World's Most Cultured Beach Cities

Courtesy of Hotel de Londres

Make a stop in these cities that blend a beach-town vibe with cultural abundance.

Whether we define a city by the density of its population, the height of its high-rises or its amount of cultural significance, there are certain ones that elevate above the rest. What creative and financial centers like Los Angeles (Venice Beach) and even Hong Kong (Repulse Bay, Shek O) can offer is the best of two worlds: a rejuvenating or intoxicating beach experience by day and a vibrant culture-driven scene by night.

Sure, major cities have their own manmade watering holes, but what could be better during the summer—when the pavement steams and the shoes need to come off—than catching an actual wave during lunch? Residents of San Sebastián, Spain, can do just that by simply jumping over the wall that separates its downtown from the Bay of Biscay.

The hardworking artists and dealers at the landmark art fair Art Basel Miami Beach (held December 6 to 9 this year) find the city’s ocean proximity a welcome reprieve in the winter, when the already hard-partying Deco city becomes steeped in market-driven madness. “Every morning, it’s just me and some other artists having a swim, catching our breath and disconnecting for a second,” says artist John Miserendino, who was featured during 2011’s Art Basel. “At night, Miami has a lot of energy, especially with the parties and events, but it’s the beach that makes me appreciate the city the most.”

“The escape is also why there are a lot of people at [Art Basel] who aren’t going for the art at all,” he adds.

Some destinations have always been famous for their beaches, like Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, which often eclipse their locale’s cosmopolitan offerings. But dig a little deeper and you can discover the grafite scene, a groundbreaking street-art movement centered in Rio’s inner-city favelas. And the golden bodies that line Bondi Beach in Australia have a way of distracting from Sydney’s iconic skyline and contemporary art Biennale.

“Ideal cities,” says urban studies writer P.D. Smith, “bear the unmistakable imprint of their own culture and worldview in every street and building.” Here are ten cities whose imprints also extend to the sea.