Best secret beaches on Earth

Even for die-hard swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers, sometimes a day at the beach is anything but. You know the drill: too many people, too much noise, not nearly enough serenity to enjoy the majesty of blue skies and white-crested waves.

The good news is that there are still undiscovered beaches out there—blissful hideaways where tourism hasn’t yet eclipsed the local culture and there’s more to do, for those so inspired, than loll on the sand. T+L went scouting for such secret beaches and turned up everything from a quaint, affordable fishing village in Portugal to world-class surfing waves in Todos Santos, a cliff-side artist colony in Mexico.

So look no further than our slideshow to find the guilt-free beach that’s right for you.

Grand Haven, Michigan
Trolley cars, a 2.5-mile harbor-front boardwalk, and two 19th-century red lighthouses give a sweet, old-time feel to this Lake Michigan town. Boaters and fishermen flock here, and hikers like the short-but-strenuous climb to Rosy Mound that includes 1,000 feet of stairs up and down the sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan. There are warm shallows for swimming, and the soft sand of two public beaches squeaks when you walk on it. After sunset, the local restaurants, ice cream parlors, and shops come alive. Retire to a Victorian B&B like the 1873 Khardomah Lodge (616-842-2990; doubles from $70), or a rental A-frame or bungalow with your own beachfront, as listed at Lake Michigan Cottages (800-870-3393).

—David A. Keeps

Lord Howe Island, Australia
A close-kept secret among Sydney cognoscenti, this tiny Pacific Ocean island—where tourists are capped at 400, streetlights are a rarity, and most people get around on bicycles—is an easy two-hour flight from the city. Born from a volcanic eruption 7 million years ago, the verdant UNESCO World Heritage site is home to brooding basalt-stack mountains that plunge directly into the sea; guide Jack Shick leads challenging climbs up the 2,870-foot Mount Gower for jaw-dropping views. Down below, snorkelers have the run of a long and vibrant coral-reef lagoon. At Ned’s Beach, you can hand-feed kingfish—the Lord Howe specialty—while at Old Settlement Beach, turtles are known to laze on the sand. Book a room at the chic, nine-room Capella Lodge (doubles from $670 per person, all-inclusive), which sits atop Lover’s Bay. Owned by James and Hayley Baillie, whose other property is Kangaroo Island’s celebrated Southern Ocean Lodge, it’s known for its spa. For a room with a bit of history, check in to the low-key Pinetrees Lodge (011-61-2-9262-6585; from $300 per person, all-inclusive), which has been run by the same family since 1848.

—Sue Gough Henly

Pyla-sur-Mer, France
Across the bay from buzzy Cap Ferret, on the southern Côte d’Argent, stands the 350-foot Dune of Pyla, a draw for avid hikers and beach lovers. Now there’s another reason to go: Philippe Starck’s La Co(o)rniche (46 Ave. Louis Gaume; 011-33-5-56-22-72-11; doubles from $345), a renovated hunting lodge with 12 white-on-white rooms, all but one of which face the ocean. At night, crowds gather on the hotel’s breezy restaurant terrace for seafood dishes such as cod in a coconut-and-lime emulsion and scallops with glazed beets; there’s also a lively bar that whips up Catalan-inspired tapas and mango mojitos. If you prefer oyster platters and heaping plates of moules frites, take the ferry to Chez Hortense (Ave. Sémaphore; 011-33-5-56-60-62-56), in the historic Quartier Ostréicole on the southern end of Cap Ferret.

—Alexandra Marshall

Ibo Island, Mozambique
The 32 coral islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago—which have been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for biodiversity and cultural harmony—beckon with mangrove forests and sandbank beaches (accessed by African dhow sailboats). Sparkling turquoise waters filled with marine life are superb for shipwreck snorkeling and deep-sea diving. Once the trading outpost of Mozambique, Ibo Island is the most accessible and historic isle in the Quirimbas, filled with stone architecture bearing the polyglot influences of Arab, Indian, and Portuguese settlers. For a luxurious, intimate stay, choose one of the nine rooms at the Ibo Island Lodge (011-258-27-21-702-0285; doubles from $730).

