When we want to get away from it all, we might picture warm weather, salty sea breezes, and endless stretches of golden sand. But the busy boardwalks and crowded shores of a well-known beach destination can take away from a relaxing vacation. Escape the chaos of a buzzing beach town and explore more underrated ones. Not only will you discover charming hidden gems, but you can also save big on accommodations. Here are six of our favorite underrated beach towns around the world.
Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island almost 25 miles northwest of Victoria, Sooke is known for its rugged beauty and old-growth forests. Spend your time swimming at Matheson Lake, bird watching at Whiffin Spit Beach, or admiring fiery sunsets from pebbled Gordon’s Beach. Budget enough time to whale watch and try your hand at sportfishing, or rent a kayak to explore the secluded coves and inlets that envelop Sooke. Though visitors can take a day trip to Victoria for a taste of the city via Highway 14, the outdoorsy types can opt to bike along the 37-mile Galloping Goose Regional trail that links the Sooke Potholes with downtown Victoria, which takes you through ancient forests and past colorful wildflowers. Along the way, stop at designated access points for photo ops and picnics on this former railway line.
Eleven miles west of Lagos in Portugal’s southwest region, Salema is one of few stops along the famed Algarve Coast that remain relatively undeveloped. This sleepy village is surrounded by a collection of idyllic beaches. Central to the village is the beach Praia da Salema, but it’s a good idea to also head east to Boca do Rio or west for Praia da Figueira so you can have the golden sands to yourself. Though the Western Algarve is beginning to see developments of charming beach homes and bougie villas, Salema is still free of mass tourism for now and embodies an easygoing and laid back vibe. As a former fishing village, it’s still possible to catch glimpses of colorful fishing boats bobbing gently on the waters these days when you stroll along the beach. The west side of Praia da Salema is home to layers of limestone rock that date back some 150 million years, and eager fossil hunters have the opportunity to dig for dinosaur footprints and remains of marine life.
Da Nang, Vietnam
Often overlooked in favor of peaceful Hoi An, the coastal city of Da Nang in central Vietnam is equally deserving of a few days’ stay. This former French colonial port serves as a base for visiting the nearby Marble Mountains, a succession of five limestone and marble hills named after the elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Also nearby is the Golden Bridge, a fantasy-like pedestrian bridge supported by two giant hands. When not lazing on the fine white sands of coconut tree-lined My Khe beach, gorge on fresh seafood and admire the city’s Dragon Bridge, which breathes fire and spouts water beginning at 9 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Though still largely underrated, Da Nang is quickly developing, and a stroll along the Han Waterfront and the beach strip reveals glitzy resorts, glossy high rises, and fine restaurants.
San Sebastian, Spain
This beach destination on the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain is equally praised for its Basque cuisine, with dishes made from in-season produce and fresh-caught seafood. Beautifully landscaped parks and lively plazas aside, this seaside city is home to three urban beaches: centrally located Playa de la Concha, surfer haven Playa de la Zurriola, and family-friendly Playa de Ondarreta. When you’ve had enough of San Sebastian’s golden sands and gently lapping waters, summit Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo for panoramic views of La Concha Bay. Then spend your evenings hopping between tapas bars in the cobblestoned Old Town, sampling bite-sized potato croquettes and dishes made with anchovies and octopus. Visit in June or September to experience San Sebastian’s warm weather without the domestic crowds.
Because Tulum, Cancun, and Los Cabos are often called Mexico’s best beaches, the country’s Central Pacific Coast is largely forgotten. The former fishing village of Sayulita, an hour north of Puerto Vallarta by car, is now a favorite destination for surfers and yogis looking to practice somewhere tropical. Catch your first waves at the beginner-friendly sandbar, or swim and snorkel in the gentle waters of quiet Playa de Los Muertos. Shop for hand-painted clay pots and intricate dream catchers at the artisan stalls that litter the town. For a simple way to navigate Sayulita’s downtown, rent a golf cart.
About three miles north of Montañita off the central coast of Ecuador is the coastal village of Olón. Relatively crowd-free, Olón boasts a collection of simple bungalows and hostels for easygoing sunseekers. The town’s beach rewards beginner surfers and those who just want to go for a dip with rideable waves. Try your hand at water skiing or sport fishing here, and stroll the beachfront boardwalk that’s lined with restaurants and souvenir stalls. Those in search of vibrant nightlife should head to Montañita in the evenings.
Main photo by Rad Radu/Shutterstock.