Twenty-five hotels captured our hearts for this year's annual roundup.
ANN'S POINT INN & SPA
Bass Harbor, Maine
You could call this waterfront inn a bed-and-breakfast. It's hidden on Mount Desert Island's southwestern tip and certainly exudes the warmth of a B&B: King beds and gas fireplaces anchor four spacious rooms, and owners Phil and Lesley DiVirgilio serve blueberry Belgian waffles for breakfast. But the indoor heated pool, Finnish sauna, clutter-free rooms, solid walls, and wireless Internet service make the onetime summer home feel more like a resort. Phil and Lesley can recommend jaunts to nearby Acadia National Park or help launch a kayak off the back lawn into Bass Harbor's sea of colorful lobster buoys. Adventurous types might climb aboard Phil's biplane for a whirl over the photogenic coastline. Afternoons at this not-so-bed-and-breakfast feature complimentary wine-and-cheese tastings; evenings end with freshly baked cookies and milk. Details: $155 to $345 (additional for the biplane ride); 207/244-9595 or annspointinn.com.
GREY HAVENS INN
Georgetown Island, Maine
A favorite Coastal Living photographer, Sara Gray chose this inn for her honeymoon and returned years later for visual nourishment. "When you park behind the inn, it seems nondescript, but step onto that porch and you are transported," she says. "You won't find a better view in the state of Maine. You gaze out to a few islands and peninsulas and finally to the open Atlantic. Wrought-iron beds, fine linens, eclectic furnishings, lace, hatboxes, historic photos, and nautical artifacts take you back in time. The interior's knotty pine gives a dark feeling, but that draws you even more to the views. The four turret rooms look to the ocean and islands, and room number six has a balcony and rockers." Breakfast features the inn's signature blueberry pudding, plus local fruit in muffins and pancakes. Details: $160 to $280 (open May through October); 800/431-2316 or greyhavens.com.
CASTLE HILL INN & RESORT
Newport, Rhode Island
Castle Hill Inn's beach cottages make a stunning first impression. The 10 hideaways began as rustic "summer shacks" on this historic New England seaside resort's private beach. A recent renovation turned the property into a luxurious beachfront destination―without losing the feel of rough-hewn simplicity. Somehow, marble countertops and fluffy Frette towels meld perfectly with industrial-style light fixtures and exposed studs and rafters. The lullaby of the waves and a veritable ocean of feather pillows ensure slumber. Sunrise filtering through the draperies starts the day on a gentle note. Details: $309 to $1,059; 888/466-1355 or castlehillinn.com.
SHERATON ATLANTIC CITY CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Here she is, Miss America. Or, at least, here are some of her gowns and other memorabilia, in the lobby of a business-oriented hotel. The Miss America Pageant has taken its runway elsewhere, which lends poignancy to the displays―especially those that recall the pre-TV days, when the event (first held in 1921) had more of a small-town flavor. The Sheraton, with its retro-ish decor and embrace of local history, offers a lot more character than most chain hotels. Four blocks inland from the boardwalk, beach, and waterfront casinos, the Sheraton's location means either a slight inconvenience or blessed peace and quiet, depending on one's point of view. Casino-facing rooms provide the best views. Shoppers will love the outlet mall a block away. Details: $139 to $529; 609/344-3535 or sheraton.com.
INN AT HORN POINT
Cory Bonney left his corporate job and purchased a run-down, 1902 house that he converted to a comfortable, somewhat quirky bed-and-breakfast. Cory loves the setting, a block from the water in Eastport―once a place of noisy boatyards and rollicking sailors, and now a leafy residential neighborhood. He also loves the great restaurants within walking distance and the funky Victorian decor in the five guest rooms, each named for a vintage yacht. (Sequoia has the most sybaritic bath, plus a tiny private balcony and a gas fireplace.) But Cory really, really loves creating sumptuous homemade breakfasts, and his guests wake up smiling in anticipation. Details: $159 to $289; 410/268-1126 or innathornpoint.com.
Breakfast spotlights ham biscuits at this 18th-century inn in the greater Chesapeake Bay area. After all, Smithfield Foods, the famous ham purveyor, owns the property. Mozell Brown has been baking the perfect, piping-hot morsels here for more than 40 years. She brings a homey touch to the Colonial splendor of the nine guest rooms and dining room. At cocktail hour, locals swing by the inn's William Rand Tavern, or gather on the front porch to sip what one neighborly doyenne calls her "hummah" (bourbon). Here in peanut country, dining room favorites include peanut-crusted pork medallions. Small galleries and shops entice visitors to stroll down Main Street, Norfolk lies 40 minutes away, and it's 25 minutes to the car ferry to Jamestown and Williamsburg. Details: $85 to $155; 757/357-1752 or smithfieldinn.com.
