Best All-to-Yourself Beach: Sandy Spit, British Virgin Islands
There are many reasons to travel to the BVI, and most of them have to do with powdery white sand. Even the must-see Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke serves its signature sauce, the Painkiller, right on the beach. But your day here with that drink in hand won't be a lonely one. That said, if it's loneliness you seek, you're still on the right island. Well, close to it anyway. Stay next door to the Soggy Dollar in a beachfront cottage at the Sandcastle Hotel, where you can climb aboard a boat headed for Sandy Spit. This one-acre islet off the east coast of Jost Van Dyke is — as the name implies — no more than a spit of sand that changes shapes with the tides and beckons with desert-island appeal. So go early in the morning to have the whole shebang all to yourself. Playing castaway is even more fun when you know that civilization is only about a five- minute boat ride away. And there are Painkillers.
Best Beach for Kayaking: Moku Nui, Oahu
What's the secret to finding an empty beach on Oahu? Ditch the rental car and hop in a kayak. A 20-minute paddle across bustling Kailua Bay finds you on Moku Nui, the northern twin in a pair of islets known collectively as Moku Lua. The area is a protected, no-commercial-motors-allowed marine preserve, so a kayak or stand-up paddle board will get you to the golden sands on this 18-acre island. Follow your guide from Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks Inc. through the shallow coral heads leading up to the beach, surfing small waves along the way. Besides your fellow paddlers (limited to only eight per guide), the only crowds you'll find are seabirds that make their nests below the sand's surface and sea turtles that populate the offshore reefs. Bird scouting and snorkeling with turtles sure beat people-watching.
Best Hard-to-Find Beach: Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera
Pack a beach chair, a bottle of water and a healthy dose of tenacity before you begin your trek to Lighthouse Point. The 2-mile-wide island of Eleuthera stretches 110 miles, after all. But at the rugged bottom of this Bahamian sliver, perfection awaits. Start your journey at Cape Eleuthera Resort & Yacht Club, 40 minutes south of Rock Sound Airport, and make your way to the road just outside Bannerman Town. Amid the overgrown remnants of a privately owned pineapple plantation, follow the bumpy dirt path (in your 4x4 vehicle, naturally) until the trees open up to gentle, turquoise waves. Stand on top of the limestone point and count yourself the southernmost resident on the island — for the moment, anyway. Climb down to the pink-sand beds on either side of this jetty, which marks the border between two bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean (to the east) and Exuma Sound (to the west). Your reward for making it this far? Glass-clear water on both sides, a mile and a half of beach and not a soul you have to share it with. Like we said, perfection.
Best Beach for a Road Trip: Polihale State Park, Kauai
At the end of a long highway and a bumpy dirt road, a 2-mile-long sweep of golden sand awaits. And it's empty. That's because Polihale State Park, like many of Kauai's best adventures, is reserved for the boldest travelers — and loosest rental-car agreements. Get a good night's sleep (and a good map) at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa; then start your trip early in the day. The hour or so drive along Kauai's southern shore and up to the northwest side of the island will take longer if you get sidetracked by photo ops on the (mostly) coastal drive — and you should. Along the way, pick up an ice chest stocked with poke and pineapple juice at the Ishihara Market in Waimea, and complete the trek to Polihale. The road from here will be bumpy. But see if you care once you're enjoying your lunch on a covered picnic table in the middle of an empty beach.
Best Beach for Swimming: Champagne Beach, Vanuatu
Champagne Beach is intoxicatingly beautiful. After all, the aquarium-blue water sparkles in such a way that this curved beach on the east coast of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, is named for a glass of bubbly. So in the interest of responsible beach-going, it's probably a good thing that this glistening lagoon framed by a half-mile of white sand is within easy walking distance of the Lonnoc Beach Bungalows — no beaching and driving necessary. Just be sure to don your swimsuit before coming here because that champagne-like water will beckon immediately. And yes, you will definitely feel compelled to run into it. Fortunately for your toes, beneath its glittery surface, the bay's bottom is made of the same soft, white sand as the beach. Retreat to the warm shore in between swims, or enjoy a picnic lunch under the grass-roofed shelters. Bring some Tusker beer if you like. But even without it on this beach, you'll still feel like you're raising a toast.
