Located on the Catalonian coast in northeastern Spain, the Costa Brava area delivers rugged beauty (the name means "rough coast") with many serene beaches surrounded by high cliffs. Aside from the beaches, it's a great part of Spain for sightseeing. Tossa de Mar is an ancient town, midway between Barcelona and the French border. It has a beautiful, curved beach with a bonus: there's a large castle on the hill beyond the beach. The sand here is coarse and dark golden brown, with a large area of the bay roped off for swimming. Attractions in the area include Roman ruins, as well as several nature preserves. The Premier Gran Hotel Reymar & Spa is in the little town of Tossa de Mar, up on the hillside, overlooking the bay. Some of the rooms and suites (try for one on a high floor) have sweeping ocean views.
Formentera, Ibiza's neighboring island in Spain's Balearic Islands territory, is far more beautiful and peaceful than Ibiza. Beaches like Es Pujols offer both bright, white sands and dreamy blue-green water. It's no deserted island; the beach is fronted by a pathway lined with cafes and restaurants, and beyond the beach there's a vibrant little town. Formentera is a 30-minute ferry ride from Ibiza. The Castavi Apartments are steps from the beach in Es Pujols. The units are large, and there's a big swimming pool. In addition to its close proximity to the beach, it makes a good base for sightseeing around the island.
No list of Spanish beaches is complete without a mention of the Canary Islands. Another Spanish territory, these islands are about 95 kilometers off the coast of Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean. The two main islands are Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Playa del Ingles, on Gran Canaria, is 11 kilometers of wide, sandy beach, gradually transforming into beautiful dunes. Once a popular hippy hangout in the 1960s, it's now filled with luxury boutique hotels and foodie restaurants. The beach is golden brown with a gentle slope towards the sea. There are many beach clubs that rent beach chairs and umbrellas. The Hotel Riu Palace Maspalomas overlooks the incredible dunes of Maspalomas (and the ocean beyond), which look like a Martian landscape.
Barcelona is Spain's second largest city and it sits right on the Mediterranean coast. The coastline in and around the city is lined with beaches. Bogatell is within the city limits but less crazy than the city's main Barceloneta beach. Bogatell, a man-made beach, was created for the 1992 Olympics, so it's well-designed and clean. There are lifeguards on duty and basic facilities (bathrooms and showers) every few hundred yards along the beach. It's a wide, flat beach with coarse, brown sand. The Ibis Styles Barcelona City Bogatell is a good mid-range choice in the area. It's a 10-minute walk from the sand. Locals also enjoy Castelldefels. This beach is 20 minutes by train from downtown Barcelona, and right across from the train station. It has miles of wild beach, but still plenty of tapas places and beach shacks for food. It's also popular for swimming as well as wind- and kitesurfing.
Another of the Balearic Islands (like Ibiza), Mallorca is the largest and most developed. It's still possible to find some hidden beach gems. Cala Mesquida is on the northeast coast and just starting to be discovered by international tourists. The small bay has a quarter-mile-long beach with fine sand. There are chair and umbrella rentals but only one restaurant and one snack stand. Showers and bathrooms are also available, but no changing areas. Beyond the beach there's a small town. Vanity Hotel Suite & Spa is a boutique resort property in the little town of Cala Mesquida.
Pass up the resorts on the crowded Costa del Sol and head to the next part of the coastline, the Costa Tropical. There's a much better mix of development and the preservation of natural beauty. The primary resort is Almunecar, which feels like a seaside town in the South of France. There's a long, curving beach, fronted by a street lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels. There is also a row of mainly restaurants along the beach itself. The beach has soft, white sand and the water, especially in the summer, is quite warm. There are many places to rent beach chairs and umbrellas. Swimming areas are roped off, and lifeguards are on duty during the summer months. Attractions in the area include historic Spanish cities like Seville and Granada. The Playacalida Spa Hotel has a huge, rooftop infinity pool and an overall design like a Moorish castle. The resort is on a hill with beautiful views of the blue water below, a bit outside the tourist zone.
On Spain's north coast, near the French border, the Cantabria region has more than 60 beaches along its beautiful Atlantic Ocean coastline. Laredo is Spain's outdoor watersports capital, popular with surfers, windsurfers, kitesurfers, and jet skiers. The beach is about five kilometers long, curving along a picturesque bay. The beach itself is wide, with very fine, soft, white sand. There are many places to rent all kinds of water sports equipment or take lessons and try something new. The region is also popular with foodies due to its Basque cuisine. Attractions inside the town include some Roman ruins. The Cosmopol hotel is on Laredo's main street, and rooms on the upper floors have great views of the ocean (try to get one with a balcony).
Asturias is a region in northern Spain also on the Atlantic coast. The beaches here are white, sandy, and clean, surround by rocky cliffs. Playa de Torimbia is a stunning, secluded beach, close to the port of Llanes, west of Bilbao. It's a raw beach, with no shops or food, but it does have lifeguards on weekends during the summer season, and showers are available. It's accessible by car, although parking can be difficult during the summer, or you can walk here from the village of Niembro. Aside from the beaches, it's a great area for sightseeing as it was an important part of both medieval and Moorish Spain. The Hotel Miracielos is close to Niembro in Barro, which has a few nice beaches of its own.
Almeria is in southeast Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. The city is dominated by a Moorish castle looming on a hilltop. Close to Almeria, the resort town of Carboneras is known for its beautiful beaches, which are surrounded by a huge nature preserve. It's also known for its food, mainly fresh seafood. There are a few beach areas around the bay, which extends quite far into the land. Beaches in front of the hotel and business area have beach chair and umbrella rentals, but a more natural experience can be found just by walking a few minutes down the sand. The water is warm, and the sand here is tan and slopes down towards the waterline. The beach is bordered by palm trees and raised dunes, topped with a beachfront walkway. The Hotel Valhalla Spa sits on a hill in Carboneras, offering great views of the sea from its rooftop pool.
Benicassim is known as Spain's music beach and deserves a mention if only for its huge, annual music festival. The multi-day concert, held on the beach, attracts several hundred thousand people each July, along with the top names in the music business. The city itself is a modern, Mediterranean resort, with wide, sweeping beaches and a highly developed beachfront promenade. Torreon Beach is a peaceful, laid-back section, perfect for relaxing in the sun. All the beaches in Benicassim are very wide, stretching several hundred yards to the waterline at low tide. They're also very flat. The Thalasso Hotel El Palasiet is a spa hotel about five minutes from the beach and a 20-minute walk from the center of town.
Cadiz is an ancient city in southwestern Spain, once a key port during Spain's time in the 16th and 17th centuries as the world's maritime power. One of the most historic cities in Spain, it offers amazing sightseeing along with miles of wide beaches. La Playa de la Victoria is the city's most popular beach. It's about 2.5 kilometers long and a few hundred yards wide. The surf is calm, and the beach and sea are not rocky, so it's good for swimming and wading. There's a small street that separates the beach from a row of stores and places to eat. The Hotel Playa Victoria is right on the sand. All of the rooms and suites have private balconies, and the hotel has its own small private beach area.
While some beaches may have a beautiful sandy shoreline or stunning ocean vistas, Playa de As Catedrais in Ribadeo has some of the most stunning rock formations anywhere in the world. The beach is wide and flat, but there are giant rock arches forming the skeleton of a natural cathedral. They're best viewed during low tide, as you can stand right under and next to the giant structures. The beach is about eight kilometers from the town of Ribadeo, in Galicia, on the northwest tip of Spain. The Hotel O Cabazo is a clean, well-managed hotel in Ribadeo, overlooking a tidal river.