Man and woman relax in cabana by the water

Imagine your toes in the sand, listening to the soothing sound of waves crashing and feeling the warm sunshine on your face. There’s no shortage of beautiful beaches around the world, but some are more expensive — and not to mention crowded — than others.

If you want to book a beach getaway, it’s worth looking beyond the most well-known destinations. For every famous stretch of sand, you can swap it for one of these hidden gems that replicate the experience for a fraction of the cost — and with fewer people to battle with for the ideal spot to stake your umbrella.

 

California dreaming: Swap Santa Monica Beach for Manhattan Beach

The iconic Santa Monica Beach and its pier filled with street performers, a carousel and Ferris wheel is quintessential California. Just a short distance from downtown LA, it features a community beach house and an accessible playground.

Just under 20 miles south lies Manhattan Beach, a quieter, less expensive alternative that still offers plenty of California charm. It has a bit more of a small-town feel with a free aquarium at the end of the pier, a weekly farmer’s market and beach volleyball. From authentic Gelato to fresh sushi to chic fine dining, you’ll never go hungry.

 

Fun in the Sunshine State: Swap Clearwater Beach for Passe-a-Grille Beach

Florida is full of fantastic beach towns, and Clearwater is no exception. Its namesake beach is consistently named one of the best beaches in the United States and is a go-to spot for family vacations with plenty of hotels and restaurants.

To live like a local, travel a bit south to the lowkey Pass-a-Grille Beach, named for the fishermen who used to grill their fresh catches there. The surrounding quaint town is all about relaxation, offering outdoor art markets, restaurants and rooftop bars. The nightly sunset bell ringing at Paradise Grill is the kind of quirky charm that makes it such a unique place.

Surf’s up: Swap Bondi Beach for Tamarama Beach

Located just 30 minutes from Sydney, Australia’s Bondi Beach is an easygoing surfing spot with a beachfront strip offering plenty of restaurants and shops. Take “long walks on the beach” to a whole new level by strolling along the cliff-top Bondi to Cogee coastal trail, complete with stunning views and quaint cafes along the way.

Just down the coastal trail from Bondi Beach, you’ll find Tamarama Beach (aka Glamarama Beach with its swarms of beautiful, tanned beach bodies who are there to see and be seen). Think of it as the former’s younger, hipper sister. Tamarama also has great surfing and is backed by a small park with barbecues, a playground and covered picnic tables. One of the smallest beaches in the area, it’s a bit more secluded, giving it an exclusive feel.

Mexican escape: Swap Playa Maroma for Sayulita Beach

Located between tourist hotspots Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico’s Playa Maroma is one of the area’s most popular beaches. Its picture-perfect turquoise water, soft sand, plethora of resorts and great snorkeling make it tough to beat.

But if you’re looking for surf, sun and sand with a lower price tag and smaller crowds, head to Sayulita Beach, a more relaxed alternative near Puerto Vallarta. The surrounding area is full of unique shops and dining options from high-end restaurants to dollar tacos. In addition to snorkeling and surfing, you can also whale-watch and release turtles in this nature-lover’s paradise.

Island time: Swap Palm Beach for Anse Mitan

With year-round balmy temperatures and tons of direct flights from the U.S., it’s not hard to see why Aruba is a go-to Caribbean destination. Its Palm Beach is filled with hotels, water sports, concessions, casinos and restaurants, making it easy to see why Aruba earned the moniker One Happy Island.

A lesser-known Caribbean retreat, Martinique, is home to Anse Mitan. Thanks to its calm waters and white sand, it’s a beautiful beach that’s popular with families. Although Martinique is not as commercially developed as Aruba, the Anse Mitan area is home to more hotels and restaurants. Martinique also offers some interesting free attractions, including the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial, St. Louis Cathedral and LaSavane Park.

 

Beach party: Swap Las Salinas for Bonj Beach

Known as the unofficial party capital of the world, Ibiza’s Las Salinas has everything you’re looking for in a celebration destination — late-night beach bars, stylish beach clubs and trendy restaurants. The soft sand and crystal-clear waters make it the perfect place to sunbathe by day and then dance to live DJs until dawn.

Hvar Island in Croatia, with its nonstop party vibe and picturesque beaches, is comparable to Ibiza. Its Bonj Beach is about a 10-minute walk from downtown Hvar, close to accommodations, bars and clubs. The exclusive Bonj Beach Club captures the high-end glamour of Ibiza, but you can pack a picnic and people-watch to enjoy the vibe for free.

 

Far-flung seclusion: Swap Matira Beach for Champagne Beach

Nothing says luxury like the South Pacific Island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. World-renowned for its idyllic overwater bungalows, one of Bora Bora’s most beautiful beaches is Matira Beach, which is a popular spot for catching a breathtaking sunset and snorkeling.

While Bora Bora may be the more famous destination, the lesser-known island of Vanuatu is home to some equally gorgeous beaches, including Champagne Beach. It’s named for the gas escaping from the volcanic rock below the sands, which fizzles up at low tide to mimic a freshly poured glass of bubbly. Surrounded by coconut trees and lush mountains, you’ll forget all about any stress you may have back at home.

Find your perfect beach

Whether you’re looking for laidback lounging, a vibrant party scene or anything in between, there’s a beach for you. Not all that glitters is gold, though, and sometimes the best beaches are those that are a bit off the beaten path.

 

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