Affordable Seaside Inns
With cooling ocean breezes and miles of striking coastline, Newport was an obvious place for turn-of-the-century tycoons to build their summer mansions. But you too can live like a steel baron at the OceanCliff Hotel, a red granite Rhode Island estate surrounded by 10 acres of rolling lawns that overlooks the graceful yachting traffic in Narragansett Bay. The price, however, is decidedly less aristocratic: just $250 a night.
Oceanfront hotels, with water views and steps-from-shoreline locations, usually command a premium price. But don’t let your budget keep you from getting close to the water. All along the U.S. coastlines, you can find charming inns set right on the water for $250 and less.
Sometimes it takes a little research and flexibility to get these great rates. But it doesn’t mean endless web searching. Now innkeepers are searching out former and prospective guests with social-networking tools to lure them with discounts and promotions. The ’Tween Waters Inn in Captiva, FL, recently alerted its more than 5,000 fans on Facebook of a summer getaway sweepstakes. Up for grabs: two nights free at the playful resort straddling the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound.
Travelers can also save money by zeroing in on seashore destinations where small inns and B&Bs are not as common, says Bill Montcrief, president of Select Registry, an association of independently owned inns. The little-known Waimea Plantation Cottages are a bargain on Kauai, where the bulk of guest rooms are found at major resorts in Poipu. Every cottage at the former sugar plantation features a private lanai and barbecue grill for guests to best enjoy the low-key, authentic Hawaiian vibe, for as low as $239 a night during high season. The pool looks out over the shoreline, and a hammock strung between two coconut trees makes for the perfect spectating spot to watch the sun sink into the ocean. Active explorers can enjoy close access to the trails of Waimea Canyon and the mind-boggling beauty of the Na Pali coast.
Lastly, explore all pages of your calendar when planning your trip to the seashore. “On the East Coast, the mid-Atlantic during fall gives the best value because demand is down,” says Montcrief, who is also owner of the Candlestick Inn in the seaside town of North Wildwood, NJ. “Many people don’t realize that the water temperature usually stays above 70 degrees through the end of September.”
On the West Coast, where the weather is less variable, some places have no high season, such as the Agate Cove Inn on California’s Mendocino coast, a farmhouse set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific coast, where rates stay unchanged all year long (rooms from $179 to $329 a night) and every season offers a different attraction: whale-watching in winter, the birth of harbor seals in spring, blackberry picking in summer, and mushroom-hunting walks through the forest in autumn.
So whether you want to play in the waves or catch your own seafood dinner, you’re bound to find that perfect summertime escape with our list of affordable seaside inns.
Ullikana, Bar Harbor, ME
From $175 to $385 high season
Overlooking Frenchman Bay, this pair of inns—one a Tudor mansion, the other a yellow country house with a wide wraparound porch—breathes new life into the traditional New England B&B with a whimsical collection of abstract sculpture dotting the grounds. Inside, a cartographic theme decorates the halls and each guest room distinguishes itself with a bold palette of colors. Breakfast is a three-course affair, prepared by Chef Helene, whose repertoire includes lemon soufflés and chocolate crêpes.
Insider Tip: The innkeeper, Roy, will be happy to help you plan your visit to Acadia National Park, giving you strategies to see the best sights and bypass the summer crowds.
Yankee Clipper Inn, Rockport, MA
From $199 to $349 high season
Those from out of state may not realize that Massachusetts is home to more than one Cape. About an hour north of Boston is Cape Ann, and at its outer tip lies the picturesque town of Rockport. True to its name, the shores are strewn with boulders and the Yankee Clipper Inn offers a spectacular vantage point to see the waves crash over the rocks. All but one of the eight rooms at the inn offers an ocean view, and the wall of windows in the dining room offers the most panoramic vista.
Insider Tip: A mile from the inn is Halibut State Park. Go on a clear day when the vista stretches all the way to Maine.
Ocean Rose Inn, Narragansett, RI
From $209 to $239 high season weekday; $259–$289 high season weekend
Vacationers come to Narragansett, midway along Rhode Island’s shore, for surf-worthy waves and waters warmer than the typically bracing New England beach. For an unobstructed view of the Atlantic, stay at the Ocean Rose Inn, a nine-room Victorian villa built in 1896. Budget-minded visitors can get a motel room in the annex building behind the villa. Turtle Soup, the restaurant on the ground floor of the inn, is the perfect spot to have dinner while you watch the sunset from the patio.
