India's smallest state is known for three things: Hindu worship, biodiversity, and the beach. All of which results in one of the more absurd religious vacation scenes in the world (and they're all pretty absurd). Sacred cows roam freely on the sand, taking cover under tourists' umbrellas. It would be kind of cute, if not for that unusual whiff of piña colada mixed with livestock manure. Visiting Americans be warned: Cow tipping is not cool in Goa.
Plum Island, Massachusetts
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with keeping America's beaches safe from harm, but for some years now, they've been doing a pretty good job at the opposite. A federal jetty system installed on the Merrimack River has been diverting pristine beach sand from Plum Island's coastline since early last century, eroding the sleepy town to a tiny strip. The Corps has kept it alive through regular dredging, but that abruptly stopped ten years ago, and now the government predicts that twenty-six beachfront homes could be destroyed by 2019. Which is all the more reason to move to Martha's Vineyard, the Obamas' alleged vacation spot of choice.
Port Philip Bay, Australia
Most lifeguards are understandably worried about swimmers drowning while they're on the job. But the safety officers at this beach on the southern Victoria coast Down Under say they're too busy "combing the sand for syringes and broken glass," according to Melbourne's Herald Sun. Sharp debris has plagued the area since 2005, when a seven-year-old boy was pricked by a needle in the sand and rushed to the hospital. Last year, the Port Philip Council picked up one thousand tons of trash on the shore and blamed a combination of storm-water runoff and litterbugs. Hopefully they're not members of the country's rising HIV-infected population.
Wildwood, New Jersey
In this Jersey Shore resort town, shoulder-less button-ups and plastic door-knocker earrings aren't a fashion statement — they're a uniform. The 1994 documentary Wildwood, N.J., which has recently been made available on DVD, interviewed local young women to glean some insight about the culture. What they found wasn't very pretty. One refers to her female anatomy as a "check to cash," while another explains the more practical purposes of the boardwalk's ubiquitous acrylic nail salons: Girls in Wildwood like to fight. A lot. "I put some girl in the hospital," one says. "She's still in the hospital."
Fujiazhuang Beach, China
Gazing at the coastline in China's Dalian region is like playing an Asian-themed game of Where's Waldo?, only with more bare skin. Simply one of the most overcrowded vacation destinations in the world, Fujiazhuang brings tourists from Japan, Korea, and even Russia because of its mild climate and convenient location. You could be searching for a "sweet spot" to put your towel down for a few days. Potential upsides: group sandcastle-building, the (still remote) possibility of that paddle game not being quite so boring.
Huntington Beach, California
At Surf City USA, a "sick" wave can have a queasy double meaning. Since 1999, a number of mysterious germs have forced the popular beach to periodically shut down after giving visitors bouts of "diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramping, or fever," according to the EPA. A $5.1 million dollar study in 2002, unfortunately, turned up no conclusive findings — scientists say the culprits could include anything from sea gull feces to stray sewage. This, of course, still doesn't deter the local surfers. "You can't stop us from having a good time," one told USA Today. "It's California. You have to go to the beach." As long as you can find the porta-potty.
Repulse Bay, Hong Kong
Every urban beach has its problems, but only Repulse Bay has had the honor of being nicknamed "Repulsive Bay." Since it was developed into a beach town in the early 20th century, pollution from constant construction have commonly led to "red tide" algae growth that kills marine life and leaves a funny odor on visitors' swim trunks. The local government's red tape doesn't help: Officials conveniently forgot to tell fish farmers about a red tide bloom two years ago, and in 2005, a lifeguard strike left the beach virtually unprotected. Despite this, Repulse Bay remains one of the most exclusive neighborhoods for Hong Kong's condo-hungry elite.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Locals refer to this short stretch of Florida-Alabama Gulf coastline as the "Redneck Riviera," probably because the only people who hang out on its beaches (read: sand dunes and wild sea oats) are locals "vacationing" from Florida and Alabama. Recently, the deserted area has been paved over with condos like the twenty-four-story Turquoise Place, where units start at $1.25 million. But don't buy in yet: The small town suffers regular hurricane damage, and there isn't much beach volleyball on the two-mile stretch of sand, either — one resident told the New York Times last year, "You can go out there and walk for miles and never see another living soul." Makes for nice, long walks, though...
Rising pop star Little Boots escaped her hometown of Blackpool at a young age. We can't say we blame her. The beach resort opens its arms to Britain's trashiest tourists, who take advantage of the famously cheap drinks at 130 bars. Attractions include "kids throwing up, bottles smashed, punch-ups, screaming girls," one taxi driver told The Mirror. A few years ago, the local police launched Nightsafe, designed to deter visitors from the excessive alcohol that's allegedly responsible for Blackpool's high rate of violence. But no one's ready to claim the beach family-friendly. One dad told the newspaper, "There's no way [our kids are] leaving our sides here."
Doheny State Beach, California
Hollywood isn't the only depressing underbelly of Southern California's shimmering coastline. The state is home to some of the most polluted beaches in the country. The most egregious offender, according to the National Resources' Defense Council: Doheny, which has been named the most polluted beach in the state three years in a row, once with 91 percent of samples exceeding national health standards (by contrast, a safe beach has less than 10). Things got so out of hand that the NRDC sued the EPA a few years ago for neglecting the California's beaches. Surfers are apparently too distracted to care.