Hope Cove, DevonWhat makes it special:
Actually, it only has a tiny sheltered beach, but it's a great spot, simply because it's a good base for lots of other nearby beaches.
It's a pretty fishing village in two parts - Inner and Outer Hope, so two villages really...Abandon-All-Hope disappeared into the sea centuries ago (okay, we made that bit up). This was the only place where those naughty Spanish came ashore in Elizabeth I's reign. Emperor Haile Selassie spent part of his exile here (and why not?!).
It's a top spot for rock-pooling and there's good bathing at nearby South Milton and further east at Soar Mill Cove, but you'll need to walk there (and yes, it's worth it).
Fish 'n' chips in the Hope & Anchor. Portions to sink a warship. One did here in 1790.but that's another (sad) story...
Where to stay: Hope Barton Barns is a collection of nicely converted self-catering barn buildings for groups of various sizes, all a short walk or late-night stagger from the village.
And if you wanted somewhere with a great view that's a bit different, try the Port Light, a former radar station. Go upmarket at the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. What it lacks in architectural splendour, it makes up for with views and splendid isolation.
Tenby, PembrokeshireWhat makes it special:
If the BBC hadn't filmed Balamory in Tobermory, they'd probably have picked Tenby. Okay, so it's in Wales not Scotland, but check out this wonderful Norman fortified town with its Georgian pastel-coloured buildings and traffic-free tiny lanes - at least in summer - when they're not allowed. The beaches are some of the best in the land, boasting Blue Flags, dunes and gently sloping sandy shores.
A boat trip to Caldey Island, just off shore and 30 minutes by boat. Monks are still at the Cistercian abbey where they attend seven services a day! Worshippers of the sun may prefer to head to the island's Priory Beach.
Where to stay:
Pengally Abbey is just outside Tenby, but that's no bad thing in peak season. This place puts the z in snoozzzze - you can't fail to relax here. It has both old-fashioned character in the main house or simple modernism in the newly renovated St Deiniol's Lodge. There you'll find what it calls "flumfy" beds. Pass the Welsh dictionary...
Woolacombe, DevonWhat makes it special:
Like Littlehampton, this north Devon town has really come up in the world - just check the prices in the estate agents' windows for confirmation, with City boys snapping up second homes in the area. One look at the two-mile beach and you'll see why. Yes, it gets crowded in the summer, but only at one end and there are plenty of other secluded covers nearby to try. It's an excellent spot for kids to learn to surf and there are fabulous cliff-top walks and cycle routes for parents while the children to do the Baywatch bit.
Woolacombe International Sandcastle Competition. Daleks and a Sphinx in sand? Yes, really. Those were previous creations. What will they think of next? Be there on 6 July and you'll find out. Buckets are for wimps.
Littlehampton, West SussexWhat makes it special:
It may not sound like an obvious choice and a decade ago it wouldn't have been, but it's come a long way. It's cool again. Yes, there is still the rather tacky Harbour Park, but it's fun and charming in its own way. And the sandy long beach with seaside promenade train, as well as a little miniature railway in the nearby park, are great for kids. You might even catch a Punch 'n' Judy show here. Now that's the way to do it.
A look at the much-reviewed East Beach Cafe. Whatever your view, it is a design statement. Some might say the Thomas Heatherwick creation evokes love and loathing in equal measure, but there's no doubting it has sent this West Sussex town soaring up the cool chart.
Where to stay:
For style, check out Bailiffscourt at nearby Climping. Don't be fooled - it ain't as old as it looks and only dates back to the 1920s, but it has ye olde charm and Climping beach is just a short stroll away.
Whitby, North YorkshireWhat makes it special:
The setting - it's a fantastic harbour town on the River Esk. The eerie Abbey ruins dominate one side, with fish 'n' chip restaurants and jewellery shops selling famous jet stone designs a mere 199 steps below.
Just nearby, below the Royal Crescent where Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula (he saw a hell of a storm out to sea) is Whitby Sands - miles of it - where locals probably watched Captain Cook leave for the Pacific. Bet the rainbow-coloured beach huts weren't there then...
Checking out those surfer dudes up the road at Saltburn. They carry their boards into the sea all year round - even at New Year - because of the fantastic reef breaks. Watch them from the famous pier, with its cliff lift, which brought wealthy Victorians to the beach with ease. If you fancy a surf, there's a school here too.
Where to stay: Okay, hold your breath, we're going to be radical here: Whitby YHA. Take a look at the views and you'll see why. They are simply the best in town and it's slap bang next to the awesome abbey. Okay, it's not plush, but with luck you'll be spending all day on the beach. There are family bedrooms, a games room and easy parking. Surfer dudes would be proud of you.
But if you really must push the boat out in this harbour town, try the White Horse & Griffin. It's a clever mix of what interior magazines refer to as classical contemporary - real fires, brown sofas and crisp white linen. Just feel the quality.
Images courtesy of britainonview/Martin Brent, South East Tourism/Simon Kreitem