When you think of a beach, you probably think of white sand stretching away from a bright blue sea, the waves quietly lapping as you soak up some sunshine and watch the breeze gently blowing the palm trees… and there’s no denying that having the sand between your toes on a tropical beach is one of the best feelings in the world. However, there are so many beaches in the world that are worth a visit - even if there isn’t a grain of sand to be found (which means not tracking half the beach back to your room, too). These beaches are some of the most stunning in the world, but you won’t be strolling through the white and golden sand if you have a chance to explore them. Instead, you can find anything from colored glass shores to magnificent boulders, and a few beaches that may look like colored sand, but are formed from volcanic ash, fragments of coral and more.
Expand your next summer vacation to one of these beauties, and you won’t need to use filters to create some of the most IG-worthy beach pics possible - and to make all your friends jealous that you found somewhere so unique (we promise we won’t tell them that you didn’t make the discovery all on your own…).
20 Glass Beach, California
Proving that it is possible to turn trash into treasure is this rainbow colored beach in MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg - a shoreline covered in smooth glass pebbles, of all different hues. This beautiful beach is the result of the locals spending years dumping their trash into the sea - and while most of it was swept out or slowly dissolved, chunks of glass were simply worn down instead, and stayed along the shore to create something truly stunning. However, while it’s fun to hunt for the most beautiful colors, you can’t take any home with you (just gorgeous photos).
19 Ein Gedi, Dead Sea, Israel
If you’ve ever wandered the beauty aisle, you’ll have heard of Dead Sea Salt and Dead Sea Mud, as these mineral rich products have long been known to be great for the skin… but it’s even better to actually take a trip to the Dead Sea itself and bathe in the mud and waters right there! Many of the Dead Sea beaches are very sandy, but Ein Gedi is a stonier spot and the nearby Ein Gedi Spa Resort offers incredible mud treatments, sulphur pools and a natural mud area - which is helpful when the beach itself is closed due to sinkholes.
18 Shell Beach, Western Australia
From afar, this stunning Australian beach might look like another white sand paradise, but the entire beach is actually made of seashells! One of the few beaches in the world that is entirely shells, the whole stretch of shore is covered in Shark Bay Cockles, some of which were even quarried and hard packed to be used as building materials, and you can visit the local town of Denham to see some historic buildings made of the shells… or just enjoy a stroll along the beach and a dip in the super-salty (hypersalinated) waters where even non-swimmers can happily float.
17 The Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
There are plenty of sandy and pebble beaches in Ireland (although it may not be the first place you think of for a beach vacation), but the Giant’s Causeway is something truly special. Local legends claim that this shore of interlocking basalt columns was actually a path built by an Irish Giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill, who was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant, and needed a way to get from Northern Ireland to Scotland to take up the challenge! The more prosaic explanation is volcanic activity, but what’s Ireland without a little folklore?
16 'Starry Beach', Maldives
Technically, yes, this is a sandy beach - but it’s impossible to leave off this list, when the biggest attraction to Starry Beach isn’t the shore at all. Instead, it’s the view at night that makes this beach one of the most stunning in the world, when ostracod crustaceans (or phytoplankton, depending on the expert you talk to!) turn the shoreline into a riot of luminescence that looks like something out of a fairy tale. Unfortunately, this occurrence can be unpredictable, but that just means repeated trips to the island… what a shame!
15 Cobble Beach, Oregon
Pebble beaches themselves aren’t that rare - and usually, not known as popular destinations, as most beachgoers prefer to lie on far more comfortable sand. However, at Yaquina Bay State Recreational Site, you can discover the stunning Black Pebble Beach, which will make you wonder why white sand has such a great reputation in the first place!
The pebbles themselves are basalt that have been polished by the waves, and it’s well worth the trek down the long staircase to wander among them and listen to the unique sound of the ocean hitting against them in this spot.
14 Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Iceland
This is definitely not a beach that you would want to bring a bikini and flip flops to, but don’t forget your camera, because the views here are unmissable. Take a boat tour across the lagoon and through the icebergs that float on the surface, and see where they meet the volcanic black beach for an incredible natural contrast - it’s clear to see why this black beach has become known as ‘Diamond Beach’ when you see the ice sparkling in the sun. It may be cold, but Jokulsarlon has a unique beauty that you won’t find anywhere else.
13 Birdlings Flat, New Zealand
Appearances can be deceiving at this shingle beach in Canterbury, New Zealand. Plain grey pebbles may be the majority of the pebbles along the shoreline, and swimming isn’t recommended… but Birdlings Flat has become a haven for rock hunters, because mixed in with the dull grey stones are hundreds of semi precious stones that have been polished by the water, including quartz, agates, jaspers and more.
Wandering the beach means discovering beautiful treasures, and you may even catch sight of a dolphin, whale or seal while you are searching.
12 Stiniva Beach, Croatia
You better move quickly if you want to get to this white pebble beach before it becomes a major tourist destination - although it is difficult to get to, it was named one of the best beaches in the world in 2016, and it’s not hard to see why. Although not the the most accessible, that’s part of this hidden cove’s charm. Not everyone will brave the hike down the cliff, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with pristine white pebbles, blue water, and plenty of peace and quiet.
