Victoria’s beaches may not draw the international headlines of Queensland or New South Wales, but they possess a rugged, elemental beauty all of their own.

You can divide Victorian beaches into two broad categories: bay beaches and surf beaches. Bay beaches are scattered around the perimeter of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay. They’re generally slow, lazy, golden sand beaches, surrounded by honey-coloured sandstone and tea tree scrub. Beaches where the waves are small and the coffee is strong. Surf beaches are the wild, white-sand bars that run the full length of the state’s southern coast, washed by powerful Antarctic swells and curling point breaks.

It's impossible to list all of Victoria’s best beaches – there are simply too many fantastic spots to cover – but we’ve rounded up what we think are the 10 most memorable. Grab some fish and chips, slop on some sunblock and dive in.

Lifeguards and lifesavers patrol beaches during peak holiday times – swim only between the red and yellow flags. To find patrolled beaches, check the website or download the BeachSafe app.

90 Mile Beach, Phillip Island, Victoria
Ninety Mile Beach, Gippsland, Victoria

1. Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach does exactly what it says on the tin. Well, almost. If we’re being technical, it’s actually 88 miles (141km) long: an uninterrupted spit of white-gold sand, caught between the Gippsland Lakes district and the icy waters of Bass Strait. Ninety Mile Beach is one of the longest uninterrupted beaches in the world, and popular with day-trippers, hikers, kayakers and surf fishers – you can pull snapper, flathead and gummy sharks right off the sand. Even if the weather’s a little too cold for swimming, which it probably will be between April and November, Ninety Mile Beach is perfect for a cracking coastal walk. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and southern right whales, and always swim between the coloured lifeguard flags.

2. Eastern Beach

Geelong's Eastern Beach has been a popular seaside destination for more than a century, with the sea baths built back in the 1930s. As a beach, it’s not the sandiest, and the waters aren’t turquoise or cerulean or any other hyper-real colour, but the dramatic backdrop and the proximity to Geelong make this a great afternoon barbecue spot. Launch yourself from the diving tower, snorkel for sting rays, or swim out to the floating islands and bask in the sun. Eastern Beach has toilets and barbecue facilities, dedicated beach volleyball nets – you can usually join a local game – plus the Giant Sky Wheel, the Southern Hemisphere’s largest Ferris wheel.

Eastern Beach, Geelong, Victoria
Eastern Beach, Geelong, Victoria
Thirteenth Beach. Barwon Heads, Victoria
Thirteenth Beach, Barwon Heads, Victoria

3. Thirteenth Beach

Just outside the river mouth town of Barwon Heads on Victoria’s picturesque Bellarine Peninsula, you’ll find Thirteenth Beach (named after the nearby thirteenth hole of the Barwon Heads Golf Course). Thirteenth Beach is a classic Victorian surf beach. That means sunsets that melt over the horizon, a gentle sweep of white-gold sand, mares’ tails of spindrift kicking off the breakers, and rolling dunes for the kids to explore. Brush up your skills at a surf class, and when the sun turns the sky purple-orange, head into Barwon Heads or Ocean Grove for a seafood dinner. Not a bad day all round.

4. Lorne Beach

You’ll see Lorne coming from miles away. When you round the headland on the Great Ocean Road, it’s hard to miss the deep-green bay with its twinkling breakers and houses dotting the hinterland. Lorne is arguably one of Victoria’s most famous beaches, and it’s been a popular day-trip and holiday spot for more than 100 years. The beach breaks and big right-handers make this a great surfing destination, and after a dip you can explore the rock pools at Shelley Beach, Erskine Falls up in the hills, or just head to the Lorne Hotel for a meal and a cold beer. Our prime sunset spot is definitely the Lorne Pier, which sticks out from the western headland, just below the historic Grand Pacific Hotel.

