It can be as smooth as glass, or as wild as a white-capped Alpine range. Yet even at its most powerful, the ocean is soothing. On the sand, the stress of modern existence drifts away. You return to your senses—feeling the warmth of sun on bare skin, savoring the salty air, listening to your internal engine slow down to match the rhythm of the surf. You regain enough perspective about life to ask the truly important questions of the day: Snorkel, swim, or ride on that silly banana boat?Isn't it time for a nap?
Of all the pleasures guilty by association—the trendy bags, designer blankets, plush towels, and mindless best sellers—none is sweeter than finding a place in the sun that doesn't burn a hole in the pocket. The 50 we've chosen cover the waterfront, from rustic cabins by the sea to lavish beachfront resorts at great values.
But these suggestions can cause a bit of inner conflict. Returning home, color in your cheeks and clarity in your eyes, you're likely to be asked where you've just been. Keep it a secret or share the wealth?You decide.
Prices listed reflect the lowest rates for a double room in high season (excluding holidays). Be aware that the cost can drop dramatically because of seasonal fluctuations or special offers. The symbol * indicates that rates drop by 20 percent or more in low season.
$153 After a massive $30 million renovation last year, the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel traded its concrete-cool image for a tropically chic vibe. Kitschy Hawaiiana touches have struck a chord among the young travel set: a color scheme Don Ho would love, beaded curtains in lieu of closet doors. Downstairs, Tiki's Bar & Grill draws a raucous crowd for pu pu and fruit-filled cocktails. For a little moonlight cinema, hit the beach, where free alfresco movies are shown every Saturday and Sunday night. 2570 KALAKAUA AVE., OAHU; 800/922-7866 OR 808/922-2511; www.astonhotels.com
$135 If you want to camp without pitching a tent, El Capitan Canyon, 15 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara, has 26 canvas-walled rooms on wooden decks, with handcrafted twig furniture. Need your own bathroom?The 96 tin-roofed cedar cabins provide that and more: a kitchenette, Jacuzzi tub, sleeping loft, and fire pit. After exploring tidal pools on the stony Pacific shore, unwind during an in-room Barefoot Deep Massage. 11560 CALLE REAL, SANTA BARBARA; 866/352-2729 OR 805/685-3887; www.elcapitancanyon.com
$139 It's no Hearst Castle—that's three miles to the north—but for a Best Western, the 12-acre Cavalier Oceanfront Resort can't be beat. This Big Sur property was carved out of a 1960's motel set above the roaring Pacific. Most of the accommodations are done up in Mission-meets-lodge style, with wood-burning fireplaces and sturdy furniture. The year-round temperature here averages 60 degrees, so the beach and tide pools are mostly for walks, whale- and elephant seal-watching, and sunset bonfires. 9415 HEARST DR., SAN SIMEON; 800/826-8168 OR 805/927-4688; www.cavalierresort.com
$120 Located just 200 feet from the Pacific and two hours west of Portland, the Inn at Manzanita is the perfect spot for a romantic weekend. The 13 rooms at the pine-and-cedar inn each have a Jacuzzi, fireplace, down comforter, and private deck. Expect an attentive staff that will schedule massages, plan hikes, and even supply board games and magazines on a rainy day. 67 LANEDA AVE., MANZANITA; 503/368-6754; www.innatmanzanita.com
$175 On the sheltered Door Peninsula, the Blacksmith Inn stands sentry over 400 feet of untamed, shrubby Lake Michigan beachfront. The 15 rooms, in a half-timber 1912 blacksmith's house and a new neighboring building that's nearly identical, capture the simplicity of early America—wide-plank maple floors, patchwork quilts, cherrywood four-poster beds. The inn's homemade granola is best enjoyed sitting on Adirondack chairs while watching blue herons wade by. 8152 HWY. 57, BAILEYS HARBOR; 800/769-8619 OR 920/839-9222; www.theblacksmithinn.com; breakfast included *
