5 Destinations Where You Don’t Have to Choose Between the Beach and Culture

There are times when all you want in a vacation is a quiet beach that feels a million miles away from the real world. And other times, getting lost in the winding historic streets and museums of a foreign city sounds just right. But there's another way to escape that involves as much beach time as cultural exploration. We dug up five destinations that offer totally desirable sand-and-surf as well as the sort of art and history that are worth traveling for. These places span the globe, from the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia, and each presents a distinctive blend of culture and beach. 

1. Miami

Beach at the Metropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach

Beach at the Metropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach

Sure, Miami loves a good party (bars and clubs never take a night off here) and lays claim to famed Miami Beach and South Beach. But there's also a thriving cultural community to explore, with theaters, performing arts centers, and events like Art Basel, which draws world-class talent. Don't miss the Perez Art Museum, which features an international collection of modern art in a building by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. Head to Little Haiti -- just beyond the Miami Design District -- to visit the Haitian Heritage Museum. And spend an afternoon in the Wynwood neighborhood -- it's filled with eye-catching murals and upwards of 70 galleries. 

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2. Isla Mujeres

Beach at the Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun

Beach at the Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun

To try out the island life, head to Isla Mujeres, a former fishing village about 10 miles from Cancun by ferry. While it can draw crowds during the daytime, the island maintains a low-key vibe and has some fascinating history in addition to calm beaches -- especially Playa Tiburon. There's swimming, snorkeling, and sport fishing year-round, plus Tortugranja, a nature preserve for endangered sea turtles. Just save some time for soaking up the island's Mayan roots; the Spanish named this "Island of Women"after finding many carved statues and structures devoted to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. One example: a temple at the southeastern tip of the island, getting to which requires passing various modern art pieces by international artists.

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3. Cape Town

Garden at the The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa

Garden at the The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa

The cool thing about Cape Town's beaches? Variety. On the city's Atlantic coastline, the turquoise waters of the Clifton and Camps Bay beaches are chilly, but tend to have relatively few crowds. For a restaurant scene, plus Twelve Apostles and Lion's Head mountain views, try Camps Bay. For a quiet day in the sand, 1st Beach (there are four Clifton beaches) is a good bet. On the other side of the peninsula, along the coast of False Bay, the water is warmer and better for swimming. Hit Muizenberg Beach for surfing or Boulders Beach for penguin spotting before heading back into the city for a range of live music, incredible restaurants, museums, and experimental and classical theater venues. Intriguing neighborhoods are also easy to find -- like Bo-Kaap, which features a historic mosque and tasty curries. 

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4. Lisbon

For an even more varied selection of beaches, although not within walking distance, head to Lisbon. Beaches line four regions of coastline, each with very different characteristics. The simplest beach options, Praia de Carcavelos and Praia de Sao Pedro, are accessible via train from the city and have wide stretches of sand and swimmable waters. Public transport also heads out to Costa da Caparica, another long beach lined with lively bars. With a car, the wilder, more remote beaches like Serra de Sintra and those in the south of Setubal Peninsula are worth the trek. Back in the city, an art scene that's equal parts Portuguese masters and up-and-comers awaits -- try Sao Mamede Galeria de Arte in the Principe Real neighborhood for recent work by Portuguese artists, and Museu Colecao Berardo to see an impressive collection of international contemporary art. 

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5. Hong Kong

Street scene at the Butterfly on Hollywood

Street scene at the Butterfly on Hollywood

With surf beaches like Big Wave Bay, ultra-quiet options like Turtle Beach, and the long and mountain-lined Cheung Sha Beach, Hong Kong is filled with choices for sun-and-sand worshippers. Most are accessible by ferry from the city's Central Ferry Piers, and with about 50 beaches in all, there is something for everyone -- even campers, who flock to Tai Long Wan, about an hour away from the city, but worthwhile for the white-sand cove surrounded by lush green hills. Others require a bus ride and some walking, which might not be such a bad idea after indulging at one of the city's new art-meets-gastronomy restaurants, like Bibo, which is decorated with works by art world heavyweights like Jeff Koons and Banksy. 

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