Whether you prefer building sandcastles or surfing the waves, cutting-edge cafes or traditional seaside towns, somewhere in Britain, there's the perfect beach for you. Try these five for starters
This north Devon town has really buffed up its image – just ask any estate agent there. The beach is a clue. Yes, it gets crowded in the summer, but only at one end, and there are plenty of other secluded coves nearby to try. Kids will love learning to surf and there are incredible cliff-top walks and cycle routes for parents who don’t want any of that Baywatch stuff.
Woolacombe International Sandcastle Competition on July 12th. Giant hippos and turtles created from sand? Yes, really. Take your bucket and spade and your imagination.
HOPE COVE, DEVON
Not a big beach, but size doesn’t matter here, simply because it’s a good base for lots of other nearby beaches. It’s a pretty fishing village in two parts – Inner and Outer Hope - so two villages really… Don’t bother looking for Abandon-All-Hope. Emperor Haile Selassie spent part of his exile here (good call, Haile). It’s perfect for rock-pooling and there’s good bathing at nearby South Milton and further east at Soar Mill Cove - you’ll need to walk there but yes, it’s worth it.
Fish and chips in the Hope & Anchor. Portions to sink the Armada.
Where to stay
For groups of various sizes, Hope Barton Barns is a collection of nicely converted self-catering barn buildings, all a short walk or late-night stagger from the village. And if you want somewhere with a great view that’s a bit different, try the Port Light Hotel, a former radar station. Or go upmarket at the Soar Mill Cove Hotel; what it lacks in architectural splendour, it makes up for with views and splendid isolation.
LITTLEHAMPTON, WEST SUSSEX
It may not sound like a winning choice, and a decade ago it wouldn’t have been, but it’s come a long way. It’s, er, a cool hotspot again. Yes, there is still the rather tacky Harbour Park, but cut it a bit of slack. And the sandy long beach with seaside promenade train, and little miniature railway in the nearby park, are great for kids..
Take a look at the much-reviewed East Beach Café. Whatever your view, it is a design statement. It does rather have the Marmite factor - inspiring love and loathing in equal measure - but it has put this West Sussex town on the tourism map.
Where to stay
For style, check out Bailiffscourt Hotel and Spa at nearby Climping. Apprearances deceive - it ain’t as old as it looks and only dates back to the 1920s, but it has charm in spades and Climping beach is, fittingly, just a short stroll away.
Think Balamory goes to Wales – a wonderful Norman fortified town with its Georgian pastel-coloured buildings and traffic-free tiny lanes (at least in summer, when cars are not allowed). The beaches are some of the best in the land, boasting Blue Flags, dunes and gently sloping sandy shores.
A boat trip to Caldey Island, just off shore and 30 minutes by boat. Monks still live at the Cistercian abbey, where they attend seven services a day! Sun gods may prefer to head to the island’s Priory Beach.
Where to stay
Penally Abbey is just outside Tenby, but that’s no bad thing in peak season. Ditch your knapsack for a nap – you can’t fail to relax here. It has both old-fashioned character in the main house and simple modernism in the newly renovated St Deiniol's Lodge.
WHITBY, NORTH YORKSHIRE
The view – it’s a wonderful harbour town on the River Esk. The spooky Abbey ruins dominate one side, with fish and chip restaurants and jewellery shops selling famous jet stone designs a mere 199 steps below. Just nearby, below the Royal Crescent where Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula, is Whitby Sands, where locals probably watched Captain Cook leave for the Pacific.
Grab your board and join those surfer dudes up the road at Saltburn. They hop on them all year round – even at New Year – because of the fantastic reef breaks. If you fancy a surf, there’s a school here - or watch others from the famous pier, with its cliff lift, which brought wealthy Victorians to the beach with ease.
Where to stay
Go radical - Whitby YHA. Take a look at the views and you’ll see why: they are simply the best in town, and the hostel is slap bang next to the awesome abbey. Why pay for plush when you might be spending all day on the beach? There are family bedrooms, a games room and easy parking.
But if you really must push the boat out in this seaside gem, try the White Horse & Griffin. It’s a brilliant blend of classical and contemporary – real fires, brown sofas and crisp white linen. Glossy.