Lorne Pier, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Lorne Pier, Victoria
Bells Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Bells Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

5. Bells Beach

Bells Beach isn’t just one of the most famous surf beaches in Victoria. It’s one of the most famous surf beaches anywhere. This is the point break from the Keanu Reeves 1990s action movie. It's the first protected surfing reserve in the world. And it's home to the world’s oldest-running professional surfing competition, the Rip Curl Pro. Bells itself isn’t really a sunny, picnic-with-the-family kind of beach: it’s a wild, windswept bay with a sagging limestone headland and some pretty unpredictable swells. Still, it’s a must-see if you’re passing along the Great Ocean Road from Torquay to Anglesea. Drive up to the famous Bells carpark at dawn, high on the cliffs, and watch the breakers roll in. After that, warm up with lunch and a pint at Bells Beach Brewing in Torquay.

6. Squeaky Beach

There are dozens of secluded beaches in Wilsons Promontory National Park, the southernmost point of the Australian mainland, but Squeaky Beach is special. The white quartz sand here is so fine and rounded that it literally squeaks underfoot. This is the most photographed beach in Wilsons Prom, with dramatic granite boulders right down to the water’s edge, and plenty of room for families to spread out. You can walk to Squeaky from nearby Picnic Bay or Tidal River, and there’s also a carpark about five minutes from the beach itself. Visit during the Prom’s off-season (March to November) to avoid the biggest crowds.

Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria
Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria
Portsea Beach, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Portsea Back Beach, Victoria

7. Portsea Back Beach

Why would we recommend a beach where a former prime minister of Australia vanished without a trace in 1967? Because it’s one of Victoria’s most beautiful surf beaches: a wind-battered sand dune covered in tussock grass and tea trees, with epic rock pools and, when conditions are right, some massive waves. Portsea is one of Victoria’s oldest holiday towns – the post office opened here in 1877. It sits way out on the thin wedge of land that forms the southern flank of Port Phillip Bay. That means Portsea has a ‘front beach’ (on the bay side) and a ‘back beach’ (on the ocean side). The back beach has regular lifeguard patrols, and conditions can get pretty wild in autumn and spring, so always make sure you swim between the red and yellow flags.

8. Cape Woolamai

With a backdrop of pink granite cliffs and some huge swells rolling in from the Southern Ocean, Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island is one of Victoria’s protected surf reserves. But you don’t need a surfboard to enjoy this beautiful beach. Head out on foot along the walking trails around Cape Woolamai, and set aside some time to hike up towards the Pinnacles. The loop track runs from the Woolamai carpark across the peninsula to Cleeland Bite, then to the old granite quarry, Lookout Point, The Beacon and, finally, the knife-like granite ridge of the Pinnacles. Keep an eye out for short-tailed shearwaters, too – they migrate to Woolamai every year between September and mid-April.

Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, Victoria
Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island, Victoria
Brighton Beach, Melbourne, Victoria
Brighton Beach, Melbourne, Victoria

9. Brighton Beach

You might have seen Brighton Beach (also known as Dendy Street Beach) before ever setting foot in Melbourne. Dendy’s multi-coloured beach boxes are an iconic Victorian photo opportunity. Most of them were built more than 100 years ago, and apart from a lick of paint, they’re more or less unchanged today. Owning one of these boxes is the ultimate bayside property scoop, but anyone can enjoy Brighton Beach when the weather is good; you don’t have to be a millionaire. Windsurfing and water-skiing are popular beyond the shallow sand bar, and you should check out the The Baths Middle Brighton, Brighton Pier and Green Point if you’re in the area. A word of warning: on sunny weekends between December and February, Brighton Beach can get packed. Arrive early to grab a carpark.

10. Fairhaven Beach

Just to the west of Aireys Inlet, you’ll find the long, cinematic sweep of sand known as Fairhaven Beach. Fairhaven is arguably the most photogenic beach on the Great Ocean Road, and that’s saying a lot. From the surf club on the eastern headland, you can look west through the salty morning haze and see the entire curve of Fairhaven Bay, all the way to the Devil’s Elbow far off in the distance. The Great Ocean Road officially begins at Torquay, but the real Great Ocean Road, with its winding switchbacks and eye-popping views, starts here at Fairhaven. The best swimming and surfing is usually found at the eastern end of the beach, but you’ve got 6 kilometres of sand to play with. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the red and yellow flags – Fairhaven can generate some tricky rip currents.

Fairhaven Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Fairhaven Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria