Best Beaches & Natural Attractions

TripSavvy Editors' Choice Awards 2018

Red Rocks

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Does your dream beach involve penguins? Does your favorite urban hike scale a dormant volcano? One of ours does! From SoCal to South Africa, and everywhere in between, here are TripSavvy's favorite beaches and natural attractions for 2018.

Beaches

Point Dume State Beach
Annie Waye / EyeEm/Getty Images 

Point Dume State Beach: Malibu, Calif. — featured in The Best Beaches in Los Angeles

Envision a quintessential SoCal fun-in-the-sun day and a picture of Point Dume will likely pop into your head. Of course, that might be because this beach's dramatic headlands and cliffs, rocky coves and wide curved swath of khaki sand regularly appear in TV shows and movies (I Dream Of Jeannie, Iron Man, The Big Lebowski, Modern Family, Planet Of The Apes to name a few). December to April, its high vantage points make it a perfect place to watch for migrating gray whales. Wildlife — like sea lions, crabs and birds — are often seen in the bluff-top nature preserve or the tide pools.

 –Carrie Bell

Hamoa Beach
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Hamoa Beach: Maui, Hawaii — featured in The Best Beaches in Maui

Hamoa Beach is consistently named as one of “Maui’s Best Beaches”. It’s a public beach, and all are welcome, even though it is shared with a well-known Hana resort. Hamoa is unprotected by outlying reefs, which can make surf conditions severe, although it’s still considered to be a family-friendly beach, as long as beach conditions are closely monitored and postings are obeyed. Hamoa Beach is approximately 1,000 feet in length and just over 100 feet wide and is surrounded by stunning sea cliffs.

There are plenty of trees and lush vegetation giving the beach plenty of shade. –David Duran

Spanish Banks: Vancouver, Canada — featured in Vancouver's Best Beaches

Stretching between Locarno Beach and the University of British Columbia, Spanish Banks is a series of sandy beaches along English Bay. Low tide exposes expansive swathes of sand that are popular with dog-walkers, skimboarders, and hikers looking for a scenic stroll. Walk west to leave the Locarno Beach volleyball players behind and find a quiet spot along Spanish Banks. Head here for stunning sunsets to the west, views of the majestic mountains on the North Shore, and cityscapes to the east. Amy Watkins

Boulders Beach, South Africa
 

Boulders Beach: Cape Town, South Africa — featured in Three Days in Cape Town

Located in the Cape Town suburb of Simon’s Town, Boulders Beach is part of Table Mountain National Park. A postcard-worthy combination of white sand, granite boulders and False Bay views provides a backdrop for the beach’s main attraction — a breeding colony of endangered African penguins. These charismatic birds are loved by all for their diminutive size and smart, monochromatic plumage. Boardwalks take you through their nesting site to a viewing platform, where you can watch them play in the crystalline shallows.

Although touching is forbidden, the penguins are likely to come and investigate as you enjoy safe swimming and idyllic picnic spots. Jessica Macdonald

Watch Hill, Westerly, RI
 

Watch Hill Beach: Watch Hill, R.I. — featured in the Best Beaches in Rhode Island

This public beach in the secluded Victorian village of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, offers unique enticements. Whether you laze on its brown-sugar sand or wade into the gentle surf, you’ll have views of two distinctive structures: the 1808 Watch Hill Light and global pop star Taylor Swift’s blufftop mansion. Kids love reaching for brass rings as they ride America’s oldest surviving Flying Horse Carousel. Adults cherish peaceful sunset walks out to Napatree Point along a strip of sand rendered a ghost town by the Hurricane of 1938.

Had enough sun? Shops and restaurants — including the century-plus-old Olympia Tea Room — are steps away. Kristine Hansen

Natural Attractions

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
 

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument: Jemez Springs, N.M. — featured in The Top Things to Do in Albuquerque

With hundreds of cone-shaped rocks jutting up into the sky (some reaching upwards of 90 feet), this natural attraction in New Mexico seems anything but natural, which only adds to its beauty and awe factor. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, located only about an hour outside of both Santa Fe and Albuquerque, is a must-see geologic attraction on a trip to either city. Besides bird-watching and plant identification (signs along marked trails educate about the local vegetation), it also offers hiking trails that range from easy and wheelchair-accessible to more difficult options that lead hikers through narrow, winding canyons and up a 630-foot climb that opens to panoramic views of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande Valley.

Even the most traveled outdoorsman would appreciate the unique trails and scenery at this geologic rarity. Jamie Hergenrader

Waimea Canyon, Hawaii
Don Smith/Getty Images

Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park: Kauai, Hawaii — featured in The Top Things to Do in Kauai

Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon was formed by erosion from the Waimea River. The result is a colorful landscape of rusty reds juxtaposed with lush green landscapes. For the bonus round, waterfalls and frequent rainbows add to the beauty of this region. Notable lookouts where you’ll strike Instagram gold include Pu’u Ka Pele Look and Pu’u Hinahina Lookout. Within Koke’e State Park, seven major hiking trails can be found, but they all have one thing in common: They lead to spectacular views and show off the region’s forest and wildflowers.

Travelers can check out the Koke’e Natural History Museum to see exhibits of the region’s flora and pick up hiking trail maps. Brittany Anas

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh
 

Arthur's Seat: Edinburgh, Scotland — featured in The Top Things to Do in Edinburgh

Arthur's Seat, the volcano that's Edinburgh's most distinctive natural feature, thrusts right through the middle of the city to a height of 823 feet. Relax, it's dormant; the last time it erupted was more than 200 million years ago. One of Scotland's most accessible, family-friendly hikes, it's encircled by several paths — from easy to challenging — that snake up from Holyrood Park at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Most people can complete the popular Green Path in about two hours. The rewards? 360 degree views of Edinburgh all the way to the glowing red, UNESCO Listed Forth Bridge.

Tourists at Aztec Sandstone outcrop in Calico Hills, Red Rock Canyon area in Mojave Desert near Las Vegas.
 Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

Red Rock Canyon: Las Vegas, Nev. — featured in The Best Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

Less than a half hour from the glittering lights of the Las Vegas Strip is an entirely different side of Nevada – the 12-mile Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. If you want to see Nevada all natural, few other destinations offer a more ideal half day trip or day trip from the Strip. Plan for 3-4 hours if you’re not going to spend a lot of time hiking or wandering, but do take time to stop at the visitor’s center and High Point Overlook. If you want to hit the trails, there are a few, but for something really unique take the 2.5-mile hike to the Calico Tanks – pools of rainwater caught in sandstone depressions.