World's Most Unusual Beaches
Beaches make for great memories — especially when they’re exotic, mind-blowingly beautiful, and far-flung and difficult to access. Part of the beach experience is knowing that you were there, that you were part of the mystique.
But what exactly makes a beach special and unique?
We’ve combed the world for all the shoreline grandeur it has to offer to answer that question. It was not enough for a beach to just be tropical with clear waters, abundant marine life and white sands to make the cut. There had to be something that truly set it apart.
If you’ve been to some or all of these places, consider yourself well-traveled and very lucky. If not, then there’s a whole lot of planning to do.
Giant’s Causeway Beach - Northern Ireland
Whether you believe the fable or science doesn’t really matter when it comes to Giant’s Causeway — this beach filled with giant stones is well worth your time. It was discovered by a bishop in 1692 and has since occupied a certain mystique in Irish culture and for all who’ve visited.
Folklore credits the formation of the stones to Irish giant Finn McCool, who tossed chunks of rock from the County Antrim coast into the water to form a pathway of escape from the Scottish giant Benandonner.
The fable has lasted in part because there really are some strange rocks here, like the Giant’s Boot and Giant’s Eyes. There are also sections that resemble an organ, harp, camel’s hump and chimney.
Boring old geology says the hexagonal basalt columns are actually the result of volcanic burning and cooling 60 million years ago. But where’s the fun in that?
Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove - New Zealand
For anyone who enjoys the sensation of going from the hot tub to the pool, Hot Water Beach, located on the North Island of New Zealand, is for you. Just remember to bring a shovel.
Visitors can only descend on these sandy shores en masse for two hours before and two hours after low tide. That’s when hot water from inside the earth bubbles up to the surface and flows out to the Pacific Ocean. With a shovel and some ingenuity, you can create a spa pool to capture the water and soak in its warmth.
The beach is vitally important to the Ngati Hei indigenous tribe, who’ve lived in the area for 1,000 years, so it’s important to respect the space.
After this rejuvenating experience, a spiritual awakening of sorts is just a short trip away at Cathedral Cove. Accessible via boat, kayak or foot, this area gets its name from the giant cave made from ignimbrite in the middle of the cove. The white rock formed some 8 million years ago from pumice and ash. It’s soft and erodes easily, creating the steep headlands towering over the beach.
Maho Beach - Saint Martin
Even though it’s located on a Caribbean island, Maho Beach isn’t actually particularly beautiful. What makes it unique — and actually kind of scary — is that it’s located smack dab in the landing path of planes entering Princess Juliana International Airport. And by “in the path,” we mean these planes are literally just feet above the heads of excited onlookers.
Plane-spotting is such a popular activity at this beach that area bars and restaurants post arrival and departure timetables. But it’s not without its risks. Signs are posted at the beach warning of something called “jet blast,” rapid air movement created by plane engines. Feeling this sensation is one of the main attractions of Maho Beach, but in 2017, it led to a New Zealand woman’s death when she was blown away from a fence and hit her head on concrete.
Diamond Beach - Iceland
This serene and magical beach is aptly named: Chunks of ice broken off from a nearby glacier resemble diamonds when washed up on the black volcanic sands.
Visitors are drawn to this beach — which in Icelandic is called Breidamerkursandur — for many reasons, one of which is that it never looks the same. The chunks of ice come and go, melt away and are replaced with new ones. Some are giant, some are small. But the experience is always peaceful and gorgeous.
The beach, located near the Jokulsarlon lagoon a five-hour drive from the capital of Reykjavik, is best viewed in the summertime when there is more daylight. However, the icebergs are larger and thus more spectacular in winter, when it’s also possible to view the Northern Lights.
Navagio - Greece
Greek islands are known for their majesty and one-of-a-kind beaches, but there’s one in particular that might top them all.
Navagio Beach is a tiny cove on the coast of Zakynthos, an Ionian island. And while it’s simply gorgeous, it’s most known as the site of a famous shipwreck. In 1980, the MV Panayiotis wrecked here. The ship was believed to be carrying cigarettes, alcohol and women, and no one is quite sure how it ended up on shore (where it still lies to this day). And if it truly was carrying women and contraband goods, no one knows what happened to them or the bounty.
