The long sandy strip off the city centre at Sānyà Bay (三亚湾; Sānyà Wān) is the most relaxed of the three main beaches, and the one place you will really see people kicking back, laughing, playing and having a beachy old time. In little covered areas you’ll find locals playing music, singing, engaged in conspiracy, writing characters in the sand, and so on. There’s a long pathway for strolling in the cool evenings, and if the tide is out a little you can walk on the sand for many kilometres. In the evenings it’s fun to watch the lights on Phoenix Island (the awesome cruise ship terminal) turn on.
Dàdōnghǎi Bay (大东海湾; Dàdōnghǎi Wān) sports a wider beach than Sānyà and has a shaded boardwalk running along most of its length. The setting, in a deep blue bay with rocky headlands, is simply gorgeous but it does get busy here, and sometimes people do seem to be trying just a little too hard to enjoy themselves.
Some consider Yàlóng Bay (亚龙湾; Yàlóng Wān; Asian Dragon Bay) to have the best beach but it can seem the least relaxing of all with a lot of frenetic activity.
Both Dàdōnghǎi and Yàlóng Bays offer a wide range of activities, including jet-skiing, snorkelling and parasailing, but instruction is usually substandard and lifeguards on duty are not properly trained and may be of little use in an emergency. See Sānyà Backpackers for scuba lessons and rentals and also surfing.
Hòuhǎi (后海), a crescent-shaped sandy beach about 45 minutes northeast out of Dàdōnghǎi, is popular with those looking to get away from the crowds (though ironically it lies in the southern reach of Hǎitáng Bay where the scale of development must be seen to be believed). Sānyà-based hostels take people here to surf and scuba while Chinese tourists are shuttled to the pier for a boat ride out to Wúzhīzhōu Dāo (Island). Bus 28 from the main road in Dàdōnghǎi (¥11) takes you to the beach. There’s a small village here with plenty of small restaurants and fruit stands.