Hi guys, I'm Annie. I'm the travel editor here at BuzzFeed, and I also happen to be a huuuuuuge beach bum.
I grew up in Rhode Island — the "Ocean State" — where there was no shortage of sun and salt water. In fact, my parents used to call me a cat, because I would seek out patches of sunlight, both in our house and on the sand, and just curl up in a ball and lie there.
Things haven't changed much in my adult life: I've traveled through 27 countries and through the U.S., and every time I go somewhere new — whether it's for my job or just for fun — I make it a point to try to find the best beach in town. To me, a good beach isn't just a place — it's a feeling, one of total and utter contentment.
And so, based on years of ~exhaustive~ research (lol), here are my top 16 favorite beaches of all time — beaches that, IMO, are definitely worth traveling for. Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive; these just happen to be my personal favorites. Enjoy!
1. Barahona, Dominican Republic
So, I'm going to just put this out there right at the beginning: There is absolutely #nofilter needed in the DR, ever, because the water is legit aquamarine blue. It's insane. This beach is in the south of the DR — southwest of Santo Domingo — and it's a bit more remote than the more touristy areas, like Punta Cana.
My best friend and I rented a car and road-tripped to this beach from Santo Domingo (where she was living at the time), and I highly recommend doing the same — it's an insanely picturesque trip. And yes, the sand really is that white.
2. Ke'e Beach ("End of the Road"), Kauai, Hawaii
I've been to four of the eight Hawaiian islands — Hawaii (the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, and Kauai — and Kauai is definitely my favorite one. In my opinion, it's the most laid-back, chill, and relaxing island out of all of them. It's got this simple, all-organic-everything vibe, not least because it's full of actual organic farms and tons of lush greenery. The island is also known for its many waterfalls.
Ke'e Beach, also known as "End of the Road" Beach, is on the North Shore of Kauai. (It's literally the last beach accessible by car on the North Shore, hence the name.) The area is surrounded by big cliffs that are great for hiking, and reefs, too, which protect it from super strong surf — and also make it a great place for snorkeling. Also, pro tip: Bring some poke to the beach!
3. Playa Tamarindo, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
I lived in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, for a month, so this beach was my basically my second home. Playa Tamarindo ("Tama" for short), which is located in Guanacaste — Costa Rica's "Gold Coast" — can get fairly touristy, but even so, there's a magic to it. It gets wonderful golden hour light, both in the morning and at night, and around sunset, people gather on the beach with beers to watch the sun go down — and then everyone claps when it does. For good reason, too: The sunsets here are completely gorgeous.
Playa Tamarindo is also well-known for its surf school, called Witch's Rock Surf Camp. That's the main reason why it can get a bit crowded, but it's fairly easy to avoid the people: Just take a couple minutes to walk to either end of the beach from the middle, and you'll be good (a lot of people are too lazy to make the walk). You can also wander into the next beach over, Playa Langosta, which is a bit less crowded.
4. Playa Grande, Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Playa Grande isn't as touristy as Tamarindo, its neighbor to the south. It's super popular with hardcore surfers (whereas Tamarindo caters more to beginner surfers because of its surf school). But I'm not a hardcore surfer and I still loved it, so that's not a requirement. This beach (and its eponymous beach town) is a bit more of a local hangout than Tamarindo, and it's also a lot more expansive — the sand covers a wider ground, and the waves are bigger. There are also fewer people in general, which makes it feel more like a sanctuary in comparison to Tama.
5. Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, Australia
Port Douglas is about an hour above Cairns, which you've probably heard of — it's a popular party beach town on the Gold Coast of Australia that's known as one of the best places to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. The general consensus is that lesser-known Port Douglas is for an older crowd, since it doesn't have as much of a nightlife scene as Cairns, but I loved it precisely for that reason — it's super chill. There aren't as many drunk backpackers to get in the way of total serenity. (Although, if you're looking for a backpacker scene, look no further than "Dougies," nicknamed "Druggies," for its reputation as a ~chill~ hostel.)
