World's Best Secret Beaches
The world is full of hidden beaches, but discovering them before the masses do can be challenging. So shhh ... we're letting the cat out of bag on a few of our favorite global destinations for relatively untracked sand and surf. And while that's not to say you'll have the shore all to yourself, it's a good bet you'll be among mostly locals — and a handful of intrepid travelers savvy enough to put these gems on their beach-hopping agendas.
Muriwai Beach, New Zealand
For most tourists arriving in Auckland, Piha Beach is the logical destination for a first glimpse of New Zealand's pristine North Island coastline.
But for an even keener local look at the Kiwi surf lifestyle, make the half-hour drive west of Auckland to Muriwai Beach. Its oceanfront is beautifully rugged, with black-sand beaches, pounding surf and rocky headlands where you can forage for New Zealand's famed green lip mussels at low tide.
Surfers love Maori Bay — just around the headland from the main beach — for its consistent beach break, and the horseshoe stretch of sand here is sheltered in a cove, making it a good place to toss down a towel for the day. A rocky outcropping between the bay and the beach is home to New Zealand's largest onshore colony of gannet seabirds.
Tip: Kiwis get kudos for their great coffee, and latte lovers will adore the espresso drink called a "flat white." The weekend breakfast scene at Sand Dunz Beach Cafe, located near the main beach parking lot, sees locals mingling with city dwellers visiting from Auckland. Try the eggs Benedict and ask about the local photography on display.
Fraser Island, Australia
Only about 200 miles north of built-up Brisbane lies this wild stretch of largely desolate sand. Fraser Island's status as the largest sand island in the world automatically conjures dreams of mile upon mile of blissfully uninterrupted oceanfront. Indeed, the surf beach stretches for some 75 miles, and you can easily find a private section for swimming.
Getting to Fraser requires a short ferry ride. A 4-wheel-drive vehicle, hired on the mainland, is the best way to explore the island at your whim. When it's time to sleep, pitch a tent in the sand or stay at one of the island's resorts. The beaches are sublime, and if you want to de-salt yourself, you can dip inland to one of the crystal-clear lakes set in the dunes.
Tip: Camping in dingo territory not your thing? Check in to one of Australia's top eco-tourism experiences at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Rooms overlook lakes and the island's rugged bushland. Eco-tours include whale watching and ranger-led hikes.
Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
Punta del Este may be Uruguay's most famous beach resort, but the South-Beach-meets-South-America feel of the place hardly screams "off the beaten path."
Ask an Uruguayan to point you in the direction of a beach after his or her own heart, and you can bet it will be located in the laid-back department of Rocha.
Situated a few miles off the highway, the tiny peninsula village of Cabo Polonio is accessed by 4-wheel-drive trucks or horses, which transport visitors over the dunes to a hidden beach.
Electricity and running water — delivered to only a few places by rainwater and the odd generator — are rare commodities here. There are a few posadas (rustic motels), and most of the block-style vacation bungalows dotting the dunes are lit with candles at night. The long, sandy beach, which is popular with windsurfers from around the world, is rugged and totally undeveloped. On 1 side of the peninsula, the ocean pounds the shore, while the other side offers a sheltered crescent of beach more suited to swimming.
Tip: Rent your own private beach bungalow for a few nights or by the week. Most online information about rentals is in Spanish, so consider contacting the country's Ministry of Tourism for assistance with bookings.
