It is a popular swimming destination on the Atlantic coast 55 kilometres southwest of Bordeaux, in the Landes forest. It has a sandy beach and a mild climate said to be favourable for invalids suffering from pulmonary complaints.
Arcachon is known for the "Arcachonnaise", the local name for an Arcachon villa, the architectural style of many of the older houses built there. It is a Victorian style that was criticized for generations, but is now considered to be charming.
The town of Arcachon is 150 years old. Not long before 2 May 1857, when Emperor Napoleon III signed its official "birth certificate", it was just a forest of pine trees, oaks and strawberry trees, with no road links, and home - mostly when the weather was expected to be warm, and more in wood huts than in real houses - to fewer than 400 people, mostly fishermen and peasants. In earlier years, when some hygienists began to recommend sea bathing, three sea establishments were laid out by some entrepreneurs especially for the Bordeaux bourgeoisie and other wealthy people. This was the beginning of a new lifestyle, and some of the locals got the opportunity to claim their independence from La Teste-de-Buch, which owned their properties, in order to found a "free" new town, Arcachon.
At its southern entrance from the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay is crowned by Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat, nearly 3 kilometres long, 500 metres wide, reaching 110 metres in height, and moving inland at rate of 5 metres a year.
The area is served by Bordeaux Merignac Airport and the TGV Atlantique.
The writer Alexandre Dumas once lived in Arcachon's Ville d'Hiver. Puerto Rican politician Ramón Emeterio Betances spent close to six months at Arcachon shortly before his death in 1898. The poet Carmen Bernos de Gasztold was born in Arcachon in 1919. Film producer Humbert Balsan was born in Arcachon in 1954. Composer-organist Charles Tournemire died here in 1939. Composer Louise Talma was born here in 1906.
On the other side of the Bassin d'Arcachon is Cap Ferret, a popular resort for celebrities including Zinedine Zidane and Jean Pierre Pernaut, who have holiday homes.
The writer and journalist Sylvie Caster was born in Arcachon in 1952.