With 60,000km (37,282 miles) of coastline, picking a favorite amongst Australia’s roughly 12,000 beaches is an almost impossible task.

But that just means there's plenty of choice. Whether you’re keen to strap on a snorkel mask, paddle out to catch a wave, break free from the crowd or simply cool off, Australia has the perfect stretch of sand waiting for you.

Here are 12 of our favorite beaches from coast to coast.

1. Bells Beach, Victoria

Best beach for surfing

On the southern coast of Victoria in the Great Ocean Road region, surfers gather in the beach parking lot, arms crossed and sunglasses on, watching the waves roll in around the point. Some shake their heads and drive off, others wait for their set. With the tides changing, one or two grab their board and head down the weathered steps to paddle out at one of Australia’s best surf breaks: Bells Beach.

There are no swimmers here: just the clifftop bluffs where most pilgrims perch, eager to see Australia’s best surfing break and watch the surfers who ride it.

Planning tip: The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach competitive surfing event is held each year during the Easter holiday period. Book well in advance to secure accommodation.

A kangaroo with a baby in its pouch leaps across the sand at the beach
Expect to share the incredibly beautiful beach of Lucky Bay, near Esperance, with kangaroos © Jan Abadschieff / 500px

2. Lucky Bay, Western Australia

Best beach to see kangaroos 

Most visitors don’t believe it until they see it: kangaroos bounding down a white sand beach. A short drive from Esperance, Lucky Bay offers an iconic slice of Australiana. The campers who wake at dawn will see Lucky Bay at its best. Absent of crowds, early morning is when the animals are most active. Best of all, the incredible turquoise water is a sublime substitute for a shower.

Planning tip: Accessible only by 4WD, be wary of getting bogged in the powder-white sand. 

3. Mindil Beach, Northern Territory

Best sunset in Australia

When the heat of the Top End gives out in the late afternoon, locals, nomads and tourists flock to Darwin’s Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. Here, tourists browse the arts and crafts stalls, while locals grab a meal-to-go and head to the beach. If it’s low tide, families walk the exposed sand flats; during high tide they perch on the sand dune overlooking the water, watching the sun burn into the Timor Sea.

Planning tip: The markets are held from 4pm to 9pm on Thursdays and Sundays during the dry season (late April to late October). 

4. The Pass, New South Wales

Best beach lookout

Famous for its long rolling waves, Byron Bay's The Pass has been a favored surf spot since the sport was introduced to Australia in the early 1900s. Walk down the boat ramp and past the shell midden – where generations of Indigenous families shared seafood caught on this beach – and wade across to the lookout. A custom viewing platform looks across the bay to Wollumbin/Mt Warning. This is a great spot to look for dolphins and whales, while surfers can use it to check whether the waves are less crowded than around the corner at Watego's

Local tip: Head to the Pass at sunset when the crowds thin and you can see the sun dip behind Wollumbin/Mt Warning.

The curve of a large beach with waves crashing on the shore and people on the sand
Experience the best of Australia's outdoor lifestyle at Bondi Beach, Sydney © 4x6 / Getty Images

5. Bondi Beach, New South Wales

Best beach for people watching

Everyone has their place at one of Australia’s most famous beaches: families set up camp at the northern end in Cozy Corner. Day trippers and backpackers assume the middle. Surfers take custody of the southern end, and the lifeguards in their beach buggies watch over it all, sometimes followed by a camera crew filming TV show Bondi Rescue. Despite being overexposed, overhyped and crowded, Sydney’s Bondi Beach is a place where people live their lives outdoors, and those that visit can’t help but be seduced by the lifestyle. 

Planning tip: Bondi is one of the busiest beaches in Australia, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to dangerous rip currents. Always swim between the flags. 

6. Shelly Beach, New South Wales

Best beach for snorkeling

A short walk from Sydney’s Manly Beach is the 20-hectare (49-acre) Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, where you’ll have the chance to spot seahorses, tropical fish and even elusive green sea turtles. This shallow and protected swimming spot is easily accessible from Shelly Beach, a sandy spot of real estate that attracts snorkelers, divers and families alike. 

Planning tip: Parking is scarce directly at Shelly Beach. Catch the ferry to Manly instead, from which it’s an easy 1km (0.6 mile) walk to Shelly Beach along the waterfront.

