When locals talk about going to a city beach, they're usually referring to Barra. Praia Porto da Barra, on a horseshoe-shaped stretch of coast, is small, picturesque, usually crowded, loaded with vendors selling everything imaginable, and a great place to be at sunset. The bay’s waters are clear and calm, and the people-watching is fantastic. To the left of the lighthouse, Praia do Farol da Barra has a beach break popular with surfers at high tide, and tidal pools popular with children and families at low tide.

Smaller crowds and an unpolluted Atlantic are about 40 minutes’ bus travel east from the center (or more with traffic). Calm seas lap on flat, white sands with barracas (stalls) and swaying palms at popular beaches Piatã (25km) and Itapuã (27km). As you reach the beaches of Stella Maris (31km) and Flamengo (33km), the waves get progressively stronger, barracas begin to space out, and sand dunes and more greenery create a more natural setting. Catch an Itapuã, Aeroporto or Praia do Flamengo bus, making sure it goes up the coast (via orla) and as far as you are going.