World's Best Beach Hotels 2015
Feeling an ocean breeze is lovely. Enjoying it while also listening to live music and nibbling on a bowl of warm chips—that might be paradise.
Kelley Kitley used to live a few blocks from Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, and admits she often played tourist at the beachfront hotel. “They make the best mojitos and serve warm chips on the cocktail tables while a piano plays and a fire roars year round,” says the psychotherapist. “The entire hotel is airy and light, with great people-watching, and it’s just steps away from the beach. It’s perfect.”
Travel+Leisure readers concurred, placing the L.A. hotel in the top 10 among the world’s best beachy hotels. As part of the annual readers’ survey, the World’s Best Awards, readers ranked hotels, islands, cities, and even airports on their charms—including service, dining, and aesthetics. Within the hotel category, we looked at the properties around the globe that ranked the highest for their locations—and then focused on the winners that sit right near the ocean—or the sea, or even on a bustling city waterfront.
Indeed, not every great coastal hotel sits right on the sand. Some of the top 20 winners are perched on cliffs above the surf, or spread out against a harbor. But they all share the visceral joys of being in the path of those sea breezes, and many winners, not surprisingly, also ranked highly for their fresh-caught cuisine and their intangible romantic appeal.
Pris Phillips, a travel agent from Columbia, S.C., feels WHAT WAY? that way about another top 20 winner, the Pan Pacific in Vancouver. “Don’t we all love a nice hotel that overlooks the water?” she says. “Whatever body of water it faces, there’s no mistaking the soothing effect that it has—it’s truly a feast for the senses.”
No. 20: Pan Pacific Vancouver
It's definitely not tropical, but this 503-room city hotel next to Coal Harbor proves that palm trees are not necessary for a great ocean lover’s hotel. For one thing, this hotel offers an easy transfer—as in, a quick elevator ride—to the docks where you can catch a cruise ship. But if you’re staying put, choose a room with harbor views, and you’ll also look out over the Burrard Inlet fjord (where you might occasionally a whale) or Stanley Park, which gives you easy access to the city’s Second and Third beaches. During chilly weather, the No. 4-ranked business hotel offers good water views from its lounges: it made the Canadian top 20 for its buzzing nightlife.
No. 19: Il San Pietro di Positano, Positano
This Amalfi Coast hotel has the most direct beach access of all of the Italian winners on our list: an elevator takes you through the cliffs down to the hotel’s sandy private beach. Readers loved the hotel for that kind of VIP-style access (and possibly because it has attracted plenty of actual movie-star VIPs over the years), but they also gave it high points for its overall features, like the private sunbathing patio and a sea-view tennis court tucked into the cliffside. The private ambience also helped the hotel win the bronze medal among European hotels for romance.
No. 18: Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur
The Pacific Ocean lies 1,200 feet below this 39-room hotel, comprised of unique, contemporary-style cottages on the bluffs of Big Sur. But a big part of loving this unplugged resort (there are no TVs) is loving its rugged, windswept scenery—and indeed the hotel also made the top 20 in the continental U.S. for romance. Readers also loved Post Ranch Inn for its food and its wealth of free perks, like the daily buffet breakfast, generous mini bar goodies and complimentary tai-chi classes. Or, you take out one of the loaner Lexus convertibles gratis—all the better for hair-tossing rides along the coast.
No. 17: Seven Stars Resort, Turks and Caicos
Located on the soft sands of Grace Bay Beach—and next door to Princess Alexandra National Park—this 107-room resort charmed readers as much with its interiors as its setting. It won the survey among Caribbean hotels for its rooms—all suites, starting at 620 square feet, and decked out with marble bathrooms, granite-countered kitchenettes and Nespresso machines. Unlike many island resorts, too, where doing watersports usually means a lot of add-on fees, Seven Stars offers free use of Hobie Cats, kayaks and paddleboards, which no doubt helped it to be the only Caribbean hotel in the coastal top 20 that also ranked highly for value.
No. 16: Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
No surprise, this honeymooner magnet ranked at No. 1 for romance in this part of the world: the 107 overwater bungalows—with teak furniture and pandanus-leaf roofs—are set on a private moti, with views of Mount Otemanu. But it also ranks well with families, who might want to play bocce-ball-like boules on the white sand, watch the staff divers feed black-tip reef sharks or go snorkeling in the resort’s Lagoon Sanctuary, home to unicorn fish, peacock damselfish and octopi. The Four Seasons also took the silver medal among the South Pacific hotels for its idyllic location.