$195 Hotelier André Balazs transformed an old motel into a sophisticated, retro jewel overlooking Shelter Island Sound and Crescent Beach. It's known as Sunset Beach for its incredible sunsets. The 20 rooms have funky paper lamps and lounge chair-bedecked terraces. The atmosphere is not too "Hamptons," although at times it feels dangerously close, particularly when mainlanders boat in to visit the open-air restaurant. For the best deals, come midweek. 35 SHORE RD., SHELTER ISLAND; 631/749-2001; www.sunsetbeachli.com; open Memorial Day-Labor Day
$175 Far down Maryland's Eastern Shore, the 20-room Tilghman Island Inn commands a marshy spit off Chesapeake Bay. On a remote isle favored by gruff oystermen, two fashion-forward innkeepers cater to Beltway gentry with leopard-print throws and wildly eclectic watercolors. Upstairs, the white-on-white room No. 12 has fabulous east and north water views. Poke around Knapp's Narrows in an outboard runabout; at night, take a bite of the chef's Pernod-laced oysters wrapped in puff pastry. 21384 COOPERTOWN RD, TILGHMAN ISLAND.; 800/866-2141 OR 410/886-2141; www.tilghmanislandinn.com *
$180 Southern comfort means flip-flops and fried chicken at the carefree Sea View Inn, just a dune away from the surf on a laid-back barrier island 70 miles north of Charleston. The 20 pine-paneled rooms are beach-rental basic: hand-stitched quilts, ceiling fans, half baths. (Rinse sea salt off in a shower down the hall.) Guests can whistle "Dixie" while dangling a fishing pole from the tidal-marsh dock. 414 MYRTLE AVE., PAWLEYS ISLAND; 843/237-4253; www.seaviewinn.com; all meals included
$179 Unlike some of its posher (and pricier) South Beach neighbors, the Roney Palace has no buzzing nightlife scene. But what this waterfront property does have is pretty appealing nonetheless: large rooms (most with kitchenettes), sleek décor, and an infinity pool that blends right into the Atlantic. Guests are kept satiated with fresh pineapple, served poolside or down on the beach. 2399 COLLINS AVE., MIAMI BEACH; 800/432-4317 OR 305/604-1000; www.roney-palace.com
$176 Dalvay-by-the-Sea, a Queen Anne Revival "cottage" on Prince Edward Island, was built in 1895 as a summer house for Standard Oil's first president and later converted into a 26-room hotel. The guest rooms are furnished with period summer-cottage antiques; sadly, however, many of the original family pieces were sold off. Eight three-bedroom units (pine interiors, Vermont casting stoves) were added in 1995—terrific for large families. GRAND TRACADIE, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND NATIONAL PARK; 902/672-2048; www.dalvaybythesea.com; breakfast and dinner included *
$134 A confluence of currents gives Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island the warmest water north of the Carolinas. Above Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the Markland Coastal Resort is designed for people who value location over thread count. A main lodge overlooks the beach, as do 25 cedar-and-pine cabins. The resort's arts center holds weekly ceilidhs—Gaelic for "big parties." Book now; the season begins in May. CABOT TRAIL AT DINGWALL, CAPE BRETON ISLAND; 800/872-6084 OR 902/383-2246; www.marklandresort.com *
$100 While it's not technically on a beach, you can still taste the salt at the cliffside Rockhouse Hotel, on the aptly named Pristine Cove, west of Negril. Stone-and-thatch cabanas with mosquito netting-draped beds are perched above the water. At the restaurant, which serves New Jamaican cuisine, reggae is always on the sound system. WEST END RD., NEGRIL; 876/957-4373; www.rockhousehotel.com
$125 A renovated 1940's beach retreat, Numero Uno Guest House presides over a wide stretch of sand between San Juan's resorts and casinos. The 14 rooms are decorated in light woods and muted colors. Room No. 12 has the best ocean view; all have cable TV and high-speed Internet access. But you'd be a fool to stay inside and miss the sunsets from the library's terrace. 1 SANTA ANA ST., SAN JUAN; 866/726-5010 OR 787/727-5482; www.numero1guesthouse.com *