This story has made the cove extra-famous, but visitors might be just as enamoured with the sheer cliffs, white sands and clear blue waters.
Koekohe Beach - New Zealand
“Game of Thrones” fans might get a kick out of the Moeraki Boulders, located along the North Otago coast of New Zealand. Their nickname? Dragon eggs.
Maori legend says these massive rocks are actually gourds that washed ashore hundreds of years ago, when a large canoe carrying the ancestors of South Island natives wrecked upon landfall. Science, however, throws cold water on that theory by pointing out that the boulders are calcite concretions formed some 65 million years ago, with the largest taking 5 million years to fully develop.
Either way, they are an extraordinary sight to behold dotting this stretch of coastline.
Charmouth Beach — England
This beach in southern England is located along the Jurassic Coast, so named for the abundance of dinosaur fossils that can be found on its shores. Charmouth provides a bounty of fossils, and the beach is a favorite with locals who come to gather whatever pieces of ancient history they can find.
A woman named Mary Anning first discovered fossils at Charmouth in the 19th century. She managed to put together the first full skeleton of a marine lizard called the Ichthyosaur, in addition to other marine reptiles.
Many of the fossils found at Charmouth are now housed in museums around the world.
Siesta Beach — Florida
Florida is a beach-lover’s paradise, but it’s hard to top Siesta Beach on the Gulf of Mexico side, about halfway up the peninsula. Often appearing on best-beach lists, it’s located on a key that bears the same name. And Siesta’s sands are 99 percent silica quartz, which gives them a picture-perfect glistening white shine but also a few other traits that make the beach truly unique.
The sand on most Florida beaches is coral, which tends to absorb the state’s notoriously sweltering heat. Silica, however, is great at deflecting the sun’s rays, so the sand on Siesta Beach always feels cool to the touch. It also has a much different consistency — people have compared a stroll here to walking on flour or powder, as the sand pleasantly squeaks underfoot.
Hidden Beach - Mexico
Located on one of the Marieta Islands off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, this unique beach is only visible if you swim or kayak through a long water tunnel to reach it. But don’t be too daunted: There is six feet of overhead space in the tunnel, so it’s not exactly tight quarters, and many travelers successfully make the trek to reach the beach’s shores.
While many assume the beach is the result of volcanic activity, the actual cause is believed to be bomb-testing by the Mexican military in the early 20th century.
The beach, which is also known as Playa de Armor (“Beach of Love”), has become a social-media sensation, with travelers proudly sharing photos from their triumphant visits.
Marino Ballena National Park - Costa Rica
This beach, located along the largest coral reef on Central America’s Pacific coast, has much to recommend it. It’s named after the humpback whales that travel through during their winter migration (“marino ballena” translates to “marine whale”), and is rife with other exotic wildlife to spot. Watch out for dolphins, various shorebirds, sunbathing bright-green iguanas and turtles that lay their eggs on the shore from May to November.
But what really makes the beach unique is how it appears in aerial images: At low tide, it looks like a tree growing out of the Pacific Ocean. The strip of land extending from the beach is actually a small island, although that is slowly changing as sand and debris build up to form a land bridge.
Whitehaven Beach - Australia
This stretch of coastline on Cumberland Islands off eastern Australia is epically beautiful. In fact it’s so stunning that it has the special modern distinction of being the most Instagrammed beach in the world, with more than 161,000 #whitehavenbeach hashtags as of this writing.
All of this is for good reason: It’s simply breathtaking, making it impossible to take a bad photo of Whitehaven. It’s also quite remote and only accessible by boat, seaplane or helicopter. There is, however, camping available among the crystal-white silica sands and turquoise waters.
The sand is so unique — it’s composed of pure quartz grains and 98 percent silica — that there’s an unsubstantiated rumor that NASA used it to create the first lens of the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1970s. NASA has never confirmed this.
Glow-in-the-Dark Beaches - Maldives
No beach is as wild and exotic as one that glows in the dark.
The phenomenon that causes this, bioluminescence, may seem otherworldly, but science has a perfectly reasonable explanation for it: special phytoplankton or ostracod crustaceans reacting to oxygen in the water.
This colorful display actually happens at beaches all over the world, but the light at Maldives beaches is particularly beautiful because tiny organisms called ostracod crustaceans release bursts of light for a full minute, while phytoplankton luminescence (the far more common phenomenon) lasts for just seconds.