No. 15: Le Sirenuse, Positano
This Amalfi Coast hotel started life as a villa during the 18th century, and became a family-run hotel in the 1950s, with ocean-views terraces that sit 200 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea. Even with the lovely views, you might get a little distracted by the floor in your room, which is covered with gorgeously hand-painted tiles. Still, there’s no shortage of chances to get outside and into the water: Twice a day, the hotel’s wooden fishing boat, stocked with onboard drinks, goes out for tours where guests are invited to go over the side and take a dip. The hotel also rated highly for its spa, where the signature massage features a waterbed-based rub-down using local lemon and cedar-wood essential oils.
No. 14: Tickle Pink Inn, Carmel
The moniker of this hotel near Big Sur exudes a kitschy sense of fun, but it was actually named after former state senator Edward Tickle, whose cottage sat on top of this bluff (and whose wife loved pink flowers). While there is a walk to the beach, this rocky stretch of the California coastline is not so much about swimming as it is gazing out at the waves, anyway. Indeed, all 35 rooms have ocean views, along with a bottle of welcome bubbly on ice, and many rooms have fireplaces—all features that helped secure its high score for romance.
No. 13: Belmond Hotel Caruso, Ravello, Italy
The infinity pool on the roof can make this hotel appear to spill directly into the Mediterranean. The hotel sits on the site of an 11th-century palazzo on the highest point of Ravello, overlooking the olive vines, lemon groves, and the rocky Amalfi coastline. Nodding to its long history, the hotel made the top 10 for its timeless rooms, featuring arches, tiled floors, and mosaic; many have private patios or balconies overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. While you don’t step directly onto the sand from this hotel, you can take the hotel’s traditional wooden boat excursions along the coastline or over to Capri. Readers didn't seem to mind that short distance: they also ranked the Caruso in the top 15 among all European hotels.
No. 12: Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Playa del Carmen
The name Mayakoba means “village over water,” and this elegant, 107-villa hotel is appropriately set against both the beach and lagoon. It also made the top 5 for its high level of service, perhaps because the villas have a built-in sense of indulgence, with their walled gardens, private pools, and on-demand butler services like strewn rose petals and in-villa barbecues. Speaking of dinner, the hotel also ranked at No. 6 among Mexican hotels for cuisine, even though its main restaurant, the Thai-influenced Saffron, is a bit unexpected.
No. 11: The Pier House Resort & Spa, Key West
Sitting on the edge of Key West’s Old Town, this 142-room hotel with a private beach strikes a balance between sandy bliss and traditional Key West quirkiness—for instance, you can easily walk to Mallory Square for the nightly sunset ritual. Rooms come in sunny colors, accented with local art, and have views of bougainvillea, the dock, or the Gulf of Mexico. Keeping with the hotel’s mellow ambience, readers declared it a solid value, too. You can embrace its simple pleasures by partaking of happy hour at the hotel’s legendary Chart Room Bar, which still prides itself on offering free popcorn and hot dogs, and refusing to make touristy “blender” drinks.
No. 10: Hôtel Negresco, Nice
With its pink dome rising up over the Baie des Anges, this century-old hotel has long been an iconic presence in Nice. But it also charmed readers with its opulent and loaded-with-character interiors, like its antiques-filled, color-popping rooms. Guests can always access the hotel’s pebbly private beach; art lovers will love its proximity to the Musée Matisse and Musée National Marc Chagall. Readers also ranked the hotel at No. 12 in Europe for its nightlife: lounge Relais is decorated in centuries-old tapestries, hums with jazz, and offers both Champagne-based cocktails and retro Harvey Wallbangers.
No. 9: Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
Even if its design has a Nantucket mindset—shingle siding, whitewashed walls, and posh-beach-house furnishings—this 198-room hotel is intertwined with the Santa Monica beach scene. It sits right along the L.A. community’s deep beach and bike path, which runs from Venice up to Malibu. Its location, though, is more than just sand and surf, as you have easy access to the Third Street Promenade, the Pier, and Montana Avenue. And while the hotel also made American top 10 for romance, it offers some nice perks for your alone time: the hotel recently started offering guests the chance to pre-order a book to read on the beach, which would be waiting for you upon your arrival.
No. 8: Cape Grace, Capetown
Surrounded on three sides by water, this hotel sits on its own quay along the Capetown waterfront. And while it is a short drive to the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton (you can hitch short rides for free with the hotel’s chauffeur), this is also Travel+Leisure readers’ favorite business hotel in Africa: it features a stately boardroom, with views of the yacht harbor, and bar Bascule, which is stocked with more than 500 whiskeys. Readers scored the hotel highly for its rooms, which are filled with antiques, artifacts from nearby shipwrecks, and even storybooks that detail each room’s unique features.