$160 Opened in January by a pair of ex-Manhattanites, the Bravo brings a welcome small-scale, big-city vibe to Vieques. With a mere nine rooms and a two-bedroom villa, an oceanfront locale (floor-to-ceiling windows open straight onto the Caribbean), and edgy furnishings (egg lamps, Italian linens), the Bravo is the island's first true beachside designer hotel. Pack your laptop: the high-tech hotel has one of Vieques's only Wi-Fi "hot spots," for wireless Internet access. 1 N. SHORE RD.; 787/741-1128; www.bravobeachhotel.com
$120 At one end of a crescent beach, surrounded by an estuary and a salt pond, is La Sagesse Nature Centre, in a 1960's manor house once owned by a British lord. The waterfront restaurant is known locally for its balisierbread (sourdough baked in banana leaves). The resort isn't all sun and sand: hiking trails lead through mangrove swamps up into the rain forest, and Boney, an in-the-know taxi driver, takes explorers on offbeat island tours. ST. DAVID'S; 473/444-6458; www.lasagesse.com
$175 The gingerbread-trimmed Mary's Boon Beach Plantation, on the island's Dutch side, has 28 rooms painted in bright Caribbean colors, with cathedral ceilings and carved Balinese beds. Ask for a garden studio, which opens onto coconut-laden palm trees and flowering hibiscus. One caveat: the hotel is close to the airport. Instead of complaining, join the fun by grabbing a piña colada, climbing the plane-viewing platform, and cheering as the jets touch down. 117 SIMPSON BAY RD.; 599-5/457-000; www.marysboon.com *
$195 The tree-house villas at Guavaberry Spring Bay are on a curved bijou of a beach. A couple of picnic tables are available for lunching on items bought in the honor-system commissary (Guavaberry has no restaurant or room service). Rooms are spacious and adequate, though style-seekers would be advised to look elsewhere. The real luxury here is the proximity to Virgin Gorda's main attraction: the Baths, a natural park of grottoes. 284/495-5227; www.guavaberryspringbay.com *
$95 It's a travel writer's dream: to open a hotel on a Caribbean island. After falling in love with Barbados while on assignment, Uschi Wetzels left her native Germany and applied everything she had learned over the years about the hospitality industry to create Sea-U Guest House. The whitewashed wooden building on the rugged east coast is modeled after the island's traditional architecture and has five dressed-down rooms cooled by ceiling fans and ocean breezes. TENT BAY, BATHSHEBA, ST. JOSEPH; 246/433-9450; www.seaubarbados.com *
$202 The innately modern Dutch design aesthetic and the carefree nature of the Caribbean mix at the Floris Suite Hotel. The 71 mini-apartments have clean interiors with tile floors and splashes of color. One step outside and it's tropical all the way—a thatched-roof restaurant, a bar with tables practically in the tide, nightly bands, and a pier lit up like a runway. PISCADERA BAY; 599-9/462-6111; www.florissuitehotel.com *
$123 North of Santiago, the exclusive coastal enclave of Zapallar is lined with cliffs, boulders, and stately mansions. In the crags above town is the Hotel Il Parador de Zapallar, its crisp, linear design by Mathias Klotz, an esteemed Chilean architect. Most of the 15 rooms have floor-to-ceiling Pacific views and an innovative industrial decorating scheme: panels of pressed-wood chips cover the floors, childlike paintings hang on the walls. Empanadas infused with squid ink are served in the ocean-facing restaurant. For guests not on a budget, there's a rooftop helipad. CARRETERA F30 N., ZAPALLAR; 56-33/790-514; www.paradorzapallar.cl; breakfast included *
$160 Three hours by boat from Salvador, Morro de São Paulo is an island escape with four beaches. There's hang gliding by day on First Beach; beach parties by night on Second; snorkeling on Third. Fourth is crowd-free, thickly forested, and home to the 16-room Hotel Porto do Zimbo. Spread out like a mini-resort, the hotel has a pool and gardens. Each room is comfortable, but hardly luxe, and has a TV, fridge, air-conditioning, and a terrace with a hammock. MORRO DE SÃO PAULO, ILHA DE TINHARÉ; 55-75/483-1278; www.hotelportodozimbo.com; breakfast included *