11 One'uli Black Sand Beach, Maui
Hawaii is known for having stunning black beaches - thanks to being volcanic islands. These beaches are made up of volcanic minerals and lava fragments, and while there are plenty you can visit, one of the best for those who want to head off the beaten track is One’uli. This beach isn’t for waders, because the finer black ‘sand’ becomes a sheer lava rock drop where it meets the ocean, but that is one of the most breathtaking things about this unusual island beach - that and the lack of sunbathers and surfers!
10 Sarakiniko Beach, Greece
Island volcanoes usually associated with black sand beaches, but Sarakiniko Beach is something totally different - a stark white stone beach formed by volcanic activity. Now, the stone meets the water in curving arcs, with natural tunnels formed underneath for brave swimmers (and divers) to explore. There’s even a shipwreck in the depths, but don’t go there expecting a pirate ship - the Africa only sank in 2003.
There may be plenty of white sandy beaches in Greece, but those looking for something a little bit different shouldn’t miss out on this “moon beach” experience.
9 Trá an Dóilín, Ireland
From a distance, Tra An Doilin (also known as Carraroe Beach and Coral Beach) looks like any other sea shore - so what makes this particular bit of Ireland special? Get closer, and you can discover for yourself that the ‘sand’ is actually made up of tiny pieces of coral (or, to be technical, coraline algae) which looks incredible up close. Like most of the coastline around here, the beach has a rugged beauty, and the coral beach just adds to the feeling of a beach that isn’t quite tame yet.
8 Sanibel Island, Florida
If you can’t make it all the way to Western Australia, there’s another stunning shell beach a whole lot closer to home; on Sanibel Island in Florida. This incredible stretch of shoreline has some of the best shelling in the world, and it’s so popular that there is even an annual Shell Fair where you can find crafts, art and collections of shells from the beach. Keep your eye out for rare shell finds here… and also for some of the local spas, where you can get a massage after spending all day bent over searching (a pose known affectionately as the Sanibel Stoop!).
7 Pink Sand Beach, Bahamas
Sand colors aren’t just limited to white, gold and black - as the pink sands of the Bahamas Harbour Island proves. While there is some true sand on this beach, it warrants a mention because the shore is also made up of fragments of pink coral and the remains of tiny marine insects that live in the coral reefs.
Mixed together with the more common white sand, this creates a brilliant bubblegum pink - although it’s definitely a stronger color close to shore, getting paler as you head away from the water.
6 Black Stone Beach, Aruba
If black sand isn’t unique enough for you, then check out Black Stone Beach in Aruba. This little bay is off the beaten track, but worth the trek just for the view, if not to really relax for the day.
As well as black sands and black stones that have been polished by the waves, the bay features larger black rock formations where the sea has eroded the rocks into breathtaking shapes and natural stone bridges (an extra bonus for anyone who had the famous Aruba Natural Bridge on their bucket list, but didn’t get there before it collapsed in 2005).
5 Salton Sea, California
This beach is not one for the faint of heart, but for true adventure travelers who want to see something totally different… before it’s too late. This inland lake was formed when the Colorado River burst its banks, and since then, it’s been shrinking every year.
There’s no swimming here, and it smells, so why include it? Because the entire white beach is made up of tiny fishbones - and a beach made entirely of bone is not only a rarity, but a post-apocalyptic photoshoot waiting to happen!
4 Valugan Boulder Beach, Philippines
Forget stone beaches with pebbles small enough to scoop up and take home in your pocket - for something more dramatic, the Valugan Boulder Beach is the perfect place to go. Here, the shore looks like the more common pebble beaches, only magnified, with large boulders meeting the water. Hiking shoes are a must if you want to visit this beach (and not twist your ankle on the rocks), although it’s also possible to simply look down on the beach from the hills above. You might even spot some rock balancing art created by other visitors.
3 Durdle Door, Dorset
The beaches of Britain are generally more rocky than sandy, and this Dorset beach is no exception. Made up of pebble and shingle, it’s not the most comfortable beach to lie on despite looking invitingly golden from above, but the sight of the famous Durdle Door is more than worth it. This natural limestone arch was created by the collision of tectonic plates, and while it can appear rugged and imposing on grey days, if you can catch it bathed in summer light it is one of the most beautiful spots on the British coast.
2 Papakōlea Green Sand Beach, Hawaii
Another beach with sand of a unique hue, Papakolea is a tiny beach tucked into a Big Island bay, and it’s only accessible by hiking - so lace up those boots, and carry the flip flops! The ‘sand’ includes a mix of black lava (the same you can find on Hawaii’s black beaches) and white coral, but is primarily made up of the green glassy mineral olivine, which washes up on the shore. The olivine crystals are kept on the shore thanks to the bay’s shape, as well as being denser than the lava crystals which are washed out to sea, leaving this gorgeous green beach behind.
1 Pfeiffer Purple Sand Beach
We’ve seen green beaches, black beaches, pink beaches, and even glow-in-the-dark beaches - but California’s Pfeiffer beach is one of the only purple beaches in the world. The violet hue to the otherwise white sand comes from tiny pieces of garnet being washed down from the hills above, which means that this natural phenomenon is most vivid after the rain. Pfeiffer also features stunning natural rock formations, so even if you can’t make it on a rainy day, there’s plenty to see here beyond the sand itself.