7. Tangalooma Beach, Queensland

Best beach for shipwrecks

Slip on a pair of fins and a mask, and gently stroke across to the 15 shipwrecks just 30m (98ft) offshore at Tangalooma Beach. Situated on Moreton Island in Queensland, the ships here were deliberately sunk in the 1960s to provide safe anchorage. Come dusk, a resident family of dolphins makes an appearance at the jetty, while at night the waters around the wrecks are known to glow blue with bioluminescence.

Planning tip: Tangalooma Island Resort is one of only four locations in Australia where you can feed wild dolphins, and the experience must be booked in advance. While it’s strictly regulated and audited, the practice remains controversial as it can be seen to disrupt the dolphins' regular feeding patterns. Under no circumstances should you pat or touch the dolphins.

A vast sandy beah stretches into the distance with a row of 4WD vehicles driving along it
Hit the sandy highway in a 4WD on K'gari, where 75-Mile Beach awaits © wallix / Getty Images

8. 75-Mile Beach, Queensland 

Best beach for driving

This might be Australia’s most unique highway; a desolate stretch of beach running along the island of K’gari (formerly known as Fraser Island). The otherworldliness of 75-Mile Beach is haunting. The rusted hulk of a shipwreck acts as a route marker on the shore and the tide dictates how far you can go in the day. This is where you can feel the ocean fizz at Champagne Pools, a natural spa bath; fall asleep to the sound of wild ocean; and wake to find dingo tracks around the camp. 

Planning tip: You won’t be able to swim in the rough ocean along 75-Mile Beach. Try freshwater Eli Creek instead, found midway along the beach.

9. Brighton Beach, Victoria

Best beach for history 

Thirty minutes from central Melbourne lies one of Australia's most iconic beach scenes at Brighton Beach, where you’ll find a row of vividly painted, historic bathing boxes. You can feel the whoosh of heat as the doors of the bathing boxes are opened, while on the sand nearby, children wield buckets and spades. Despite its Insta-cool status, Brighton Beach is ultimately about the simple pleasures of a day spent at the seaside.

Planning tip: Brighton Beach is easy to reach by public transit. Catch the Sandringham line from Melbourne direct to Middle Brighton Train Station.

10. Stokes Bay, South Australia

Best secret beach

Towels and flip-flops clutched to their chests, visitors wade into the ankle-deep water, trusting the guiding arrows and their sense of adventure as they move through the rocks. Slipping past boulders, ducking under low cliffs and squeezing through narrow passageways, they finally emerge at Stokes Bay. This protected beach is hidden from the world – or at the very least, the roadside – on the north end of Kangaroo Island. It’s untouched, unspoiled and absolutely idyllic. 

Planning tip: Time your visit for low tide and stay safe by keeping an eye on the sea conditions.

A hikers stands at a viewpoint looking down to a beautiful curve of beach
Tasmania's Wineglass Bay is reachable on a hike or a cruise straight to the beach © Tom Jastram / Shutterstock

11. Wineglass Bay, Tasmania

Best beach to hike to

You have to earn your visit to Wineglass Bay, one of Tasmania’s most photographed beaches. Bump down 9km (5.6 miles) of gravel road, tighten the laces on your hiking boots, and start walking through the bush until you reach the dusty pink granite rocks of the saddle between between Mt Amos and Mt Mayson. From there, you’ll have the best vantage point over Wineglass Bay, a postcard-perfect crescent of white sand. The beach is equally enjoyable once you land at sea level, which you can access by descending down a set of roughly 1000 stairs.

Planning tip: Feel like taking it easy? Skip the walk and take a scenic cruise from Coles Bay to Wineglass Bay instead.

12. Whitehaven Beach, Queensland

Australia’s most photogenic beach

Seen from afar, the WhitsundaysWhitehaven Beach absolutely glows. The inlet’s creamy blue elixir shape-shifts with the tide, bewitching those who come close. Yachts drop anchor; seaplanes land on water; pleasure craft nudge up on shore; and crowds empty onto the sand. Underfoot, the white silica sand squeaks, almost as an auditory protest at the disruption to the pristine strand.

Planning tip: The journey to Whitehaven can be bumpy depending on sea conditions. Come prepared with motion sickness medication.

This article was first published Nov 28, 2012 and updated Dec 2, 2023.

Explore related stories



A day hiker’s guide to Australia’s Great Ocean Walk

May 29, 2024 • 8 min read