The Complete History of the Beach

All your beach questions answered!

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History of the Beach

Ahhh, the beautiful beach! People have congregated to this popular destination for ages, but when did it all begin? We decided to do some serious research and answer several frequently asked beach questions. Here we go!

When was the beach invented?

When was the beach invented?

Well, the short answer to this question is that the beaches have always been around and we guess you could say God or Mother Nature invented them! However, the real question here is when did it become a place to go to? Actually, common thought says that human beings started going to the beach about 50,000 years ago but not for a “pleasure outing.” Back then, it was all about survival, and humankind realized that besides the land, there was food to be had in the oceans. Artifacts found showed they started trying to fish and gather mussels along the shores at that time. However, recently a cave in South Africa on Mossel Bay was found near the Indian Ocean that had sea harvest artifacts that dated back 150,000 years old. They included pointed objects, early hand-hewn blades, and reddish-brown pigment from ground rocks that were apparently from cooking. They also found remnants of dark mussels and ancient saltwater clamshells. In addition, they found barnacles that may have been used for processing whale blubber for skins. This discovery is very significant since other similar finds are from tens of thousands of years later. This seems to tell us that the human trajectory of progress stalled instead of making a steady advancement, perhaps because of cataclysmic planetary events.

When did beaches first start to become a getaway destination?

When did beaches first start to become a getaway destination?

Ruins from ancient Roman times show that huge lavish villas were built upon beautiful beaches well over 2,000 years ago. By this time, it appears that it was not all about human beings harvesting seafood but fortunate aristocrats among members of the Patrician Class who enjoyed spending some lovely shore time. Although swimming at the beach was not common due to fears of sea monsters and drowning, other popular pursuits were enjoyed. These included cool breezes, lovely vistas at particularly beautiful places along the beach, outdoor dining, drinking, and decadent parties. Popular destinations included the beaches near Rome along the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately, some of them included the thriving city of Pompeii and its wealthy neighboring town Herculaneum which ceased to exist one autumn day in 79 AD thanks to the infamous Mount Vesuvius eruption.

When did beaches become a popular fun pastime?

When did beaches become a popular fun pastime?

In a more modern era, seaside resorts started to appear in the early 1700s in parts of Great Britain. These were also reserved for the aristocracy and were originally established on the coast in Scarborough and Yorkshire. They were located near hot steam springs which ran down seashore cliffs and were thought to be medicinal. By the mid-1700s, the town of Brighton on the southern coast of England started to become a seaside resort. Actually, artifacts found there prove that it was the site of an ancient Roman Bath resort as well. This place became extremely fashionable and a favorite destination among the upper classes when King George III constructed a Royal Pavilion there for a vacation destination starting in 1787, which was finished in the early 1800s by King George IV. It was used as a royal seaside residency for the monarchy up through most of Queen Victoria’s time.

The middle classes discovered the beach in England starting in the 1840s when railways were built connecting large inner cities to the shoreline. Travel to the shore became easy and affordable. Middle-class families liked to escape the grungy smoke-filled cities and go there for fresh air. Fast-growing beach towns popped up almost overnight, creating a sustained demographic and financial boom. By the end of the 1800s in 1900, there were over 100 large beach resort towns along the English coastline. Promenades or “Pleasure Piers” were constructed at each location vying for people’s attention. The seashore officially went from a place to harvest fish to a destination for fun and amusements. 

When did people start to go swimming at the beach?

When did people start to go swimming at the beach?

Swimming beside the beach was very different back then. It simply was not done the way it is today. One interesting fact is that due to the modesty of this era, “Bathing Machines” were invented in the late 1700s. These “machines” were actually covered wood or canvas-sided dressing room carts on wheels with curtains on one end. They allowed people to hang their clothes high and wade into the salty waters but were sexually segregated. These salty plunges inside the Bathing Machines usually lasted about five or ten minutes. Women wore wool suits that covered almost all of their bodies, but men often went in naked. “Proper” people bathed inside these dressing rooms since drenching oneself in salted water was considered to be therapeutic for a number of maladies, including melancholia. Doctors actually prescribed treatments as far as how long patients should be in the salty water, how often, and under what conditions. This practice lasted for over 100 years.

When were bathing suits invented?

When were bathing suits invented?

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the advent of actual bathing suits began as opposed to heavy all-covering woolen frocks worn by women beforehand. By the late 1920s, women began to wear bathing suits that showed arms and legs. This later advanced to somewhat modest “two-piece” bathing suits, which then became known as skimpier Bikinis by the 1950s.

When did beaches become popular destinations in the United States?

When did beaches become popular destinations in the United States?

Throughout the 1800’s beach resorts spread from England to the Normandy coast, the French Riviera, parts of Italy along the Mediterranean Sea, and over to the Baltic shorelines in Scandinavia. However, fun time at the beach did not become a popular thing to do in the United States until the late 1800s. In fact, the first public beach was not opened until 1896. It was called Revere Beach and is located only about five miles north of Boston, hence the name. It was connected by a rail line and is still a popular beach destination today. Over 1,000,000 visitors arrive every year on just one weekend when a beach sculpture competition is held there.

