Dubai’s main coastline spans more than 13km, and while there are private portholes here and there, the majority of that sand is free for all. Unfortunately, due to Dubai’s unusual place-name system – ‘next to the wedding hall opposite the mosque near KFC beach’ etc – navigating said shore can be trickier than you’d think (it is just a straight line, after all). So, to help you out, we’ve trawled from Satwa to the Marina and back towards Sharjah to help you find the perfect beach for this weekend. Why go now? It’s October, and that means an average maximum temperature of 35°C, an average minimum of 24°C, as well as a balmy yet refreshing sea that averages 28°C. Dig out that sunscreen…

The beaches
Read on for a comprehensive guide to the stretch of sand running from Downtown to the Marina (shown on the map below), as well as a lush bay near Sharjah…

1 Al Mamzar Beach Park: This large beach complex near Sharjah (it’s actually a small peninsula) is a good option if you don’t fancy a bun fight for a spot in front of the sea. Divided into five beaches, number four is the one that’s most deserving of your time – there are plenty of palm trees, soft, clean sand (fewer cigarette butts and rocks than the Dubai average) and no construction to spoil the view. There are also lots of fish if you fancy a snorkel, so it’s ideal if you have kids who’ll need entertaining after a few hours building sandcastles. If you’re staying for the day, it’s worth using the barbecue areas dotted around the park.
Dhs5 per person; Dhs30 per car. Around 5km north of Al Hamriya Port, Al Mamzar residential area (04 296 6201).

2 Jumeirah Open Beach: This is the original Dubai public beach. Formerly known as Russian Beach (no doubt due to its early popularity with eastern Europeans), the Open Beach is far longer and wider than the free beaches further up the coast. This fact is well-known by those who run, jog, cycle or rollerblade up and down the 1.8km bouncy track, created in 2007.

For refreshments, there are several tuck shops along the first stretch of beach, open 24 hours a day and stocked with drinks, snacks and cheap towels, as well as lifeguard posts. Venture past the first jetty, however, and it’s both quieter and unsupervised. Walk to the end of this beach and you’ll see a new-looking concrete jetty with a path along it – amble to the end for a fantastic view of the beach with the Sheikh Zayed Road skyline in the background.

In terms of facilities, there are showers at the top of the first beach, which seem to be in constant use, as well as several public toilets that are constantly being cleaned, yet are still a bit grim (bring your own tissues). The plus side of the Open Beach is that it offers a far more cosmopolitan experience: visitors can mix with Filipino families having picnics, groups of Indian and Pakistani men enjoying their day off with games in the sea, and slightly hairy, Speedo-sporting men strutting up and down the surf. Warning: the approach road can get very busy on weekend nights, as this becomes quite the hangout.
Just past Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Palm Strip Mall (turn into 47a street from Jumeirah Beach Road to get to the other end of the beach).

3 Mercato Beach: Driving down Jumeirah Beach Road towards New Dubai, take a right just after Mercato and you’ll hit a nice quiet bay (we like to head here during the evening to treat ourselves to an ice cream by the sea). This almost looks like a lake at first, because of the reclaimed land right out in front. There are also netless soccer goals on the sand and beautiful Burj Khalifa views. Quite the hidden gem.
Turn into 13a street (part of a slip road just opposite the Children’s Garden Nursery), Jumeirah 2.

4 Jumeirah Beach Park: This mammoth spot is a must-try Dubai experience. First, the beach and park are always insanely busy; second, the lifeguards whistling at men wearing trousers is an ‘only in Dubai’ experience, and finally, it offers plenty of shade and greenery for sun-and sand-shunners as well as those planning a barbecue. Open since 1989, the park covers 130,000 sq m and is home to a handful of food shacks – the grilled hammour is particularly delicious, and the curly fries sinfully good – and there are plenty of food outlets in the nearby Beach Park Plaza. Gents: avoid embarrassment by noting that Monday is ladies’ day.
Opposite the Neuro Spinal Hospital and Jumeirah Beach Park Plaza. Entry Dhs5 per person, Dhs20 per car. Open Sat-Wed 7.30am-10pm; Thu-Fri 7.30am-11pm (04 349 2555).

5 4x4 Beach: This is Dubai’s equivalent of a lookout point – at most times of the day and night there are cars lined up along the shore looking out to sea. The massive expanse of sand stretches from the road to the shore (great for sand running, which is an intense workout), and the bay arches around, providing a picturesque view. Crane your neck to the left and you’ll see the Burj Al Arab far off in the distance.
At the corner of Al Athar Road and Jumeirah Beach Road, next to Jumeirah Beach Park, Jumeirah 2.

