- Australia + Pacific,
- Central + South America,
- Greater Los Angeles,
- North America,
- Puerto Rico,
- Rio de Janeiro
This trip is comprised of all the beaches I would like to visit in the upcoming years.
See + Do
Beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
If you come to Rio with any intentions other than hitting the beach, you're mildly insane. Sand and sun inform most everything about the city and its people, from the informal and scanty dress to the happy-go-lucky attitude. (Show up on time to a party or dinner date? Perish the thought.) Drop by on a Monday morning and—yep!—the beach is packed. No wonder the citizens of São Paulo joke that Cariocas don't work.
You will be identified as a tourist, but to lessen the sting, here are a few tips: Buy one of the cheap wraps sold on the sidewalks and use it to sit on rather than a towel (which nobody uses outside their homes). Or rent a chair and umbrella beachside—it's about $3 for the day, and the vendors will bring over cold drinks or snacks. Leave your baggy board shorts or one-piece at home—you'll find the best beachwear in the world here, so pick something up. Guys, those tiny elastic shorts are de rigueur, no matter your build. Topless bathing is strictly a no-no—and actually illegal. Lastly, you'll find that almost anything sold in stores can also be bought on the beach, including drinks, jewelry, sunglasses, sunblock, and bikinis (recent city ordinances banned food sales on the sands). Everything's of good quality and fairly priced. When it's really hot out, nothing quenches a thirst (or helps a hangover) like a coco gelada—a chilled green coconut with a straw, available at sidewalk stands.
Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon are the most popular beaches, separated from the high-priced real estate by a four-lane road and those famous patterned sidewalks. In the hundred yards of sand between the road and sea you'll find a universe of commerce, sports playing, flirting, and tanning—the Carioca lifestyle at its best. Each portion of the beach has its own "address": Look for the changing stations/bathrooms, which have the number on them. Posto 3, in front of the Copacabana Palace, is where you'll find the greatest cluster of tourists. The hotel staff will look out for you, but be aware that petty thieves hang here, so watch your possessions. Walkng southwest along the beach, near Posto 6, you'll encounter a rock jetty that sticks into the ocean: This area is Arpoador, which is popular with surfers. The next beach is Ipanema, where you'll find both the hopping gay section, identified by the rainbow flag, and Posto 9, famous for being the hangout of the young, beautiful, and tragically cool. (Even if you're none of those things, be sure to take a look.) A ten-minute walk down the beach will bring you to Leblon: This is excellent middle ground—mostly locals, but rarely overpacked. Note: On Sundays the main street along the three beaches closes to traffic and locals come out to stroll, ride bikes, and hang with friends.
Farther afield are São Conrado, where hang gliders who've taken off from Pedra Bonita land quite spectacularly, and many more miles of good sand along the nouveau riche neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. Two of Rio's best beaches, though, are secrets, and you'll need to rent a car, convince a local to take you (not that hard), or make an arrangement with a taxi to pick you back up. Prainha and Grumari are 40 minutes west of Zona Sul and are protected—there are no permanent buildings out here, and the hills behind the beaches are covered with lush green rain forest. Prainha, which means "little beach," has lots of surfers, but both places are wonderful for getting away from the crowds and feeling like you're on a (mostly) deserted isle, especially during weekdays.
Warning: The currents on all of these beaches can be quite strong, and even though there are lifeguards, be cautious. Also, stay off the beach after dark; it can be dangerous.
Bora Bora Lagoon Resort & Spa
Nukubati Island, North of Vanua Levu, Fiji
Tel: 679 881 3901, Tel: 800 707 3454
This island advertises itself as the last resort, and sitting at the most northernmost point of the archipelago, it is. Remote Nukubati has an authenticity that all the others lack: The resort is owned by Fijians. They've decorated seven cottages in simple plantation style, with rattan furniture, ceiling fans, and big open windows to catch the breeze. There is little to distract from the setting, apart from exceptional snorkeling and diving in the nearby Great Sea Reef and General Manager Gordon Leewai, who treats guests like members of the family. He even invites them to dinner or to birthday parties on the main island with his own family, giving a rare insight into Fijian society.
