Ocracoke Island, North Carolina: Legendary pirate Edward Teach—a.k.a. Blackbeard—moored at Ocracoke before being captured in 1718.
Ocracoke has 16 miles of coastline, with pristine beaches ideal for fishing, shell gathering, swimming (some have lifeguards on duty), and lazing about.
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, Canada: Though Vancouver's Pacific Spirit Regional Park features several sandy spots, including Acadia Beach and Tower Beach, the most legendary is four-mile-long Wreck Beach, Canada's first legal clothing-optional beach and one of the biggest of its kind in the world.
During the summer, as many as 14,000 weekend visitors may drop by Wreck Beach for some fun in the sun—and not always in the buff. Sticking to the motto of "Nude isn't lewd, but gawking is rude," the dedicated regulars are happy to have sunbathers who choose to stay clothed, but they do take privacy, respect, and courtesy seriously (so no photos).
Malmok Beach, Aruba: This is the site of one of the largest (and most deliberate) shipwrecks in the Caribbean. During World War II, a German freighter was ordered to surrender here, but instead, the captain sunk the ship so it wouldn't fall into Allied hands.
(Henry G Beeker/Age Fotostock)
Thanks to the Antilla, today Malmok Beach attracts both history buffs and snorkelers and divers, who love exploring the ship's remains (shown) in the clear waters.
(Aruba Tourism Authority)
Wineglass Bay, Australia: Located in Tasmania, this beach often shows up on "world's most beautiful" lists—but its past is not so picture-perfect. In the 1820s, whalers descended on the bay, sparking conflict with the native Pydairrerme aboriginal tribe. The bay's name comes from all of the whale blood that would stain the bay dark red when the whalers were working.
Today, Wineglass Bay is part of Freycinet National Park, which takes up most of the Freycinet peninsula on Tasmania's breathtaking east coast. The park is popular for sea kayaking, boating, rock climbing, and bush walking, while the beach attracts travelers from around the world.
Bournemouth, England: The modern seaside resort was born here in the 1700s, when doctors began touting the health benefits of ocean water and the coastal climate.
(Travel Pictures Ltd/SuperStock)
In the 18th century, beach visitors would disrobe in "bathing machines"—a small changing room on wheels that would get pulled into the water by horses, making it easy for the ill or elderly to step directly into the sea. Now, nearly 2,000 beach huts of all shapes and sizes now line the five-and-a-half-mile promenade of popular Bournemouth Beach.
Robin Hood's Bay, England: There's evidence of a settlement here as far back as 3,000 years ago—and still plenty of fossils to be found along its marshes—but this village on England's Yorkshire Coast is most famous for being an 18th-century smuggler's haven so extensive that it included the clergy.
Now, Robin Hood's Bay is known for its family-friendly beaches, rock pools, and surrounding national parks, and offers plenty of pubs, tearooms, and cafes for post-beach dining. Fossil hunters may also luck out by finding a souvenir or two along the marshes.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts: Back in the early 1900s, the Cape Cod coast was a favorite summer escape for the Kennedy clan. When John F. Kennedy landed in the Senate, he sponsored legislation to protect the area, making it America's first oceanfront national park.
More than 4 million visitors a year enjoy Cape Cod's pristine lighthouses, wild cranberry bogs, waterways, biking trails, and six swimming beaches; the latter include Coast Guard Beach in Eastham and quiet Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, which is framed by an 85-foot sand cliff.
Bells Beach, Australia: This stunning beach is known for hosting the world's longest-running surfing competition. Tempted by its great breaks, local surfers were flocking to this sandy strip along Australia's southern coast as early as 1949. The first Bells Beach Surf Classic—now called the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival—took place here in 1961.
Still among the top break spots in the world (and not recommended for novice surfers), Bells Beach was featured in the classic surfing film The Endless Summer.
Capri, Italy: When the ancient Romans went on vacation, they went all out, embarking on grand tours of important sites—including Greece and Egypt—that could last up to five years. The journeys would often start closer to home, though, with a first stop at the seaside resorts in Italy.
Though Baiae—the site of the original ancient beach parties—was deserted by 1500 (its ruins now lie under the Bay of Naples), a modern-day equivalent would be Capri, the see-and-be-seen island in the bay.
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands: You're looking at a photo of one of the first beach destinations for cruisers. The first cruise ship, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, departed New York on January 26, 1901, for its first official cruise, which included a stop on the island of St. Thomas.
Since then, St. Thomas has become one of the busiest cruise-ship ports in the world. Aside from duty-free shopping, visiting the beaches is one of the top activities for cruisers.