1. Honopu Beach – Kauai, Hawaii
If you want to get to this beach, you’ve got to work for it. You can’t hike, boat or drive – swimming from an offshore boat is the only means of access.
photo: Jason Waltman
photo: Cory Yap
2. Anse Source d’Argent – La Digue, Seychelles
One of the most popular beaches on all the 115 islands of Seychelles, the Anse Source d’Argent’s white (sometimes pink) sand beach is offset by towering granite boulders, worn over time – making it a secluded paradise.
3. Giants Causeway Beach – Ireland
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, Giants Causeway Beach is surrounded by interlocking basalt columns that jut upwards out of the sea – making it one of the most exotic beaches in the world.
photo: Michael Breitung
4. Benagil Sea Cave Beach – Algarve, Portugal
Journey along the southern coast in the Algarve region of Portugal, and you’ll see a collection of magical sea caves – the most iconic one, pictured below, is located just around the corner from a beach in the tiny town of Benagil. You can rent a boat to explore the caves and isolated beaches in the area.
5. Rialto Beach – Washington, USA
This spectacularly scenic beach off of the Olympic Coast in Washington state is one of the most accessible – but you can easily go and see no one around. Park your car when you get there, set up camp on the beach, or hike the surrounding region of the Olympic National Park.
6. Star Sand Beach (Hoshizuna-no-hama) – Iriomote Island, Japan
Iriomote Island is a small island in Okinawa, Japan only accessible by boat – but most people aren’t swimming in the water – they’re usually bent over examining the sand. This is because most beaches on Iriomote Island are filled with “hoshizuna” or star-shaped sand.
According to local legend, the star sand was made of the tiny offspring skeletons of the Southern Cross and the North Star, who were killed by a giant serpent right after being born in the ocean. Science states, however, that these particles are the exoskeletons of millions of foraminifera, or marine protozoans, believed to be fossil evidence dating back 550 million years ago – some of the oldest fossils known to man.
The best time to find the best star-shaped sand particles is just after a typhoon – when the sand stars are stirred up beneath the ocean floor and washed up on the shore.
7. Pfeiffer Purple Sand Beach – California, USA
Located in Big Sur, California, you’ll find Pfeiffer Beach – waves crashing along a rugged coastline, an explore-worthy rock arch and jagged rock formations everywhere you look. You’ll also find beautiful patches of purple sand – which are actually manganese garnet particles washing down from the hillside.
photo: Tom Grubbe
8. Playa de las Catedrales (Beach of the Cathedrals) – Ribadeo, Spain
During low tide, you can walk underneath these extroardinary natural rock formations, resembling the soaring arches of a cathedral (hence the name – Beach of the Cathedrals). These arches are more than 30 meters tall and make this beach one of the most picturesque in the world.
photo: Andrei S.
9. Whitehaven Beach – Whitsunday Island, Australia
Whitehaven Beach is one of Australia’s most beautiful (and cleanest) beaches, located on Whitsunday Island, accessible only by boat. The sand is 90% pure silica, giving the beach its bright white color. Oh, and no flip flops necessary – the sand here doesn’t retain heat, so you can walk barefoot comfortably even on a scorching hot day.
10. Papakolea Beach – Kaʻū, Hawaii
The Papakolea Beach is located about three miles east of Ka Lae on the island of Hawaii – surrounded by pasturelands and only accessible after a three-hour hike across rugged paths. Climb down a huge cinder cone and you’ll get to this secluded beach with green sand. The color comes from olivine – a silicate mineral containing iron and magnesium – a common mineral in Hawaiian lavas.
photo: Donnie MacGowan
11. Reynisfjara Beach – Vik, Iceland
Situated near the town of Vik on the south coast of Iceland, Reynisfjara Beach seems to transport you to another world entirely – bright white waters, stunning basalt columns, black sand and pebbles – make this beach one of the most exotic in the world.
Legend says that the huge sea stacks originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully, and when daylight broke they became needles of rock. And no, you probably won’t be swimming here, but it is one most definitely worth visiting.
photo: Stewart Kenny
12. Hidden Beach – Marieta Islands, Mexico
Located in the Marieta Islands, near Puerto Vallarta, the Hidden Beach is a serene, one-of-a-kind natural wonder hidden underneath a hole in the ground. The difficulty of getting to it adds to its wonder – besides being hoisted down from a helicopter, the only known way to access it is by swimming or scuba diving through a very small tunnel (50 feet long with only 6 feet of air space) on the tidal side of its cavernous walls.
13. Bioluminescent Beach – Vaadhoo, Maldives
Travel to Vaadhoo in the Maldives for beautiful beaches during the day, but at night – the water turns a bright blue, caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton. You’ll have the most luck seeing the blue glow from July to February, especially during a new moon since the darkness of the sky helps intensify the light.
photo: Will Ho
14. Bowling Ball Beach – California, USA
Named after the spherical sandstone concretions found at this beach, Bowling Ball Beach (part of Schooner Gulch State Beach) in the Mendocino County is one of the most unique beaches in California and the world. During low tides, long rows of perfectly rounded boulders are revealed – having been eroded over millions of years by the Pacific Ocean.
photo: Patrick Smith
15. Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach – Hana, Hawaii
Kaihalulu Beach in Hana, Hawaii is one of the few red sand beaches in the world. Contrasted against the blue water, black sea wall and green ironwood trees, the iron-rich sand is a brilliantly beautiful red color. The beach is extremely isolated most likely due to the short but steep, narrow and slippery hike necessary to reach it. This may also be the reason why clothing is often considered optional.
photo: Alan F.
photo: B. Illingworth
Did you have any favorites? Or any beaches to add to this list? Leave a comment for us below!