America's Best Beach Hotels
In a corner of Palm Beach, FL, the soft white sand is flanked by hundreds of chaise lounges, dozens of luxury cabanas, and five large pools. It’s the setting of The Breakers, an iconic, recently renovated hotel where travelers have found pure oceanfront bliss for decades.
Ahh…the beach. Relaxing there on a hot summer’s day is an antidote like no other—especially when you choose the right beach hotel as your home base. We asked T+L readers to vote on their favorite hotels for our annual World’s Best Awards Survey, and came away with beachfront winners like The Breakers. So if your summer travel plans call for a stay at the shore, we’ve got a hotel for you.
Many of our U.S. favorites are just where you’d expect; two sun-kissed destinations are home to more than half the winners. Six are in Florida, and another half dozen are scattered between four Hawaiian islands. And which beach most famously personifies the Aloha State? Waikiki, of course, where you’ll find the luxurious Halekulani, with panoramic views of Diamond Head and an award-winning restaurant. Hotel guests can enjoy free tickets to the Honolulu Symphony, Academy of Arts, and the Contemporary Museum—so you’ve got plenty to keep you going after some fun in the sun.
For those who want to dip their toes into the Pacific without the long-haul flight, there’s No. 11 on our list: the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Nigel, in Dana Point, CA. Located atop 150-foot bluffs facing out toward Catalina Island, the hotel provides beach chairs, umbrellas, and boogie boards for guests and will also arrange surf lessons for the adventuresome.
Properties in four other states round out our readers’ picks for America’s best beach hotels, including the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island, near Charleston, SC. This sprawling 225-room hotel is a favorite for its superb coastline, five world-class golf courses, and the surrounding wildlife-filled wetlands that are home to migrating birds and nesting sea turtles.
Curious to know which beach property was voted No. 1? Read on for all the winners.
No. 1 Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, Little Torch Key, FL
Florida’s most secluded and romantic retreat: a South Seas-style idyll set along a white-sand beach on a private 6-acre island, accessible only by boat or seaplane. Suites 15 and 16 offer the most privacy. Be sure to visit Looe Key, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, located minutes away from the resort by kayak.
No. 2 Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai
“Perfect,” “heaven,” and “the best vacation of my life” are just a few ways guests describe this understatedly gorgeous, isolated resort where all 228 rooms, in low-rise bungalows, have ocean views. It’s popular with Hollywood celebrities for good reason: the grounds border the dramatic volcanic rock coast with seawater and freshwater swimming pools; and an open-air spa teems with tropical vegetation.
No. 3 Halekulani, Oahu
Service rules at this recently renovated 5-acre Waikiki Beach beauty, which has existed for nearly a century. The Orchid Suite, the newest of the hotel’s premier rooms, made its debut in 2008. At the open-air dining room at Orchids restaurant, paddle straight for the Hawaiian specialties: pipi kaula beef jerky, marinated ahi tuna poke, lomilomi cured salmon, Waimanalo roast suckling pig, local Kula tomatoes, and Big Island goat cheese. Diamond Head suites on floors nine and higher have the best ocean and volcano views.
No. 4 Montage Laguna Beach, CA
Montage aims for an experience you might find in Positano, crisp service and the smell of the surf. At the Arts and Crafts–style Montage Resort & Spa, the location is exceptional, on a 30-acre spot on a bluff with a 280-degree view of the Pacific. Of the 250 rooms, the best are the Ocean Surf View rooms, located on the upper floors and offering great views of the Pacific Break.
No. 5 Kahala Hotel & Resort, Oahu
This 1964 colossus benefits from having about it a whiff of archaism. It was here, at what was then a Hilton and known as the Kahollywood, that Richard Burton and Liz Taylor hid out from the paparazzi in a private cabana. Opt for an Ocean suite for panoramic views of Diamond Head, then be sure to swim with dolphins in the hotel’s lagoon.
No. 6 Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club, GA
Genteel lodge with 40 country-style rooms and on-site access to a legendary golf course. A bagpiper roams the grounds every evening. Suites and living rooms are more than 1,000 sq. ft and have water or golf course views, plus 24-hour butler service. Grab a complimentary bicycle for a spin around the property.
No. 7 Cloister at Sea Island, GA
Long a favorite of the East Coast Establishment, the 1928 Mediterranean-style mansion is set on 1,000 acres of a barrier island beach. Beach Club Suites, with kitchen, fireplace and balcony have family-friendly location close to three pools, an ice cream parlor, movie theater and children’s center. Be sure to take a 90-minute tour ($100 per person) of the salt marsh onboard the Cloister Belle, a restored antique yacht.