Baker Beach, San FranciscoOn the shore below San Francisco’s famed Presidio is where you’ll find half-mile-long Baker Beach. Baker is not only notable for its nude beach — naturists sunbathe, swim and stroll on the northern section of the beach — but also for its spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Be wary of heavy fog and rough surf. 960 1280
Haulover Beach, MiamiSanctioned and protected by Miami-Dade County, Haulover Beach, a family-friendly strand just north of Miami Beach, is considered Florida’s best for baring it all. Only 1/3 of the 1.4-mile pristine beach — between lifeguard stations 12 and 16 — is for clothing-optional recreation. 960 1280
Couples Tower Isle, Ocho Rios, JamaicaAll-inclusive hospitality brand Couples has several resort options in Jamaica for pairs who wish to bare it all. Most impressive is Couples Tower Isle, a 19-acre beachfront resort in Ocho Rios that has an au naturel private island for daytime frolicking. Tower Isle’s private island is equipped with a pool, swim-up bar and nude sunbathing areas. Elsewhere in Jamaica, Couples San Souci and Couples Negril have semi-private sections dedicated to the clothing-optional set. 960 1280
Plakias Beach, Crete, GreeceOn the south coast of Crete, between mountains and the Libyan Sea, lies Plakias, a tiny fishing village whose population swells during the summer months. Popular with backpackers, many of whom come here to stay in the southernmost youth hostel in Europe, Plakias is also a favorite with nudists, who can swim and sunbathe in the buff along the 0.8-mile Plakias Beach. Beyond the nudist strand, Plakias offers several beach options (Ammoudi, Damnoni and Souda), mountain hikes and casual tavernas. Nearby, Mona Preveli, one of the most famous monasteries in Crete, is a worthwhile day trip. 960 1280
Red Beach, Crete, GreeceSeveral beaches throughout the Greek isles are known as “Red Beach” (or Kokkini Paralia) because of their pink/red sands. The Red Beach that’s ideal for naturists is located on Crete, about 20 minutes by foot from the resort town of Matala. Given Red Beach’s remote location, there are very few services to be found here, save for a chair and umbrella rental stand during the high season. Consider working it into an trip itinerary that includes a stop at all the pristine, Blue Flag beaches around Matala. 960 1280
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, British ColumbiaVancouver, British Columbia, is home to Wreck Beach, one of the world's most popular nude beaches. Everything on Wreck Beach, from the sunbathers to the surroundings, is kept as natural as possible, contributing to the relaxing and positive vibe here. While Canada may not seem like a beachgoer's haven, the 4.8-mile-long Wreck Beach is the country's first official clothing-optional beach, and it offers spectacular views of the Pacific. 960 1280
Hidden Beach Resort, Riviera Maya, MexicoFor naturist fun on the Mayan Riviera, Hidden Beach Resort is an all-inclusive, adults-only playground. Guests here may be nude throughout the resort, whether sunbathing or dining or dancing. There is even a full-day nude cruise. Beyond the resort, guests can sign up for visits to the Mayan ruins in Tulum, golf, swimming with dolphins or watching a bullfight, but clothing is required for those options. 960 1280
Cap d’Agde, FranceThe French Mediterranean resort of Cap d'Agde is more than just a nude beach; it is a nude city. From March to mid-October, visitors must fill out paperwork and pay a fee to enter the guarded village, where clothing is not an option. Because Cap d’Agde is a fully sanctioned nude beach, it offers numerous activities, accommodations and restaurants for practicing naturists. For something completely different, Cap d’Agde also holds an annual “last swim of the year” on New Year’s Eve — the only “polar bear”-type swim at a nudist beach. 960 1280
Samurai Beach, New South Wales, AustraliaOfficially clothing optional since 1996, Samurai Beach in New South Wales, Australia, is a stunning 1.2-mile strand ideal for nature lovers. Access to Samurai Beach, which is known for its white sands and clear water, requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle or a hike over scrubs and rocks via neighboring One Mile Beach. Visitors to Samurai Beach can take advantage of the surrounding Tomaree National Park and Anna Bay, with activities such as hiking, surfing and fishing. 960 1280
Black’s Beach, San DiegoKnown as San Diego’s nude beach, Black's Beach is beneath the soaring, picturesque bluffs of Torrey Pines. Though nude sunbathing is technically illegal in San Diego, naturism at the north end of Black’s has been allowed for years, owing to the beach’s secluded location. Those wishing to sunbathe in the buff at Black’s must endure a hike along marked routes down to the beach. The spot is also popular with surfers, who make the most of the waves that ripple and curl offshore. 960 1280
Hedonism II, Negril, JamaicaOpened in 1976 in Negril, Jamaica, Hedonism II is legendary for its naughty vibe. Known for its swingers conventions and toga nights, Hedo is the definition of debauchery. While an estimated 80% of Hedonism II’s clientele choose to sunbathe in the buff, there are both “nude” and “prude” sections of the resort, including along the beaches and in the pools. 960 1280
Praia do Pinho, BrazilBrazil's first nude beach, Praia do Pinho, is a family-friendly retreat founded in the early 1980s. Surrounded by lush green hills, Praia do Pinho has inns, cabins and camping accommodations for visiting naturists. Balneario Camboriu, the town nearest Praia do Pinho, is a popular vacation destination for Brazilians. Like a mini Rio, BC has an extensive, crescent-shaped shoreline, as well as the Cristo Luz, Brazil’s second-largest monument, after the Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado. 960 1280
