Our favorite beaches are just the spots to warm up. They come in all colors — white, pink, gold, and black — and are either beloved for their superb natural setting, smashing eye-candy, or beachside activities. This winter, pick between powdery Caribbean shores, heavenly Hawaiian islands, cosmopolitan Australia, spectacular Brazil, and undeveloped Mexico. And, when you're ready to hit the beach again next summer, we've got you covered there too, with glamorous Mediterranean swaths in Greece and the South of France, and even a remote archipelago off the coast of Africa.
1. Anse Source d’Argent
The archipelago of Seychelles, composed of more than 100 palm tree-studded islands in the midst of the Indian Ocean, is a mostly undiscovered destination for American travelers, largely due to its distant location, some 1,000 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. Dedicated beachcombers who make the trek will, however, be rewarded with some of the most paradisical shores in the world, where beautiful secluded beaches and idyllic lagoons meet with unspoiled natural landscapes echoing with exotic bird songs. The tiny island of La Digue’s picture-perfect Anse Source d’Argent (French for "silver spring cove") is one of the islands’ most popular beaches, featuring fine pink sands; towering, weathered granite boulders; and giant, arching palm trees. Swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving are ever-popular in these calm, reef-protected waters. A sprinkling of nearby luxurious resorts and spas also beckon, catering to the beach-lovers who make this ultimate beach pilgrimage in high-season — May through September.
2. Grace Bay
Revered as one of the last frontiers of the Caribbean, Turks and Caicos is an oasis for those seeking to do little more than lounge on the beach, as there are few diversions other than surf, sun, and sand. And when the sand in question is as superb as gorgeous Grace Bay, it’s no wonder the focus is on the beach. Edging 12 miles along the northern coast of Providenciales (the chain’s main island), the fine white sand here is easily one of the finest swaths of beach we’ve ever seen in the Caribbean. What’s more, the Atlantic waters it faces are calmed and protected by a natural 499-mile-long barrier reef, which gives the ocean a marvelous turquoise sheen. The fact that the beach also rarely gets crowded, even in high-season, only adds to its appeal. Indeed, with this trifecta going for it, Grace Bay is the ultimate R&R destination — the most strenuous thing you’ll do here is try and spot JoJo, the island’s resident dolphin, who likes to frolic in the distance.
“Tall and tan and young and lovely.” So goes “The Girl from Ipanema”, the famous ode to the bathing beauties (or garotas) who lounge and strut on this stunning stretch of sand in Rio de Janeiro. Even four decades after the song’s debut, trendsetting bikinis still set the standard here (who can forget the oh-so memorable dental-floss version?) and the eye-candy remains second to none. The two-mile stretch of golden sand is no slouch either, as it’s edged by a groovy mosaic boardwalk and anchored by twin mountain peaks at its western end. On the sand itself, a mix of Capoeira dancers, volleyball games, soccer, and scantily clad "Cariocas" (locals) command attention. The surrounding neighborhood also brims with hip restaurants, clubs, and shops; beach bums can take aprés-sun strolls along Rua Vinícius de Moraes, a popular avenue offering a stylish spread of bars and eateries, including the most famous of all, the Bar Garota de Ipanema, where the eponymous song was penned.
4. Lanikai Beach
That Lanikai is considered the best swimming beach even by local Hawaiians should come as no surprise — after all, its name does mean “heavenly sea.” An offshore coral reef protects the deep turquoise lagoon, making the surf relatively mild and ideal for splashing around as well as kayaking, sailing, canoeing, and windsurfing. The mile-long beach itself, on Oahu’s windward side, is also quite scenic and has served as a backdrop in countless fashion shoots; imagine a wide swath dotted by tall swaying palms that cast shadows on the soft, sugary sand. Plus, you’ll find the twin islands and bird sanctuaries of Mokulua and Mokumanu in the distance — they're accessible by kayak and boast prime sunrise views.
