Beachgoers c. 1910

Beachgoing or beach tourism is the cultural phenomenon of travelling to an ocean beach for leisure or vacation.

The practice developed from medically-prescribed sea-bathing by British physicians in the 17th and 18th centuries and spread throughout Europe and European colonies. With the advent of affordable air travel seaside resorts developed worldwide into the modern tourism phenomenon.

Beachgoing is one of the earliest forms of modern tourism and is a staple of the overall tourism industry.


Seaside resorts have existed since antiquity. In Roman times, the town of Baiae, by the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, was a resort for those who were sufficiently prosperous.[1] Barcola in northern Italy, with its Roman luxury villas, is considered a special example of ancient leisure culture by the sea.[2] Mersea Island, in Essex, England was a seaside holiday destination for wealthy Romans living in Colchester.[3]

Beaches in 16th-century Europe historically were seen as frightening places where piracy, invasions, and destruction by hurricanes, king tides, and tsunamis were an unpredictable danger. Most seaside and beach communities were fishing villages which regularly lost community members to storms or piracy. Most sailors and other community members were nonswimmers, and losses to drowning were common. Swimming in the ocean itself was seen as dangerous because of the possibility of shark attack.[4][5] Prior to the 18th century, vacationing at the beach was not a cultural phenomenon.[6][7] According to The Atlantic, "only peasants sought refuge from the heat in the cool seawater".[7]



A woman exits a bathing machine in 1893

Beginning in the 1600s and 1700s, British physicians recommended sea-bathing to promote or restore health.[5][4] The 1750 essay by Richard Russell, A Dissertation on the Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands, Particularly, the Scurvy, Jaundice, King’s Evil, Leprosy and the Glandular Consumption recommended bathing in the sea and drinking a pint of seawater daily; Russell claimed to have cured a leprosy patient with this treatment "every morning during nine months, without any intervals".[7]

According to Smithsonian sea-bathing was prescribed for people suffering from 'melancholy, rickets, leprosy, gout, impotence, tubercular infections, menstrual problems and “hysteria” '[4] Travelling to the beach for prescribed short bathes and to drink sea water and breathe "sea air", which was theorized to contain more oxygen, became a habit of affluent people.[5][6][7] Bathing machines, operated by bathing attendants, were commonly used to perform the prescribed dips into seawater.[4][6] Women bathed in bathing costumes; men bathed nude.[7]

As the primary reason for early travel to seaside towns was for a prescribed daily five-minute dip, resorts built up to entertain the affluent visitors for the remaining portion of each day.[5][7] The first such resort was at Scarborough near York.[4] As travel conditions improved with trains and better roads, less affluent travellers were also able to join in the pastime, resort communities built up in many seaside towns, and the phenomenon spread throughout Europe and European colonies.[5][6]

A similar progression of events developed in Rio de Janeiro in the 19th and 20th centuries, as therapeutic sea-bathing developed into a place "to see and be seen", with beach culture developing into a defining characteristic of the city.[8]

The seaside in art

Paintings of seascapes, a term that was coined around 1800, became more popular.[4] Some tourism was associated with travel to seaside towns to see the subjects of such paintings.[6]

Modern beach tourism

Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro c. 2010
2012 Ajerbaijani stamp promoting beach tourism
Tourists riding a camel on the beach in Makadi Bay, Egypt c. 2010

Sea-bathing remained a popular treatment for tuberculosis into the mid-1800s, by which time beachgoing had developed into a leisure activity meant to provide a respite from daily life.[4][6][7] Beach tourism is one of the earliest form of modern tourism.[9] Beachgoers, however, were not there for the sun; women typically kept themselves completely covered or used shelters and parasols to protect their skin from tanning.[7]

By the early 1900s, seaside vacations had become a cultural phenomenon in Europe and North America[6] and the therapeutic benefits of sunlight began to be recognized[10] and by 1913 "sunbathing" was referred to as a desirable activity for the leisured class.[11] In the 1920s, after fashion-designer Coco Chanel accidentally got sunburnt while visiting the French Riviera, tanned skin became perceived as fashionable, healthy, and luxurious.[12][13][14] Jean Patou capitalized on the new tanning fad, launching the first sun tan oil "Huile de Chaldee" in 1927.[15] In the 1940s, advertisements started appearing in women's magazines which encouraged sunbathing. At the same time, swimsuits' skin coverage began decreasing, with the bikini radically changing swimsuit style after it made its appearance in 1946.[citation needed]

