Carmel Beach, Carmel, California
It is on this pretty expanse of sand that the town of 4,000 lives up to its full name: Carmel-by-the-Sea. Fringed by pines, this municipal beach is clean, safe and well-populated by sunbathers and surf-waders, hosting a comfortable mix of locals and visitors. At the north end, you can observe duffers playing the famous Pebble Beach golf course. Uphill from the beach, Ocean Avenue is lined with rather-too-cute galleries and shops but also with fine restaurants, usually French-accented. For good California seasonal fare, try the cozy Casanova restaurant, a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Don't hold Astrud Gilberto's can't-get-it-out-of-my-head "The Girl from Ipanema'' against the beach. Ipanema was a world-class destination before the 1964 hit song and it's survived in fine form ever since. Flanked by upscale apartments, shops, restaurants and cafes, the beach proper is a fine place for a dip and for showing off some truly spectacular bodies. Many trends have started here, not least the introduction of dental-floss-sized bikinis. Fresh slices of pineapple, chilled coconut milk and other treats from omnipresent beach vendors help to beat the heat.
Jurassic Coast, Dorset and Devon counties, England
Not just one beach but a 95-mile-long series of beaches and coves linked by winding public footpaths atop white, chalky cliffs, the Jurassic Coast is a haven for fossil-hunters and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pebbly "shingle'' beaches at Charmouth give up small fossils -- usually a type of marine snail -- imprinted on stones to amateur Indiana Joneses. The big harbor at Poole sends ferries across the English Channel to France, and pints of British bitter are on tap at waterside pubs such as the 17th century Poole Arms.