Chalk-white sands, deliciously temperate weather and occasional visits from dolphins and migrating whales make this picturesque strip of shoreline, just south of Australia's Gold Coast, a magnet for nearly two million visitors a year. Regular visitors range from the artsy to the backpacking to the well-heeled, and attractions include local festivals, aboriginal craft shops and a nearby beach hideaway where the mode of dress is decidedly optional.
A few clicks east of the Bahamian capital of Nassau floats Eleuthera, a 100-mile ribbon of land adorned by tony cabana communities, lush pineapple plantations and naturally graceful beaches--from the legendary pink sands of Harbour Island to the vegetation-rich shores of Spanish Wells. "Eleuthera" is Greek for "freedom," and the enthusiastic throng of visitors here live up to the word.
Nevis, the sister isle of St. Kitts, is home to some of the Caribbean's most tranquil and unspoiled shorelines, among them Pinney's Beach, a four-mile stretch of volcanic sand along the west coast of the egg-shaped island. Lined by swaying coconut trees, the calm waters of Pinney's are popular with avid swimmers, rum-sipping loungers and sun-worshippers.
Rapidly shedding its former reputation as an inexpensive getaway destination, the Dominican Republic is going seriously upscale, as luxury resorts continue to spring up and A-list celebrities flock to its shores. Center stage in this transformation is Punta Cana which, cozily situated on the easternmost tip of the island, is quickly earning itself the nickname "the new Cancun."
Nearly two dozen beaches dot the French-Caribbean settlement of St. Bart's, lending a bright white glimmer to an elegant island known for its lavish villas and world-class restaurants. Audaciously sprawled along the island's south shore is the celebrated Saline Beach (La Grande Saline), where free-spirited beachcombers flaunt their glitz and glamour.
Placid waters and pristine beaches are hallmarks of Anguilla, the glittering sand and coral jewel atop the arc of the Lesser Antilles. Graced by gentle breezes and blessed with an average monthly temperature of 80 degrees, the crescent-shaped shorelines host a dazzling assortment of regulars, from the romantic strollers along Rendezvous Bay to the afternoon cocktail contingent of Little Harbour. But the real magic happens among the colorful umbrellas and reclining lounge chairs on Shoal Bay.
With its breathtaking views of Sugarloaf Mountain, seven-foot swells and endless sea of barely-there bikinis, Copacabana still reigns as Rio's most proudly hedonistic haven.
Just around the Brazilian bend from Copacabana, the exquisite and electrifying Ipanema continues to stand tall as a tireless sand and surf playground, with its bustling beaches, fashionable shops and non-stop nightlife.
For natural diversity, it doesn't get much better than the crystal cays and lush mangroves of Placencia, on the water's edge of Belize. Wedged between sea and lagoon, the 11-mile peninsula is an ecological eyeful, where tropical birds and iguanas share space with diehard scuba divers and mellow hammock-swingers.
Located on the pencil-point of the Baja peninsula, Cabo San Lucas is famed for its sportsfishing, spas and "Golden Corridor" of immaculate beaches. Tucked among the giant white rock formations of Land's End is the elusive but spellbinding Lover's Beach (Playa del Amor).
Hugging the northeastern shoreline of the Yucatan Peninsula, just below Cancun, high-energy Playa del Carmen teems with youthful visitors, many from Europe, who spend as much time in the beach bars and dive shops as they do in the water. Further north, however, the hot sand widens and the crowds thin out.
The achingly romantic Cinque Terre, a quintet of five coastal cities strung along Northern Italy's Ligurian Sea, is best loved for its colorful Old World villages quaintly carved into the rolling green hillsides. But beach enthusiasts can still find solace on the sands of Monterosso.
This is a place where visitors are hopelessly devoted to baking in the sun, and on Nissi Beach--a stunning sanctuary protected by a cove on the island's east end--that devotion is downright religious.