6 Sunset Mall Beach: This driveable (and surprisingly shrubby) beach is flanked by the gorgeous Miami-esque Sunset Apartments – oh, the envy we feel for the people who live there. It has views of Dubai Offshore Sailing Club’s boats and is always nice and peaceful.
Behind Sunset Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 3.

7 Free-fun beach (aka Kitesurfing Beach): Just after the World Project Office is a small, quiet bay featuring makeshift soccer posts. Keep walking to the left and you’ll find Dubai’s sportiest beach – a favourite of local kitesurfers – boasting free soapy soccer courts, beach volleyball and kayaks for free hire. There are also permanent umbrellas for those who don’t want too much sun, and toilets for those who (quite rightly) aren’t willing to make use of the sea.
Corner of 2d and 35a street, behind Saga World, Umm Suqeim 1.

8 Bu Qtair Beach: Turn down 11a street from Jumeirah Beach Road and you’ll end up at a small bay with a cute peninsula offering plenty of good photo opportunities – there’s also a crazy villa by the bay that looks as though it’s crafted entirely of marble. Drive down 2b street and you’ll arrive on the sand just after fish shack Bu Qtair. This beach is distinguishable for its floral bins – waste has never been so glamorous. It’s also just down the road from Chalet Restaurant on Beach Road (04 348 7557), a good spot for a post-swim juice or grill (don’t miss the charcoal-grilled chicken, Dhs22).
11a street, off Beach Road; turn just after British Kitchen, or turn at Chalet Restaurant.

9 Umm Suqeim Park Beach: Also known as Sunset Beach, this popular spot is the place to head with tourists to get the classic ‘holding up the Burj Al Arab’ shot. It’s also one of the better surfing beaches in the city and wave-seekers often head here early in the morning during winter to catch the first peak of the day, bobbing right near 360° bar off the shore at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. When the surf’snot up, Umm Suqeim Beach’s calm waters are a big hit with paddleboarders and young families, although parking can be notoriously tricky at weekends and the nearest shops are some walk away. There’s a park right next door if you fancy grass under foot, but it’d be wise to bring a cover-up – a hoodie or similar – if you intend to venture out into the street (cultural sensitivity first!).
Off Al Thanya Street, adjacent to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, opposite Umm Suqeim Park (follow the sign for the park).

10 Palace Beach: There’s no official road to this beach – to find it, you’ll need to turn into a dip in the curb on Al Sufouh Road – but it’s well worth a visit for its wonderful Palm Jumeirah views. It’s possible to drive straight onto the beach (stick to the clear path in between the shrubs to avoid getting stuck), and it’s especially notable for its distinct landscape: being flanked by palaces, it’s surrounded by lush greenery. A great alternative for JBR folks wanting to escape the crowds.
Turn right into the slip road after the bus stop on Al Sufouh Road (just before Hessa Street and about 500m before Media City).

11 Hidden beach: Not so much a beach as a small, unused and as-yet-undeveloped or claimed spot of land, this corner of the JBR beach to the left of the Sheraton Jumeirah hotel is a great place for snorkelling. Sitting next to the mouth of Dubai Marina, the row of rocks act as a breakwater and have become home to all kinds of marine life, from small fish to crabs and sea urchins. Almost directly under a flyover and right next to a new building site, it’s likely this little portion of beachfront won’t be so accessible for long, so take a peek (and a dip) while you can.
Free. The Walk at JBR, just after the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

12 JBR Beach: One of the most conveniently located beaches for its proximity to The Walk’s food and drink venues (think refreshing juice bars, burger joints and gelato stops mid splash), this beach is popular with Marina-based locals who can simply wake up, roll out of bed and down to the sand. Because the beach is slightly slanted, it’s not ideal for games that require a flat surface, such as cricket or volleyball, but there’s plenty to do in the sea (inflatables are almost a prerequisite, and we once spotted a group of burka-clad women enjoying a banana boat ride on the horizon). Like most beaches in Dubai, it’s not patrolled by lifeguards, so swimmers should err on the side of caution.
Beach access is available at several points along The Walk at JBR. Cross the road at one of these openings and head towards the beach.

Beach etiquette
Time Out’s guide on how to act (and how not to) during a day beside the sea.

• If you find yourself docking on a beautiful, empty stretch of sand, don’t park up next to the only other person there – it’s just a bit weird.

• Don’t feed a flock of seagulls when you’re around other people. Not everyone wants to be swarmed.

• Men: boxer shorts or white Y-fronts are not swimming trunks, and there’s a reason for this: they’re near indecent once you’ve been in the water. Ladies: the same goes for most white bikinis.

• Pick up your litter. This is the very least we ask of you.

• If you must smoke on the beach, take an empty bottle with you and dispose of your butts. Floating fags ruin the tranquility of bobbing in the ocean.

• When packing up, don’t shake your towel anywhere near another person. A sand sandwich is not pleasant