10 Beautiful Beach Destinations That Offer a Side of Culture

There’s more to these locations than sand, sun, and surf.

Positano, SA, Italy

Journey to Italy’s Amalfi coast, where Positano’s warren of alleyways and lanes invite exploration.

Photo by Dimitry B/Unsplash

Some delight in relaxing on the sand with a book or cocktail in hand for a week. For others, boredom sets in swiftly. It can be hard to find a beach that appeals to different travel styles, but around the world there are destinations that offer time in the ocean and a bit of culture, too.

From Indonesia to Israel, these 10 sun-kissed destinations offer picture-perfect beaches along with a healthy dose of local arts and culture.

1. Positano, Italy

The cliffside village of Positano conjures up images of blue- and orange-striped beach umbrellas in neat rows beside the Mediterranean. While this idyllic image is not too far from the truth, there’s plenty more to explore, including the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, whose famous majolica tiled dome sits in the foreground of the landscape.

Hike the five-mile Path of the Gods, an old mule route that runs through Amalfi hillside villages—from Bomerano in the west to Nocelle in the east—and offers memorable views. Day trips to Sorrento, which has train access to Pompeii, and the island of Capri are also musts.

Read more: Amalfi Coast Travel Guide

People stroll on the boardwalk on Coronado Central Beach

For decades, Coronado Beach’s shimmering sands have drawn celebrities.

Photo by Sherry V Smith/Shutterstock

2. Coronado, California

A short bridge across from San Diego, Coronado Island features five glittering beaches (the sand literally sparkles thanks to the mica deposits in the area). The iconic Victorian-style Hotel del Coronado has hosted presidents like William Taft and FDR and celebrities such as Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, plus Marilyn Monroe during the on-site filming of Some Like It Hot. The landmark hotel boasts its own museum (in the former ice house) exhibiting artifacts and memorabilia.

Surf, kayak, and build sand castles by day, or explore the art galleries, bookstores, and cafés along mile-long Orange Avenue. Leave time for a live theater show at the Coronado Playhouse or Lamb’s Players.

Barceloneta Beach

Barceloneta Beach is one of Barcelona’s most well-known beaches.

Photo by Joakim Lloyd Raboff/Shutterstock

3. Barcelona, Spain

Laid-back Barcelona sits in a prime location along the Mediterranean Sea in Catalonia in northeastern Spain and has several sandy stretches. Head for the popular Barceloneta Beach, with an esplanade running along it, or the family-friendly and bar-lined Bogatell Beach in the Poblenou neighborhood. Or maybe ditch the sand and sail around the harbor on a catamaran cruise.

Soak up some culture with your daily dose of sun with visits to Antonio Gaudi’s fantastical modernist marvels, including Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, and Casa Batlló, as well as the Picasso Museum, which houses 4,200 of his works in a set of Gothic buildings in the Ribera neighborhood. Among the collection’s highlights is Picasso’s Las Meninas series, a cubist reinterpretation of Diego Velaquez’s original.

Read more: The Essential Guide to Barcelona

Nemal Yafo St 10, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

Tel Aviv is a Mediterranean getaway abundant with rich history.

Photo by Shai Pal/Unsplash

4. Tel Aviv, Israel

With more than a dozen golden-sand beaches, vibrant and cosmopolitan Tel Aviv certainly knows how to take a break by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Among the most popular are Bograsha, Jerusalem, Mezizim, and Hilton Beach (named for the seaside hotel there).

It would be remiss to visit Tel Aviv and not venture to the cobblestone streets of Jaffa, the old port city; the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, with its boutiques and fine dining restaurants, or the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Jerusalem and its many historic and sacred sites, such as the Temple Mount, Wailing Wall, and Tower of David citadel, are only an hour drive away.

Read more: The Essential Guide to Tel Aviv

Beautiful Goa province beach in India with fishing boats and stones in the sea

A former Portuguese colony, Goa is still in touch with its European past.

Photo by Lena Serditova/Shutterstock

5. Goa, India

This stretch of India’s western coast and the resorts of North Goa attract plenty of overseas revelers along with India’s own booming middle class. (South Goa’s beaches tend to be quieter and more secluded.)

Along with lazy days on sandy stretches like Palolem beach, there’s plenty of culture to take in, thanks in part to the intermingling of Portuguese and Indian traditions. Stop at UNESCO World Heritage site Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception churches, stroll the colorful Latin Quarter, or drop in at Moda Goa, a history and costume museum in a 450-year-old Goan villa that was the vision of late Indian fashion designer Wendell Rodricks.

Read more: Goa Travel Guide

Nice, France in the evening after sunset

Nice is a well-connected base for a trip around the French Riviera.

Photo by Fishman64/Shutterstock

6. Nice, France

The French Riviera city of Nice is practically synonymous with joie de vivre. Camp out on the sand and people watch as the southern French coastline attracts those wanting a picturesque walk on the Promenade des Anglais.

After swimming and sailing, explore Nice’s Roman ruins or take a cooking class and learn to make socca, chickpea pancakes the region is known for. Save time for day trips to Toulon, where you can catch a production in the second largest opera house in France outside of Paris, and to inland Provence to see the lavender fields and post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne’s studio. Explore open-air markets, churches, and ancient ruins throughout the region, including UNESCO-recognized Roman monuments and the Albi Cathedral.

Read more: French Riviera Travel Guide

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Old forts, scenic beaches, and colorful streets are among the draws to Puerto Rico’s capital.

Photo by Zetong Li/Unsplash

7. San Juan, Puerto Rico

With beaches, nightlife, the El Yunque tropical rain forest and 500 years of history, Puerto Rico seemingly has it all. Enjoy the sun, swim, snorkel, and paddleboard at the three main beaches: Condado, El Escambron, and Ocean Park.

After a few days of sun and sand, delve deeper into Puerto Rico’s history and culture. The Taino, the Indigenous people who lived on the island for hundreds of years before Spanish explorers arrived, called their home “Borinquen”—meaning Land of the Valiant and Noble Lord—which is why Puerto Ricans often refer to themselves as boricuas. The Spanish named the island Puerto Rico (literally rich port) due to the island’s plentiful natural resources and strategic location. See some of this colonial past at the San Juan National Historic Site, which includes the Castillo San Felipe del Morro (fortification to prevent sea attacks) and Castillo San Cristobal (fortification to prevent land attacks), as well as most of the city walls. Don’t miss ambling along Old San Juan’s colorful cobblestone streets.

Read more: Puerto Rico Travel Guide

Tanah Lot temple and Pacific Ocean View

Tanah Lot is one of thousands of Hindu temples you can visit from Denpasar.

Photo by PhotoFra/Shutterstock

8. Denpasar, Indonesia

As Bali’s capital, bustling Denpasar is the gateway to the island and the splashy beach resort areas of Semiyak, Jimbaran, and Nusa Dua. In southern Bali and on the Bukit Peninsula, hotels such as the Four Seasons, Six Senses, Alila, and St. Regis are ideal for beach lovers.

It’s worth stopping at a few of the 20,000 Hindu temples on the island such as Tanah Lot, Goa Lamah, or the Saraswati Temple in Ubud. A Balinese cooking class (where you can master dishes like the grilled satay) or dance performance—Legong Dance and a Ramayana ballet are staged nightly at Ubud Palace—are ways to learn more about Indonesian culture.

Read more: Bali Travel Guide

Festive colorful banners over a street in Todos Santos.

The Mexican government has recognized Todos Santos for its artistry and beauty.

Photo by Emily Marie Wilson/Shutterstock

9. Todos Santos, Mexico

Stylish Todos Santos, along Baja California, is an underrated town with pristine beaches, attractive hotels, and restaurants spotlighting the region’s produce. The charming destination was designated a Pueblo Magico in 2006 by the Mexican government, in recognition of its cultural and artistic legacy.

By day, take surfing lessons through Mario Surf School or spot whales through Todos Santos Eco Adventures. After a morning enjoying the beach, spend the afternoon scoping out art galleries, designer boutiques, and the original mission across from the main square.

Read more: The Perfect Weekend in Todos Santos

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnival, Christ the Redeemer, and soccer are a few reasons to make Rio your next getaway (along with the beach, of course).

Photo by Agustin Diaz Gargiulo/Unsplash

10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Copacabana and Ipanema beaches have had their share of the spotlight among international audiences (cue “The Girl from Ipanema”), but a few other white-sand beaches in Rio to consider are Prainha, a crescent-shaped stretch within a protected nature area, or Joatinga, which can only be accessed during low tide and is a favorite of surfers.

Beyond the beaches, check out Rio’s larger-than-life Carnival celebration, in which five days of parades, floats, and samba dancers take to the streets before the start of Lent. Get a panoramic view of the water on a hike or train up to Corcovado mountain, where you’ll find the Christ the Redeemer monument. Another alternative to splashing by the beach is to watch a soccer match at the Maracanã Stadium, where legends such as Pele and Ronaldo have played.

Read more: Rio De Janeiro Travel Guide

Los Angeles-based Tanvi Chheda has been writing about travel for 15 years for publications such as The New York Times, Virtuoso Life, Delta’s Sky, Robb Report and Travel + Leisure, where she got her start as an assistant editor. She loves taking her kids along on adventures and seeing places through their eyes.
More From AFAR