$165 The so-called St.-Tropez of South America, Búzios, two hours north of Rio de Janeiro, lacks chic places to stay. The exception is the Mediterranean-inspired Pousada Casas Brancas. The pool and alfresco restaurant share the same bay views as the 32 rooms, each of which has its own unique combination of weathered tiles, wood moldings, and whisper-thin curtains. The boutique-and-restaurant-filled "downtown" is only a five-minute walk from here, but many guests never set foot outside. 10 ALTO DO HUMAITÁ, BÚZIOS; 55-22/2623-1458; www.casasbrancas.com; breakfast included *
$155 Sueño del Mar, a family-run hacienda, is a tribute to the country's meditative lifestyle. Each of the six rooms is lavishly rustic (wooden beds draped in Guatemalan textiles, stucco walls), and the indulgent Balinese-style outdoor showers allow you to commune with nature. Locally made hammocks line the shaded veranda, where breakfast includes just-picked bananas. The Pacific laps up against the foot of the property at high tide—in season, be sure to check out the leatherback turtles laying their eggs. PLAYA LANGOSTA, TAMARINDO; 011-506/653-0284; www.sueno-del-mar.com; breakfast included *
$76 The hotels stand cheek-by-jowl on Roatán Island's busy West Bay Beach, but the peaceful section occupied by Luna Beach Resort's 17 stucco-and-teak bungalows is farther down the shoreline. Lounge chairs are sprinkled along the ribbon of sugar sand out front; one of the world's finest coral reefs is only a few strokes beyond the surf. There's also easy access to the jungle for hiking. Once the sun descends, join the crowds that congregate on the wood deck for the weekly party until dawn. WEST END, ROATAN, BAY ISLANDS; 011-504/445-0009; www.lunabeachresort.com
$90 The roads are made of sand on the tiny 12-square-mile spit of Isla Holbox, off the Yucatán Peninsula, home to the remote Xaloc Resort. Two Spanish expats have built 18 palapa-topped casitas, which provide luxurious comforts and are kept cool with stone and ceramic tiles and concrete walls. There's not much to do besides swim in the turquoise waters or lounge by the two pools with a rum-spiked fresh mango juice. From May to October, the horizon is painted in bubble-gum pink when 40,000 flamingos migrate to the island. ISLA HOLBOX; 877/278-8018; www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/xaloc; breakfast included *
$60 Villa Amor is made up of 32 villas scattered over a jungle hillside in the fishing village of Sayulita, just north of Puerto Vallarta. Consider your sensitivity to mosquitoes when booking (you can request an open or a closed villa), but definitely opt for the older units, which are more authentic than the condo-style models. Some also have private terraces, plunge pools, and full kitchens. (There's an Italian restaurant for those who view cooking as a chore.) PLAYA SAYULITA, SAYULITA; 52-329/291-3010; www.villaamor.com
$84 Cape Town's Indian Ocean beachfront used to be all the rage, until fickle holidaymakers shifted their attention to the Atlantic coast. Now that the area is back in vogue, the Glencairn Hotel has been completely renovated and renamed the Southern Right Hotel in honor of the whales that frolic off its shore. The Victorian building has generous colonial dimensions, cretestone walls, and Moroccan-style chandeliers; half of the 10 rooms overlook the sea. 12-14 GLEN RD., CAPE TOWN; 27-21/782-7925
$260 Ten years ago, two vacationing Swedish sisters stopped on Zanzibar's northeastern coast. Captivated by its beauty, they abandoned their around-the-world trip and opened Matemwe Bungalows. If isolation is what you desire, this is the place. The 14 thatch huts have no telephones or televisions, or electricity, for that matter—nighttime illumination comes courtesy of flickering kerosene lamps and candles. Meals are included; save room for the cakes of fisherman-turned-pastry chef Othman. He showed such flair in the kitchen that he was persuaded to trade in his pole for an apron. ZANZIBAR; 255-747/425-788; www.matemwe.com; all meals included
$115 The tiny island of Lanta Yaiis where Bangkok's elite spend weekends in solitude. Everyone's buzzing about the stark, futuristic Costa Lanta, created using lumber from Colonial-era houses. Hidden amid shrubs, the 22 bungalows have indoor-outdoor showers and sliding wooden walls that open to the elements. Rooms 201 through 204 front the pool and are Costa's choicest. No need to worry about noise: all the action takes place down by the beach, where a groovy bar and restaurant is encircled by towering timber columns. KLONG DAO BEACH, LANTA YAI; 66-7/561-8092; www.costalanta.com *