No. 8 Brazilian Court Hotel & Beach Club, Palm Beach, FL
1926 hotel, renovated in 2007 to the tune of $35 million, with updated Colonial-style interiors (each room has an ultra-jet bathtub) and a Daniel Boulud restaurant. Just opened: the new private beach club, with padded chaise lounges and cocktail service.
No. 9 The Breakers Palm Beach, FL
Unsurpassed in terms of luxury when oil tycoon Henry Flagler built it in 1896, the Breakers outdid itself in a 1926 renovation modeled after Italian renaissance palaces. Still the 540-room resort, set on 140 beachfront acres, is pure drama, its palm-lined drive leading up to the twin-spired behemoth. The modern day intervenes in breezily tropical rooms, newly redesigned (an ongoing project, in mid-2010) in white and sand tones, and in the private poolside cabanas with flat-screens and concierge service.
No. 10 Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
A favored hideout for Hollywood types in search of a Polynesian interlude, the 380-room resort caters to every pleasurable whim. The suites are decorated with tropical accents, facing the Pacific or the dramatic Haleakala volcano. Those who are looking for a little more activity can snorkel, scuba, or take yoga classes for free, in a place where most resorts charge extra.
No. 11 Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, CA
On a bluff between L.A. and San Diego, the Ritz-Carlton offers surfing lessons and a Healthy Taste menu for kids. For adults, the Dan Point property boasts beachy-hued rooms and a serious spa. During the summer guests can spend the day sportfishing and then donate their catch to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.
No. 12 Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, FL
1928 golf-and-tennis resort for the preppy set on a 300-acre oceanfront site 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville. Be sure to sample the resident pastry chef’s ice cream at the Gourmet Shop after a day on the sand; flavors include Strawberry Blush and Cinnamon Rum Raisin.
No. 13 Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, HI
This 236-room property has huge marble bathrooms and borders a marine reserve that’s home to green sea turtles. Service is geared toward vacationing urbanites: at the pool, attendants give hand massages for texting-weary fingers. Adventure types will want to sign up for a stand-up paddleboarding lesson from a local surf champion.
No. 14 Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, FL
444-room resort on a barrier island with 13 miles of coastline, 35 miles from Jacksonville. At the pool, staffers circulate with chilled towels and ice water. A roster of daily activities includes guided walks along sand dunes and tours of nearby Kingsley Cotton Plantation.
No. 15 Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach, FL
The most sophisticated digs in this part of the Gulf Coast, with citrus-hued rooms and apartment-like suites. Want to sail into harbor? Topsider-wearing travelers can secure a boat overnight; call 30 minutes ahead of arrival and a bellman will be on hand for luggage.
No. 16 Castle Hill Inn, Newport, RI
In 1874, mining magnate Alexander Agassiz, explorer and part-time oceanographer, had a sprawling summer house built just outside of Newport. Set on a small peninsula where the Atlantic meets Narragansett Bay, it was, and still is, a perfect spot from which to observe marine mammals. It has nine guest rooms and suites, the most dramatic occupying a mahogany-trimmed turret with a 360-degree view overlooking the sea.
No. 17 Stephanie Inn Hotel, Cannon Beach, OR
A shingled hotel that overlooking the famous Haystack Rock on Oregon’s northern coast; the 41 rooms are equipped with fireplaces and private balconies. Plus, the hotel provides everything you need for a crackling bonfire on the sand. Nab the oceanfront king rooms on the second floor for the best views of Haystack Rock.
No. 18 The Sanctuary Hotel, Kiawah Island, SC
Like a super-sized Tara, the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island belongs to a fictional plantation family. Landscape architects transplanted 160 mature live oaks for the resort’s entrance avenue, and Kiawah’s beach glows pink at sunset as a shrimp trawler anchors in front of the resort. Book one of 16 corner rooms for beach, sunset and sunrise views.
(Tie) No. 19 L’Auberge Del Mar, CA
The sunny seaside town of Del Mar, between L.A. and San Diego, offers an increasingly hard-to-find slice of old-school SoCal relaxation. At this classic 120-room property, savvy O.C. weekenders and the La Jolla leisure sip hibiscus margaritas poolside with views of the Pacific, beyond.
