Best Classic Beach Movies - Surf, Sand, and Cinema

Catch a Wave or Better Yet, Catch a Beach Film!

Surfer dudes and beach bunnies, rock 'n roll, and good, clean fun. Beach movies were all the rage in the early 1960s. Sandra Dee and Annette Funicello showed off a little - but not too much - flesh as they fell in love with the likes of James Darren, Frankie Avalon and Troy Donahue. Surfing was big, dancing was all part of a day at the beach, and some memorable - albeit corny - songs made their way onto soundtracks. Here are eight of the best of those classic, eternally-fun beach movies.

Gidget (1959)

Columbia Pictures

It's impossible to think of beach movies without thinking of Gidget. Sandra Dee is perfect as Gidget, the title character of the 1957 novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. Gidget (given the name because of her small stature, i.e., "Girl" plus "Midget") is a lovable tomboy who learns to surf while all the other girls are learning how to snare boys.

A Summer Place (1959)

A Summer Place
Warner Bros.

A Summer Place is a true classic tale of teenage love and adultery. Based on the 1958 novel by The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit author Sloan Wilson, the feel of the film is close to the feel of a "beach" film, but A Summer Place is more serious than most beach movies. Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee are the teens in love, unaware of their parents' infidelity.

Where the Boys Are (1960)

Where the Boys Are
Where the Boys Are. © Warner Bros Pictures

Connie Francis made her big screen debut - and sang the title song - in this beach film with a message about responsibility. George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss and Dolores Hart co-star as a group of teenagers who spend their Easter vacation searching for love in Ft. Lauderdale.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)

Gidget Goes Hawaiian
Gidget Goes Hawaiian. © Sony Pictures

This 1961 Gidget sequel features Deborah Walley as the title character, replacing the perky Sandra Dee. Gidget and her family head off for a vacation in the islands, where she surfs, meets boys, and tries to make Moondoggie (James Darren) jealous - your typical beach movie doings. Another Gidget sequel, Gidget Goes to Rome, was released in 1963 and was then followed by a 1965 television series starring a young Sally Field.

Pajama Party (1964)

Pajama Party
Pajama Party. © MGM

Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk star in this weird, but cute, beach movie. This time around, the beach bunnies and their boyfriends move indoors for a slumber party. In a strange twist (it's a beach party movie so it doesn't need to be realistic) a Martian invades the party, looking for a way to conquer Earth. Surprisingly, the movie also features silent film icon Buster Keaton in a small role. He would go on to appear in other beach party movies.

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Beach Blanket Bingo
Beach Blanket Bingo. © MGM

William Asher, Annette Funicello, and Frankie Avalon team up in this classic rock 'n roll beach movie, which many, including famed film critic Leonard Maltin, consider the best of the 1960s beach party movies. The movie contains numerous zany sequences that were later parodied as beach party movie trademarks.

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)

How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. © Sony Pictures

Though the oddly-titled How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is a direct sequel to Beach Blanket Bingo, Frankie Avalon is only in a few minutes of this movie. Annette Funicello stars in this cute romantic comedy that features bikinis, beach parties, a motorcycle gang, and a little black magic. Keep an eye out for the various props Funicello holds in front of her in the film to hide the fact that she was pregnant!

The Endless Summer (1966)

The Endless Summer
Bruce Brown Films

Though The Endless Summer is not a traditional "beach party" movie, this surfing documentary has endured as one of the most influential films about surfing ever made. Director Bruce Brown, who has made several documentaries about surfing, followed two California surfers who travel around the world to introduce surfing to new people and to discover coasts they have never been surfed. The dreamy title suggests that if one could travel around the world with the seasons, summer will truly never end.

Nearly 30 years later, Brown made a sequel, The Endless Summer II, which traced the rise of surf culture since the original movie.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick