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10 best beaches to beat the winter blues

Melissa Burdick Harmon
December 11, 2012

Sure, snow is pretty and skiing is fun. But sometimes, deep in January and February, winter can start to seem endless. Folks dream of blue skies, days flooded with sunshine, and glorious scenery. Here are 10 places to go to escape the winter blues, in every corner of the world.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia
For a great beach scene just 4 miles from central Sydney

Put simply, Bondi Beach rocks. It draws the rich and famous— Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman—as well as some 40,000 other visitors on summer weekends (December through February). Towering waves attract surfers from all over the world. Rent a beach umbrella, go topless if you like, and enjoy the scene. You may also spot whales rolling past, and see adorable fairy penguins toddle across the sand. Bondi is only four miles from downtown Sydney, where you can climb the iconic “coat hanger” Sydney Harbour Bridge for 360 degree views, tour the opera house, explore the shops in The Rocks, and dine in style.

Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands
For seeing sea life

Some say that Seven Mile Beach, which lines the western coast of Grand Cayman Island, is the loveliest in the Caribbean—never mind that the beach is really only five-and-a-half miles long. Snorkelers can watch tropical fish swimming in the perfectly clear water some 15 feet below, (hint: the beach by the Marriott is one of the best for fish spotting, especially for huge tarpon). Cemetery Reef is another go-to-see-sea-life destination for snorkelers. Book one of the hotels on the beach, or stay in town and take day trips to Seven Mile. Don’t Miss: George Town shops, hiking the Mastic Trail, great nightlife.

Punta Del Este, Uruguay
For sharing the sand with the rich and famous

Before the 1950s, Punta Del Este was just a pretty place where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic on the coast of Uruguay. Then Hollywood discovered it, rich folks followed, and now you stand a chance to see Brad Pitt, Madonna, or big-name CEOs strolling along the sand. Popularity equals pricey, however, with the most fabulous rentals going for a quarter of a million dollars a month in December – February.  Enjoy the St. Tropez-like scene. Go to watch the sea lions play on Isla de Lobos. Make sure your swimsuit is skimpy, and, if you like, hit the hotel casinos and catch live shows that rival the best of Las Vegas.

La Digue Island, Seychelles 
For feeling time stand still

If you have ever dreamed of visiting the Seychelles, those pretty coral Indian Ocean islands fringed with deep green palms, put it at the top of your to-do-list. Global warming and the subsequent rising seas have put these low-lying islands in serious jeopardy. For now, however, head to Anse Source d’Argent, one of the prettiest beaches on La Digue Island. Swim into limestone caves; bask on the silvery sands, punctuated by towering rocks; take a boat out to Coco Island, for some spectacular snorkeling.  Back at your hotel do nothing but chill out. There is no “scene” on La Digue, just old-fashioned quiet.

Maui, Hawaii
For natural wonders with big-resort buzz

There is a reason that Maui, and its pretty three-mile-long Kaanapali Beach, tops so many escape-the-winters wish lists. Kaanapali is amazingly convenient, backed by good hotels and resorts. Black Rock Beach at its northern end offers world-class snorkeling. Get up way early one morning for the trip to the top of the Haleakela Volcano to watch the sun rise. Many brave souls then make the descent on rented bicycles, coasting down while navigating some 29 switchbacks. Hit the shops and restaurants in Whalers Village, and, in winter, watch for humpback whales.  Order a Hawaiian Plate Lunch to dine like a local.

Los Cabos, Baja, Mexico
For romance on the beach

Here, at the tip of Baja California, couples can indulge in everything from wild ATV rides to big-game fishing, can explore more than 30 miles of beaches, play super-challenging golf courses, get to-die-for spa treatments and canoodle in quiet coves with no one nearby. Go to El Arco, that much photographed natural arch in Cabo San Lucas, at sunset, to snap photos and watch the silly sea lions at play. Enjoy the nightlife and grab some great golf. Visit the more sedate San Jose de Cabo, with its historic Old Jesuit Mission and treat yourselves to at least a night or two in a posh hotel along the exclusive Corridor.

Clifton, Cape Town, South Africa
For being part of whatever scene you choose
Clifton, in the heart of lovely Cape Town, is actually one long beach divided by massive granite boulders into four something-for-everybody coves. Fourth beach is where the rail-thin fashion models hang out and families like to play. Third beach is gay. Second beach is for singles, and first beach is relaxed and least focused on the “scene.” Clifton’s entrance is pure drama, as you walk past million-dollar homes and down a flight of stairs bracketed by bougainvillea. Yachts bob in the sea beyond the breakers. While in Cape Town, don’t miss the view from Table Mountain and drive out to the nearby wine country.

South Beach, Miami

For playing with the international set

If you are looking for a restful vacation, run in the other direction. But if you want to dance the night away (Caribbean music is super-hot right now), enjoy late-night Cuban food in Little Havana, mix with the beautiful people—including many, many Europeans—in one of South Beach’s ultra-trendy Art Deco hotels, then South Beach is your ideal vacation destination. Put on a skimpy bathing suit and hit the broad and beautiful beach (even the lifeguard stations are arty). Understand that you aren’t there simply to take a dip. This is about celebrating the scene in grand style. Sleep when you get back home.

Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
For romantic settings everywhere you look

Think Bora Bora, and graceful bungalows built over the water leap to mind. They almost shout, or perhaps whisper, romance. In fact, romantic settings are everywhere on this French Polynesian island.  The mile-long public Matira Beach—gracefully jutting into the sea—is not only beautiful but also accessible to all comers. It’s an easy bike ride away, given that cyclists can circle all of Bora Bora in four hours. While on the island, explore ancient Polynesian temples, nap beneath coconut palms, swim with sharks and stingrays in the Lagoonarium, and hike Mount Otu Motu, carpeted in shades of green.

Mai Khao Beach, Phuket, Thailand

For splendid solitude on Phuket's longest beach

Serene Mai Khao Beach, the northernmost beach on Thailand’s Phuket Island, is a breeding ground for leatherback turtles from November through February, and joins with neighboring Nai Yang Beach to form the longest strand of sand on the island. It is arguably also the least developed, with quiet beaches and campgrounds interspersed with the ultra-luxury of the Anantara Phuket Villas, complete with 83 private pools. Rest and restore, then explore beyond Phuket. Don’t miss the treasures of Bangkok, the Grand Palace, the evocative Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), the Floating Market and more.