sipping on the local specialty—signature Bajan rum drinks.
Cable Beach, Nassau, Bahamas
Sometimes you really need a beach getaway but just don’t have the time or the energy to go far. Enter Nassau, Bahamas, known for its short-flight proximity to the U.S., but also its large-scale resorts and potential for crowds. We have a solution: the newly opened Goldwynn Resort at Cable Beach. Chic, private, with a heated infinity pool that overlooks the beach so you can hop between the resort and shoreline as often as you like without mingling with the beach-going public. This is a beach vacation for those short on time but searching for a modern, comfortable sanctuary.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Located on the northwestern coast of Oregon, Cannon Beach is known for its stunning beaches that stretch for miles. It’s popular among surfers, but also for people who want a change of pace in their beach vacation—something a little more moody, perhaps, with towering cliffs and the iconic Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall sea stack rising from the Pacific Ocean. The beach offers many opportunities for action—a fat bike route along the coast or hiking in nearby Ecola State Park or Neahkahnie Mountain. And the quaint town is filled with chef-owned restaurants, local breweries, and wineries to refuel in when you’ve had your fill of outdoor activities.
Les Calanques de Cassis, Provence, France
Cassis is a fishing village on a picturesque bay surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. It also happens to have a vibrant beach scene, with activities that range from sunbathing to boating to cliff jumping and—perhaps most importantly—wine tasting. Cassis is also home to some of the region’s best wineries, and here, you can combine your passions. Spend the day visiting a few wineries, hang out on the beach, and as the day turns to evening, dine al fresco on fresh seafood. All you need is a good pair of shoes, a towel, a local bottle of Rosé, and you’re set for a perfect day.
St. Catherine’s Beach, St. George’s, Bermuda
With its crystal-clear turquoise waters, soft pink sand, and stunning sunsets, St. Catherine’s Beach is a quiet escape within walking distance of the center St. Georges a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, you can not only enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings but dive into the town’s history by wandering its quaint streets and visiting the fort. This fascinating historic landmark offers visitors a glimpse into the island’s past. Built in the early 1600s by the British, the fort was strategically located on the island’s eastern tip, overlooking the entrance to St. George’s Harbour. After sunbathing and exploring, indulge yourself in the champagne evening ritual at the St. Regis resort, conveniently located overlooking St. Catherine’s Beach.
Secret Beach at Secret Bay, Dominica
The only way to get to Secret Beach is by boat, although intrepid swimmers could snorkel around the cliff face. It is truly private. Located in Dominica, Secret Bay is an award-winning resort with elegant, residential-style villas with private plunge pools and dedicated staff to handle your every need. To be at Secret Bay is to truly disconnect from everything and immerse yourself in one of the most stunning natural environments in the Caribbean. Dominica is one of the largest islands but also one of the least populated. It’s known as “Nature Island” and possesses 365 rivers, the second-largest boiling lake in the world, subterranean volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, and both black and white sand beaches. This beach vacation is for those who truly want to leave the world behind but don’t want to sacrifice luxury.
Hulopo’e Beach, Lana’i, Hawaii
Hulopo’e Bay, located on the southeastern coast of Lana’i, which is Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island, is known for its incredible array of sea life. The bay is a protected marine preserve with crystal clear waters and coral reefs that are virtually undisturbed, providing visitors with some of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. You might see spinner dolphins playing in the Bay’s sparkling water, endangered green sea turtles, and in the winter months, the migration of humpback whales. The crescent-shaped Hulopo’e Beach boasts powdery sand, clear water, and backs up to the Four Seasons Lanai, a resort that’s committed to protecting both the environment and culture of the island. Aside from the vast list of land and sea experiences offered, their Love Lanai Cultural Advisors lead guided hikes where guests can learn about the native history of the ancient Hawaiian village nearby and the legend of Pu’u Pehe. This striking rock formation juts out of the Pacific just 150 ft. off the coastline.
Praia Do Norte, Nazare, Portugal
Let’s get right to it: one of the primary reasons to visit Praia do Norte is to see the world-famous 100-ft waves with your own eyes. Located in Nazare, Praia do Norte is famous for its massive waves, making it one of the most challenging and exhilarating surf spots in the world. It also offers stunning views of the Atlantic, picturesque cliffs, and a charming fishing village. You can’t beat the seafood in Portugal. The best way to experience the beach in Nazare is dining at Taberna d’Adélia, which just received another Michelin Guide nomination. It is just steps from the beach, so you can enjoy your cataplana watching the surfers navigate the waves before you.
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Puerto Rico
The best thing about the beach at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar may not be the beach. Located on the North Shore of Puerto Rico, it has incredible views and turquoise waters, but its proximity to the El Yunque rainforest really sets it apart. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. It is a paradise filled with towering trees, cascading waterfalls, natural swimming holes, and rare bird species. The beach is nestled in Rio Grande, a municipality known for its lavish hotels, championship-worthy golf courses, and iconic restaurants. Perfect for those seeking a beachfront locale and one of the world’s most biologically diverse rainforests.
VOMO Island, Fiji
The farthest flung location on our list, VOMO is a leading eco-positive resort, which means that the resort’s environmental initiatives shepherd the continued preservation and safeguarding of Fiji’s delicate marine ecosystem. The property has a marine biologist on staff and is a PADI 5-Star Gold Palm Dive Resort. That means you can submerge yourself in vast schools of butterflyfish and oriental sweetlips or drift the channels with white tips, Giant Trevallies, and Bluefin Kingfish. The property consists of two islands—VOMO, a 225-acre private island with 34 private residences and resort villas; and VOMO Lailai, a smaller island that you can book for your own Robinson Crusoe adventure, like a private picnic complete with sun loungers, beach towels, cold beverages, and a gourmet lunch. The hotel provides a two-way radio so you can call when you’re ready to be picked up or if you just run out of champagne.