Best places for beach vacations

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It’s an age-old question – are you a beach bum or a ski bunny? Would you rather run outside in the winter and make a snow angel, or does the idea of spending any time in the cold make you want to immediately take a hot shower? For those who answered “beach, all the way, all the time,” we’ve compiled a list of some of the best beach towns on the planet. These spots are known not only for their incredible beaches but also for that friendly, laid back, beach town vibe. 

Sayulita, Mexico

(Photo by zstock/Shutterstock)

There is certainly no shortage of beaches in Mexico, so naming Sayulita as one of the best is a big statement. Located just an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, this quaint little beach town is easy to get to and difficult to leave. Long stretches of beaches are lined with small, palm-shaded restaurants and independent shops. This is a haven for many Canadians and Americans who are looking for a sunny place to relax. 

One of the highlights of a trip to Sayulita is taking a day-long boat tour around the Pacific, where you will see various marine life. Watch for dolphins, stingrays, and whales from the deck of the boat. You’ll stop for a few hours to snorkel around some of the prolific reefs in the area as well. 

Samara, Costa Rica 

(Photo by iFerol/Shutterstock)

When you think of a Costa Rican beach town, you probably picture Samara, with its white sand, moderate waves, and clear blue water dotted with surfers. This small village located in the Guanacaste area attracts visitors looking for picturesque palm tree-lined beaches and an ultra-relaxed atmosphere.

La Playa Samara is one of the most laid back beach towns in Costa Rica. This is a great place to spend a few days or a few weeks. Those who are tempted to try surfing for the first time can take a half-day or full day lesson with one of the pro instructors in town. Take an extra day or two to explore the Chora Island wildlife refuge, which is home to a variety of birds and other protected animals.

Florianopolis, Brazil

(Photo by Gustavo Testa/Shutterstock)

Florianopolis has been a long-time favorite beach destination for Brazilians and is starting to gain some momentum with tourists, too. This island in the South of Brazil, connected to the mainland by the Pedro Ivo Campos Bridge, is famous for its stunning beaches and resorts and is a popular destination for windsurfers.

Known as “the magic island” by its residents, Florianopolis has various landscapes, including mountains, long stretches of beaches, lakes, and sand dunes. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination where you can sit and relax on the beach in the morning and go for a long hike in the afternoon, this is the perfect spot.

Goa, India 

(Photo by Lena Serditova/Shutterstock)

With its yoga and meditation retreats, juice bars, and tourists dressed for a day at Coachella, you might wonder if you’ve accidentally ended up in Tulum or Bali. Located along the Arabian Sea, this beach town on the west coast of India is a popular tourist spot for beach lovers and those looking to take some time off and unwind.

The town of Goa was a long-time Portuese colony, which is evident in the European-inspired architecture dotting the city streets. The beaches are lined with outdoor cafes with a relaxed, hippy vibe. The town is split into North and South Goa. You’ll find a more chill, less developed scene in the South and more of a buzzing social scene in the North. Spend your day kayaking or attending a yoga class, and then swing by the classy Black Sheep Bistro for cocktails to end the night.

Jeju, South Korea 

(Photo by Nattee Chalermtiragool/Shutterstock)

Sometimes referred to as “The Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju is the largest island off the mainland of South Korea, a tourist haven for surfers, families, and adventure seekers alike. The warm climate, expansive beaches, and access to outdoor recreation make Jeju a popular vacation spot.

There is a lot to do on the island of Jeju. Spend time relaxing on the pristine beaches or opt for a more active day hiking up the Hallasan mountain, a dormant volcano that towers over the island. You can also visit the Gwaneumsa Temple, which is located near the summit of the mountain and offers overnight stays to those looking for a different kind of beach vacation experience.

San Sebastian, Spain 

(Photo by Botond Horvath/Shutterstock)

Some of Spain’s best surfing is located in the Basque region, in the town of San Sebastian. There are two main beaches here – Playa Zurriola is the smaller surfer beach and La Playa de Concha, the largest beach in the area where you’ll find families and groups of people sunbathing and relaxing.

After a day at the beach, it’s time to find a spot to eat some tapas, drink some sangria, and then continue the culinary adventure with a paella dinner. San Sebastian is well known for its beaches, food, and charming old town architecture, making it one of Spain’s best vacation spots.

If you’re planning a trip to San Sebastian, be sure to take a day trip to Bilbao, just an hour or so outside of the city, to see the Guggenheim art museum, which was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry.

Stone Town, Zanzibar

(Photo by  Nick Johanson/Shutterstock)

My husband asked me not to tell you about this one, that’s how I know it’s really good! Those looking for a beach town with historical significance and incredible architecture will be delighted to discover this spot. Stone Town was designated an official UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 because of its historical and artistic importance.

Stone Town is the medieval old town area of Zanzibar City, a scenic and walkable town with incredible white sand beaches just a few steps away from the restaurants and shops. Spend a day exploring the ancient Swahili architecture and then end the day walking through the night time fish market where you can dine on fresh seafood for dinner. The beach extends up to the city quarter, giving you the best of both worlds – a beach vacation with a historical twist.

Manhattan Beach, California 

(Photo by  Lucky-photographer/Shutterstock)

This upscale little beach community south of LA could be described as an adult version of a college beach town. Instead of keg stands on the beach, you’re more likely to see families spread out on blankets and scattered games of sand volleyball. There are a variety of locally-owned shops and restaurants. Head out for brunch at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House and then spend the day beach hopping on your bike. You can take the oceanfront beach path all the way to Hermosa and Redondo Beaches and back.

This is the closest beach to LAX international airport, making it easily accessible for those looking for a quick and easy beach vacation in the U.S.

Faro, Portugal 

(Photo by Sopotnicki/Shutterstock)

The town of Faro, Portugal, is so delightful that you might almost forget to check out the beaches. Situated in Portugal’s Southern Algarve religion, Faro is located off the chilly Atlantic ocean, close to Spain’s border. Faro maintains a picturesque old town with cobbled streets surrounded by ancient Moorish walls that once encapsulated the city.

Faro’s main beach, Praia de Faro Beach, is located just outside of the city center. The beach stretches for miles and is lined with upscale homes and a wide variety of restaurants. The waters here are surprisingly cold, even in the summer, but a quick dip might be the perfect way to cool off after a long hot day in the sun.

Kauai, Hawaii

(Photo by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock)

Many people describe Kauai as their happy place, and rightly so. Nicknamed the “Garden Island,” Kauai is best known for its long stretches of pristine beaches, colorful Waimea Canyon, and its dramatic rainforests along the Na Pali Coast. Kauai attracts tourists from all over the world who come to see the natural beauty of the island. 

When you’re looking to take a break from the beach, stretch your legs a bit, rent a cruiser bike and ride down the Kauai bike path. This paved trail runs along the Eastern coast of the island from Lydgate Beach Park (one of the largest beaches on the island) to Donkey beach, a smaller secluded spot. 

Bottom line

Whether you’re on a life long quest to find the very best beach in the world or simply looking for your next winter getaway, these beach towns are as close to perfect as anything we’ve come across so far. Looking for a place to unpack your hammock and check out for a while? We’ve got you covered…just make sure to bring the sunblock and a good book. And yes, we’ll order you a margarita too, no problem.

Erin Lizzo is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in the Matador Network.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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