Insider Tip: Take a 10-minute walk along the seawall to the beach, where surf instructors are waiting to teach you how to ride the waves.
OceanCliff Hotel, Newport, RI
From $250 to $450 high season
After taking a tour of the mansions on Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, where you can gawk at the lavish lifestyles of turn-of-the-century industrialists, retreat to your own Gilded Age “cottage” by the sea. The OceanCliff, a red granite estate built by a steel baron in the 1890s, features sweeping views of Narragansett Bay and rooms decorated in timeless Newport themes of blue, white, and khaki.
Insider Tip: While summer weekends are dominated by weddings, the hotel is open to guests year-round during the week. Specials and promotions abound Monday through Thursday—among them a package that includes a cruise on the resort’s own 100-year-old schooner, Aurora, that will bring you to Goat Island for a lobster boil.
The Pridwin, Shelter Island, NY
From $207 to $287 high-season weeknights; $257–$387 high-season weekend nights
On the western corner of New York’s Shelter Island, the Pridwin offers guests panoramic views of Southold Bay and easy access to Crescent Beach. Some of the rooms and cottages come with water views, while others have fireplaces. Guests can explore the island by land or sea with the hotel’s stable of kayaks and bicycles. Parents can dine in a civilized manner, thanks to the nightly movie screening for kids. Locavores will appreciate the fresh fish, caught daily by The Pridwin’s owner and his son.
Insider Tip: Try to visit on a summer Wednesday, when the inn holds an all-you-can-eat cookout that includes steamed clams and mussels, barbecued ribs, homemade mac and cheese, watermelon, and other summer fare.
Montreal Inn, Cape May, NJ
From $170 to $380 high-season weeknights; $200–$410 high-season weekend nights
The 70-room Montreal Inn has been owned and operated by the Hirsch family for more than 40 years, and many of its guests have been returning for nearly as long for a taste of a retro-style Cape May beach vacation. With nothing but Beach Avenue coming between it and the lapping waves of the Atlantic, the inn caters to families who put a premium on proximity to the sand over luxuries.
Insider Tip: A blessing for parents who can’t tear their kids away from their sandcastles, the Montreal Inn’s restaurant offers a seaside dining service with waiters who will bring your order right to your beach blanket.
Inn on Pamlico Sound, Buxton, NC
From $215 to $320 high-season
The shallow waters of the Outer Banks are invitingly warm in summertime, and the 12-room Inn on Pamlico Sound offers guests several means of enjoying them: kayaks and fishing poles are free to borrow, while kite- and wakeboarding instructors can meet you at the inn’s dock. Accommodations include a three-course breakfast; the restaurant also prepares picnic lunches to order and will cook and serve any fish you catch.
Insider Tip: On Thursday nights, guests enjoy free blues concerts on the pavilion, and a 14-seat movie room is available for guests to screen a film from the inn’s 1,700-volume video library.
St. Simons Inn, St. Simons Island, GA
From $189 high season
St. Simons, the largest of Georgia’s four Golden Isles, is distinguished from its neighbors by the more-than-century-old lighthouse that stands on the island’s southern end. For a good view of this iconic and still-functioning landmark, stay at St. Simons Inn, one block from the water where the Atlantic meets St. Simons Sound. Each of the 34 rooms in this condo hotel is uniquely decorated according to the tastes of the unit owner.
Insider Tip: Catch a trolley tour from the nearby Pier Village to explore the island’s plantation ruins.
Chesapeake Resort, Islamorada, FL
From $225 to $350 high-season
One-third down the Florida Keys is Islamorada, known as the sport-fishing capital of the world and home to the Chesapeake, a 65-room property that has grown from an old-school seaside motel into a resort that caters to anglers and families. Two separate charter boat outfits on the property can arrange for a full or half-day outing. Or you can book a package through the resort that includes a room, fishing, and a voucher for a nearby restaurant where the chef will cook up your catch.
Insider Tip: Young and old will enjoy feeding the tarpon at nearby Robbie’s Marina, where a $3 bucket of bait will have these fish, some as long as six feet, jumping out of the water to catch a piece of herring.
