Best In-Class Beaches

Beautiful beaches come in all shapes and sizes. Find the one that suits your style with this round-up from our National Geographic book, Ultimate Journeys for Two. In each chapter, we created a top 10 list inspired by that section’s destination style (mountains, jungles, deserts, etc). For the Beaches & Islands chapter, we scoured the globe for the beaches that truly excel in their category—be it tidepooling, surfing, nude bathing, or something totally unique (DIY hot tubs in the sand? Yes, please!). Now for the world’s best-in-class beaches…

1. COLORFUL SAND: Rainbow Beach, Australia

Over 70 different colored sands make up the soaring cliffs of Queensland’s Inskip Peninsula. These rich minerals have been evolving since the last ice age, and are as vibrant as ever. Teal sea and white sand before the rainbow cliffs add an extra stunning contrast.

2. CLIFFS: Cathedrals Beach, Spain

Cathedral Beach

With rock formations arcing like buttresses a hundred feet over the sea, this Galicia beach feels as grand as the Renaissance churches of Europe. The powerful Atlantic has eroded the cliffs into a series of walkways; come at low tide to explore them.


Along the dramatic bluffs of California’s Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, anemones, starfish, crabs, and sea urchins fill thousands of rock pools. Nearby harbor seal nurseries add a lively element to this couple-mile stretch of the Bay Area.

4. HISTORY: Ruinas de Tulum, Mexico

World's Best in Class Beaches

White sand, turquoise water, and swaying palms would be enough reasons to visit Tulum, but pre-Columbian ruins towering over the beach take it to a whole new level. The Maya picked this site for its break in the reef, making it an ideal spot for ancient trading canoes and modern-day swimmers.

5. CLOTHING OPTIONAL: Guvano Beach, Italy

A cove surrounded by steep cliffs and turquoise sea, only accessible via an old railway tunnel or boat, Guvano is not an easy place to reach, but that’s what makes it perfect for nude bathers (and first-timers). No gawking passersby to worry about, just people enjoying one of Cinque Terre’s most au naturel beaches.

6. NATURAL SPA: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

world's best-in-class beaches

On either side of high tide, this geothermal beach becomes the grounds for a one-of-a-kind spa. Water (up to 147°F) filters up from underground fissures, so grab a shovel and dig yourself a hot tub.

Bonus Beach: The North American equivalent of this DIY Jacuzzi can be found on the Punta Banda Peninsula of Mexico. Read all about this epic soak in our Baja road trip blog

7. WILDLIFE: Española Island, Ecuador

World's Best in Class Beaches

The Galápagos archipelago is renowned for its diversity of wildlife, especially on Española. With more than a thousand giant tortoises, a waved albatross colony (the only one in the world), endemic lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and not to mention countless sea lions, it offers a truly wild day at the beach. See more of our Galapagos wildlife adventures in this HoneyTrek blog and the “On Safari” chapter of Ultimate Journeys for Two.

8. SURFING: Bells Beach, Australia

Home to the Rip Curl Pro—the world’s longest running surf competition—this Victoria state beach churns out consistently stellar waves. Large swells come from the Southern Ocean, hit this unique reef, and sculpt it to perfection.

9. SEASHELLS: Sanibel, USA

worlds' best in class beaches

Most seashells roll right past Florida’s beaches; however, Sanibel Island’s south-facing shores
are a veritable net for coquinas, conch whelks, and treasures hailing from across the Caribbean. Every tide brings new surprises and shellers from around the world to beachcomb Blind Pass to Lighthouse Park.

10. UNLIKELY ATTRACTION: Maho Beach, St. Maarten

You’d think being directly under an airport flight path would deter sunbathers. Instead, the 747s, swooping less than 100 feet overhead, bring droves to scope the massive airliners, feel the powerful jet stream, and cheer in unison for this regularly scheduled thrill.

BONUS Best-in-Class Beaches

world's best-in-class beaches

Camping: Playa El Requesón, Mexico

When you see those idyllic photos of Baja with turquoise waters, cactus-studded islands and white-sand beaches, it’s probably somewhere along Bahía Concepción. This stretch of the Sea of Cortez is a camping dream, with El Requesón topping the list. Low tide creates two stunning beach coves and a sand-bar bridge to let you island hop by foot to Requesón Island. Park your camper or pitch your tent anywhere along the spit for a slice of paradise. And listen for the call of the empanada man for hot breakfast at your door.