What distinguishes Mykonos from the 200-odd inhabited islands of Greece are the hours kept by its pleasure-seeking visitors: Nightlife is notorious here, and travelers tend to sleep late. By afternoon, however, the action has usually begun to kick up on Paradise Beach.
Ibiza, proud bad boy of the Balearics, is internationally renowned for its raucous nightlife, a turbo-charged revelry that begins with after-dinner club-hopping and concludes with "disco sunrises." During daylight hours, however, the order of the day on the Playa d'en Bossa is "let loose."
Take your pick: Pretty much any beach on the Mediterranean Shangri-la of Sardinia (due west of Italy's boot, shin-level) qualifies as sexy. However, the flashing white sands of Pula Beach, on the island's southern tip, are something special--with its charming coves, deep blue bay waters and nearby ruins of a Roman amphitheater. The adventurous can also check out the juniper-scented Chia Dunes, which are only a few kilometers away.
Camera-toting tourists will marvel at the striking blend of colors along Red Beach, located on the southern flatland of Greece's Santorini--black sand, royal blue sea and crimson lava cliffs.
The sacred sands of Saint-Tropez are to the sexy beach what the New York Yankees are to professional baseball: the undeniable gold standard, whether or not they're having a good season. These days, the most popular locale along the bustling Baie de Pampelonne is Tahiti Beach, with its generous mix of Cote D'Azur day-trippers and high-living jet-setters.
With its ample fruit trees and colorful wildflowers--and more than 80 strategically located resorts--this lush cluster of coral islands in the Indian Ocean plays host to half a million visitors a year. Among the most alluring destinations on the archipelago is the Kuredu Island Resort on the northern reef of Lhaviyani Atoll, with its bright white sands, thatched-roof bungalows, and villas-on-stilts that rise from the lagoon.
Picking a favorite spot among the 300-plus islands that comprise the tropical paradise of Fiji is a little like trying to select which morsel of Godiva chocolate to start with after opening the box. Thankfully, mother nature has intervened: A break in the reef along the southwest curve of the main island--at the horseshoe-shaped Natadola Beach--makes for some perfect body-surfing.
Guidebooks will have you believe that the hottest hot spot on Thailand's satellite island of Phuket is the distinctively decadent Patong Beach, with its noisy nightclubs, dimly-lit massage facilities and ever-buzzing beaches. But for true beauty head north to the spectacularly scenic Phang Nga Bay, where giant limestone formations spike dramatically out of the jade waters. Note to James Bond fans: Phang Nga Bay co-starred as the background in 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun.
Despite its tiny size and remote location (on a map, it looks like an afterthought to Java), the Indonesian outpost of Bali packs a lot of tropical splendor into its spare square-mileage. Draped onto the island's southern neck is the sheltered Sanur Beach, famous for its dense foliage, black and white sands and beachside Balinese ceremonies.
In ancient times, Ka'anapali was the retreat of choice for the royal rulers of Maui, with its three-mile sweep of sand framed by an awesome topography bathed in greens and blues. One thousand condo units and 3,500 hotel rooms later, the beach remains the island's gemstone, and an irresistible draw for flocks of dewy-eyed romantics eager to soak up its magnificent sunsets. (Think Waikiki without the cheesiness factor.)
The so-called "secret beach" on the northern rim of the "Garden Isle" of Kaui isn't such a secret anymore. Curious tourists regularly stream onto its majestic span of white-gold sand, which offers nice views of the Kilauea Lighthouse. Access to the beach is fairly rugged--getting there requires 15 minutes of agile hiking--but funseekers continue to make the trek.
Cycling legend Lance Armstrong and Hollywood hunk Matt McConaughey (voted People's Sexiest Man Alive in 2005) are fans. Maybe it's not as exotic as Rio, or as glitzy as the Cote D'Azur, but those 23 blocks on the bottommost tip of Miami Beach possess their own brand of star-spangled sexiness. From the pulsating club scene to the enticing shoreline itself, South Beach is our own little slice of paradise here on the home front.