’Tween Waters Inn, Captiva Island, FL
From $250 and up during high season; discounts for three-night and five-night stays
As you drive northwest along Sanibel Island, the land gradually gives way to the sea. By the time you reach the ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva, there’s nothing but a slender spit bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on the west and Pine Island Sound to the east. The playful, low-key vibe of the resort, where accommodations range from beachfront cottages to traditional hotel rooms and studio apartments, is embodied by the resident mascots: racing crabs that compete Mondays and Thursdays in the Crow’s Nest restaurant. From the marina, guests can rent any number of watercraft including kayaks, canoes, and fishing charters.
Insider Tip: Head down to the marina; the resort’s guide will take you to secret spots where you can comb the beaches for Captiva’s famous shells.
The Waves, Cannon Beach, OR
From $139 to $479 high season
On the northern end of Oregon’s untamed coastline is Cannon Beach, a seaside town where Mother Nature has left her fingerprint in the form of Haystack Rock, a 235-foot basalt monolith rising from the shore. The Waves, a trio of properties (the White Heron Lodge, the Argonauta Inn, and the Waves Motel) on the quiet, north side of town, gives easy access for exploring both the wide expanse of beach and the trails of Ecola State Park, many of which lead to thrilling ocean vistas. While the shops and restaurants of the village are just a short walk away, most rooms at The Waves come with fully equipped kitchens, gas fireplaces, and private decks, leaving guests with few reasons to tear themselves away from the gorgeous scenery.
Insider Tip: For a real taste of the Pacific Northwest, go one block to JP’s restaurant and try the clam and salmon chowder.
Lucia Lodge, Big Sur, CA
From $195 to $275 high season
A white picket fence and a 300-foot cliff are the only things that come between guests of Lucia Lodge and the Pacific Ocean. This 10-cabin retreat in Big Sur is a rustic outpost on coastal Route 1, arguably the most scenic drive in the U.S., but also an area rich in hiking trails for those who want to leave the car behind. Bird-watching and otter-spotting provide alternative entertainment at this television-free oasis. Guests can sample some of the region’s specialties at the on-site restaurant, which serves three meals a day either in the fireside dining room or the deck overlooking the sea.
Insider Tip: Though the Lucia Lodge is far from any major town, guests can rely on the lodge’s own general store for their basic needs.
Agate Cove Inn, Mendocino, CA
From $179 to $329
Set 125 feet on a bluff above the Pacific, this farmhouse and collection of cottages are well guarded from the occasional 25-foot wave that crashes into the cliff below. The rugged, temperamental beauty of the Mendocino coast contrasts with the sublime wildflower gardens on the grounds of the 10-room bed-and-breakfast. Nature lovers will relish in the abundance of cypress and redwood trees, while wildlife enthusiasts should book a room between December and April for the chance to see whales passing by in the waters below.
Insider Tip: An in-room massage service is available, and if you still need help winding down after that, the inn can arrange to have a bucket of chilled, locally brewed beers delivered to your cottage.
Crystal Pier Hotel, San Diego, CA
From $235 weekday; $275 weekend October to mid-June; $300 mid-June through September
There is simply no way to get any closer to the ocean in San Diego than staying at the Crystal Pier Hotel. The white cottages with blue trim sit directly above the crashing waves of the ocean on the wide pier that stretches out past Pacific Beach. While the pier is open to the public, hotel customers need only share their deck with a passing pelican or seagull. Amenities are scarce, but with the hotel’s cottage-front parking on the pier and well-equipped kitchenettes it’s easy to feel at home on top of the water.
Insider Tip: The hotel has built up such a following that it’s necessary to book at least half a year in advance for a winter stay (one group has been coming for 50 years), and even longer if you wish to stay any time June through September.
Waimea Plantation, Waimea Town, HI
From $239 to $269 high season
A former oceanfront sugar plantation on the western side of Hawaii’s “Garden Isle” is a perfect base-camp for travelers who want to explore Kauai’s natural wonders, including the nearby Waimea Canyon and the geologically magnificent Na Pali Coast. The Waimea Plantation Cottages once housed plantation workers and have been renovated to retain their authentic Hawaiian roots: furnishings are made of wicker and rattan, and the upholsteries feature cheerful aloha prints. A hammock suspended between two palm trees offers the best seat to watch the sun set. With lanais and barbecue grills in each cottage, dining in is equally enjoyable.
Insider Tip: Visit the on-site microbrewery, which serves handcrafted beers like the Wai ‘ale ‘ale Ale as well as pub food with a Hawaiian twist.