Best Beach for Luxury: Matira Beach, Bora Bora
On an island like Bora Bora, you can expect luxury at every turn. Matira Beach on the island's southern coast rises to the challenge. No, there's not a sleek spa above the water or even a chic restaurant perched elegantly on the shore; the biggest luxury at Matira is, in fact, the beach itself. One mile of silky, white powder beckons your toes while an impossibly blue lagoon that laps as gently as a bathtub invites a dip. Majestic Mount Otemanu towers more than 2,300 feet above as you bob in the water and look back at the island. Sure, it's just an easy ferry ride from the very posh InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, a nice dose of luxury in and of itself. But even five-star Tahitian resorts may never be the same after you visit Matira. A day at this idyllic beach spoils you -- in the best possible way.
Best Underwater Beach: Dhigufinolhu, Maldives
It's no coincidence that the best beach in the Maldives is underwater; 99 percent of this low-lying island nation is covered by the ocean. Another geographic note: Each of the 26 ring-shaped coral atolls is prettier than the last. So how do you choose which lagoon to cool your heels in? Pick the one with a hammock strung above it. Nestled in the heart of the South Malé Atoll on Dhigufinolhu island, the Anantara Dhigu Resort & Spa is home to 57 overwater bungalows — and two overwater hammocks (including the one on this issue's cover). The lagoon is inviting for other reasons; the warm, shallow water is a favorite among kayakers and windsurfers. But the isolated sandbanks and the suspended beds above them might be the best reasons to wade across the two-foot-deep water from the resort's private white-sand shores. It's everything you love about the beach — with just more water.
Best Beach for Families: Crescent Beach, Block Island
There's a day at the beach. And then there's a day at the beach with kids. For those traveling with children in tow, Crescent Beach on Rhode Island's Block Island is the answer. The packed-sand beach stretches for four miles along Block Island's east coast — plenty of room for broods of every size. Head to Kid Beach on the south end for soft sand and shallow water. Or check out West Beach for a lower-key experience. Wherever you plant your umbrella, small- town wholesome- ness reigns. Snow-cone stands dot the shore, sailboats drift past and patriotic banners decorate the wraparound porches at the Inn at Block Island, just a short drive away. This is one beach that you — and the kids — won't forget.
Best All-Day-Long Beach: Pigeon Point, Tobago
The most delightful thing about Tobago's best-known beach? Depends on which of its many offerings you happen to be indulging in at the moment. The amenities at Pigeon Point Heritage Park encompass all things beach — from oceanfront restaurants to water-sports outfitters. Plus, of course, there's the iconic white-sand beach stretching for a mile and framed by light-blue Caribbean water. Walk or drive to Pigeon Point on the west coast of Tobago from the nearest hotel, Coco Reef Resort & Spa Tobago. Then choose your pastime. Rent a kiteboard and catch the breeze; mingle with a crowd of beach-loving locals and travelers; take pictures of the thatched- roof dotted jetty that makes this beach a Caribbean icon; or sample specialties like stewed chicken with rice at shore-side cafes. The only thing left to do is take a nap under a palm tree.
Best Beach for Lunch: Agni Bay, Corfu, Greece
Skip packing a lunch when you plan your day at Agni Bay on Corfu's northeast coast. Instead, welcome the aromas of kalamata olives drifting from the kitchens at Toula's Taverna, Nikolas and Taverna Agni. A short walk from your rented cottage above the bay, these family-owned, beach- front restaurants are so close to the glistening blue water that most fish on the traditional Corfiot menus is sure to be off-the-boat fresh. Finish your lunch of spicy prawns (at Toula's), stuffed cattle fish (at Nikolas) or seafood spaghetti (at Taverna Agni); then recline on one of the padded lounge chairs reserved for diners. Walk it off as you comb the 500-foot, half-moon cove for colorful sea glass and smooth sandstones, or drift among moored sailboats in crisp water. After that? Well, who says you can't have two lunches?