There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach filled with fun in the sun, sand and surf, but not all beaches are created equal. Some places have sparkling blue or green waters, while others have sand-filled, cloudy waves. Some shorelines are dangerous, filled with rocks and riptides, while others are shallow and lined with soft sand.
For better or worse, these 10 beaches are some of the most notable in the world. While most earned a place on the list due to their incredible beauty or unique offerings, a few belong here not because of how they look, but because they are notable for other reasons.
10. Papakolea: The Green Sand Beach in Hawaii
One of only four green sand beaches, the famous Papakolea beach is made up of a hollowed out volcanic cone that erupted over 50,000 year ago. The cone contained rich veins of a natural mineral called olivine, which when cut into gem form is a semi-precious stone called peridot. The eroded pieces of the olivine turn into sand too find to be sold as gemstones, but still vivid enough in color to shade the whole beach green.
Excited to visit? Well, that’s the one problem with this beach – getting there is a nightmare. To start with, you have to drive on a long, out of the way road and then you have to park 3 miles away from the beach and hike the remaining distance through rugged pastures that offer no signs to guide you towards your final destination. Once you get to the volcanic cone cliffs, you have to climb down the steep hills to actually access the beach itself and on the shore, only strong swimmers are advised to enter the sparkling blue water at all due to a strong undercurrent that sweeps people away with little warning. It should go without saying with a beach this far off the beaten path, but lifeguards are not posted here so should you encounter danger, you’ll be left on your own to handle it.
9. Kaihalulu: Hawaii’s Red Sand Beach
Hawaii seems to have beaches in just about all colors: white, gold, black, green, and even red. Like all beaches, the sand color at Hawaii’s Kaihalulu Beach is directly related to the rock and mineral content around the beach. In this case, like Papakolea, the rocks around the shore are actually remnants of a once-active volcano that has since been eroded into little more than a rocky cove. This volcanic cone happened to have a particularly high iron content, which appears a rusty red color when mixed with salt air and sea mist. The underwater wall of the volcanic cone creates a partial sea wall that ensures the water at the beach is fairly calm, making it a great place to snorkel. Even so, visitors are advised to exercise caution near the cove opening, where strong currents have been known to pull swimmers into the open ocean.
While the unique look of the beach is absolutely worth visiting, it’s worth noting that the sand itself is very coarse, so it is advisable to wear shoes even in the water in order to protect your feet. Also worth noting: the cove is one of only a handful of clothing optional beaches in Maui.
8. The Most Polluted Beach on Earth
When you hear about an uninhabited, remote island, you probably imagine a pristine paradise. But unfortunately, with all the plastic pollution in today’s oceans, when no one visits an island, it means no one is there to clean up the trash. And that’s exactly how Henderson Island, a 14 square mile island in the South Pacific sitting nearly 3,000 miles away from the nearest population center, is both one of the world’s only raised coral atolls unaffected by human contact and the most polluted island in the world.
In fact, the small island is home to over 38,000 pounds of plastic and a whopping 3,570 pieces of trash wash up on the shore every day. Of course, the problem isn’t just the lack of cleanup crews, but also the island’s unfortunate location right in the path of one of the biggest currents in the Pacific, the South Pacific Gyre. In other words, the perfect place to snag all the trash floating through the Pacific.
7. The Glass Beach of California
While Henderson Island shows how much damage trash can do to nature, Glass Beach near Fort Bragg shows that every now and again, nature finds incredible ways to repair itself. It all started after the famous San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Residents of nearby Fort Bragg found that almost all of their buildings were reduced to rubble. Before they tried to rebuild their city, they had to get rid of all the refuse from the earthquake. When burning the trash did no good, they decided to dump it into the ocean, thinking the currents would take the trash to sea forever. Only the debris didn’t go anywhere, and residents were now left with a seaside dump. Since the dump was already there, locals just took to tossing all their trash at the beach up until the mid-1960s, when the practice was illegalized.
Eventually, the currents did wash away much of the refuse and the government took away many of the larger items. Meanwhile, glass left at the beach was tumbled and smoothed away into small pieces of sea glass, which now are mixed in with tiny pebbles, creating the “sand” for this beautiful beach.
If you do visit, please note that as Glass Beach is part of the MacKerricher State Park, taking pieces of sea glass is illegal. Also, the water can be a bit rough, especially for young and inexperienced swimmers, so it’s probably best to stay on shore here.