5. Manly Beach
While winter is just getting its frosty grip around much of the U.S., summer fun is only beginning Down Under. Lovers of both beautiful beach scenes and sophisticated city culture needn’t look further than the bustling metropolis of Sydney, where the best of both worlds combine. Enjoy all of the cultural goodies that Sydney has to offer and one of the world’s most alluring beaches, Manly, just seven miles north of Sydney Harbour. A scenic half-hour ferry ride connects Sydney’s Circular Quay with Manly’s main oceanfront, where rolling surf meets glorious golden sand beaches and a verdant trim of pine trees. The lively café- and shop-lined strip of the Corso links the harbor side of Manly to its fabulous beach — where surfing competitions, beach volleyball, festivals, and much more unfold every summer.
6. Paradise Beach
If paradise means rambling golden sands met by the deep-blue Aegean, beach bars bumping with Euro tunes, bikini-clad bodies dancing on tables, topless girls sprawled on the sand, and an overall hedonistic scene, Paradise Beach on the Greek isle of Mykonos is it. Come summer, hordes of young travelers come ashore to revel in the sultry thrills and clandestine coves only this beach can offer. Dotted with thatched umbrellas and lined with bars, shops, and discos, visitors to these raucous sands enjoy the Mediterranean seascape, soak up some rays, and, come late-afternoon, join in a full-blown fiesta right there on the sand. The music slowly starts to escalate and doesn’t typically die down before dawn — just in time for sunrise and a morning nap on the sand.
7. Plage Malendure
Our favorite black sands are found on the dazzling shores of Plage Malendure, at the base of steep jungle-covered mountains and the towering, still-active La Soufriére volcano on Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. The result of a 1976 volcanic eruption, which saw molten lava leave pearly black ash in its wake that now sparkles under the sun, this glittering sandy cove is a primary access point to the large Jacques Cousteau Underwater Park, considered one of the Caribbean’s best dive sites. Snorkeling and diving exhibitions here visit an underwater world filled with abundant aquatic life and vivid coral and fauna. On land, a hike from the beach finds the Parc National Guadeloupe, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that encircles the rumbling La Soufriére volcano, where an array of natural splendors, from lush rainforest and tall ferns to orchids and pineapples is found.
8. Plage de Tahiti
Sun-kissed St. Tropez, once a sleepy fishing village, has long been the most irresistible of French Riviera resort towns, attracting sunbathing beauties from Brigitte Bardot to Beyoncé. This Mediterranean mecca of summer beach lounging and late-night partying sees chic scenesters arrive in droves between June and September to stake claim to their own little sandy piece of the action. Plage de Tahiti, one of the northern beaches along the Baie de Pampelonne, is one of the best spots to bask on golden Mediterranean shores and soak up the carnival atmosphere created by flamboyant and fashionable beachcombers. Note that the prudish needn’t apply, as this haunt is notorious for itsy-bitty and teeny-weeny bathing gear. Aside from the sun-soaking and people-watching, the beach is also conveniently lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops, to boot.
9. Trunk Bay
St. John may be the smallest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, but it is home to Trunk Bay — an extraordinary beach that’s sure to leave the biggest impression of any on the three US islands. One of the most photographed — and photogenic — beaches in the world, Trunk Bay is the crowning glory of sleepy St. John’s dozen-odd beaches, its attractive powdery sand offset by a verdant inland replete with seagrape and palm trees and a turquoise shoreline drenched in the tropical sun. Scenic sands aside, the waters here are also popular with beginning snorkelers, who delight in following the fun, self-guided underwater trail complete with signage identifying native aquatic life and corals; snorkeling equipment can be rented right on the beach. This only downside to this crowd-pleaser is that it can indeed get crowded, especially when cruise ships are in port — on those days, you’re best to come before noon or after 4 p.m.
10. Tulum Beach
The increasingly popular Mayan Riviera destination of Tulum, 80 miles southeast of Cancun, couldn’t be more unlike its northern resort sibling. With a beach presided over by Mexico’s only waterfront Mayan ruins, the unspoiled white sands that hug the Caribbean here offer visitors the chance to get in touch with their inner chi — not the excuse to party. Indeed, what few beachfront resorts exist here tend to host yoga centers, not all-inclusive nightclubs, along the sand. Meanwhile, on the beach below Tulum’s cliff-top castle, you can bask and swim where the Maya once came ashore, in superb waters protected by the world’s second-longest barrier reef, the Great Maya Reef, which provides countless underwater pleasures among shallow coral reefs, coast-hugging sand banks, and offshore atolls.