The World’s Best Beach Hotels
Two millennia later, most of us can relate to the emperor.
We also seek refuge from our daily routine at seaside resorts — if only for a week, rather than 10 years. And while Tiberius had to first build himself a dozen palatial retreats, today’s beachgoers don’t need to do any heavy lifting. Luxurious hotels and resorts dot the world’s coastlines. You’ll even find them on the emperor’s beloved Capri.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top resorts, cities, islands, cruise lines, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated hotels on their rooms and facilities, location, service, food and drink, and overall value.
When it came to their favorite hotels on the beach, T+L’s sun-seeking readers showed global ambition in 2016. One of this year’s winners is a 19th-century resort on the shores of New England, where guests spend days playing croquet, shuffleboard, and learning the general art of “summering.”
Another is an ultra-modern new build on the southern coast of Australia, where nature lovers can spot kangaroos and penguins. In between, there are resorts that offer endless amounts of wakeboarding, surfing, and lounging.
Read on for this year’s World’s Best beach hotels, just in time for summer.
20. Inn by the Sea in Maine
Maine is famous for its rocky coast, but guests at Cape Elizabeth’s Inn by the Sea enjoy access to the sandy Crescent Beach. To get there, they walk across a private boardwalk through a wildlife sanctuary that protects endangered cottontail rabbits. In the summer, days are spent walking the mile-long beach, sunbathing, and swimming in the Gulf Stream-warmed waters (remarkably calm here, thanks to the beach’s location on Seal Cove). During colder months, visitors to the shingled resort can still enjoy the ocean views and wildlife spotting from the comfort of their rooms, which come stocked with binoculars.
19. Ocean House in Rhode Island
From its iconic hilltop perch in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, Ocean House overlooks a white-sand beach that’s been drawing guests since 1868. Fresh off a full renovation, the resort’s guestrooms have maintained their coastal vibes but upped their glam factor, adding a lot of linen and chenille in a soothing mix of patterns. Out on the 13 acre grounds, Ocean House is the epitome of what “summering” in New England should be: a shuffleboard court, tournament-level croquet lawn, and — new this year — beach cabanas from Lilly Pulitzer, with custom towels and pillows in the brand’s latest colorful prints.
18. The Cloister at Sea Island in Georgia
An exuberant Italianate palazzo on Georgia’s southeastern coast, The Cloister at Sea Island is a perennial favorite among T+L readers, thanks to its luxurious rooms, fine dining restaurant, and wealth of family-friendly activities. Most of them center around the resort’s five miles of protected beachfront. Sailing, kiteboarding, biking, horseback riding, and kayaking are all on offer, along with the obvious sunbathing and lounging beachside or at one of the resort’s three pools. Loggerhead sea turtles (like the families who’ve vacationed here for generations) return to Sea Island’s beaches each summer as well.
17. Curtain Bluff Resort in Antigua
Sitting on a narrow peninsula, Antigua’s Curtain Bluff Resort is a tale of two beaches. Every single one of the all-inclusive resort’s rooms look out over south-facing Surf Beach, where the waves lap against golden sand. Most of the activities, however, are at Bay Beach. A coral reef shields it from the waves, making it the go-to spot for swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and kayaking. New this year is a team of wellness and beach concierges whose sole purpose is to make sure guests’ beachy needs — from morning workouts in the sand to sourcing the perfect hammock — are met.
16. J.K. Place in Italy
Just above Capri’s largest beach, J.K. Place feels more like an exclusive villa than a hotel. The residential-style interiors are done in crisp white with blue accents: a subtle reminder that you’re on an island that’s been a resort since the days of Caesar Augustus. Follow the private steps to Marina Grande, and spend the day lounging with the locals on one of Capri’s few sandy spiaggi. Should the crowds bother you (they shouldn’t) you can always walk back up to the hotel’s stunning pool terrace and spa for bellinis or a massage in a more private setting.
15. ZAMAS Hotel in Tulum
Zamas was one of the first hotels to introduce outsiders to Tulum's unique take on barefoot luxury. The resort's palm frond-topped cabañas are scattered across two acres of coconut groves, which line a white powder beach. An onsite dive shop hooks guests up with all the gear they need to explore the Riviera Maya’s waters. But that's only if they manage to pull themselves away from the resort's own stretch of sand. The laid-back resort also proves that a great beach vacation doesn't need to hurt the wallet: rates at Zamas start at under $200 a night.
14. Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach in Florida
Acqualina feels worlds away from the see-and-be-seen vibe of South Beach, despite being only 10 miles away. It helps that it’s the only local resort with private beach access (a public boardwalk separates all the properties in Miami from the sand). Kids make use of a dedicated sandcastle zone and life-sized chess set, while grown-ups sip cocktails from Thai coconuts. Above all, readers gave Acqualina high marks for its exceptional service. Case in point: guests get help from a beach attendant simply by raising a flag. Not that there’s much need to ask for things. Every hour on the hour, the pool and beach teams pass out complimentary amenities like refreshing smoothies or frozen grapes.
13. Hotel Santa Caterina in Italy
Nearly all the hotels along Italy’s Amalfi Coast send their guests to public beaches. Not so at Hotel Santa Caterina, the region’s original grande dame. It dispatches lucky visitors down a 10-story glass elevator to the hotel’s private beach club. For a slower approach, a series of steps through cascades of citrus, jasmine, and bougainvillea also brings travelers to sea-level. There, loungers and deck chairs line a saltwater pool, and a further step or two brings guests into the Mediterranean. When lunch rolls around, the club’s Al Mare restaurant serves wood-fired pizza, just-caught seafood, and limoncello on its open-air terrace.
12. Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai in Vietnam
A cascade of tiered infinity pools leads guests from the center of the resort to the beach at Four Season Resort The Nam Hai, located on Vietnam’s central coast. Each of the 100 villas here were designed to optimize sea views and breeze flow. The half-mile of snow-white sand hosts the traditional gamut of watersports, including jet and water skiing, wake boarding, kayaking, and sailing. Lounging, of course, is another option. Poolside or on the beach, guests can relax under the sun, enjoying hourly amenities like fresh guava and ginger iced tea.
11. Gasparilla Inn in Florida
Midway between Tampa and Naples on Florida’s Gulf Coast stands the Gasparilla Inn, a century-old resort that remains a bastion of Old Florida elegance. Double-height Grecian columns frame the facade, and a grandfather clock chimes in the lobby. When 6:30 in the evening comes, guests migrate from the pool and beach area to the Dining Room (but not before changing out of their bathing suits and into slacks or dresses). It’s not just the dress code and decor that evoke a bygone era of gentility. It’s also the family-friendly service and devotion to repeat visitors, many of whom have been coming for generations.
10. Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood Resort in Los Cabos
Each of the suites at Las Ventanas al Paraíso comes with a dedicated butler, on hand to coordinate spa treatments, arrange for a horseback ride through the waves, and set up candle-lit dinners under the stars. In between all that activity, guests can lounge beachside on daybeds overlooking the Sea of Cortez. At the infinity pool, additional butlers pass out iPads, apply Evian spritzes, and even serve as personal alarm clocks, waking snoozing guests to make sure they get just the right amount of sun. Las Ventanas al Paraíso translates to “windows to paradise,” and that’s exactly what staying here feels like.
9. The St. Regis Bali in Indonesia
T+L readers gave The St. Regis Bali high scores for its prime location in Bali’s exclusive Nusa Dua section. In the center of the resort, guests can swim in a 40,000-square-foot saltwater lagoon, stopping to lounge in either of its two Jacuzzi tubs or on the sun deck. The lagoon flows toward a private, white sand beach dotted with loungers and umbrellas. From June until September, sea turtles join the list of visitors, heading to the beach to lay their eggs. To help the endangered animals, the resort has opened its own hatching sanctuary, protecting the eggs until the baby turtles are ready to venture into the sea.
8. Kamalame Cay in the Bahamas
A 96-acre private island of mangrove trees, Kamalame Cay’s 27 rooms and nine villas are decorated with Balinese-style furniture, oriental carpets, and muslin drapes — but no TVs. And you won’t miss them. Daily activities like fishing, diving, snorkeling, and cultural excursions ensure there’s never a dull moment. Unless you want one, of course. If you do, loungers, hammocks, and palapas dot the resort’s three-mile beach, and an overwater spa offers rejuvenating sea-salt body scrubs. Little wonder T+L readers voted Kamalame Cay the World’s Best Hotel in the Caribbean this year.
7. Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen
The chirping tropical birds flitting around Rosewood Mayakoba sound just as happy as the guests at this jungly Riviera Maya resort. Most suites come with private docks for the boats that ferry guests around the mangrove lagoons. At the eastern edge of the reserve-like property is a white sand beach and an infinity pool that seems to disappear into the Caribbean. Also at the waterfront: Rosewood Mayakoba’s aptly named Punta Bonita (“Beautiful Point” in Spanish), a seaside restaurant serving regional Mexican cooking tapas-style. Look around the breezy dining room or terrace, and you might spot a celebrity. Jessica Alba is just one of the Hollywood A-listers who frequent the resort year after year.
6. Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island
Surrounded by water on three sides, Rhode Island’s Weekapaug Inn is a Cape Cod-style resort with red cedar shingles and cranberry-red shutters. Rooms have distinct textiles and vintage furnishings (many from the original resort, which dates to 1899). Since its 19th-century opening, the main draw has always been the adjacent beach. This two-mile swath of sand is lined with dunes and freckled with wild beach roses. Guests at the Inn spread out across the beach, but not before stopping by the resort’s Bathhouse for a refreshing bottle of ice-cold Del’s lemonade: a Rhode Island favorite.
5. Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
On the outer elbow of Cape Cod, Wequassett Resort is a sprawling compound of whitewashed buildings and clapboard cottages. Woodlands, salt marshes, and manicured gardens make up most of the 27 acre grounds, but T+L readers also love this Massachusetts resort for its beaches. On property, guests can bathe in the quiet waters of Pleasant Bay (or choose from two pools). The hotel can also arrange for exclusive visits to Outer Beach, which is part of Cape Cod National Seashore. Only accessible by boat, it’s one of the East Coast’s most secluded stretches of sand. Head here in the daytime for a picnic lunch, or come at night for stargazing.
4. The Brando in Tahiti
Tahitian monarchs considered the Tetiaora atoll sacred. When Marlon Brando, while in French Polynesia filming Mutiny on the Bounty, stepped foot on the island in 1960, he agreed, and eventually turned it into his private refuge. Today, the late actor’s retreat has been transformed into the Brando, open to anyone so long as they can afford airfare to Tahiti and a nightly rate that starts at about $2,700. But once visitors arrive at one of the all-inclusive resort’s 35 spacious villas — which start at 1,000 square feet — and touch the island’s unspoiled white sand, the price tag won’t matter anymore.
3. Montage Kapalua Bay in Hawaii
Like The Brando’s Tetiaora atoll, Maui’s Kapalua Bay also has a history of local royalty deeming it sacred. With picture perfect turquoise waters, palm trees billowing in the Pacific breezes, and a crescent of golden sand flanked by two lava outcroppings, it’s easy to see why. Guests at the Montage have the bay and its beach as their backyard to explore. The resort’s beach crew can arrange for activities like snorkeling, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and fishing. Visit the spa for a more indulgent sea experience, like a seaweed cocoon in an open-air treatment room.
2. Southern Ocean Lodge in Australia
Animal lovers will be delighted to learn a place called Kangaroo Island exists, and that, true to its name, you can see the famous marsupial there (along with koalas, wallabies, wombats, penguins, cockatoos, and sea lions). Throw in the secluded Southern Ocean Lodge, a super-luxe eco-resort above cliff-lined beaches, and you won’t need another reason for traveling to this island off the coast of Adelaide. Each of the Lodge’s 21 suites has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the rugged coast. Hiking trails on-property lead to several beaches (watch for dolphins) and link up with neighboring preservation land.
1. Nihiwatu in Indonesia
T+L readers voted Nihiwatu, on Indonesia’s remote Sumba Island, the World’s Best Hotel this year. For beachgoers, it’s a suitable choice. The resort, a 567-acre estate (over 90 percent of which remains lush tropical forest) has a pristine beach on the warm Indian Ocean. Surfers have flocked here since the 1980s to ride Occy’s Left: a challenging reef break. But Nihiwatu is no longer the sole domain of surfers. Today, well-heeled sunseekers don flip flops and enjoy the resort’s Sumbanese thatched villas, infinity pool, and dreamy white sands.