Forget pale, yellow sand opposite clear, blue sea — there’s more to beaches than what you’ve seen a thousand times in movies. Like anything else, coasts around the world come in all shapes, sizes, and even colors. From pink sand to penguin colonies, these eleven strange-looking beaches are some of the coolest on Earth.
1. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CaliforniaMan’s trash is Mother Nature’s treasure at Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park. For years, Fort Bragg residents used this and two nearby beaches as garbage dumps, disposing of everything from empty bottles and used appliances to entire cars. Cleanup efforts were made after the site closed in 1967, but considerable broken glass remained. We can thank the tides for turning our disgusting litter into works of art; over time, the ebb and flow of the Pacific smoothed the glass remnants, creating the pretty sea glass that covers the beach today. Visitors are welcome to hunt for colorful treasures while at Glass Beach but they are asked not to take any with them.
2. Hidden Beach, Marieta Islands, MexicoHidden Beach, also known as Love Beach or Playa del Amor, defies everything you thought you knew about beaches. Sure, it has sand and water, but they sit beneath the island’s surface, enclosed by a grassy field like a Hobbit-made resort in The Shire. Part of the Marieta Islands chain west of Puerto Vallarta, Hidden Beach’s moniker comes from the fact that it’s almost impossible to see from the outside and only accessible by way of a water tunnel. You can swim or kayak in and, if you’re lucky, get the cozy beach all to yourself.
3. Xi Beach, Kefalonia, GreeceIt looks like someone Photoshopped water and beach chairs onto the Australian Outback at Xi Beach. The red-orange sand is famous across Greece and a tourist magnet for Kefalonia, the largest Ionian Island. Better yet, the white clay cliffs that surround the shore create a stark contrast to the fiery sand, making Xi Beach one of the most photogenic beaches on the planet.
4. Papakōlea Beach, Hawai’i, HawaiiThat isn’t freshly-mown grass skirting the Pacific on Papakōlea Beach — it’s green sand. The matcha-colored seashore gets its hue from a mineral called olivine, which is abundant in the lava of the nearby Mauna Loa volcano. You can’t access the beach by car, but there’s a moderate five-mile, round-trip hike that will take you there. Papakōlea Beach is located a stone’s throw from Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the US, so you can easily see both landmarks at once while exploring the Big Island.
5. Zlatni Rat Beach, Brac Island, CroatiaTreasured for its long, pebbled shore and excellent windsurfing conditions, Zlatni Rat Beach has made several top-ten lists of the best beaches in Europe, but it earns its spot in this lineup for one reason alone: its unusual wishbone shape. While the beach’s exact outline is subject to change depending on wind and sea conditions, the iconic v-shaped shoreline is always identifiable. Zlatni Rat Beach is easy to reach via catamaran ferry from Split, so there’s no excuse not to go if you’re traveling through Croatia.
6. Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino, CaliforniaMysteriously spherical sandstone boulders cover this stretch of shore at Schooner Gulch State Beach in Mendocino County. The bizarre rock formations were created by millennia of concretion and erosion, during which mineral cements glued sand and other small particles together. Waves shaped the resulting masses over time, creating the rows of “bowling balls” we see today. Drop by the beach at low tide to see them in all their glory.
7. Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón, Iceland
When chunks of ice from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon break off and wash ashore, they glisten like gemstones on the jet-black shores of Diamond Beach, hence the name. Scenes from not one but two Bond movies were filmed in the area, as well as blockbusters like Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. It makes perfect sense: between the icy lagoon and the inky shores, Jökulsárlón has to have one of the most cinematic landscapes of all time. Aerial photos of Diamond Beach could easily pass for satellite images of an alien planet, so it’s a pretty sweet deal that you only have to travel as far as southeast Iceland to see it.
8. Hyams Beach, New South Wales, AustraliaThere are white-sand beaches all over the world, but the snow-white sands at Hyams Beach are the fairest of them all, at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records. There’s nothing unusual about the sand composition, which contains mostly finely ground quartz, other than the fact that it has remarkably few impurities. Hyams Beach practically glows on the southern shores of Jervis Bay, setting the bar impossibly high for off-white beaches everywhere.
9. Tangsi Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
Bubblegum-pink sand meets bright blue water at Tangsi Beach, one of only a handful of pink beaches in the world. The sand gets its pretty pastel color from tiny bits of red coral that mix with the beach’s naturally white sand. Many people visit Tangsi Beach on Lombok, an island near Bali, specifically to see the shoreline, but it’s also popular for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling.
10. Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town, South Africa
There are some animals we’d never expect to encounter while lounging at the beach. The idea of penguins waddling through the sand is as incongruous as the thought of seeing flamingos perched on an iceberg, which is precisely what makes Boulders Beach so special. The resident African penguin colony settled on the beach in 1982 and is now protected as part of the Table Mountain National Marine Protected Area. There’s only a handful of places in the world where you can see penguins up close in the wild, so getting to splash around with them at Boulders Beach is a pretty big deal.
11. Mosquito Bay, Vieques, Puerto Rico
Bioluminescence is a phenomenon that occurs in certain species when chemical reactions convert energy into bright, radiating light. It’s a trait shared by a number of marine creatures, such as the Pyrodimium bahamense in Mosquito Bay off the coast of Puerto Rico. The microscopic organisms glow highlighter blue when agitated, collectively illuminating the water around them. Mosquito Bay is an excellent place for stargazing, though the neon bay gives the celestial bodies a serious run for their money.