Club Orient, St. MartinSt. Martin, the French-speaking side of the island also known as St. Maarten, is home to Club Orient, a family-friendly naturist resort that fronts one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the Caribbean. Guests are invited to participate in all activities, from sunbathing to dining, while in the buff. When the nude bodies begin to bore you, head to the other side of the island for a visit to Maho Beach, which is famous for its plane-spotting. 960 1280
Moshup Beach, Martha's Vineyard, MAMartha’s Vineyard, the island off the coast of Massachusetts long known as a getaway for old money scions and politicians, has a bit of a bohemian streak, which is best embodied by its small but beloved nude beach. Known as either Moshup Beach, after the Moshup Trail that leads down to the sand, or Gay Head Beach, because of its position below the scrub-topped Gay Head Cliffs, this strand has a clothing-optional section for sunbathing and recreation. Visitors must pay a $15 parking fee in order to access Moshup Beach. 960 1280
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Clearwater BeachOne of America’s finest white-sand beaches, Clearwater Beach spans a narrow, 3-mile stretch of the Pinellas Peninsula on the Gulf Coast. Clearwater’s proximity to Tampa offers visitors ample activities to enjoy, including beach volleyball, parasailing, a dolphin-watching cruise and a fun fishing excursion. 960 1280
Clearwater BeachPiers are a Florida shore staple, and Clearwater Beach is no different. Walk to the end of the famed Pier 60 to take in one of the state’s many beautiful sunsets, whether it’s the one in the sky or the daily festival of the same name, which is held 365 days a year. 960 1280
Captiva IslandThe blue waters and white-sand beaches of Captiva Island stretch into the horizon. So we recommend watching a spectacular sunset at the end of Captiva Drive. But before the sun sets, go boating down the waterways of the island to see local wildlife, including dolphins, crocodiles, blue herons and many different species of colorful birds. 960 1280
Palm BeachThis 16-mile-long, half-mile-wide island is the epitome of wealth and extravagance. In times past, it served as the winter home to the Vanderbilts, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and other millionaires. True to form, the town still features some of Florida’s finest hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as beautiful beaches. Perched next to the Gulf Stream, this beach town also enjoys the extra benefit of warm blue water and gentle breezes. 960 1280
Key WestThe beaches in Key West are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and fishing is allowed off the piers at most beaches. Enjoy these activities at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Florida’s southernmost state park -- and one of its most beautiful spots -- that’s home to wide stretches of sand and tranquil waters. We recommend renting a 2-person, glass-bottom kayak if you’re looking for a fun but romantic escape. 960 1280
Siesta KeySpend the perfect family vacation in Siesta Key, a barrier island off Florida’s central western coast that boasts beachside picnic areas and playgrounds. Go shell collecting, kayaking or hop on a catamaran for more active pursuits. For adults who want a more low-key experience, spend a candlelit dinner at a restaurant or rent a cozy cottage for a romantic getaway. 960 1280
NaplesWatch the rolling waves and gaze at the mansions that line some of Naples’ most popular beaches along 12th Avenue South. For a family looking to camp out on the beach for the day, we recommend heading a few miles north of Old Naples to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. Food stands and on-site rentals for umbrellas, kayaks and snorkeling gear are available nearby. 960 1280
South BeachTake a dip in the crystal-blue waters of Miami’s South Beach, an international playground that offers non-stop nightlife, high-end shopping, luxurious boutique hotels and unique Art Deco architecture. This man-made beach is perfect for early morning runs and topless sunbathing. 960 1280
Delray BeachEach year, nearly 1 million people visit family-friendly Delray Beach to enjoy the 2-mile-long beach that’s ideal for fun beach activities, including sandcastle-building. Take a break from the beach and hit nearby Atlantic Avenue, lined with boutiques, seafood restaurants and the luxurious Seagate Hotel and Spa. 960 1280
Top 10 Florida Beaches 20 Photos
Shoal Bay, Anguilla
Once a secret hideaway, Anguilla has come into its own as a Caribbean hot spot for Hollywood starlets and honeymooners alike. Filled with beautiful beaches, posh resorts and overall laid-back charm, Anguilla's popularity is certainly well-deserved. There are 33 beaches on this 16-mile stretch of island, and the best part is that they are all open to the public. Shoal Bay is among the most popular with 2 miles of pearly-white sand on the Atlantic side that has a convenient equipment rental on-site for visitors.960 1280
Eagle Beach, Aruba
With miles of clean shores, tranquil waters and picture-perfect weather year-round, Aruba sees its fair share of tourism. Eagle Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island with its wide swath of powdery sand and gentle surf perfect for swimming. The beach is a bit quieter than some of its neighbors, but still free to the public like all of Aruba’s beaches. Sleep across the street from these serene shores at the Dutch-influenced Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort.960 1280
Trunk Bay, St. John
Nearly 50 years after Laurance S. Rockefeller donated Trunk Bay to the National Park Service, the beach and offshore coral reefs remain among St. John's most breathtaking and well-preserved attractions. Trunk Bay's clear, warm waters and silky coral sands draw tourists in droves, and its well-maintained facilities include chair and snorkel equipment rentals and showers. Visitors can bask in the tropical sun, snorkel the 225-yard-long Underwater Trail of reefs, or try their hand at underwater photography -- the clean water and variety of colorful sea life promise spectacular photo opportunities.960 1280