$216 Vietnam's premier seaside spot, Nha Trang, isn't nearly as overrun as other Asian beach towns. It's also affordable, safe, and only 45 minutes by air from Saigon. Secluded at the southern edge of a four-mile-long beach is the Ana Mandara. Sixteen thatch villas house 74 Zen-minimalist rooms. Don't let the roving masseuses on the beach seduce you: the new Six Senses spa, set in a coconut grove, has pavilions outfitted with stone-and-bamboo Vichy showers and Japanese tubs. Massage therapists from India and Sweden showcase native treatments from their homelands. BEACHSIDE TRAN PHU BLVD., NHA TRANG; 84-58/829-829; www.sixsenses.com/ana-mandara *
$260 A pink Indo-Portuguese-style palace, the Leela Goa has everything a large beach resort should: lagoons, waterfalls, moats, 75 acres of exotic palm trees, and spice and herb gardens. Drink a feni (Goa's specialty spirit, distilled from cashew fruit) under a coconut grove on the beach. Detox with an ayurvedic massage in the spa and health center. Or just chill on the terrace of one of the 151 clean, marble-clad rooms, magnificently framed by the river Sal and the Arabian Sea. CAVELOSSIM-MOBOR; 91-832/287-1234; www.theleela.com *
$175 The road to Galle can be long and hectic, but pulling into the Apa Villa Thalpe—owned by the founder of Insight Guides, Hans Hoefer—makes it worth the trip. Located in three villas that look out onto the Indian Ocean, the six Colonial-style suites have polished-concrete floors, canopy beds, and pillow-covered banquettes. The view is interrupted only by swaying palm trees and a dramatic silver-blue pool. THALPE, GALLE, SRI LANKA; 94-91/228-3320; www.villa-srilanka.com *
$140 On the southern coast, far from Bali's backpacking scene, is the Puri Santrian. Ask for a traditional bungalow, with elaborately carved wood doors, locally made rattan and wood furniture, and an open-air stone bathroom. For a bit more per night (yet still reasonable), stay in one of the larger Club rooms, which offer four-poster beds, marble bathrooms, a breakfast of exotic fruit juices and nasi goreng (morning rice), and access to the resort's waterfall-fed pools. The beach is public, although never really crowded—except for the occasional hawker selling manicures. 63 JL. DANAU TAMBLINGAN, SANUR, BALI; 62-361/288-009; www.santrian.com
$95 "Eat, Play, Stay" is the motto at the über-hip Ravesi's Hotel on Bondi Beach in Sydney. Plush sofas and quirky accents—wave-shaped moldings, seashell decorations—dominate the 16 earth-toned rooms; high rollers opt for one of five split-level suites with private terraces. The lobby has a chrome-and-glass lounge where Aussie celebs come for cocktails and sweeping views of the surf. 118 CAMPBELL PARADE, BONDI BEACH, SYDNEY; 61-2/9365-4422; www.ravesis.com.au
$173 Set in a traffic-free conservation area of mangroves, wetlands, and coastal dunes, the 350-room Couran Cove Island Resort prides itself on its approach to environmentalism. But this is a far cry from roughing it. The spa has Vichy jet showers and Thalgo body treatments. A sports facility includes squash courts, rock-climbing walls, and a Carl Lewis-endorsed running track. For a classic Aussie "beach and bush" experience, stay in one of the 95 self-catering, solar-powered nature cabins hidden among banksia trees, just yards from the island's 14-mile white-sand Pacific beach. SOUTH STRADBROKE ISLAND; 61-7/5597-9000; www.couran.com
$105 In a remote, seaside fern-tree forest, 35 minutes by car and water taxi from Blenheim on the South Island, is the revamped 35-room Portage Resort Hotel. Behind the ordinary motel exterior, you'll find sizzling primary-colored and silver walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. It's a hangout for hedonists who enjoy wine tasting and walks along pebble beaches, as well as for activity hounds, who can sea kayak, mountain bike, fish, and take mild day hikes on the Queen Charlotte circuit. KENEPURU RD., MARLBOROUGH SOUNDS; 64-3/573-4309; www.portage.co.nz *
