The Cliff's Edge
Haiku, Maui, Hawaii
Staying here feels like standing at the edge of the world―only less risky and certainly more relaxing. Hidden along a dirt road on Maui's North Shore, the tropical estate overlooks ethereal views of plunging lava cliffs. Choose between two bed-and-breakfast suites with appealing Hawaiian decor and private lanais, or bask on a private deck at one of two detached guesthouses. The Bali Cottage features teak trim, marble floors and baths, and granite counters. Stay here en route to Hana or to sample Maui's many other attractions. End your days in the Cliff's hot tub or hammock staring at the starry night sky and listening to the pounding surf. Rates: $165-$325; 866/262-6284 or cliffsedge.com.
The Goldbelt Native Corporation turned what had been an unremarkable property into one that delivers a mix of unbeatable attractions: quiet, clean comfort; a kind and helpful staff; a small but notable collection of Tlingit art in the lobby; and full dining and bar service in its Chinook's restaurant. It's still not deluxe, but here's the pièce de résistance: About half of the 105 rooms enjoy an in-your-face view of Gastineau Channel and the mountains of Douglas Island. Each day brings a new scene, as kayakers glide by, locals head to sea in fishing boats, and stately white cruise ships sail in and out from around the world. Other rooms face Mount Juneau or Mount Roberts, almost as eye-catching. Rates: $109-$179; 888/478-6909 or goldbelttours.com/travel/lodging/hotel.html.
Camano Island Waterfront Inn
Camano Island, Washington
This island's raw shores and rolling green pastures belie its one-hour-drive distance from Seattle. Here, the natural splendors of Puget Sound take center stage. The scenic performance unfolds from private decks off the inn's six simple but comfortable rooms (some with outdoor hot tubs). Sweeping silence and a goose-feather bed catalyze restful sleep. Heated bathroom floors ease chilly toes into the morning, which begins with a glorious cheese soufflé (or other mouthwatering egg dish) and strong coffee―delivered to your room in a basket. If that's not enough decompression, the hot-stone massage will leave you swooning. Rates: $120-$225; 888/718-0783 or camanoislandinn.com.
This rustic, two-story, five-unit charmer keeps getting better, and the ocean roar and spectacle from its high, isolated promontory is unsurpassed. Owners Bill James and Christie DeMoll help guests maximize their autumn hikes, winter storm-gazing, spring whale-watching, or summer tide-pooling. Christie recently refurbished the already-pristine units, "and we elevated most of the beds, so you don't even have to sit up to keep an eye on the ocean," she says. Ocean Haven's new Eatin' Inn minigrocery sells organic-meal choices guests can easily prepare in the units' kitchens. Ten percent of inn proceeds goes to ocean-conservation groups. Rates: $85-$150 ($20 more per person in units with three or four guests); 541/547-3583 or oceanhaven.com.
Casa Rubio Oceanfront Lodging
Smith River, California
Bienvenidos a nuestra casa ("Welcome to our home"), handwritten on a garden plaque at this secluded inn, promises a friendly, relaxed sojourn. Owners Tony Rubio and John Doering see to everyone's comfort. The inn's personal character, luxuriant gardens, panoramic ocean views, and easy beach access make for a richly satisfying getaway. The footprint of this retreat has not changed since the 1940s, when the structures served as a physician's home and clinic, but remodeled interiors welcome modern travelers. Casa Rubio overlooks Pelican Bay and its seals, otters, and, sometimes, gray whales. Redwood National Park lies 15 minutes away. Fine food is close―at The Nautical Inn, next to Casa Rubio. Rates: $67-$158 (includes breakfast); 800/357-6199 or casarubio.com.
Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa
Staggered up the Sausalito hillside, rooms at Casa Madrona present enchanting vistas of Richardson's Bay, Tiburon, Angel Island, and Belvedere. Clear days yield views of Alcatraz and San Francisco proper. In addition to the inn's high-end amenities, the Historic Bay View rooms feature individually themed decor. For simple, modern ambience, ask for one of the recently renovated Contemporary Harbor View rooms. Dine at Poggio and savor scrumptious Italian fare with California flair. Rates: $109-$440; 800/288-0502 or casamadrona.com.
The Cliffs Resort
Shell Beach, California
On this beachy-keen Central Coast of flip-flops and surfboards, you're OK strolling across the lobby's marble floor with sand on your feet. In fact, pets may track through as well: They can be guests on the ground floor. Locals head to The Cliffs for its popular happy hour. Many linger for the chef's pistachio-crusted halibut at the resort's Sea Cliffs restaurant. Despite 165 rooms, the hotel exudes an aura of intimacy and natural attachment to its land- and seascape. To enjoy this terrain, follow the undulating Shell Beach Bluffs Walking Path nearby. Rates: $119-$399; 805/773-3555 or cliffsresort.com.
The Pierpont Inn
The Pierpont's the place for ocean views and historic character in this thriving Southern California town. Built in 1910, the heart of the inn and its wood-paneled lobby radiate the warmth of its original Craftsman style―also reflected in the romantic Austen Pierpont Suite. Later expansions added rooms with a Spanish Revival influence, Tudor-style garden cottages, and The '50s Flat―a one-bedroom, midcentury-modern apartment. Guests can play bocce or croquet on the garden-fringed lawn, walk a block to the beach, or splurge at the on-site day spa. They also have access to the courts, swimming pools, and exercise classes of the adjoining Pierpont Racquet Club. The inn overlooks Highway 101, so request a double-pane-window room to minimize noise. Rates: $145-$395; 805/643-6144 or pierpontinn.com.
