South Australia’s convoluted geography is made for beaches, with its jutting peninsulas, deep gulfs, and islands producing more than 3,149 miles of coastline. While visiting the driest state on the driest continent, you can expect sand dunes, desertlike cliffs, white sand, azure seas, and clear water. And given the relatively low population, few beaches are crowded—the farther you get from the capital, Adelaide, the higher the chance you'll get a beach all to yourself.
Lying on the sheltered Gulf St. Vincent, Adelaide boasts beaches that are ideal for swimming. The best known beach is Glenelg, a short, trundling tram ride from the city center. The city’s founding fathers stepped ashore here in 1836 and proclaimed a new colony, but when the city moved to the river, Glenelg became its beach resort. It has a wide stretch of white sand and a long jetty to stroll on, and Jetty Street is crammed with shops, cafés, and restaurants. Glenelg buzzes on weekends, and you can hire deck chairs, wave skis, and bicycles near the information center.
Brighton and Henley are quieter, more old-fashioned alternatives to Glenelg.
Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island
A popular summer playground, the Fleurieu Peninsula has excellent beaches backed by wineries and historic towns. Heading out of Adelaide, you'll find the standout Maslin Beach. Descend the steps to this beautiful long stretch of sand with limestone cliffs, which includes a nudist section at the far southern end (a large sign gives plenty of warning). Down the west coast it becomes rockier, but uncrowded Carrickalinga rates as one of the best in the state, with fine white sand and turquoise waters.
The best beaches near the seaside resort of Victor Harbor are located outside town at Boomer Beach (Port Elliot) and pretty Horseshoe Bay over the headland. Farther east, at Goolwa, the wild surf beach stretches forever. West of Victor Harbor lie surf-pounded Kings, Parsons, and Waitpinga beaches, while hikers on the Heysen Trail often have Tunkalilla Beach all to themselves.
Kangaroo Island has no shortage of uncrowded beaches. The north coast is best for swimming in summer at Emu Bay, while beautiful Stokes Bay also has penguins. Wildlife and beaches go together here, and on the wilder south coast, the sea lion colony at Seal Bay is not to be missed.
Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas
West of Adelaide, the quiet Yorke Peninsula is dotted with small beach settlements popular with fishers, families, and surfers. South Beach at Port Hughes has a long, stunning arc of white sand. At the southern tip of the peninsula, the surf swells around Innes National Park, where Stenhouse Bay and Marion Bay are beach highlights.
Head right out west for deserted beaches. The remote Eyre Peninsula is an undiscovered gem with secluded sand from Port Lincoln to Ceduna and beyond. From Port Lincoln, follow the Flinders Highway 30 miles to Coffin Bay National Park for amazing beaches. Almonta and Gunyah Beach, backed by enormous sand dunes, are near a sealed road, but the real gems and secluded camping lie deep in the park around Point Sir Isaac, reached only by 4WD or well-equipped hikers. Heading west, the highway provides easy access to a host of idyllic beaches on or just off the main road. Sceale Bay is as fine a stretch of deserted sand as you will find, Streaky Bay has good seafood and beaches, and Point Labatt has one of the country’s largest mainland sea lion colonies.
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Not to be outdone, the southeast coast has one of the state’s longest stretches of uninterrupted beach at Coorong’s Ninety Mile Beach, which is backed by sand dunes, lagoons, lakes, and teeming birdlife. Beaches ring the delightful seaside village of Robe, including the aptly named Long Beach with its miles of white sand and waves. A string of secluded, sandy coves like Nora Creina scallop the coast between Robe and Beachport, another popular surf beach.
When to Go: Summer (December to February), of course, when the mercury soars—as do accommodation prices during the main school break from Christmas to the end of January. The water can be wetsuit chilly outside summer, but any time is good for beach walks and camping.