What Does The Beach Smell Like?

It is incredible how we can associate smells with places and trigger memories. Often those smells transport you to happy moments, sometimes even sad. The smell of the beach always jogged my memory of building sandcastles and eating sandwiches. It could be different for others. You may even be curious to know What Does The Beach Smell Like?

It depends entirely on the smell you can relate to and what smell connects to your senses. The most distinct smell of the beach can be that of salt. This smell is a result of a sulfur compound called dimethyl sulfur. We can connect various other scents to the beach.

The moment you head towards the beach, apart from the excitement, also is prepared for the smell. Clear up your nasal passages as we venture to the beach. Your imagination might even stir up your sense of smell. Join me as I transport you to the place where there is peace and tranquility and a list of scents.

Why Does The Sea Smell Like Salt And Fish?

The two distinct smells that stand out at the beach are the smell of salt and fish. Amazingly, the smell is not associated with the water but with the actual bacteria within. The smell also comes from a gas produced in the air by genes. The gas would create a cloud formation over the ocean and may even be instrumental in some animals finding food.

Bacteria produce Dimethyl Sulphide as they digest dead phytoplankton. DMS is the name of the gas that gets released into the air. To prove this theory, Andrew Johnson from the University of West Anglia headed off with his team to gather some samples.

They took samples of mud from salt marshes along the Britians Coastline. After isolating a new strain of bacteria, they compared its genetic structure to other bacteria. The discovery of the bacteria on the beach would be cleverly conserved until there was decaying plankton around. The plankton is marine decay.

If a viral attack kills any plankton, the bacteria rushes in and reap the benefits. The plant’s decay product, called DMSP, is broken down and converted into the gas released into the air.

To prove that this was the scent that guided some marine life to find food, they opened up a bottle of DMS and released this gas into the air. Amazingly a group of seagulls rushed towards the smell in the hope of finding some food.

Smells Associated With The Beach

Apart from the two distinct smells of salt and fish, the beach can be associated with many other scents. These smells are not just restricted to the beach but also to the people that frequent it. The scent of the coast goes far beyond just sand and sea; it is a combination of the memories and the people that frequent it and the surroundings. Here is a list of some of those smells;


The smell of salt is a distinct smell that permeates the air on the beach. I have given an in-depth explanation above on the reasoning behind this. The scent is often quite eminent because of the wind that blows in the smell towards the shore. The smell of salt signifies that you have arrived at the beach.


The smell of fish is also another overpowering smell. This prominent smell has been more distinct on beaches with low tides and often unbearable stench during red tides. During this period, the algae stain the water to a darkish or reddish-brown color. The algae result in the death of many fish. During low tide, the fish wash up on the shore. With the outgoing tide, the smell is more prominent.

Fresh Air

If you are a sinus sufferer, heading down to the beach is sure to clear up your nasal passages. Perhaps it has to do with the quality of air at the beach. If you live in the city and venture to the beach, the most distinguishable smell will be one of fresh air, free from any toxins or fumes.


The smell of dry sand is not very distinct, yet when the water washes over the sand or their mother nature decides to make her appearance with rain, an earthly aroma prevails.


Seagulls and other birdlife are part of the ecosystem of the beach. It also contributes to the smell associated with the beach.


The washing up of seaweed on the coastline is not an aroma that is preferred. The challenge lies when seaweed collects in piles and starts to bask in the sun. The seaweed slowly decomposes and forms a visible white crust that can emanate a toxic gas.

Beach Vegetation

Although some beaches are barren and lay desolate with no beach vegetation, some have the appearance of warm, rich vegetation like palm and mangroves. Swaying beach grasses are also a familiar sight on the UK’s coastline. If you can visualize them within a few seconds, you will smell them.


Sadly some beachgoers fail to clean up after themselves. Suppose these beachgoers have not managed to dispose of the trash successfully. You have to inhale the smell then.


The first whiff of sunscreen is enough to transport you to the beach. There are very few people that would head down to the beach during summer without sunscreen. Picture a crowded beach with 90% of the beachgoers lathed in sunblock. You may not visualize it, but you will be sure to smell it.


A symphony of smell is the scent of perfume from beachgoers. The scent of orange, mandarin, grapefruit, caramel, and musk often permeates the air.


One of the first smells that my family associates with the beach are food. Not sure if this has anything to do with always being hungry when they arrive at the beach or just one of the smells. As soon as you step on the beach, there is an aroma mixture. Perhaps from food stalls or restaurants nearby. Or maybe the scent of barbeque in a designated area.

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Does Location of The Beach Contribute To The Smell?

The beach’s location is one of the most significant contributing factors to the predominant smells of that particular beach. While there are some familiar smells like salt and fish, there are some beaches where this smell is more prominent.

 A frequent beachgoer had this to say ‘” Most of the northern part of the east coast in the US smells fishy depending on the wind. Generally, salt is the most prominent smell at the beach. At least for each that I have visited. Hawaii was salty but fresh. It isn’t easy to describe, but I’m trying my best. San Diego was the same (west coast of US).”

Beaches backed by mountains and cliffs will often have the smell of greenery and rubble. Any particular vegetation that grows in the vicinity, that scent will permeate the atmosphere.

Beaches that are closed to an industrial area will tend to have the smell of pollution. Sadly the fresh, crisp air that the beach offers is often camouflaged by these fumes. There will be a combination of the surrounding aromas wherever the beach is located.


Although there are a few familiar scents, the smells associated with a beach vary. It can be a childhood memory that triggers a bouquet or even an oversensitive sense of smell for many. Salt, fish, sand, seaweed, suntan, seagulls, fresh air are just a few of the scents that conjure the carefree feeling of being at sea.

Fragrances are not just about memories but also feelings. Many people will tell you that their sense of smell heightens at the beach. Perhaps it is not the smell but the memory connected to that smell. I don’t think anyone could do justice in highlighting the scents associated with the beach.

Often the perception is far from reality. Because smells are so personal, to experience the total dosage, the best experience would be to venture to the beach and let your nasal passages experience an explosion of scents.