The glow happens from summer to winter and is best viewed on the beaches of Vaadhoo Island. But it’s totally unpredictable, making it quite a lucky occurence for visitors when it happens.
Pig Beach - Bahamas
If pigs could fly...they probably wouldn’t swim. But swimming is what you’ll find them doing at this aptly named Caribbean beach.
No one is quite sure how the pigs ended up on this uninhabited island (officially named Big Major Cay) in the Exuma chain, which is easily accessible from Nassau. Local lore has it that the pigs were left by sailors who planned to return to cook them but never did. This makes the most sense, since the same thing happened with the prized black-footed pigs of Spain on nearby Hispaniola island during one of Christopher Columbus’s expeditions.
Other stories say the pigs swam to safety from a shipwreck or were caught up in a tourism scheme to bring more visitors to the Bahamas. If the latter is true, it was clearly a successful scheme.
Bowling Ball Beach — California
Mendocino County in Northern California has some incredibly picturesque beaches with beautiful cliffs and massive tides thumping the coastline over and over again, but one in particular is eye-catching for a completely different reason: bowling balls. OK, not real bowling balls, but rocks that look like something the gods might use to strike all nine pins.
These rock formations appear perfectly spherical, almost like they were created by humans or even beings from another world. But they are indeed earthly sedimentary rocks, crafted from eons of erosion and concretion in which mineral cement binds with grains of sand and stone.
These natural curiosities are best viewed at low tide.
Lake McKenzie - Fraser Island, Australia
In addition to their outright beauty, what makes the beaches here special is the fact that they surround a perched lake high above the water table that’s filled only by rains. Lake McKenzie is also so acidic that it cannot sustain much natural life, giving it an unmatched purity. Combine that with silica white sands and you have the makings of a freshwater paradise north of Brisbane in eastern Australia.
In recent years the purity of the lake has come into question due to its popularity as a swimming destination. Sunscreen and other cosmetics people apply to their bodies are actually polluting the waters. Believe it or not, some visitors opt against protecting themselves from the harsh Australian sun in order to keep the lake pristine.
Fort Bragg Glass Beach - California
It’s hard to believe that a beach in Northern California was once a trash-dumping ground for locals, but it’s true.
Before the modern environmental movement, communities along the California coast used their shorelines to get rid of garbage. Instead of being carried out into the Pacific Ocean, though, the trash was mostly circulated close to shore thanks to currents.
In the small town of Fort Bragg, what is now known as Glass Beach was just such a dump site, active from 1949 to 1967. Cleanup efforts were launched in the ensuing years, and biodegradable material eventually disintegrated. But the glass never moved; the tides simply churned and churned it for decades.
This created countless small, smooth and colorful pieces of glass all along the beach, which now make up a major tourist attraction.
Zavodovski Island - Southern Ocean
The beaches on this uninhabited island near Antarctica are famed for their millions-strong penguin colony, the largest in the world outside the ice continent to its south. The colony has twice been featured on BBC nature documentaries.
Zavodovski also contains active volcanoes — in fact, a volcano was erupting when Russian explorers discovered the island in 1819 and named it after the captain of their ship. And an eruption from Mount Asphyxia in 2016 occurred during molting season, which likely wiped out a significant number of penguins.
“The penguins generally inhabit the island from November to April, using the rocky, volcanic slopes as breeding grounds. The eruption would have coincided with their annual molt, which leaves the penguins vulnerable and unable to enter the water,” National Geographic reported.
It’s so hard to visit the island that the full impact of the eruption has yet to be determined.
Brady’s Beach - Canada
Best known for its long and chilly winters, Canada doesn’t exactly evoke visions of serene beaches. But no country in the world has more coastline, and it’s lined with amazing beaches.
The most distinctive among these is Brady’s Beach, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, which is known for its extreme isolation. There is no paved road leading to the tiny town of Bamfield, which means that in order to access the beach visitors must either hike for five days to a week, drive 55 miles on a dirt road, or take a float plane or ferry from a neighboring city.
The boat trip might be most preferable as it offers wonderful opportunities to spot sea lions, eagles and the picturesque surroundings of Barkley Sound.