No. 7: Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater
This Gulf Coast hotel ranked at No. 2 among family resorts in the U.S. for being a crowd-pleaser: it has a private white-sand beach, a heated lagoon-style pool and quaint touches like a bell that heralds sundown (guests even get to ring it). The hotel also made the American top 20 for rooms—including a lot of family-friendly suites, which come with full kitchens, washer/dryers, and furnished balconies. Daily activities include rides in the hotel’s three-masted schooner, and the hotel has a 75-slip marina where, if you park your boat, bellhops will happily come out and unload your bags.
No. 6: Belmond Copacabana Palace, Rio de Janeiro
The 1923 palace didn’t really need a beach to dazzle readers: the French-Riviera style hotel, with its Art Deco aesthetics, also made the survey’s top 10 for rooms, and ranked at No. 5 for gourmands, thanks to its Michelin-starred Mee restaurant and the Italian-influenced Cipriani, known for its Chef’s Table. The hotel was the top-ranked South American hotel in the location category, little surprise given its enviable spot on the 2 ½-mile-long Copacabana Beach, known for its golden sands and colorful people-watching. Despite the retro-glamour vibe (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once stayed here), it also made the top 10 for feeling like a good deal.
No. 5: Cap Juluca, Anguilla
Which hotel in the Caribbean has the best location for turquoise-water views? According to readers, it’s this Moorish-style hotel on Anguilla’s Maunday’s Bay, where you can also see the mountains of St. Maarten in the distance. At this 97-room resort, you don’t have to wake up at dawn, or wrangle with other guests, just to grab a good seat on the sand: each room comes with two reserved (and cushioned) loungers on the beach each day, shaded by huge umbrellas and accompanied by complimentary chilled towels and sorbet. The resort also impressed readers with its sophisticated (and not-so-rum-punchy) palate: Cap Juluca made the Caribbean top 20 for dining with its European-influenced restaurant Pimm’s, which recently won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
No. 4. Ocean House, Watch Hill
This grande dame is a pioneer among American beach hotels: it first opened in 1865 and in 2004 was lovingly restored using thousands of details and artifacts from the original incarnation. Today, it maintains exclusive use of a 650-foot-long white-sand beach where, during summer, you can surf, stand-up paddleboard, or go old-school and take a spin in one of the house yachts. The rest of the year, the resort offers ocean views from its putting green, and tournament-level croquet on the lawn. Its spa—which uses local lavender and roses in its treatments—tied at first in the survey among U.S. hotels.
No. 3: Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, British Columbia
This 75-room resort on Vancouver Island was built in the 1950s with its precise location very much in mind: the founders wanted a prime spot for watching the area’s dramatic, wave-crashing winter storms. No doubt, plenty of people still come to this woodsy resort—made with stone, cedar, and driftwood, and surrounded by pines—just for storm-watching season, which runs from November through February; the hotel will suit you up with slickers, oilskin hats, boots and binoculars to make the most of it. During milder weather, the Chesterman Beach hotel is nice for hiking and cycling. The Wickaninnish made the global top 20 for its attentive service, too, like free babysitting during dinner..
No. 2: Inn Above Tide, Sausalito
The silver-medal winner offers proof that you don’t need sand right outside the door to be a winning coastal hotel. As its name indicates, this 31-room hotel sits right over the water (in this case, San Francisco Bay), and its rooms come with fireplaces and great views of the city skyline, Marin and Alcatraz. From the hotel’s entrance, you can bicycle or drive to Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where beaches are pebbly and the waves can be big enough to surf. Given the free bicycles and complimentary wine-and-cheese receptions each evening, the hotel scored well with readers for value—and achieved a perfect score in the romance category.
No. 1: Sunset Key Guest Cottages, Key West
The winning hotel for beachy bliss has more than just a nice stretch of sand: it sits on its own 27-acre private island, 500 yards from Key West. Lined with gardens of frangipani and hibiscus, the resort also scored highly with readers for its idyllic rooms—whitewashed cottages topped with Victorian tin roofs and equipped with kitchens and verandas. Sunset Key also made the top five for American hotel dining—in part, no doubt, for the fresh-fish and tropical-fruit centered menu at restaurant Latitudes, but also for the breakfast baskets filled with baked goods that are delivered to your cottage door each morning.