After five continents, 13 countries, and hundreds of cervezas, we found the world's 15 best beach towns, places where locals share their secret break, lunch comes straight from the sea, and you fantasize about staying for good. Whether you want an escape from winter's cold gloom or a hot summer break in the northern hemisphere, there's a beach town that's warm in every season.
Raglan, New Zealand
Immortalized in the 1960s film 'The Endless Summer' as home to a series of three world class left point breaks (Indicator, Whale Bay, and Manu Bay), Raglan, New Zealand has been famous for its surf ever since. Occasionally, the points link up and produce rides in excess of one mile – some of the longest waves found anywhere in the world. Because of this, life in Raglan is still largely dictated by the wind, tide, and swell. If the conditions are good, chances are a lot of the local businesses will be closed with "gone surfing" signs hanging on the door.
While certainly surf-centric, the waves aren't the only thing to catch in Raglan. In the last few decades Raglan has quietly become a counterculture hotspot and gathering place for an eclectic group of artists, musicians, organic farmers, and surfers from around the world, all drawn to Raglan's long waves, laid-back lifestyle, and natural beauty. The picturesque lively downtown boasts a huge variety of restaurants like The Orca Restaurant and Bar (known for its freshly caught seafood) and art galleries like Matapihi (a showcase for talented local artists). Plus, live music is plentiful and other cultural events like the Raglan Film Festival abound throughout the year.
The best place to stay in Raglan is in a camper van, which are plentiful in New Zealand and can be bought from other travelers about to leave, or rented at many locations easily. There are a number of formal and informal campsites and hostels that cater specifically to van life; two of the best are Kopua Holiday Park, located right in town near the harbor and the Karioi Lodge, a few clicks outside of town near the surf. There are also private houses to rent and hotels depending on your taste. It usually costs about 20-30 NZD ($17-$20 USD) per night for RV camping and hotels range from 30-200 NZD ($25-$250 USD) per night.
If the wind is onshore, the surf is flat, or your arms feel like wet noodles from paddling back up the point after the long rides Raglan is famous for, then check out Bridal Veil Falls, a 180-foot waterfall a few minutes from town. There are also a variety of road and mountain bike trails available, along with sea kayaking and an 18-hole golf course in town. The beautiful black sand beach of Ngarunui is a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike and the location of the renowned Raglan Surf School.
Beautiful, relaxed, and always full of action, visiting Raglan can be tricky. It's one of those places you go for a week and end up staying for a month or two. Don't say we didn't warn you.
More information: Fly to Hamilton, roughly 30 miles to the east, and catch a shuttle ($43) or a bus ($35) – a two-person minimum applies. [raglanscenictours.co.nz]
Credit: Getty Images