6. Hot Water Beach in New Zealand
Unlike most beaches, the ocean itself isn’t a big attraction at New Zealand’s Hot Water Beach. Instead visitors come far and wide to enjoy the warm underground river that happens to flow right into the Pacific. Two hours before and after low tide, beachgoers can hit the hot water as it bubbles through the beach sand. One of the most common activities here is to dig a nice pool in the sand, essentially building a hot-spring spa. By the next tide, the pools will all be washed away, leaving a pristine patch of sand ready for the next batch of visitors eager to dig their own steamy, sandy bathtubs.
It is worth noting that Hot Water Beach is home to some very strong rip currents, so as refreshing as it may be to soak in the warm hot springs and then plunge in the cool ocean, it’s probably best to avoid that urge unless you’re a really strong swimmer or if there’s a lifeguard on duty.
5. The Swimming Pool Beach in Chile
Like the idea of the beach but don’t want to swim in the actual ocean? Then you’ll love the swimming pool at San Alfonso del Mar in Chile. The biggest pool in the world, this monstrosity stretches across nearly 20 acres of beachfront property, reaches depths of up to 115 feet and holds over 66 million gallons of constantly circulating, heated, and filtered seawater. It’s so big the resort even allows people to sail and canoe in it.
Best of all, its location allows you to take a stroll along the beach just between the natural ocean waves and the clean, filtered water of the pool. And the pool itself even has its own sandy beaches leading into it, ensuring you’ll always feel like you’re at the beach even when you’re within the confines of the world’s largest swimming pool.
4. Boulders: The South African Beach Ruled by Penguins
You’d be hard pressed to find another place on the entire globe where you can spend a nice day at the beach split between refreshing dips in the ocean and delightful walks to check out penguins in their native habitat. Boulders Beach is famous for its playful, tuxedoed residents, who are partially responsible for making this otherwise sleepy shoreline one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area.
Fortunately for both humans and penguins, the swimming area for both species are kept completely separate thanks to the natural rock formations that split the beach into a number of coves. The best viewing area for the birds is on a wooden boardwalk that keeps humans away from the protected animal habitat known as Foxy Beach. This means the penguins can feel safe in their home and that humans can swim and sunbathe without fear of running into an angry penguin with a razor sharp beak or stepping in the bird’s droppings.
3. The Irish Beach That Disappeared and Reappeared 30 Years Later
When visiting a sandy beach, it’s easy to take for granted that it won’t be around forever. Eventually the sea will wash away the sand and you’ll just be left with a rocky coast. Even those who know that beach sands can be washed away and carried off to other coasts probably still wouldn’t expect a beach to disappear… and then reappear only 33 years later. But that’s exactly what happened to the small beach beside the tiny Irish town of Dooagh on Achill Island.
In 1984, severe storms stripped the sand away from the shore, leaving little more than rock pools along the coast. But in May of this year, locals were happily surprised to see the beach covered in sand again after a series of high spring tides. The town once had a lively tourist industry based around the beach, so locals were pretty happy to see it return.
2. Maho in St. Martens
Most of the time, this world famous beach is just like any other beautiful Caribbean coastline, but Maho’s proximity to the airport is what made it famous. That’s because the Princess Juliana International Airport is right next door to the beach and it has a particularly short runway, so planes need to get as close as possible to the ground before hitting the official airport property – meaning the planes approach their final descent just above the beach.
Plane watching is such a popular pastime at the beach that almost all of the local bars and restaurants have airport timetables so tourists can run to the shore in time to feel the rush of the engines push them towards the water. Aside from the obvious thrill of standing right below a landing plane, visitors are also rewarded with some strikingly awesome vacation photos. Unfortunately for thrill seekers, though, the most exciting landings are now a thing of the past as jumbo-jets no longer fly into this island airport.
1. The Florida Beach With the Softest, Coolest Sand on Earth
Consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in the US, what really makes Siesta Key famous isn’t its crystal clear water but its powdery white sand. While the sand from most beaches is made up of quartz, there’s something special about the quartz-based sand at this beach, most likely because it is both so pure (measuring it at around 99% crushed quartz) and ground up so fine. Scientists believe this particular quartz took millions of years to make its way from the Appalachian Mountains through rivers into the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually onto this Florida island.
The end result is almost pure white powder that doesn’t heat up in hot weather, leaving the beach comfortable to walk around on while barefoot under even the warmest summer sun.