Brean Beach, pictured below.
Best Beaches for Families
1. Woolacombe, North Devon
For a family trip, you want something for everyone: golden sand for sunbathing, cafés and ice cream shacks to cool off and space to spread out. At 3 miles long, and located right at the heart of a bustling seaside resort town, Woolacombe beach is a brilliant choice for families.
2. Brean Beach, Somerset
Mention a sandy beach in Somerset, and most people would think of Weston-super-Mare. And while Weston has plenty of appeal, its popularity can make it crowded.
Those in the know tend to head slightly further South to Brean Beach which is still less than 30 miles from Bristol. There is plenty to do, easy parking and you also have the imposing headland of Brean Down to explore at the North end of the sand, which is full of historic archaeological sites.
Best Beaches for Surfing
3. Croyde Bay, Devon
Croyde Bay in Devon is one of the centres of the UK’s surfing scene. The waves here need to be taken seriously – the large swells and powerful currents mean it is essential that you listen to instructions from the duty lifeguards. However, with its beautiful golden sand, flanked by rocky outcrops that teem with life thanks to the large tidal range, there’s plenty to enjoy even for those who are not serious surfers.
4. Llangennith, Gower Peninsula
Located at the Western end of the Gower peninsula, Llangennith beach is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt stretches of coastline in the country. It is home to spectacular scenery and perfectly positioned to catch the Atlantic swells, making it is one of the best places to surf in the UK, whether you are a beginner or more experienced.
Best Beaches for Swimming
5. Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe
The Tunnels Beaches are an amazing spot for a swim. A series of tunnels carved through the cliffs of Ilfracombe lead to four sheltered and secluded beaches that are surrounded by rockpools. And it’s not just an amazing natural environment: this unique Victorian attraction also has picnic areas, a café and a man-made tidal swimming pool. (Note: the Tunnels beaches are privately owned – please check opening hours and admission prices before visiting).
6. The Marine Lake, Clevedon
It’s not strictly speaking a beach, but it is definitely one of the best places for a refreshing dip. Clevedon Marine Lake is an open air pool that is filled with sea water. With plenty of space to sunbathe and stroll along the waterfront as well as to go swimming, a visit to Clevedon Marine Lake is one of best days out in the South West.
Best Beaches for Nature Lovers
7. Sker Beach, Wales
Just over an hour’s drive from Bristol is a beautiful hidden gem. Sker beach is barely a stone’s throw from Porthcawl, but feels a world away. Extending alongside the waterfront by the Kenfig National Nature Reserve, it’s a brilliant place for birdwatching and home to an abundance of wildflowers.
8. Saunton Sands, North Devon
Saunton Sands is itself one of the best stretches of coast in the South West. But what really makes this place special is the dune system that sits behind the beach, known as Braunton Burrows. The Burrows are not only designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), but also as a UNESCO Biosphere, home to rare orchids, 33 species of butterfly and thousands of nesting birds.
Best Secret Beaches
9. Woody Bay, Exmoor
The coast of Exmoor is wild country, with cliffs hundreds of feet high dropping down to the sea. Even in the height of Summer, it can be possible to have the secret cove at Woody Bay to yourself. This shingle beach, which is home to a waterfall and a natural rock pool that is perfect for wild swimming, is a great choice for a secluded getaway.
10. Grunta Beach, North Devon
Hidden in amongst the rocks on the North side of Woolacombe, Grunta Beach is not the easiest to get to – the steep steps down from the South West coast path can be difficult, while visitors need to keep an eye on the tide to ensure they don’t get cut off. But if you are properly prepared, the payoff is to find one of the prettiest beaches in Devon at bottom of the path. And because it is not the easiest beach to access, there’s a fair chance you’ll have it almost all to yourself.