Many beaches in Devon have been awarded the coveted blue flag for clean waters. The Marine Conservation Society produces a Good Beach Guide each year for those who are concerned about water quality. Heavy rains occasionally wash pollutants into the sea and their advice is to avoid swimming for 24 hours after a heavy storm.
South Hams beaches
The South Hams area has long stretches of fine sands. Close to Plymouth, Bantham Beach backs onto impressive dunes and has plenty of rock pools for curious kids. Bantham is popular with surfers when the surf's up and there's a lifeguard in the summer.
Slapton Sands near Torcross is a three mile long shingle beach, despite its name. It has a free car park and is popular with nature lovers as the beach backs on to Widdecombe Ley freshwater lake so there's something for everyone.
Around Salcombe, visit East Portlemouth Beach via the ferry or North Sands and South Sands beaches, which have good facilities. Mill Bay is a privately owned beach across the estuary for those wanting a quieter option.
Nearby Bigbury-on-Sea has disabled access and excellent facilities. You can walk across to Burgh Island at low tide, which is fun. Divers will enjoy Bovisand's numerous wrecks, just offshore in Plymouth Sound.
South East Devon
South East Devon has some pebbly beaches such as Budleigh Salterton which is good for swimming and boating. Dawlish has the best beach in the area, with Dawlish Warren and Exmouth close behind. Mothecombe is a sheltered beach with a shop and toilets but it is a 15-minute walk from the car park. Another more isolated option is Soar Mill Cove, reached via a steep path from Bolberry Down.
Devon's north coast beaches
On the north coast, Woolacombe has an incredible stretch of sand and was voted Best British Beach by the Mail on Sunday. Further south, and more inaccessible, is the three-mile long Saunton Sands backed by huge sand dunes. Between these two long beaches lies Croyde Bay which has a good reputation for surfing. Barrels (curled surfing waves) are common at low tide.
Combe Martin is an idyllic beach with a stream running down and a wealth of anemones and shellfish in the rock pools. The Tunnels Beaches at Ilfracombe are some of the most unusual as they are reached through tunnels hacked through the cliff in Victorian times. There is a small fee, as they are now privately owned, but the tidal pool is ideal for snorkeling and dinghies.
Instow's soft sands between Bideford and Barnstaple are rarely crowded. The estuary is protected by a sand bar and the calm inner waters are popular for windsurfing and sailing. Westward Ho! has two miles of blue flag beach and gets some decent surf. On breezy days look out for the sand yachting which takes place on the firmly packed sands.