$135 One Orange mixes space-age style (slanted roofs, exposed wood beams, pseudo-Scandinavian interiors) with sublime surroundings (the bungalow is set back from a two-mile swath of the North Island's "undiscovered" east coast). The main activities are horseback riding, fishing, snorkeling, and having sunrise champagne breakfasts. Savor the peace and quiet: the hotel accepts no more than four guests at a time. WAINUI BEACH, GISBORNE; 64-6/868-8062; www.oneorange.co.nz; two-night minimum
$130 Reached via a 15-minute ferry ride from central Stockholm, the aim of the Hotel J is to emulate a Newport, Rhode Island, summerhouse. Inspired by classic American yachts, the 45 rooms are kitted out in crisp blue-and-white fabrics and oak furniture while public areas use canvas sails as matting. Guests who own boats can moor near the glass-walled restaurant, which is known for its seafood dishes, naturally. A tip: Swedish business travel drops off in the summer, as do room prices. 1 ELLENSVIKSVÄGEN, NACKA STRAND, STOCKHOLM; 46-8/601-3000; www.hotelj.com; breakfast included
$227 Here's one way to stay at a stately country house in remote northwestern Scotland without going broke: the Bramble room at the 300-year-old Pool House. Considerably smaller than the hotel's other suites—and less than half the cost—the room still has the same feel, thanks to a 400-year-old mahogany bed, a Victorian bathroom with a shoe-shaped "slipper bath," and a private sitting room. Best of all, you have access to the hotel's library, snooker room, and fine restaurant. Swim into the loch from the small pebble beach, but be warned: the water can be bone-chillingly cold, even in summer. Fortify yourself with a full Scottish breakfast of smoked kippers, haggis, and creamy porridge. POOLEWE, WESTER ROSS; 44-1445/781-272; www.poolhousehotel.com; breakfast included
$110 In an Edwardian house decorated in Miss Marple mahogany, Cornwall's three-room Broom Parc, on the Roseland Peninsula, is as cozy as the cup of tea you'll undoubtedly sip as you watch those waves beat against the stony shore. Walk for miles in either direction on the Coastal Footpath, which circumnavigates England, or head 30 minutes east for a tour of the Eden Project's two biomes, housing plants from all over the world. VERYAN, TRURO, CORNWALL; 44-1872/501-803; www.broomparc.co.uk; breakfast included
$136 The cheery, wooden beach huts that dot Britain's coastline are as English as fish-and-chips. But the best deal to be found is at the Art Deco-inspired Hotel Continental in the time-locked oyster-fishing town of Whitstable. Beachcombers can overnight in one of the hotel's eight smartly converted, 150-year-old fisherman's huts. A short walk down the beach is the more-modern main hotel. English breakfasts are included; fresh seafood at the amazing Whitstable Oyster Fishery Co. is not. 29 BEACH WALK, WHITSTABLE; 44-1227/280-280; www.hotelcontinental.co.uk; breakfast included
$235 In the middle of the French Riviera, between St.-Tropez and Cannes, is La Belle Aurore. All of the 17 Provençal-style rooms—buttery walls, whitewashed beams, blue or red fabrics—have terraces or balconies that face the sea. Mediterranean dishes are served in a candlelit dining room, and the English-speaking staff has a refreshing "Anything we can do?" attitude. 5 BLVD. JEAN-MOULIN, ST.-MAXIME; 33-4/94-96-02-45; www.belleaurore.com *
$133 A century ago, Insel Rügen was the Baltic getaway for Berlin's elite (including Einstein). As part of an effort to revamp the resort area, Hotel Villa Neander, a 14-room 1905 inn just a few blocks from the seaside boardwalk, has been renovated with California-bright sage-and-white rooms and a restaurant serving hearty German specialties. The hotel exterior mixes Rügen's signature Bäderarkitektur—whitewashed wood and balconies—with Jugendstil, the country's answer to Art Nouveau. 16 HAUPTSTRASSE, BINZ; 49-38/393-5290; www.glasner.den