(Tie) No. 19 Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Big Island
343-room eco-friendly hotel and five bungalows on Hawaii’s Kohala Coast, currently the nesting ground of 8 endangered sea turtles thanks to the hotel’s rehabilitation program. Upper-floor suites have ocean views.
No. 21 Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, FL
Guests at this 18-story tower at a downtown marina on Sarasota Bay get access to a Tom Fazio-designed golf course and complimentary shuttle service to the nearby white sands of the private Lido Key Beach Club. The daily sunset party on Lido Key begins with a ceremonial bongo drum salute.
No. 22 The Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale, FL
The Mediterranean-style Atlantic Hotel was one of the first condominium-hotel projects to spring up on the beachfront stretch of A1A. Each of the 124 guest rooms comes with private terraces with ocean or intracoastal views, as well as kitchenettes and BOSE sound systems. For the best ocean views, book a suite with a number ending in –01 through –09 (those ending in –04 also have balconies).
No. 23 Hotel Hana Maui & Honua Spa, Maui, HI
These 47 cottages and 22 suites on a seaside bluff provide a quiet alternative to the island’s mega-resorts. Here the emphasis is on the culture and tradition of Hawaii, from the indigenous patterns used in textiles to ukulele and hula lessons. The Honua Spa, with an aquatic therapy pool and lava-rock whirlpool, takes advantage of views of tranquil Hana Bay. Guests are treated to private lounge facilities at Hamoa Beach as well as beach umbrellas, lounge chairs, boogie boards, and snorkeling equipment.
No. 24 Sunset Key Guest Cottages, A Westin Resort, Key West, FL
White-washed cottages, a spa, and a restaurant make up this seven-acre resort on a secluded island near Key West. Book an ocean-front cottage for views of the clear blue water. The concierge can coordinate all kinds of beach activities, even a fishing excursion. Bring back your snapper, tuna, or wahoo for the Latitudes chef to cook up.
No. 25 Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, CA
Located on Butterfly Beach, this 207-room property showcases the area’s signature 1920s-style tiles amid the gardens and courtyard pool. Head to the golden half-mile sliver at Butterfly Beach for head-on views of Santa Cruz Island and almost-as-reliable sightings of local celebs like Kevin Costner, or spend a day at the adjacent Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, available to paying members and resort guests only.
No. 26 WaterColor Inn & Resort, Santa Rosa, FL
Between a dune lake and a stretch of glittering sand on the Florida Panhandle await these New Urbanist vacation rentals and a David Rockwell–designed inn, complete with a restaurant serving up ocean views and fresh seafood. For the easiest beach access, book a first-floor unit with an outdoor shower. And make your reservations through the official WaterColor Vacation Program to get complimentary canoes, tennis, bikes, and kayaks.
No. 27 Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort& Spa,Kauai, HI
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa isn’t intimate—it holds 602 rooms—but travelers can still find some Zen calm here among the swaying palm trees. The resort covers 24 acres on the southern coast of Kauai, with lush grounds that meander alongside the ocean, allowing for leisurely beach strolls. An adults-only pool flows into a lava-rock river pool, which segues into a 150-foot-long waterslide, which drops into the “active” (read: kid-filled) pool.
No. 28 Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, FL
The Ritz-Carlton remains Miami's best full-service resort, with tropical gardens, a tennis center, a 20,000-square-foot spa, kids' activities, and a pristine seven-mile beach. Make sure your room is on the fourth floor or higher, above tree line, for optimum views of the ocean. Te Cantina Beach restaurant, a sleek affair with a fire pit in the sand and more than 80 kinds of tequila, adds to the resort’s appeal for a romantic getaway.
No. 29 Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, HI
This 22-acre beachfront Hawaiian resort takes its inspiration from Moorish architecture (domes, dramatic archways, whitewashed walls). Take your pick among water sports like snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddling, and scuba diving, or brave a 140-foot waterslide at one of the resort pools. The 413 suites and 37 villas are on a calm cove ultrasafe for kids, and you’re never far from the beach, even when golfing.
No. 30 Mandarin Oriental, Miami
Views of downtown Miami’s skyline and Biscayne Bay come with a carefully modulated elegance, evident in the design of the curvy white building and the cream-colored marble baths that open onto generous balconies. The Mandarin is located on Brickell Key, a small residential island within walking distance of downtown, and has all the advantages of a waterfront resort. In fact, only in Miami would a Mandarin have a private man-made beach and a weekly Friday night party that rivals the social fray of South Beach. The next day, celebrants can work it all out in the soothing Asian-inspired spa.