In 1885 Henry Flagler began construction of the Florida East Coast Railway that is still in existence today. This provided a major boom for development as beach resorts sprung up along the Floridian Atlantic coast from St. Augustine all the way down to Palm Beach. The elegant Georgian style “Royal Poinciana Hotel” was constructed there in 1893 with 1,100 rooms and became the largest hotel in the world. It was followed by the “Palm Beach Inn” in 1896, which later became known as the beachfront “Breakers” in 1903. This became the official winter destination for affluent “snowbirds” from New York City, the New England states, and parts of Canada. Widespread use of air-conditioning and the construction of interstate highways in the United States during the late 1950s made many other beach towns in the southern “Sun Belt” flourish. They became far more comfortable during the hot summers and much easier to get to.

In the 1950s, surfing was discovered being done by natives in Hawaii. Popular culture quickly promoted it through some beach movies starring Frankie Avalon and Anette Funicello, TV shows like “Gidget,” as well as top songs by the Beach Boys. This beach sport quickly spread throughout southern California and across the Pacific to Australia. 

Beach resort towns multiplied greatly in North and South America and the Caribbean during the mid-20th century. In the US, many exclusively gated resorts on or near the beach featured gorgeous vacation homes, luxurious high-rise condominiums, and championship golf courses. Today half of the world’s population lives in cities and towns that are within 37 miles away from an ocean, gulf, or sea. Some of the most sought-after and expensive properties on the planet are found along a beach somewhere.

What types of beaches are located around the world, and what is the sand made out of?

What types of beaches are located around the world, and what is the sand made out of?

Beaches come in all different types that include mostly either sand, pebbles, gravel, and/or seashells. Beaches are mostly made from sand that is composed of minerals. The most common include types of quartz, feldspar, mica, and iron. Quartz and feldspar are light-colored and translucent; however, iron can interact with them, creating a yellow-brown or tan coloration. Much brown sand comes from an abundance of pulverized brown seashells, which like all sand, are ground down through ongoing wave action. The granular size of the sand is determined by the size of the waves. Generally speaking, the higher the regular waves are in height, the coarser the grains of the sand. Grain size also determines the slope of the beach. Beaches with fine powdery grains of sand tend to be flatter than those with coarse granular sand. Fine sands are not very absorbent, so waters that flow in also flow back out, taking some sand with them. Coarse sands absorb quite a bit of water, so when the waves come in, they are banked up on shore to form berms which create a fairly steep slope back to the water’s edge.

Sands vary in color, including tones in tan, black, pink, red, orange, green, purple, and white. Aforementioned tan sands are usually caused by compositions of some iron and ground-up brown seashells. Black sand is found in Hawaii and a few other places close to active volcanoes that pour black basalt lava rock into the oceans that get ground down into a black sandy form. Pink sands are composed of millions of tiny fragments of like-colored coral found only in parts of the Caribbean, Maui, the Bahamas, and Greece. Rare red sands are only found at Kaihalulu Beach in Maui and are composed of a high quantity of iron nearby. Orange sands are also caused by high degrees of iron but less than red beaches and found mostly in parts of the Mediterranean Sea. Green-colored sand is only found in two places in the world which are Talofofo Beach in Guam and Papakolea Beach in Hawaii. The coloration is created by the presence of green olivine minerals. Purple sand is located at only one place, which is the Pfeiffer State Beach located in Big Sur, California. The lovely lavender color is created by an abundance of garnet minerals. 

White sands are created with a finely ground white quartz crystal which is the case here along the famous Emerald Coast surrounding Destin, Florida. This shoreline is composed of pure white quartz crystal, which was shaved off the Appalachian Mountain tops during the last Ice Age, which ended over 25,000 years ago. Over eons of time, the white quartz was pulverized down by constant wave action into a powdery crystalline form. This sand has been described as sugar, powder, and even snow since it has a brilliant shimmering brightness that resembles all of them. This sand reflects sunlight and does not absorb heat which makes it cool to the touch and does not burn your feet. It also creates a natural treasure of dazzling light. Sun reflects natural microscopic green plankton in the clear water up from the white sandy bottom and glitters in an abundance of stunning jewel-toned colors. Most of them are in emerald tones which gave name to our highly acclaimed coast and excellent award-winning beaches. 

Related article: Why is the sand in Destin so white?

Our Ocean Reef Resorts vacation rental management company represents hundreds of fine distinctive vacation rental properties along the Emerald Coast in Destin, Miramar Beach, the picturesque coastal villages along Scenic 30A, and over to Panama City Beach. Enjoy taking a look at our bright, beautiful beaches on our fantastic Ocean Reef Resorts website. We provide vivid imagery, a bird’s eye view of individual locations, and a wide variety of vacation properties available. Enjoy your own tour of the beach!