Los Angeles: El Matador
Travel time: 45 min. (from Century City). Malibu's most beautiful—and isolated—pocket of sand sits beneath moss-covered cliffs west of L.A. in the Robert Meyer Memorial State Beach. Sea caves, eroded sandstone pillars, and clear water draw weekend crowds, though it's easy to find your own space midweek. After a few hours in the sun, cool off in the echoey marble galleries of the nearby Getty Villa, a museum inspired by the ancient Roman Villa of the Papyri, which was buried in volcanic ash until the mid-18th century. How to go: Take the Pacific Coast Highway west to El Matador. Park on the roadside or pay $4 for a spot in the parking lot.
Hong Kong: Tai Long Wan
Travel time: 1.5 hrs. (from Central Hong Kong). A quick boat ride from the city's skyscrapers, this pristine bay on the Sai Kung Peninsula has somehow evaded development: Most afternoons, its white-sand beaches are only inhabited by sea birds and a handful of day-trippers. Arrive in the morning and kayak, snorkel, or swim in transparent waters until it's time to dig into a grilled seafood skewer from one of the barbecues set up seaside. Come sundown, board the Jaspas Party Junk boat returning to neon-lit Hong Kong. How to go: The boat makes the journey in an hour for $77 per person, including food and drinks.
New York: Long Beach
Travel time: 1 hr. (from Midtown). This boardwalk-fronted beach town is in vogue, thanks to its proximity to Manhattan (a mere 25 miles away), the new Allegria boutique hotel, and, of course, its five-mile sandy stretch. Surf the breaks and stroll the boardwalk before hitting the free concerts staged three times a week in the summer (see longbeachny.org for info). Try the Allegria for dinner (get the striped sea bass with chili-lime beurre blanc), and you might extend your trip overnight: You'll wake up to waves crashing outside one of the hotel's neutral-toned rooms ($300 or so on weeknights). How to go: It's an hour from Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad.
San Francisco: Panther Beach
Travel time: 1.5 hrs. (from Financial District). Unmarked and worth the steep hike from the road, this hidden section of shore is 10 miles north of surfer-dude Santa Cruz. A lucky few know its hidden caves, urchin-filled tide pools, sea lions, and stunning golden rock formations. By day, rock climb to 25-foot heights; at night, expect to see a bonfire. Pick up picnic supplies beforehand at San Francisco's locavore Bi-Rite Market and grab an ice cream cone for the road from the creamery next door. How to go: Drive south on Highway 1. Stop between mile markers 26.86 and 26.4. A small path crosses the railroad tracks from the west side of the highway.
Travel time: 1 hr. (from Shibuya). Japan's answer to Biarritz comes with great surf, quiet beaches, beautiful temples, and a giant bronze Buddha statue in the center of town. From late June to the end of August, "rest houses" pop up along the sea front to provide everything from massages to sake-based cocktails. The beach draws a mostly Japanese crowd, but the Foo Fighters have been known to fly in from Seattle to surf its massive swells. Get the local look by slipping into Genbei, a 50-year-old flip-flop shop that sells its wares in 100 color combinations. How to go: Take the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line to Totsuka Station; then transfer to the JR Yokosuka Line to Kamakura Station.
Chicago: Forest Park Beach
Travel time: 1 hr. (from the Loop). When the Michigan Avenue masses leave you yearning for a green stretch of lakeside, travel an hour north to this 29-acre park. Its large swathes of sand are divided by outcroppings of rock that make for great swimming. There's also a fishing pier, shaded hiking trails, and a cart lending beachy books from the Lake Forest Public Library. Visit the Grille on Laurel for an Old Fashioned or a classic Reuben sandwich before heading back downtown. How to go: From Water Tower Place take I-94 W to the Deerpath/Lake Forest College exit. There's a $10 admission on weekends, but weekdays are free.
Travel time: 1.5 hrs. (from The City). A former fishing village, Whitstable attracts in-the-know Londoners seeking pretty pebble beaches, top-notch seafood, and a Ye Olde English vibe. Work up an appetite by swimming at West Beach (10 minutes east of the main drag), then do dinner at Wheelers, a pink-painted BYOB spot famous for excellent oysters. (Pop across the street to buy a bottle of wine from Threshers Wine Shop.) Locals love the town's top fish-and-chipper, VC Jones, which specializes in haddock and draws a queue every night. How to go: Hop on the Ramsgate train from Victoria Station.