Kynance Cove, The Lizard Peninsula
Regarded as one of the best beaches in the world, Kynance Cove is straight out of a childhood fairytale. Mossy stacks rise from deep turquoise waters, the sand is astonishingly white, and magical serpentine rocks shimmer in the sunlight. This beach was a favourite of Lord Alfred Tennyson who would come to sit and watch the 'glorious grass-green monsters of waves' colliding against the craggy cliffs. When high tide cuts off the beach in the afternoon, retreat to the hillside National Trust café for tea and scones over a rosy sunset.
Porth Joke Beach, Newquay
Even in high season you're likely to have this gorgeous beach practically to yourself. Set in a deep cove between grassy headlands, Porth Joke (known locally as Polly Joke) has beige sands, crystal-clear waters and great conditions for surfing without the crowds. Holiday cottages are available for rent in nearby Crantock Beach and Holywell Bay, and Newquay is only five miles away. Porth Joke itself has few beach facilities and is only accessible on foot, but this is the price of real peace and quiet on this beautiful stretch of coastline.
Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth
Laidback and low-key, Gyllyngvase Beach is wonderfully undemanding. The wide arc of sand means plenty of room to spread out, the car park is conveniently close and the sea is safe for swimmers of all ages, making this one of the best family-friendly beaches in Cornwall. Dry off after a dip on the sunny terrace of Gylly Beach Café which serves fresh seafood and hosts acoustic gigs by local musicians.
For Caribbean-blue waters and fine silky sand in south-west Cornwall, head to Porthcurno Beach. The high cliffs provide shelter from the wind, gentle slopes allow for easy access and a small stream winds down to form a natural paddling pool for children. It's just along the coast from another brilliant Cornish beach, Pedn Vounder. Don't leave without catching a show at the Minack, an extraordinary open-air theatre built on a rock jutting out to sea, where actors recite Shakespeare with a stunning backdrop of crashing waves.
Whitsand Bay, Torpoint
Scamper down rocky paths to reach this hidden oasis in south-east Cornwall. Whitsand Bay is a three-mile stretch of unspoilt sand studded with rocks and backed by towering cliffs. The bay runs from Rame Head, a windswept headland with a crumbling 14th century chapel at the top. Once you've taken in the amazing view, walk down the coast to Sharrow Point for a peek into Lugger's Cave, a small grotto excavated by hand in 1784 by a sailor who inscribed enigmatic verses on the ceiling.
Fistral Beach, Newquay
Fistral Beach is the epicentre of Cornwall's deservedly famous surfing scene - a long crescent of sand backed by grassy dunes which regularly sees waves of more than 8 feet. Experienced surfers rent chic beachside apartments at Natural Retreats Fistral while newcomers to the sport can take lessons at The Hotel & Extreme Academy just along the coast. Go in August for Boardmasters, Europe's largest surf and skating festival, when surfing competitions, buzzing beach bars and a five-day music festival take over Fistral and neighbouring Watergate Bay.