11 Best Secret Beaches

Forget overcrowded hotspots like Bondi Beach or Thailand's Koh Chang. If you're plotting an escape this winter, check out these 11 coastlines where you'll have some sand to yourself.

AP Photo; Newscom

AP Photo; Newscom

Thailand

Overplayed: Koh Chang
Alternative: Sairee


Visiting Thailand is an exercise in avoiding places overrun with tourists. Koh Chang, or Elephant Island, is 18 miles long and has only nine villages, a few of them only accessible by boat. Unfortunately, this little paradise has been the focus of rapid development, with more on the way—construction sites abound, with all the accompanying noise. A better option is Sairee, a crescent of sand on Koh Tao island with palm trees arcing over the aquamarine water as if they are yearning to drink from the sea, according to Fodor's. Along the thin sliver of golden sand sits rustic, traditional beach huts, a scene that's perfect for lounging in hammocks. It's west-facing and therefore great for watching the sunset.

Flickr (2)

India

Overplayed: Juhu Beach
Alternative: Patnem Beach


An ever-more-popular travel destination, India has thousands of miles of coastline. Its most popular beaches, unfortunately, draw swarms of travelers. Juhu Beach is perhaps the best-known and benefits from being very close to Mumbai, but it’s covered with locals and tourists. Venture a few hundred miles south on India’s West Coast. Goa, while filled with resorts, has plenty of lesser-known spots to enjoy the sun. Palolem Beach was until recently one of the few virgin beaches left in Goa. Now it’s growing crowded during the peak months, so try the smaller, quieter Patnem Beach next door. Travelers say it's as paradisaical as India gets, and has clean huts and cheap food.

AP Photo, Flickr

Mexico

Overplayed: Cancun
Alternative: Tulum


With hotels built right up to the water, the jam-packed beaches of Cancun can be anything but relaxing. And with all the kitsch and over-the-top tourist traps, you may feel like you're still in the U.S. Much nicer is the spectacular coastline at Tulum. Its powdered-sugar sand, jade-green water, balmy breezes, and bright sun make it one of the top beaches in Mexico. Where else can you get all that and a dramatically situated Maya ruin? There's excellent diving and snorkeling, and a variety of lodgings and restaurants to fit every budget. A big plus: The beach is much wider than that of Cancun, so that even on its more crowded days, you have a lot more space.

South America

Overplayed: Chile's beaches
Alternative: Prainha Beach


Chile, with its hot spot capital Santiago, is tempting, but don’t let its sprawling coastline give you the wrong idea: The southern countries on the continent stretch toward the Antarctic Circle, meaning the beaches are beautiful but the water is often frigid. Instead, try further north, like Lima, Peru, or Rio de Janeiro. Avoid Rio’s world-famous Copacabana Beach, however, as it’s packed with tourists and the water is often filled with trash and sewage. A better bet is to head to Prainha Beach, a favorite with surfers that is virtually abandoned on weekdays. Part of the reason for this is its location way outside the city. Hire a cheap taxi and you won’t have any trouble finding it.

AP Photo, Getty Images

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Overplayed: Trunk Bay
Alternative: Hawksnest Beach


Trunk Bay remains one of the world's most picturesque beaches with soft, warm sand and clear, blue water. But the reefs and the celebrated snorkeling trail are dying, the beach is crowded with day-trippers, and it doesn't offer much shade. Plus, there's an entry fee. Instead, visit Hawksnest Beach, lined with sea-grape and waving palms. A patchy reef just offshore means snorkeling is an easy swim away. It's still a bit crowded, but there's no entry fee because it's in a national park.

Australia

Overplayed: Bondi Beach
Alternative: Clovelly


Sydney's Bondi Beach is almost more famous for its lifeguards than its swell. It may lord over every other beach in the city, but it's not the best one for a swim, surf, or sunbathe. Instead, a trio of Sydney beaches may be more enticing options. More like a giant ocean pool, the crystal clear waters of Clovelly are heaven for snorkelers. Keep an eye out for Bluey, the resident blue grouper. Split in two by an unfeasibly picturesque rocky outcrop, Balmoral is another popular North Sydney haunt for swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing. There are also some fabulous fish-and-chip shops. And Norfolk Island pines and sandstone headlands hug the bowl-shaped park behind Bronte, a small, family-oriented beach that has a playground, rock pool, and sandy cafes.

Getty Images (2)

Hawaii

Overplayed: Ka'anapali Beach
Alternative: Makena Beach


The sand on Ka'anapali Beach in West Maui is soft and inviting, and there are some magical spots for prime snorkeling. But beachgoers who want some privacy and seclusion won't find it here—tall high-rises scrape the sky directly behind you. The more intimate beach is Makena Beach in South Maui. Turn around, and you're looking up at lush green mountains of tropical forest. You can also grab a fish taco from a truck and chat with the vendor, according to Fodor's.

New England

Overplayed: Martha's Vineyard
Alternative: Block Island, Rhode Island


When it comes to New England, everyone talks about the beaches of Martha's Vineyard, but the best ones on that A-list island are private and require residency or a pricey permit. The ones on Block Island, Rhode Island, are just as lovely and much more accessible. Head to the quieter Mansion Beach over the more-crowded State Beach—you won't bump into Martha Stewart, but it's free and open to the public.

Getty Images; Newscom

Bahamas

Overplayed: Pink Sands Beach
Alternative: Club Med Beach


Pink Sands Beach on Harbour Island might be the most famous rosy-hued stretch of sand in the world—and for good reason—but you will have to walk from here to eternity to get deeper than your waist in the water, as its small waves break hundreds of miles offshore. For better breakers, amble over to Harbour Island’s tranquil Club Med Beach in nearby Eleuthera. This was Club Med’s famed beach before the resort was destroyed by a hurricane in 1999, so it's possible that you’ll find you have the whole strand to yourself. The gorgeous Atlantic-side beach remains, anchored by fantastic bistros.

AP Photo, Flickr

Florida

Overplayed: Daytona Beach
Alternative: Gulf Islands National Seashore


With big signs and glossy pamphlets, Daytona Beach bills itself as "The World's Most Famous Beach"&mash;a title that caught on in the 1920s and, today, is up for debate. It's a Spring Break destination, its population quintuples during big stock-car races, and as many as half a million bikers roar into town for motorcycle events during the spring and fall. You'd be better off at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Summer 2010 was a lost cause for this picturesque area thanks to the BP oil spill, but already snowbirds have started to return to the undeveloped, snow-white sand here.

France

Overplayed: Nice
Alternative: Cannes or St-Tropez


Nice is probably the French Riviera's best-known resort, but its rocky beaches, tacky cafes, and cheap budget hotels just off of the promenade make it less than ideal, and it's a far cry from the exclusive Riviera coastal vibes that you'll find at neighboring beaches in Cannes or St-Tropez. Stick to Nice as a transport hub and leave the beach bumming for towns further west along the coast.

 

Recommendations from the editors at Fodors, Lonely Planet, and Smart Luxury Travel magazine