Also, the drive from Cairns to Port Douglas, along the Captain Cook Highway, is so, so beautiful. It's one of the only places in the world where two World Heritage sites meet — the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest — which makes it even more special.
6. Shaw's Cove, Laguna Beach, California
You probably know Laguna Beach as the home of the eponymous TV show, starring none other than OG reality stars Lauren Conrad, Kristin Cavallari, and more. In the show, the cast mostly hung out at Laguna Beach's Main Beach (the one with the lifeguard stand).
But here's a secret: I grew up going to Laguna Beach, and I still go every summer, because my grandparents live there. And IMO, the better beach option is Shaw's Cove. It's about a 15-minute walk from Main Beach, and it's so much prettier. That's because, instead of being just open coastline like Main Beach, it's surrounded by cliffs on both sides, which kind of makes you feel like you're in a gigantic beach fort. There are also lots of tide pools to play in and rocks to climb on, and the walk down the steps to the beach is lined with delicious-smelling eucalyptus — so it sets the tone for relaxation right from the get-go.
7. Playa Santo Domingo, Ometepe, Nicaragua
Ometepe is a small island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua. It's one of those tropical places that makes you feel really, really far away from home — in the best way possible.
When I was there, I stayed at Finca San Juan de la Isla, which is an ~amazing~ rustic volcano lodge located on a tropical fruit tree plantation right on Playa Santo Domingo. The beach itself is amazing: It's pretty shallow, with mellow water, so it's good for just floating and chilling. There are also horses on the beach, lots of trees to climb, and fresh mangoes to eat — I just can't recommend this place enough!
8. East Beach, Watch Hill, Westerly, Rhode Island
As a Rhode Island native, I was surprised when Taylor Swift bought a beach house in Watch Hill in 2013. I really thought that Watch Hill, which is a census-designated village in the town of Westerly, was a local Rhode Island gem — not a celebrity destination!
My family and I have been going to Watch Hill for my whole life, and my favorite part about it is that it feels like you stepped back in time. Of course the beach itself is beautiful, but the seaside village of Watch Hill is worth the trip, too. It's super charming and very New England-y, filled with '50s-style ice cream shops where they give you your cone through a sliding wooden screen, and gift shops that smell like a mix of heady incense, Coppertone sunscreen, and fresh, citrus-scented perfume. The town is also home to a historic carousel that's believed to have been built in 1876. Pro tip: Go to St. Clair Annex for lunch and ice cream!
9. Andrew Molera State Park Beach, Big Sur, California
When most people think of Big Sur beaches, they think of Pfeiffer Beach, the one with the famously crazy purple sand. BUT! If you want to go to a lesser-known, more off-the-beaten-path option in Big Sur, check out the beach in Andrew Molera State Park. You have to pay a $10 entrance fee to the park, and walk through a field of eucalyptus trees to get to the beach (which smells amazing, btw). But then once you arrive, there are lots of hiking trails around the beach — so it's a great place to hang out for a day. You can also camp there for $25 a night, so that you can wake up and have your morning coffee right on the beach.
10. Playa Bonita, Las Terrenas, Samana, Dominican Republic
Located in the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic, Samana is just a true gem of a place. It's so soothing there. All of the beaches are wonderful, but I especially love Playa Bonita. It has the most killer sunsets — evidence above!
When I was there, I stayed in the Casa Grande Beach Hotel, which is a boutique hotel located right on Playa Bonita. It has a really nice beachfront lawn that's perfect for an afternoon cocktail to ease your way into the evening.
11. Playa Colorado, Nicaragua
My friend owns an organic farm in Nicaragua called Finca Santa Marta, and he introduced me to this beach — it's a couple minutes away from his farm. It's known as one of the top surf spots in all of Nicaragua, but you don't have to be a pro surfer to enjoy it — I'm certainly not, and I loved it! Nicaragua in general has many more cliffs and feels a bit more rugged than its neighbor to the south, Costa Rica.
