Forget steamy romances and pulpy mysteries. Atlas Obscura’s list of this season’s best beach reads is a litany of wild tales that are actually about beaches—the unexpected things they hid, the weird things that have washed up on them, and what it would take to build your own seashore.

See Miami’s Waterfront Through Its Midcentury Modern Lifeguard Stations

by Isaac Schultz

For most of the 20th century, Miami’s beaches were home to pretty standard lifeguard towers. But after Hurricane Andrew razed a number of them in 1995, the architectural firm William Lane designed some pretty eccentric and memorable replacements that are equal parts futuristic and midcentury modern—and oh-so-Miami.

Solved: The 35-Year-Old Mystery of the Garfield Phones on a French Beach

by Emma Jacobs

A singularly strange thing washed up on a particular stretch of the Brittany coast in France for years: bright orange pieces of plastic—telephones in the shape of Garfield the cat. It took more than three decades to solve the mystery of where they were coming from.

The stumps visible on the beach at Cardigan Bay can resemble islands at sea.
The stumps visible on the beach at Cardigan Bay can resemble islands at sea. MATTHEW ASHTON/AMA/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Ancient, Sunken Forest That Rises From a Welsh Beach

by Jessica Leigh Hester

Long before it was a sandy shore on Cardigan Bay, the beach near Ynyslas, close to Borth, Wales, was a forest— and at low tide, evidence of its woodland past reappears, looking like something out of a fairy tale.

Tel Aviv’s Gay Beach, Dog Beach, and Orthodox Beach

by Gitit Ginat

Tel Aviv’s coastline is home to some unexpected neighbors: Nordau Beach, which is surrounded by a wooden partition, is intended for the conservative-to-very-conservative Orthodox Jewish crowd and has separate days for men and women. Nearby is Hilton Beach, one of the world’s best and most boisterous gay beaches. And between them is a dog beach, which functions like an adorable demilitarized zone.

At 10-times magnification, sand from Alaska's Point Spencer resembles semiprecious stones.
At 10-times magnification, sand from Alaska’s Point Spencer resembles semiprecious stones. XINPEI ZHANG/COURTESY NIKON SMALL WORLD

These Tiny Jewels Come From One of Alaska’s Most Unusual Beaches

by Gemma Tarlach, Senior Editor/Writer

Just shy of the Arctic Circle, where Alaska’s Seward Peninsula stretches westward toward Russia, there is a most improbable sliver of land. Point Spencer sits at the northern tip of a miles-long, narrow spit of sand, gravel, and permafrost that’s less than 100 feet wide in places—and when sand collected from one of its beaches is magnified 10 times, it looks like glittering, semiprecious stones.

The Politics of Sunbathing on Human Remains

by Melissa Bannigan

Most people don’t go to the beach expecting to find human remains, but that’s exactly what happens relatively frequently at Raisins Clairs Beach in Saint François, Guadeloupe. In 2014, a storm uncovered the source: a cemetery believed to contain the remains of 500 to 1,000 people who had been enslaved. The question of what should happen next divided the community.

Podcast: The Tanks of Flamenco Beach

by The Atlas Obscura Podcast Team

Puerto Rico’s Culebra Island is a stunning Caribbean landscape, with beautiful shores and a lush wildlife sanctuary. But this ocean paradise also has some unexpected decorations: massive, old military tanks covered in graffiti.

How to Build an Island

by Alastair Bonnett

In his book Elsewhere: A Journey Into Our Age of Islands, Alastair Bonnett offers some practical advice for the would-be island builder: “You’ll have some questions, such as where, how, and of course, what shape? ” he writes. But “most important of all, you need some investors with deep pockets: It is they who will turn the lifeless patch of grit you’ve brought into existence into seriously expensive real estate.”