What do you look for in a beach vacation?

Find best beaches for family, nightlife, budget

When you think of the perfect beach, what do you think of? Do you love hot nightlife and an abundance of activities, or is a good book and a gentle breeze all you need?

Budget-Friendly Beaches

Where: Golden Zone, Mazatlán, Mexico
Why: 17 miles of golden sand, spectacular beachfront hotels, and very affordable.
Added Bonus: Less crowded than other well-known Mexican beach resorts.

Where: Bavaró Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Why: A sugar-white-sand beach stretches for 20 miles at a price that won't stretch your budget.
Added Bonus: All hotels are built back behind the trees and no hotel can be taller than the palm trees, giving you a feeling of really being away from it all.

Great Family Beaches

Where: Paradise Beach, Paradise Island, The Bahamas.
Why: With lots of activities for the kids, the Bahamas is a fabulous area to entertain the whole family.
Added Bonus: Thatched huts provide shade if the sun gets to be too much.

Where: Pompano Beach, Fla.
Why: Playgrounds on the beach, family-style activities.
Added Bonus: Everglades National Park is just a short drive away.

Beaches Famous For Nightlife

Where: South Beach, Miami
Why: Celebrity spotting, people watching, legendary nightclubs -- all just steps from the sand.
Added Bonus: Day or night Art Deco District admiration.

Where: Condesa Beach, Acapulco, Mexico.
Why: Legendary is the Acapulco nightlife scene, filled with International restaurants, pulsating clubs, discos, and enough late-night action to make you want to rest up on the gorgeous beach all day.
Added Bonus: The famous cliff divers perform five dives each day at La Quebrada.

Beaches In The Lap Of Luxury

Where: Palm Beach, Fla.
Why: The arts, museums, and a multitude of upscale shopping opportunities accommodate anyone with a taste for refinement.
Added Bonus: Indulge in activities at 150 golf courses; more than 1,000 tennis courts; 2,000 restaurants; and 40 plus cultural venues.

Where: Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii.
Why: The many fine points of Wailea are great for travelers seeking a blend of Hawaiian hospitality and culture.
Added Bonus: The months of January through May are known for terrific whale watching.

Best Beaches For Surfers

Where: Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii.
Why: Waikiki is not only one of the most popular beaches in the world, it's a great place to learn to ride the waves.
Added Bonus: For the expert surfer or to watch expert surfers, Oahu's North Shore is a short drive away and offers Sunset Beach and Pipeline, where waves can swell up to 20 feet or more.

Where: Coronado Beach, San Diego.
Why: South summer swells make Coronado a great spot to catch some waves, and the Victorian beauty of the area is unmatched.
Added Bonus: Check out the sea lions lounging on the rocks and the fabulous Hotel Del Coronado which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Best Beaches For Solitude And Relaxation

Where: Puerto Aventuras, Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Why: Located just 43 miles from Cancún, Puerto Aventuras is close enough to the action, and far enough away to capture the relaxed pace and seclusion you desire.
Added Bonus: Facing the beach, in the middle of the bay, is an island great for bird watchers and nature walks.

Where: Ixtapa Island, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Why: This island offers three beaches and is only 10 minutes from Playa Linda, but it feels a hundred miles away.
Added Bonus: Take the water taxi for about $3 roundtrip.

Best Beaches For Underwater Adventures

Where: Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.
Why: Four of the best dive sites for beginners are in Grand Cayman at Devil's Grotto, Eden Rocks, the wreck of the Cali, and Stingray City.
Added Bonus: If you want to see the creatures of the sea, but don't want to get wet, board the Atlantis, a submarine diving to depths of about 100 feet.

Where: Playa Sol Beach, Cozumel, Mexico.
Why: Palancar Reef, about a mile off shore, is a mountainous underwater formation six miles long and 300 feet high inhabited by many beautiful species of tropical fish.
Added Bonus: Great underwater sightseeing can also be found at Chankanaab Park, which has a lovely lagoon and a dolphin aquarium.

Best Resort Beaches

Where: Negril Beach, Negril, Jamaica.
Why: Seven miles of beautiful beach serenity are waiting for you in Negril, and when you stay at one of the fabulous all-inclusive resorts, you'll be pampered with an endless supply of food, beverages and service.
Added Bonus: Walkers have access to seven miles of continuous white-sand beach.

Where: Playa Dorada, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Why: The primary resort area of Playa Dorada offers miles of golden beaches just 15 minutes east of the city of Puerto Plata.
Added Bonus: See the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot on Dominican soil.

Best Beaches For Watersports

Where: Cancún Beach, Cancún, Mexico.
Why: Snorkeling, diving, fishing, jet-skiing, parasailing, and countless other activities can be found in, on, or around the waves.
Added Bonus: Cancún is also known for its nightlife.

Where: Isla Verde Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Why: Parasailing, banana boat rides, jet skis and wave runners, sailing, parasailing, and much more can be found at Isla Verde Beach.
Added Bonus: Puerto Rico is a unique destination, combining the history and culture of Europe; the eco-tourism of Central America; the beaches and resorts of the Caribbean; and the nightlife, restaurants, and glamour of Miami Beach.

Best Beaches For Fishing And Whale Watching

Where: Cabo San Lucas, Los Cabos, Mexico.
Why: Of the world's approximately 21,000 gray whales, about half migrate over 10,000 miles to bear their calves and frolic in Mexico's Pacific Coast lagoons.
Added Bonus: Los Cabos is known as a natural "fish trap" and perfect for sportfishing adventures.

Where: Nuevo Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Why: Whale watching is terrific from December to March in Banderas Bay, and sportfishing off the Pacific Coast of Mexico is unmatched.
Added Bonus: Puerto Vallarta retains the timeless, laid-back feeling of "Old Mexico."