There's also a community beach club at the end of the beach that serves fresh, ~crunchy~ food like acai bowls and organic granola. And then at night, the beach club has a bar where all the locals hang out and drink and listen to mellow music. Good times!
12. Ka’anapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii
To be fair, all of the beaches in Hawaii are pretty spectacular. But this particular one really did it for me because you can go outrigger canoeing there! Outrigger canoes are basically canoes that have support floats attached to the actual boat, so multiple people can row the canoe at the same time — which means you end up moving at a pretty fast pace. Outrigger canoes are also a big part of Polynesian history and heritage.
But the best part of outriggering at this Maui beach is that you can see sea turtles from your canoe! Lots of them! They swim right up to your canoe, like that cute little (er, big) guy up there. To rent an outrigger on this beach, go to Maui Paddle Sports, and they'll hook you up.
13. Boston Beach, Port Antonio, Jamaica
Boston Beach, in Port Antonio, Jamaica, is a legend around the tropical country, and not just because of the aquamarine water. The common consensus is that it has some of the best jerk chicken in the entire country. (I would consider it second-best, next to Piggy's in the heart of Port Antonio, but that's neither here nor there.)
Point is, this beach has it all: The water is perfect, it's got great waves for surfers, there's amazing food in the surrounding hills, and it's a local hangout spot, so you can get to know the people if you so desire.
14. Winnifred Beach, Port Antonio, Jamaica
Also in Port Antonio, Winnifred Beach is a bit less action-packed than Boston Beach. My favorite part about it is that you have to walk down a rocky, poorly marked path to get there — so by the time you arrive, you feel like you've earned it. And then it's just time to chill, especially because the surf is pretty mellow.
Like Boston Beach, Winnifred Beach also has great food. There's a dope shack called Cynthia's on the far left side of the beach, and on the right side, there are a couple other food shacks, all of which offer Red Stripe (a delicious local beer), jerk chicken, and other various Jamaican eats. There are even a bunch of vendors selling homemade crafts and trinkets.
15. Nags Head, North Carolina (Outer Banks)
If you're looking to rent a huge beach house for an upcoming family reunion, Nags Head just may be your spot. It's a quintessential American beach town, filled with family-style rentals, souvenir shops, crab houses (because it's the South!), and huge grocery stores meant for buying 21 pieces of corn on the cob. There's even a drive-through beer place called the "Brew Thru," where you can literally get a keg in your trunk to go. *Legit*
Logistics aside, the actual beaches in Nags Head — part of the greater Outer Banks — are lovely. The water gets really warm in the summer, and the surf can get pretty strong, so it's great for swimmers who want good waves. Kites are also pretty big there, as the wind can get strong. The one thing about the area that can get annoying is that there are jellyfish, so be prepared to pull a Chandler and pee on your friend's leg (LOL, but no really). Also, rentals get booked up almost a year in advance, so start thinking about your trip when it's still cold out.
16. Pakleni Islands, Hvar, Croatia
What most people don't realize about the beaches in Croatia is that the majority of them aren't sandy — they're more like giant saltwater swimming holes that you can jump into from docks or seawalls. And they're amazing.
My favorite beach situation in Croatia is the Pakleni Islands, in Hvar, which is an island on the Dalmatian Coast. Even though Hvar is itself an island, it also has a bunch of smaller islands — the Pakleni Islands — within its larger island, and you can take a water taxi to them from the main Old Town (it takes about 10 minutes). Some of these islands have sandy beaches, if that's your thing, but I think the best way to enjoy them is to rent a boat for the day, taxi around to all the various ones, and simply jump off the boat when you want to swim — or dock at one for a bit. Some of the islands even have restaurants, like the one above, Palmizana Meneghello. It's hidden in the trees, and once you find it, you'll feel like you stumbled into a little heady oasis in the middle of nowhere. Trust.