In some areas with beaches, hostile architecture was used to keep populations seen as less welcome away; in the 1920s American urban planner Robert Moses designed a stretch of Long Island Southern State Parkway with low stone bridges so that buses could not pass under them. This made it more difficult for people who relied on public transportation, mainly African Americans, to visit the beach that wealthier car-owners could visit.[16][17] Other areas, particularly in the US, designated certain days of the week during which persons of color or non-Christians were admitted to public beaches or passed parking bans to exclude non-residents.[18][19] Black Americans developed beach resorts catering to persons of color, such as American Beach, Bethune Beach, Bruce's Beach, Butler Beach, Oak Bluffs, Pacific Beach Club, Paradise Park, and Sag Harbor. As recently as 2020 some areas in the US legally permitted restricting access to public beaches by allowing beach parking areas to be placed long distances from the shore and providing bridge access only to local residents.[20][21]

As air travel became affordable and common, beachside towns throughout the tropics and subtropics developed seaside resorts to attract tourists.[6] Seaside resorts in temperate climates became less exclusive.[6] Beach tourism developed into one of the staples of the tourism industry.[9]

According to Reader's Digest in 2021 the most-visited beaches in the world are Whitehaven Beach in Australia, Lanikai Beach in Hawaii, Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda, Cayo Coco Beach in Cuba, Bávaro in the Dominican Republic, Boulders Beach in South Africa, Bournemouth in the United Kingdom, Pink Sands Beach in the Bahamas, Ao Nang in Thailand, Playa Paraiso in Mexico, Dreamland Beach in Indonesia, and Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos.[22]


  1. ^ Smith, William (1854). "Baiae". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  2. ^ Zeno Saracino: “Pompei in miniatura”: la storia di “Vallicula” o Barcola. In: Trieste All News, 29 September 2018.
  3. ^ Tyler, Sue (September 2009). West Mersea: Seaside Heritage Project (Report). Essex County Council. p. 5. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Blei, Daniela (24 June 2016). "Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e Glionna, John M. (4 May 1997). "The Evolution of Beach-Going Etiquette". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Swanson, Ana (3 July 2016). "The weird origins of going to the beach". Washington Post.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Braun, Adee (29 August 2013). "The Historic Healing Power of the Beach". The Atlantic. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  8. ^ Barickman, B. J. (Bert Jude), 1958- (2022). From sea-bathing to beach-going : a social history of the beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-6362-6. OCLC 1275367685.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ a b Lowry, Linda L. (2017). The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Travel and Tourism. SAGE Publications, Inc. doi:10.4135/9781483368924. ISBN 978-1-4833-6894-8.
  10. ^ "The Times". 25 August 1900: 1: An advertisement for a 'German Bath In Scotland' offers 'For Health and Pleasure...Pure Air and Sun Baths...'. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ "The Times". 4 September 1913: 6. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help):Describing a visit by the Prince of Wales to the pretty town of Sigmaringen the reporter says: ‘The Castle possesses many delightful terraces which could be adapted for sunbathing.’
  12. ^ Hanson, Peter G. (22 June 2009). "About Face". The Effects of Aging, Health and Stress on Your Face. FaceMaster. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. ^ "Sun and Clouds: The Sun in History". Magic Bullets - Chemistry vs. Cancer. The Chemical Heritage Foundation. 2001. Archived from the original on 20 June 2010. By the 1920s, the therapeutic effect of the sun was widely promoted, and two well-publicized French personalities gave "tanning" a fashion boost. Coco Chanel, of designer fame, returned to Paris after a cruise on the Duke of Westminster's yacht with a tan that became all the rage. And the natural caramel skin color of singer Josephine Baker made women all over the world try to emulate her skin tone.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  14. ^ Koskoff, Sharon (28 May 2007). Art Deco of the Palm Beaches. Arcadia Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-7385-4415-1. Retrieved 11 September 2009. In 1920s France, the caramel-skinned entertainer Josephine Baker became a Parisian idol. Concurrently, fashion designer Coco Chanel was "bronzed" while cruising on a yacht. A winter tan became a symbol of the leisure class and showed you could afford to travel to exotic climates.
  15. ^ Steele, Valerie, ed. (2010). The Berg Companion to Fashion. Berg. p. 554. ISBN 978-1847885630.
  16. ^ Swain, Frank. "Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour". Archived from the original on 27 January 2022. Retrieved 27 January 2022.
  17. ^ "The True Measure of Robert Moses (and His Racist Bridges)". 9 July 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  18. ^ "Beach-Going In Jim Crow Era (1877 - 1964)". Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs - State of Delaware. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  19. ^ "Historic racism still raises barriers to beach access". News. 2 September 2022. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  20. ^ "Petition Challenges South Carolina Beach Access Restrictions - FITSNews". 11 August 2020. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  21. ^ "SC Statehouse beach fight: Should towns have free parking?". AP NEWS. 26 January 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  22. ^ Connery, Ana (2 August 2021). "12 Most-Visited Beaches in the World". Reader's Digest. Retrieved 16 March 2023.

Further reading