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The World's 10 Greatest Beaches

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

How quintessential is the beach on this small cluster of islands south of Phutket, Thailand's most famous resort area? The waterside scenes in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach'' were shot here, most particularly on uninhabited Phi Phi Leh Island. One look will show you why: pristine sand, bathtub-warm water, verdant vegetation backed by the island's hilly interior. Diving, snorkeling and motoring around on long-tail boats are favorites, and the islands won't tax the budget.

Pink Sands, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Yes, the sands of this 3-mile-long strand really are pink -- thus the name. Pink Sands, 30 minutes by air from Nassau and 90 minutes from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, is a fine swimming beach, with warm, gentle waves, dazzling coral sands and clear aquamarine water that is ideal for snorkeling. Golf carts are the mode of choice for getting around on land. Laid-back and friendly, it's a gorgeous place to unwind.

South Beach, Miami, Florida

Are you buff and beautiful enough to hang out here? Actually, tourists of all shapes and sizes crowd this famous beach nearly year-round, but the slim and famous still mix with supermodels amid the Art Deco surrounds and the jam-packed clubs. The beach is perfect for people-watching, and the fame of the place guarantees a certain expectant excitement -- even if it can get a bit, shall we say, over-caffeinated.

Spiaggia del Principe, Sardinia, Italy

Rugged and remote until the Aga Khan developed it for the 1960s jet set, this posh beach in northeast Sardinia is much less remote now and popular in high summer. Homer's wine-dark sea provides ample opportunities for swimming, diving and boating in calm waters. The trenino verde, a slow but picturesque narrow-gauge train, traverses the island's rustic interior.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

I know, I know. Waikiki is loaded with travel kitsch and hordes of camera-besotted tourists ambling by in flip-flops. But, really, how bad can it be? The beach is lovely, if packed, the view of Diamondhead never gets old, the surfers are on their boards and Starwood's tropical-pink, renovating Royal Hawaiian Hotel will soon reopen. Just in time to settle in with a Mai Tai and some shave ice and hear "Hawaiian Wedding Song'' one more time as bridal parties rustle by.

David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer. He covers airlines and airports, hotels and resorts, food and wine, and writes travel destination features.
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