See + Do
Beaches in and Around San Juan
If you're staying in one of San Juan's most popular oceanfront areas—Condado, Ocean Park, or Isla Verde—the beach outside your hotel will probably be all you need. The strips of sugary sand here are all wide and lined with swaying palms. The undertow can be strong in a few places, especially along the western edge of Condado, so be cautious when taking a dip; many beaches have no lifeguards.
There are also two gorgeous balnearios, or public beaches, just outside the famous resort areas. West of Condado is Balneario de Escambrón, with honey-colored sand and facilities including changing rooms and eateries. East of Isla Verde is Balneario de Carolina, a beach shaded by almond trees where you'll find restrooms, picnic tables, and barbecue grills. Just don't expect to have the beach all to yourself, especially if you're visiting between December and April.
About a 30-minute drive east of San Juan on Route 3, Balneario de Luquillo is perhaps the prettiest beach in all of Puerto Rico, with amenities that include restaurants and even bars. Just before you reach Luquillo you'll see a strip of kiosks selling freshly caught fish and all sorts of snacks. Stop and order an alcapurria (plantain fritter) stuffed with just about any kind of seafood you can imagine.
See + Do
The Beach Boys weren't lying: this part of California is all about the sun, sand, and surf. Venice Beach, with its street performers, outdoor cafés, and pedestrian traffic, still has that quintessential Californian combination of liveliness and laid-backness. You can grab a bike at one of the many rental stands; there's a bike path that heads all the way south to Redondo Beach. Santa Monica has Surfrider Beach, one of the best breaks long the coast, and also a pier with an amusement park that's lots of fun for kids. Malibu is a bit on the impenetrable side (a wall of houses lines the beach), but just up the Pacific Coast Highway at Zuma Beach there's plenty of parking and lots of sand. Walk north, and you'll pass the celebrity-owned houses of Broad Beach. Drive a bit farther up the Pacific Coast Highway and you'll find Neptune's Net, the famed fish-shack with a parking lot full of motorcycles.
See + Do
Beaches on Maui
Makena State Park: Big Beach, a ten-minute drive from the resorts at Wailea, is an uncrowded, undeveloped half-mile-long sugar-sand expanse. It's popular with families, despite a monster shore break (getting in the water can be dangerous) and a dearth of public facilities (just portable toilets for the desperate). If you're not toting tykes, hike over the cliff on the west end to clothing-optional Little Beach. Upwards of 500 revelers take part in a free rave there every Sunday at sunset, complete with drum circles, jam sessions, and wild dancing.
Kamaole Parks I, II, + III: Million-dollar homes, condo complexes, parking lots, and public facilities cheapen the natural splendor of these golden beaches, but sandy bottoms, gentle waves, and lifeguards still draw in the swimmers. This trifecta is also conveniently located directly off the highway. Should you get stuck in the South Kihei Road rush-hour crawl (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) don't fight it—just turn off, park, and watch the sunset.
Kaanapali Beach: Maui's signature beach, this three-mile stretch of clean white sand provides ample room for sunbathers from the nearby megaresorts and locals who triumphed over the severely limited public parking situation. Dig Me Beach, in front of the Whalers Village mini mall, is the place to show off your Gucci bikini or ripped bod. Pu'u Keka'a (Black Rock), in front of the Sheraton Maui, is the safest swimming spot and is also good for snorkeling.
Kanaha Beach Park: You can be in the ocean within minutes of arriving on the island (Kanaha is located behind the rental car pickup lots at the Kahului airport). There's a narrow stretch for sunning, a sectioned-off area for swimming, and for entertainment watch the windsurfers and kite boarders in action. Kanaha has a decent surf break, but it's about 150 yards from shore, so don't attempt it unless you're a very confident swimmer.
Hamoa Beach: About three miles southwest of Hana, there's a respectable surf break, snorkeling, and plenty of room to lay out or get a game of beach volleyball going. There's swimming as well, but there are no lifeguards and you'll find wicked currents outside of the bay. The lounge chairs and waitstaff are exclusively for guests of the nearby Hotel Hana-Maui, so bring your own drinks and snacks. As with all Maui beaches, do your very best to leave no trace of your stay behind.