You go to the beach for the endless sky, sea and sand. By an extraordinary coincidence, there’s one element that shows all of these features in their best light: the sun itself, on its way up and down at the top and tail of the day.
It’s a photographer’s dream; cinematographers call it magic hour. And it finds its truest expression at the beach. When the sun rises or sets, it lengthens the shadows, tints the colors and dyes the sky around you. The denser atmosphere that the sunlight passes through “scatters” the light, disrupting the bluer rays and allowing warmer oranges and pinks to hang on the air from here to the horizon. And when you’re at the beach, that horizon’s pretty huge.
Sunrises and sunsets also capture the passing of time in a way that humans appreciate more profoundly than, say, a rainbow or a storm — as a recent academic study found. And rarely is the passing of time more bittersweet than on vacation at the beach. To help you to find the most awesome beaches in the world to witness these daily marvels, HawaiianIslands.com analyzed the TripAdvisor reviews of thousands of global tourist beaches to see which ones mention the sunset or sunrise the most.
What We Did
HawaiianIslands.com analyzed TripAdvisor reviews by tourists for the first 50 “Traveler’s Favorite” beaches listed for every country. We ranked the beaches according to the percentage of English-language reviews which mention the word “sunrise” or “sunset.”
- Kanyakumari Beach in India is the best beach in the world to see the sunrise, with 24.8% of reviewers mentioning it.
- Mindil Beach in Darwin, Australia, is the best beach to see the sunset, with 62.9% of reviewers mentioning it.
- Driftwood Beach in Georgia is the best beach in the U.S. for sunrise (6.2%).
- Bean Point in Florida is the best beach in the U.S. for sunset (22.7%).
The Best Beaches in the U.S. to See the Sunrise
Throughout our study, we found that vacation makers mention the sunset far more than the sunrise because… vacation sleeping patterns. But sunrise at Shipwreck Beach here in Hawaii is worth getting up for since the humidity and volcanic dust in the air intensify and prolong the colors. However, Driftwood Beach in Georgia takes the sunrise crown: “It’s all about the sunrises here!!” says one reviewer. “An amateur photographer can look like a professional with these incredible driftwood pieces!!”
The Best Beach Sunsets in the U.S.
Florida’s clean but humid air makes for a beach sunset that hits right. Seven of America’s top 10 sunset beaches are found in the Sunset State, with Bean Point and Fort Island Gulf Beach duking it out for first place — Bean Point benefits from its position at the tip of Anna Maria, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Tampa Bay. Still… Hawaiian beach sunsets come with the added feature of the Pū ceremony, during which a conch shell is blown to mark the end of the day, while trade winds ensure the effect of the sun on those volcanic dust particles is even more intense than at sunrise.
North America: Costa Rica Offers Best Sun Spectacles On the Continent
The sun loves Costa Rica, with seven Costa Rican beaches across our two top 10 lists for North America. Daylight hours vary little throughout the year in Costa Rica because it’s only around 10 degrees North of the equator, so you can rely on seeing the sun go down between 5-6 pm whenever you’re in town. Playa Guiones offers the top sunset for this continent and the top sunrise in Costa Rica. “Sunset is a big beach activity here,” writes one reviewer. “People arrive with their chairs, drinks in coolers, babies, dogs and everyone celebrates the setting of the sun at the end of a beautiful day in Nosara.”
South America: Brazilian Sunset Demands Applause
Brazil is the South American champion for beach sun, with Brazilian beaches accounting for nine places across our two top 10s. Arpoador Beach in Rio de Janeiro is one of just four beaches in the whole world that has inspired more than half of reviewers to mention the sunrise. “After the sunset, there was a handclapping by the locals,” reports one visitor, “which apparently means they want more.” However, with reviews for sunrises in South America the least common, on average, of any continent, it seems unlikely that they want an encore bad enough to return early the next morning.
Europe: Early Birds Catch Icelandic “Diamond” Sunrise
Beachgoers in Iceland are not so bothered about waiting for the water to warm up and, accordingly, have voted three Icelandic beaches among the top six for witnessing the sunrise. Here, the morning sun sparkles on ice fragments, “truly like diamonds everywhere on the black Sands beach, unbelievable!” The Welsh Llangennith Beach is the UK’s most celebrated spot for catching the evening rays — although British reviewers seem just as inspired by the very reasonable car parking costs that facilitate a late evening spent on the sand.
Asia: Indian Beaches Offer All-Round Views
Asian beaches are substantially better reviewed for their morning sunrises than those in other parts of the world. As the protuberant meeting point of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, Kanyakumari Beach offers the rare sight of the sun both rising from and, later, disappearing into the sea — it offers the world’s greatest sunrises, according to TripAdvisor viewers, and the sixth best sunsets on the continent.
Oceania: New Zealand for Sunrise, Australia for Sunset
New Zealand beaches take the honors for sunrises in this part of the world, while Australia can claim the sunsets. It’s the yellow-eyed penguin colonies that get tourists up early at Bushy Beach in Oamaru on the South Island of New Zealand. While you won’t always get a glimpse of the penguins, you’ll be grateful you rose for the morning sun. Australia’s northwest coast offers the top two sunset experiences in the region, both with a >50% hit rate on TripAdvisor. A little spiritual surfer enthusiasm helps: “I went at dusk/sunset and was struck by the electric energy of the beach, it felt like a special place where spirits come home,” claims one solo traveler.
Africa: The Tanzanian Island Where Everyone’s Looking at the Sun
Tanzanian beaches account for a quarter of the beaches in our Africa chart and the number one beaches for both sunrise and sunset. The Tanzanian island of Zanzibar offers a lot of sunrise, with Matemwe Beach opening out to the Indian Ocean in the east so that you might see both the sun and the moon rise from the sea; the island’s west coast faces the mainland but west-facing Kendwa Beach still offers “the most incredible sunsets of Zanzibar! full of colors that you cannot see in Europe,” according to one European visitor.
A Light Touch
The truth behind our love affair with sunrise and sunset may never be fully understood. One theory goes that our sense of beauty corresponds with “rightness” and, by extension, health and happiness. In other words, all seems right with the soul and the world when an early-rising or bed-bound sun lights the scene. You can find our full data on where you might find the ripest sunrises and sunsets in this interactive table.
Another theory goes that, at the beach, the beauty of the colors and the endlessness of the horizon stir primal memories of early human existence on the savanna two million years ago. But still, another theory goes that when you’re on holiday, breakfast or evening drinks just hit different — and if you happen to be looking at Earth’s grandest spectacle when it happens, you’re sure to want to write home about it.
METHODOLOGY & SOURCES
We considered 6,098 beaches from every continent except Antarctica. Using Tripadvisor, we analyzed reviews by tourists for the first 50 “Traveler’s Favorite” beaches in every country’s directory.
Each beach was ranked according to what percentage of English-language reviews mentioned the word “sunrise” or “sunset” to create separate rankings for each.
We set different thresholds of review counts when ranking beaches globally and per continent:
Globally and in the United States (a minimum of 500 English language reviews), North America, Europe and Asia (250+), South America, Africa and Oceania (100+).
The data is correct as of July 2023.