—David A. Keeps

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
The largest island in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is nearer to Cambodia than mainland Vietnam. As a result, there is a sizable military force in this still underdeveloped tourist destination of less than 100,000 residents, known for uncluttered beaches and the country’s best fish sauce—a key Vietnamese ingredient. There are vanilla-white beaches with guesthouses lining the shore in small villages, which can be visited by motorbike, the most common vehicle on the island. But for the widest variety of lodging and entertainment options, most folks choose the east coast’s palm-lined Bai Truong (Long Beach) a 12-mile stretch with seaside resorts and cafés—tableside grilled squid is a local specialty—and the 43-room La Veranda Resort & Spa (doubles from $265).

— David A. Keeps

Salema, Portugal
Located three hours south of Lisbon near Cape Sagres, Salema is a small fishing village known for its gentle Atlantic shore break on a wide beach between two steep cliffs. While much of Portugal’s scenic Algarve Coast has been engulfed by new high-rises and resorts, Salema remains admirably authentic, with one main street, white stucco houses, an outdoor market providing staples for picnics, and just a dozen places to eat and drink. The lack of luxuries and diversions translates into accommodation savings: “Quatros” (rooms with bathrooms in private homes) go for about $26, while self-catering apartments at Pension A Maré are under $130 nightly.

—David A. Keeps

Bethany Beach, Delaware
A boardwalk with a bandstand and a frozen custard shop, a landmark carved totem pole, and a sophisticated miniature golf course add up to an all-American destination—and one of T+L’s Favorite Family Beaches. Known as the Quiet Resorts, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island offer seven miles of Atlantic Ocean for swimming as well as a sheltered bay for boating and fishing, minus the hubbub of nearby towns Rehoboth Beach, DE, and Ocean City, MD. Lodgings and dining in Bethany Beach cater to the kid crowd, so if you’re seeking solitude, try a rental home (1150 Coastal Hwy.; 800-228-8833 or 302-539-9040;; from $1,500 a week) or the Addy Sea (doubles from $250 in peak summer season), an adults-only oceanfront Victorian B&B.

—David A. Keeps

Koh Lanta, Thailand
Far from the maddening crowds in Phuket and Phi Phi, Koh Lanta is about an hour’s van or speedboat ride from Krabi airport. The island’s western side offers nine sunset-drenched beaches on the warm Andaman Sea (mid-80-degrees year-round) with pristine sands and coral snorkeling reefs. Named one of T+L’s Sexiest Affordable Destinations, Koh Lanta has blossomed as a favorite among in-the-know travelers thanks to its authenticity (fishing villages and a community who live in stilt houses) and range of accommodations. The further south you go, the more secluded it gets. Don’t miss Time for Lime (dinner for two $25), an open-air restaurant where you can also take Thai cooking classes.

—David A. Keeps

Cirali Beach, Turkey
The endangered loggerhead sea turtles that nest on these pebbly sands have helped Cirali keep development at bay. Situated on the Turkish Mediterranean between protected sites—a nature preserve and the ruins of Olimpos—Cirali is known for natural beauty and the orchard-to-table cuisine at its small family-run guesthouses. For full-service lodgings with pools and Wi-Fi, the Canada Hotel (doubles from $75) is a seven-minute walk to the warm azure sea. There’s much here for the adventurous and open-minded: a restaurant amid a waterfall and a 250-year-old mill; a hippie village with treehouses and shacks selling feta-and-herb pancakes; and the Chimaera, a natural gas flame that emanates from the hilltop rocks of Olimpos National Park.

—David A. Keeps

Palm Beach, Barbuda
Named one of the World’s Most Romantic Islands by T+L, Barbuda is, above all, for solitude-seekers. While her sister island, Antigua, flaunts bustling hotels and yacht races, Barbuda, a 20-minute flight away, has quiet beaches with pink sands, the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, containing more than 170 species, and only a handful of resorts. Two of the best are all-inclusive: Coco Point Lodge (268-462-3816 or 268-562-5598; all-inclusive stay from $1,200) on an arced peninsula beach over two miles long, and Lighthouse Bay on its own private island (from $1,299).

—David A. Keeps