Possibly the main draw to Cornwall as a holiday destination is its stunning coastline; over 300 miles with nearly as many beaches. Some of the beaches are rocky, some are secluded, many are sandy but they have one thing in common - they are all beautiful. That makes the task of suggesting a few of the best beaches particularly difficult but in this article I’m going to call on all my experience of Cornish beaches and have a go.
Best beach for surfing
Now, there may be people who will criticise me for such an uninspired, unoriginal choice but I’m going to opt for Fistral beach in Newquay as Cornwall’s best surfing beach. This is the spot where it all began in the UK with Australian lifeguards introducing the ‘Malibu’ surfboard back in the 1960s. Since then Newquay has exploded as the surf capital of the UK with Fistral beach at the epicentre.
What makes Fistral such a good beach is its consistency and ability to produce quality waves in the right conditions. In the gentler summer months the wave is ideal for beginners, with plenty of surf schools providing lessons and surfboard hire. When Fistral is good the waves can be up to 15 feet (5 metres) and produce hollow tubing sections that surfers the world over seek.
On the downside Fistral beach is a victim of its own popularity and it can get pretty busy.
A family friendly beach
Located within a few miles of the popular holiday town of Padstow is HarlynBay. There is a small village and a big sandy beach here. The beach forms a large sandy crescent backed by sand dunes. These are great for the kids to run around in and when they get bored of that there are rock pools aplenty. There is also a little stream running down the beach, which I know from personal experience are great fun for trying to build dams on and generally splashing around!
The beach also benefits from lying in the lee of the mighty Trevose Head. Combined with a northerly aspect this makes Harlyn more sheltered than many of the beaches on the North Cornish coast. A lifeguard service during the summer months ensures safe swimming and all the facilities of the village make this a great family spot.
Prettiest Cornish cove
I have never been sure what differentiates a beach from a cove. I’ve always assumed a cove is smaller and sheltered by cliffs with a few rocks thrown in for good measure - oh, and must be picture postcard pretty. Given that, there are a plethora of such coves meeting these criteria around the coast of Cornwall. Whilst Kynance cove on the west coast of the Lizard is truly exceptional I’m going to go for Cadgwith Cove a few miles away on the east coast. It has the same crystal clear turquoise waters found along this stretch of coast, is set in its own natural amphitheatre, but where it wins out is the clutch of thatched cottages spilling down the hillside and around the harbour.
Like many fishing villages around the coast the little beach at Cadgwith doubles as the harbour with the small fishing fleet pulled up on the sand. This only adds to the charm and picture postcard feel of the cove.
Best town for beaches
OK, so this isn’t strictly a beach but there are a few towns in Cornwall that have more beaches than you could shake a stick at. Candidates are Looe, St Austell, Padstow, Newquay and St Ives. Of all these St Ives has to be my favoutite, the town here is literally surrounded by beaches and each one has its own unique character. To the north is Porthmeor beach, facing into the Atlantic Ocean with rugged headlands at either end this is a favourite with surfers. It is also the home of the prestigious St Ives Tate gallery.
Practically in the town centre of St Ives is the Harbour beach; half harbour half beach and a living breathing postcard. At high tide the boats bob around in crystal clear water, at low tide it is a safe sandy beach with a row of cafes and shops behind.
The town’s other main beach is Porthminster beach with its up market feel. Porthminster is fairly sheltered and backs onto the genteel lawns that slope up the steep hillside. It is also right next to the train station, bus station and a large car park making it easy to access and an obvious choice for the prestigious Blue Flag award.
Best beach cafes
How can you make an already great beach better? Well one way is to have a great beach café, or even an upmarket restaurant. Personally speaking I’d say it is one of the greatest pleasures in life to have an alfresco lunch overlooking the beach, people watching, or watching the sun set enjoying and after dinner drink on the balcony. The good news is there are some top notch cafes and restaurants at some of Cornwall’s best beaches.
Starting with the best known, there is Fifteen at WatergateBay near Newquay. This is the brainchild of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and by all accounts the food can live up to expectations. At the other end of Cornwall is the imaginatively named(!) Beach restaurant down in Sennen Cove. This impressive wooden building has a balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with Land’s end just to the west.
For cafes, one of the best known locally is the Blue Bar at Porthtowan. This beach shack is renown for its burgers and great atmosphere. For more upmarket beach cafes head to St Ives, and particularly the Porthminster café. Here a great selection of seafood is served from the Art Deco building right down on the beachfront.
For those who really want a bar that is actually on the beach, try the Watering Hole at Perranporth. It is a pub set in the middle of the sand on this expansive NorthCoast beach.
Hopefully the information in this article hasn’t made choosing a beach in Cornwall more difficult. The main consolation is that no matter where you go in Cornwall the beaches are fantastic - time spent trying to decide which one to go to could probably be better on the beach.