Crane Beach, Barbados
Barbados is a distinctive island, both in its natural beauty and fun-loving culture. This West Indies gem is actually a coral island. The sandy beaches are made up of pulverized coral, which makes for fine, soft sand. Just off the coast, there are coral reefs that tempt snorkelers and scuba divers with their exotic underwater life. Crane Beach is known for its great waves, and the waters are filled with surfers and even some body surfers, though the rough waters are appropriate only for strong swimmers.960 1280
Palominos Island, Puerto Rico
Palominos Island is a 100-acre private beach getaway off the coast at the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico. Adding to the island’s allure is its air of exclusivity as it’s only available to guests staying at the El Conquistador Resort and Golden Door Spa. Those lucky VIPs board a fast-moving catamaran for an 8-minute ride to this retreat for a day of snorkeling, wind surfing or riding wave runners or embrace the island paradise by simply lounging in a hammock with a frozen cocktail.960 1280
Philipsburg, St Maarten
St. Maarten is a cosmopolitan beach destination with European flair on the Dutch and French sides of the island. Phillipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side and the island’s hub of activity with cruise ships coming and going and visitors strolling along the brick-lined Great Bay Beach Promenade. This busy beachfront runs for nearly 2 miles with colorful umbrellas dotting the wide sandy shores. For a completely different experience, head to Cupecoy Beach, a clothing-optional spot beneath golden sandstone cliffs.960 1280
While Nassau’s beaches are certainly lovely, the allure for many is the spectacular diving just off the sandy shores where visibility can reach up to 100 feet. Explore the Blue Hole, a natural hole 100 feet across and 200 feet deep full of large schools of fish. Trinity and Piece of Cake caves both have openings large enough to swim through and are home to some large lobsters. There are also countless shipwrecks that have occurred along the reefs surrounding the islands of the Bahamas that make for some very exciting underwater adventures.960 1280
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands are made up of a collection of smaller islands, each with its own unique topography and island vibe. Virgin Gorda, 1 of the largest islands, is a popular tourist spot with posh resorts, pristine beaches and great sailing. Virgin Gorda is probably most famous for the Baths, a unique national park on the island's southwest coast with white sandy beaches framed by gigantic granite boulders, some of these with diameters reaching 40 feet. Bring along your water shoes, a snorkel and a waterproof camera and explore the series of caves and grottos created by these irregular boulders.960 1280
Harrismith Beach, Barbados
Spend the day like a castaway on the remote Harrismith Beach in the Parish of St. Philip in Barbados. Though it’s just a short walk from Bottom Bay, this sandy paradise is far removed from the resort scene at the more developed beaches. The beach is accessible by a flight of stone steps carved into a cliff overlooking the sea. The cliff-top ruins of an old plantation house add to the romantic air. After descending the steps to the shore, enjoy a picnic, search for shells or relax with a book—but swim at your own risk as there’s no lifeguard on duty at this hidden gem of a beach.960 1280
Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Bermuda's famous pink-sand beaches are considered some of the loveliest seaside retreats in the world, and the shores of Horseshoe Bay are no exception. Wide stretches of the pastel pink sand -- the result of crushed shells, coral and calcium carbonate -- offset by clear blue waves lapping at the shore, create an enticing lure for the scores of visiting beachgoers who descend each year upon the 21-mile-long island. Horseshoe Bay Beach's facilities, lifeguards and equipment rental shops have helped secure its ranking as Bermuda's most popular shore.960 1280
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Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Intrepid European and Australian backpackers fresh from the ferry rub elbows with international jet-setters who have just flown in from Ho Chi Minh City at this palm-fringed isle off the coast of southwestern Vietnam. Stretching about 30 miles from north to south, Phu Quoc is the largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, but it has remained a relative secret. Most tourists who make it to Southeast Asia bypass the island for more trafficked Thai destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui.
Bungalow-style accommodations dominate, but recent hotel openings hint that the island — like the rest of Vietnam — won't remain a travel secret for long. Luckily, more than half of Phu Quoc is protected as a national park. So for now, at least, the beaches are pristine, the reef snorkeling is impressive and the delicious Vietnamese fare is alone worth the journey.
Tip: The island is loaded with stunning beaches, but one of the prettiest is Bai Sao, located on the southeastern coast.
Isla Bastimentos, Panama
Nine Caribbean islands off the east coast of Panama make up the archipelago called Bocas del Toro. For the region's most sublime beaches (and that's saying a lot, considering that Bocas del Toro is loaded with brilliant spots), set your sights on Isla Bastimentos.
Playa Wizard is one of the most beautiful shorelines on the island, with a wide, empty stretch of sand and some of the best surf in Central America. And at nearby Red Frog Beach — accessed by a short hike or water taxi — you'll have your best chance of spotting Panama's native poison dart frog.
Tip: Near the national marine park, Al Natural Resort offers oceanfront bungalows that feature thatched roofs, mosquito nets and porches with uninterrupted ocean and rain-forest views.