FIRST COLONY INN
Nags Head, North Carolina
This three-story, 1932-vintage building, with its cedar shingles and wraparound porches, seems utterly at home on the salty, windswept Outer Banks―though it actually was moved to its present location in 1988. Inside, whatever thoughtful touch a guest can imagine usually materializes in just the right place. Rooms offer a variety of comfy spots to curl up. Antiques mix elegantly with microwaves and remote-controlled heating and air-conditioning. The baths supply plenty of shelf space, plus the luxury of heated towel racks. Just off the back deck, a boardwalk leads to the beach, a block away. The second-floor library stocks plenty of books and other rainy-day amusements. Details: $69 to $299; 252/441-2343 or firstcolonyinn.com.
MANSION ON FORSYTH PARK
For Southern decadence blended with boutique-hotel chic, this is your home away from home. In the heart of Savannah's Historic District, the 126-room hotel overlooks Forsyth Park and stands within walking distance of the city's famous squares, restaurants, and shops. At the hotel, you can admire the Grand Bohemian Gallery's artwork, or put on your fluffy robe and slippers and venture into the Poseidon Spa for a facial or Mansion Bliss Massage. In the evening, head to the on-site restaurant, 700 Drayton, for dining, and to its Casimir's Lounge for live jazz and the local arts scene. The 700 Drayton also hosts a cooking school with the restaurant's culinary director, Chef Darin Sehnert. Details: $199 to $900; 888/711-5114 or mansiononforsythpark.com.
BEACH BED & BREAKFAST
St. Simons Island, Georgia
When owner Joe McDonough turned his Mediterranean-style home into an inn, he did ocean-loving guests a great service. Across the street from St. Simons Sound (which opens into the Atlantic), the house has four guest rooms and two gracious oceanfront suites. At low tide, you can walk several miles along the coast, but at high tide, expect drama: The beach disappears under the waves, which crash against the stone wall that separates the inn from the water. The staff is friendly here―whether cooking up a tasty breakfast, making dinner reservations, or mapping a path for your spin on the inn's retro bikes. In rainy weather or after the day's outings, head downstairs to the "Beach Theater," where a big-screen TV and impressive DVD collection await. Details: $300 to $500; 877/634-2800 or beachbedandbreakfast.com.
THE PILLARS AT NEW RIVER SOUND
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Soft music and a delicate fragrance welcome you to your stylish room here. Though it features lush bedding and almost every conceivable amenity, you'll spend little time in this cool retreat. Instead, you'll lounge around the pool or watch from the shade of a palm tree as million-dollar yachts cruise the Intracoastal Waterway. You might catch the Water Taxi to explore Fort Lauderdale's shopping, dining, and other attractions. Or you might visit the beach, a short walk away. With 22 individually decorated rooms and suites, The Pillars represents a nearly perfect escape. Nearly? Well, breakfast (not included in the room charge) rates as merely OK. But you'll probably want to hoard your daily calorie allotment in anticipation of the exquisite, reservation-only private dinners, served waterside under the stars. Details: $175 to $549; 954/467-9639 or pillarshotel.com.
THE GARDENS HOTEL
Key West, Florida
A half-block from Key West's legendary nightlife, The Gardens' 17 rooms cluster among five buildings in the quiet of a lush estate. Once the site of the island city's first botanical garden, the property includes a 19th-century mansion, and brick and cobblestone pathways that meander among vibrant orchids and hibiscus flowers. Most of the tropically decorated guest rooms have vaulted ceilings, paddle fans, and spa tubs. Judiciously installed flat-screen TVs do not detract from veranda views to the pool and gardens. Details: $150 to $655; 800/526-2664 or gardenshotel.com.
What could be cozier in autumn than a log cabin with a wood-burning stone fireplace? On the woodsy Central Oregon coast, six such choices form the soul of Shamrock Lodgettes, a 1950s beach resort on an evergreen-studded rise where the Yachats River flows into the Pacific. Each cabin has one or two bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a river or ocean view. Nearby, more-modern units include two new "spa cabins" with jetted tubs and propane fireplaces. It's only a few stair-steps to the beach, and a handful of shops and eateries lies just a short walk north, in the main part of Yachats (population 670). Details: $59 to $179; 800/845-5028 or shamrocklodgettes.com.