Dorset & East Devon, England
This 95-mile coastline along England's southern edge is a geologic storybook of the last 185 million years. Stroll the shore and you'll see well-preserved dinosaur fossils and footprints, water-worn limestone arches, and striated rock faces. But the most unusual stretch is near Studland in Dorset, where stark white chalk cliffs and sea stacks look like towering icebergs that have slowly calved over the centuries. Some say the most famous of the white stacks, the Old Harry Rocks, are named after Harry Paye, a local 15th-century pirate who stored contraband nearby. During exceptionally low tides you can walk out to the smooth stacks from Studland Beach, but they're best seen by kayak, especially when the sunset stains them red.
Hot Water Beach
Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
On weekends at low tide, Hot Water Beach transforms into a spa party. Beachgoers bring shovels and dig their own soaking holes that geothermal mineral waters bubble into and fill. It's a strange sight, people lying in a patchwork of little pools instead of swimming in the sea just steps away. Then, less than four hours later when the tide comes in, the scene dissolves, wiped clear. Come during the week to have the beach to yourself, and be sure to bring your own shovel.
Near Sarasota, Florida
Sharks are a rare sight on Sarasota's Venice Beach today, but the hundreds of fossilized teeth that wash ashore here each year are a constant reminder that these waters teemed with sharks in prehistoric days. You can't imagine how embarrassingly addictive searching for the little black, brown, and steely gray triangles is until you try it. Even without the fancy metal or wood sifting baskets sold locally, you'll still likely find a small handful in an hour or two in what has been dubbed the Shark's Teeth Capital of the World.
Big Island, Hawaii
It's not moss or algae that gives green sand its bizarre hue but instead an olivine mineral created by volcanic activity. Rich in iron and magnesium, olivine is one of the first crystals to form as magma cools. And Hawaii’s remote Papakolea Beach, an eco-sensitive area on the southernmost tip of the Big Island, is perhaps the most famous example—but is difficult to reach. Papakolea Beach, about three miles east of Ka Lae (South Point), is accessible only on foot or by four-wheel drive.
Bird Island Beach
Near Sunset Beach, North Carolina
On an uninhabited beach in North Carolina's Brunswick Islands—a 30-minute walk from civilization—is the little black mailbox that could. In 1981, when land-development proposals surfaced, a local resident planted the mailbox, with a notebook and pencils inside, in this unlikely spot as a plea to help save the 1,300-acre barrier island. And it worked. Old-fashioned handwritten letters helped secure Bird Island's state reserve status. Even after the island was saved, though, the letters of fond memories kept showing up. Then came a pair of reading glasses. Then a steady stream of wishes, dreams, words of encouragement, and tales of love and love lost arrived from visiting tourists who, still today, sit on the adjacent bench to bare their soul at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.