$140 A 17th-century tuna fishery on Sicily overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea has been converted into Tonnara di Bonagia. Don't worry if you miss out on the mattanza, or ritual tuna hunt, held every May and June—you can learn about it in a museum dedicated to the ancient tradition, located on the property. Of the 100 elegant rooms, about half have kitchens and air-conditioning. The private beach is small and gravelly; instead, hit the adjacent Olympic-sized swimming pool, chaise longues, and snack bar. PIAZZA TONNARA, BONAGIA, VALDERICE; 800/346-5358 OR 39-0923/431-111; www.framonhotels.com; open March-November
$127 The village may be centuries old, but one look at the Ponta do Sol in Madeira and the years vanish. The 54 bright, minimalist rooms all have a Philippe Starck-like style, but it's the glass-sided restaurant sitting at the edge of the land that is the real draw. For adventurers, the hotel can arrange jeep safaris, mountain bike rentals, surfing lessons—you name it. QUINTA DA ROCHINHA; 351-291/970-200; www.pontadosol.com
$152 One of the first hotels on the fashionable Costa de Luz (Coast of Light), the Hotel Dos Mares still draws in-the-know Europeans, kite surfers, and families. The main lodge is surrounded by 35 simply decorated casitas—crisp linens, Mexican tile floors, wicker tables—hidden in a thicket of blooming gardens, palm trees, and cacti. Keeping current, the hotel is adding habitaciones, including an airy Moroccan-style suite complete with canopy bed and 14 windows that open directly over the sea. KM 79.5, CARRETERA NACIONAL, TARIFA; 34-956/684-035; www.dosmareshotel.com *
$228 Hotel Istron Bay is a sparkling all-white Aegean resort on Crete sitting between a bay and a mountain slope. Rooms and bungalows have tile floors, deep balconies, and American-style bathrooms. The four restaurants promote the healthful Cretan diet (grilled fish, grains, fruit), so no need to feel guilty for just zoning out under a palm tree. If you do anyway, activities are endless: scuba diving, folk dancing, cooking, and weekly barbecues on the private beach. ISTRON, ÁYIOS NIKOLAOS, CRETE; 30-28/41-06-1303; www.istronbay.com; breakfast included *
Contributors: Carlye Adler, Laura Begley, Andrew Bender, Jane Bills, Ted Botha, Catherine Calvert, Julie Caniglia, Andrew Collins, Chandra Conway, Gillian Cullinan, Hillary Geronemus, Jim Glab, Jaime Gross, Michael Gross, Amanda Jones, David Kaufman, David A. Keeps, Maya Kukes, Heidi Lender, Peter Jon Lindberg, Sam Lubell, Robert Maniaci, Julie Mautner, Connie McCabe, Heidi S. Mitchell, Shane Mitchell, Aoife O'Riordan, Christopher Petkanas, Alex Salkever, Emily Stone, Laura Vogel, Philip Watson, Stephen Whitlock, and Gisela Williams.
These hotels have taken nature into their own hands.
• Las Vegas has an Eiffel Tower, so why not an 11-acre white-sand beach at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 877/632-7000 or 702/632-7777; www.mandalaybay.com; doubles from $159)?
• In the middle of Orlando's theme-park mania, the Royal Pacific Resort (6300 Hollywood Way; 800/235-6397 or 407/503-3000; www.loewshotels.com; doubles from $219) has added one more attraction: a sandy coastline.
• The real beach across the road didn't stop the Hard Rock Hotel, Bali (Jalan Pantai, Banjar Pande Mas, Kuta; 62-361/761-869; www.hardrock.com; doubles from $180) from designing a ground-pebble island and a sand-bottomed pool.
Just as no two snowflakes are alike, neither are any two beaches. The following Web sites will help you figure out which sandy strip is right for you.
• Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University, also known as Dr. Beach, issues annual ratings of superior strands (www.drbeach.org).
• The Travel Channel (travel.discovery.com) has its own worldwide "best beaches" rankings.
• Detailed listings for the East Coast are highlighted on Easternbeaches.com, which offers links to sites for the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, and the West Coast.
• To guarantee that the coast is clear, look for the Blue Wave certified seal, which signifies approval by the Clean Beaches Council (www.cleanbeaches.org).
• Picking the beach is only half the battle; to determine the best time of year to go, find detailed temperature and rainfall records at Worldclimate.com. The National Oceanographic Data Center (www.nodc.noaa.gov/dsdt/cwtg) also lists water temperatures for U.S. coastal regions.