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.
For most of us, Tahiti is a stereotype: a South Pacific honeymoon spot but with actual native Polynesians fishing off their traditional outrigger canoes. Fact is, though, that few giddy newlyweds actually stay on the main island, and, after landing at Pape'ete airport, promptly continue on instead to Bora Bora or the neighboring atolls, with their luxurious overwater bungalows. We fly to Tahiti, however, for one important reason: Teahupo'o.
A remote fishing and farming village on the southern tip of the main island, Teahupo'o is a mystical green-mountain wonderland where wild roosters and dogs scamper around, locals sell pineapple and raw tuna poisson cru, and incredible waterfalls and deserted swimming spots are within a short drive. The place looks like a set from 'Lost' in the best of ways, and it comes alive every year during Billabong's annual surf competition, which pits the world's best surfers against possibly the world's heaviest wave – a torque-driven monster that breaks in shallow water over a reef that can slice your head off. (Laird Hamilton famously battled it in the excellent 2004 surf-doc 'Riding Giants').
Surprisingly, summer is the best time to visit Tahiti: Despite a permanently warm, humid climate, the island is never drier and cooler than in June, July, and August. Even then it's hard to find good accommodations in Teahupo'o proper, so we recommend staying at the Manava Suite Resort (from $270; spmhotels.com), an all-suite W-style hotel that's a departure from all the other old-school-Polynesian options. What's great about the Manava, besides sleek design and the largest infinity pool on the island, is that it's minutes from the main Tahiti airport in Pape'ete, where you often must land late at night. It's also just a 40-minute drive down to Teahupo'o. In fact, we've spotted surf-contest competitors staying there, and it looks right out on the island of Moorea, which has its own killer surf breaks and is accessible via a 30-minute ferry ride.
Can anyone surf Teahupo'o? Don't be ridiculous. Despite its tempting barrels, this wave ranges from 10 feet up to 70 and is all but reserved for experts. But watching the pros from a small boat piloted by a local from the town's marina is one of the great spectator sports in the world. If you want to get in the water as a novice, there are plenty of more manageable breaks along the roads that lead back up to your hotel – although after seeing some epic Teahupo'o wipeouts, we're not always in the mood.
More information: Air Tahiti Nui and Air France offer direct, nine-hour flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti's main airport at Pape'ete. To get to Teahupo'o, rent a car, and drive south from the airport along the western coast of the island until you hit the southern portion of the island called Tahiti Iti. Teahupo'o is in the southern portion of that area.