Bioluminescence: Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico

Imagine kayaking or swimming at night, and each stroke sets millions of plankton aglow, as if paddling through a galaxy. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that happens in many places around the globe (particularly when there is an algae bloom), but when the Guinness Book of World Records declared this bay on Vieques Island the brightest of them all, you know this is the one to see.

Discover More of the World’s Best Destinations

Best in Class Beaches

For more of the world’s best beaches, plus our favorite rainforests, deserts, mountains, and road trip destinations, pick up a copy of our book Ultimate Journeys for Two. It’s National Geographic’s bestselling couples travel guide and the more people that buy (and review) the first edition, the more likely we’ll get greenlit for a second. Thanks so much for your support and happy travels!

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  1. We are beach bums at heart. So great to have this great collection of beaches to keep in mind. I do love the variety of scenery on the beaches. We would certainly share our beach with the sea lions on the Galapogos Islands.

    1. white sandy beaches are just the tip of the iceberg of beautiful beaches, right? We love all these beaches for their mix of scenery and adventure. And the sea lions are so fun to watch!

  2. Great beach choices. Sadly, I’ve only to been to one on our list. ? You know what that means, I need to start booking some trips! Probably start with Moss Beach as right now, that will be the easiest to get to. Once Oz and NZ open, I’m there!

    1. Like that attitude…motivation for more beach trips! Which of the beaches have you been too?

  3. I love the beach picture with the sea lions. Great list of beaches – I have been to four of these. How did you get the New Zealand picture? On my picture are hundreds of people (including me)!! But it was great fun.

    1. so impressive you’ve been to 4 of the beaches! Hot water beach is a popular place…we almost like the Punta Banda springs better because there were only 3 other groups there on a massive stretch of beach.

  4. Great beaches! An experience at viewing Bioluminescence at Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico would be lovely. I really like that awesome look of the cliffs at Cathedrals Beach, Spain. Thanks for a great blog post. 🙂

    1. Swimming and kayaking with bioluminescence is such an incredible experience! We also love beaches with dramatic cliffs–and Cathedrals Beach takes the cake!

  5. What a lovely arrangement! I’m most interested in the Hot Water Beach, the Maho Beach, and the Bells Beach. Now that I’m living in Mexico, I’ll make sure to take advantage of the El Requesón and Ruinas de Tulum.

  6. Jennifer L Prince says:

    I love that you broke up the list like this! It encompasses the whole world. Also fun that you included a clothing optional. Ha! Ashamedly, I haven’t been to ANY of these. I need to go!

    1. hahahah…yeah that clothing-optional beach was pretty full-on, no one was shy. Yeah you totally need to check them out. And if you are interested, here is a link to our National Geographic book, we’d be so honored if you picked up a copy:

  7. Wow such a beautiful list of beaches and I am so happy to see this article. Two beaches from Australia made it to the list. I have been to both of them, Rainbow and Bells beach. I have never been to Spain, I would love to add that Cathedral beach where you can see the cliffs, so pretty.

  8. An awe-inspiring and inspiring list. I’d like to see all the beaches on your list. They look fabulous. I was only at Ruinas de Tulum, Mexico, so far and on Florida’s beaches. But I dream of visiting Española Island, Ecuador, as I love wildlife and wildlife photography. Also, Hot Water Beach, New Zealand, seems perfect for me as a natural spa.

    1. Hot Water Beach is such a brilliant concept…it makes even a chilly day the perfect day at the beach!

  9. Am quite keen on visiting at least one bioluminescent beach. Maldives has one but has not yet been able to go there. From this list, I would love to Cathedral beach in Spain. I would not say not to Galapagos too.

    1. All good choices. Bioluminescence is pure magic and good news is you don’t have to go to far-flung to see it. We just saw it off Bainbridge Island, Washington! And wow are the Galapagos incredible–it’s like going on safari at sea.

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