Finding a good beach to relax on in Devon and Cornwall is easy, but finding one of the best? That can be a little bit more difficult. Fear not, because whether you're looking for a beach to see the sunset, the perfect place for a beach feast in the height of summer or a secluded cove where you might see seals and dolphins, we've rounded up the finest beaches in two of the finest English counties for sand, sun and surf. Plus, there are holiday home recommendations from South West self-catering specialist Stay In, so you'll know where to stay while you're there, too.
Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall
Best for: sunsets
Head a couple of miles up the coast from the huge beach at Watergate Bay and you'll find the gorgeous golden sands of Bedruthan Steps. The dramatic granite rocks that dot the beach are said to be stepping stones once used by a giant called Bedruthan, but for us they're just the perfect scenery for photos as the sun sets out west. The beach is only accessible at low tide, which means you may have to time your visit, or risk watching the sunset from the clifftop above. Then again, given the views from up there, that's probably no bad thing.
Where to stay: Engollan Springfield, a family-friendly home that sleeps ten. Located in a hamlet just three miles from Bedruthan Steps, it's perfect for clifftop walks and barbecue dinners en masse. Seven nights from £864. stayincornwall.co.uk
Croyde Beach, Devon
Best for: surfing
Stay In Devon
There are good surfing beaches in North Devon, and then there's Croyde. The small surfing village faces west into the full power of Atlantic swells, meaning it's the place to head for consistent waves, whether you're a beginner or expert. At low tide, you'll get world-class barrel-shaped waves, and the beach is pretty huge away from the water, so there's plenty of room for kicking back, relaxing and building sandcastles, too.
Where to stay: Dunes at West Croyde is a modern detached holiday home that sleeps eight, and is a short walk from the beach and surf schools. Seven nights from £806. stayindevon.co.uk
Porthcurnick Beach, Cornwall
Best for: food
Stay In Devon
Cornwall's Roseland peninsula has a real wild feel about it: separated from the rest of Cornwall by the winding estuaries of the Fal, Tresillian and Truro rivers, it's the place to go for chilled-out, uncrowded beaches and great food fresh from the fields and fishing boats. Head to Porthcurnick beach, a cove just north of Portscatho, and you'll find the Hidden Hut. By day, it's a small beach eatery serving fresh local grub, but on select summer and autumn nights chef-owner Simon Stallard and his team roll out long tables on the beach for epic wood-fired beach feasts. Make sure you book ahead.
Where to stay: Skippers is a former fisherman's cottage in the Roseland's main town of St Mawes. It sleeps five, and maintains many original features updated in a characterful modern style. Seven nights from £541. stayincornwall.co.uk
Marazion Beach, Cornwall
Best for: history
Stay In Devon/Britainonview/Daniel Bosworth
The long sandy beach at the southwest Cornish town of Marazion is notable for one thing in particular: the tidal island of St Michael's Mount that sits out in the water opposite. Home to an iconic castle, a cliffside garden with aloe, agave and succulents, and a small village, it makes the perfect day out if you're visiting the westernmost reaches of West Cornwall. The island can be accessed at low tide by a 500m-long granite causeway that's been used by pilgrims and tourists for hundreds of years, while at high tide it sits stately in the water like something from an old English legend.
Where to stay: South Wind is a detached three-storey holiday property located in the heart of Marazion. Its front windows give out over the rooftops of the town and give you a frontline view of St Michael's Mount. Seven nights from £933. stayincornwall.co.uk
Godrevy Beach, Cornwall
Best for: wildlife
Paul J Martin
Found to the eastern side of St Ives Bay on the Cornwall's northwest coast, the beach at Godrevy has a little bit of it all: surfers popping up on dependable waves, dramatic cliffs covered in heather and gorse and a lighthouse on an island 300m out in the water. But more than anything, Godrevy beach and headland nearby are great for seeing some of Cornwall's finest wildlife – there are seabirds like cormorants, fulmars and guillemots, plus birds of prey, grey seals and even the occasional bottlenose dolphin to be seen. Walk the coast path and keep your eyes peeled.
Where to stay: St Ives Hideaway is a stylish contemporary property in the iconic Cornish town of St Ives. It's a short walk from the property to the town centre and its famous beaches and popular attractions. Seven nights from £429. stayincornwall.co.uk
Blackpool Sands, Devon
Best for: swimming
This sheltered bay on the secluded south coast of Devon is a haven for families, groups and couples looking for a romantic place to relax. Made of fine golden shingle and surrounded by remarkably blue water, this is one of the finest spots for swimmers in the south west of England. Given its Blue Flag status and dog-friendly beach café Venus, this beach is very popular on hot summer days, but when you're basking in the water, you won't care a bit.
Where to stay: Milber Cottage is a beautifully decorated property that sleeps six. Found just over the river from Dartmouth in the idyllic village of Kingswear, it's the perfect place to watch the boats go by, then head across to the beaches of the South Hams via the nearby ferry. Seven nights from £636. stayindevon.co.uk