Portland Harbor Hotel
Just steps from the harbor, this hotel pampers guests with traditional amenities and East Coast charm. Choose your room view: Old Port nightlife or the breathtaking hotel garden. Custom-made mattresses and down-feather pillows make it hard to resist a nap. Refresh and relax in the lavish marble bath, complete with a soaking tub, separate shower, and surround sound―ideal for shower-singers. The historic Old Port streets entice with specialty shops and unique watering holes. Feel like staying in? Sip a Portland Harbor Classic martini from the bar in the restaurant or garden. Rates: $179-$379; 888/798-9090 or portlandharborhotel.com.
The Red Inn
Smack on Provincetown Harbor, the small inn keeps serene distance (a pleasant 10-minute walk) from the town's tourist throng. The quintessential cottage style spells "New England"―in soft cherry rather than customary white or yellow. Welcoming weary travelers since its 1805 construction, the property showed wear when new owners bought it in 2001. Their stunning makeover brought upscale flair to the eight guest quarters but left the architectural bones intact. All rooms have handsome private baths, expansive harbor views, and waterfront decks. Noise from the cozy harborside bar and dining room can waft to guests in the Cape Light guest room, but the restaurant's lobster-corn chowder, panko-crusted shrimp, and pan-roasted local cod make amends. Rates: $135-$350 (the cottage and residence are available weekly, $1,395-$3,118); 866/473-3466 or theredinn.com.
The Inn at Perry Cabin
St. Michaels, Maryland
Giant linden trees line a brick drive that transports you from busy Route 33 to a world of Colonial, maritime elegance. Gleaming white architecture and lush landscaping gracefully occupy the hotel's 25 acres on a Chesapeake Bay tributary. Inside, it takes a day just to peruse the absorbing collections amassed here. Exquisite oyster plates ornament the main dining room. Dozens of shell etchings mark one passage. Along another, black-and-white nautical photographs take you on a visual sail around Maryland's Eastern Shore. For dining, Executive Chef Mark Salter's imaginative creations show off regional fare. Rates: $195-$625; 800/722-2949 or perrycabin.com.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Like a favorite grandma, this rambling old building gathers you in. Five cozy rooms feature invitingly soft beds, Oriental rugs on wood floors, and lots of antiques―not standoffish "don't touch" specimens but well-used, mismatched pieces. Vintage quilts serve as both decorative accents and bedspreads. Rocking chairs sit along a second-floor porch. It's hard to believe that such a soothing place, on a quiet dead-end street, lies just two and a half blocks from the boisterous beach. Innkeepers Stephen and Marie-Louise LaFond supply lots of nice touches: in-room CD players, books everywhere, bath amenities, and a stocked pantry with free snacks and beverages. Rates: $68-$200 (three rooms have private baths; two share a bath); 757/422-1956 or barclaycottage.com.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff
Bluffton, South Carolina
Even born-and-bred Southerners note the Southern hospitality here. A hostess takes arrivals' hands with courtesy and a smile, as though she's been watching the clock, awaiting their arrival, and is just so very glad they're here, safe and sound. Then, down to business, she explains how their stay will unfold―from stellar golf and spa treatments to fine dining, shopping, or kayaking. After check-in, time passes as slowly as the languid May River, which borders this burgeoning village near Savannah, Georgia, and Beaufort, South Carolina. It's easy to laze on the porch of a 1,340-square-foot cottage suite and feel as relaxed as the moss draping the oaks. Slightly smaller cottages and larger homes in the main village provide alternative accommodations. This is one Southern belle worth the splurge. Rates: $450-$650 for Cottages, $650-$800 for Cottage Suites, $800-$1,300 for Village Homes; 866/706-6565 or palmettobluffresort.com.
The Inn at Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Among the many things to like about this iconoclast―a touch of boutique Mediterranean style amid redundant hotel chains―perhaps what's most fun is breakfast. In the Spanish-tiled dining room, open to hibiscus-filled grounds and beachfront, nearly all guests stop by the Egg Bar. Practical and whimsical, it's set with an electric pot of boiling water, a chilled bowl of uncooked eggs (their shells numbered in pencil for ID in the pot), and directions for using classic, low-tech timers. Elsewhere, all 50 guest rooms face the beach and have balcony views to NASA's rocket launch pad. A suite of public sitting rooms displays wine and decorative items for sale. And everyone talks to the mascots: Tucker, Murphy, Tango, and Tangee―two dogs and two macaws, respectively. Rates: $125-$325 (includes breakfast); 800/343-5307 or theinnatcocoabeach.com.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The cheerful check-in clerk mentions the concierge desk, the restaurant, the 24-hour exercise room. "And if you'd like," he concludes, "we can send a live goldfish up to your room." Yes, the Hotel Monaco not only welcomes pets, but also will supply one if you leave yours at home. The 250-room hotel yields ample luxuries, including lush pillow-top beds, CD players, free high-speed Internet access, a wine reception every evening, and, best of all, a sense of fun. Playfulness pervades the place, from the brightly colored Creole decor (the hotel began in 1926 as a Masonic temple) to the "rain repellent device" in the closet (an umbrella). Rates: $149-$479; 866/685-8359 or monaco-neworleans.com.
Seagrove Beach, Florida
With six circa-1949 cottages and two low-rise buildings, this classic Florida inn makes for a comfortable, affordable option on the pricey Panhandle. Near the much-lauded town of Seaside, the humble compound accesses the same emerald-striped water and baby-powder beaches from its bluff-top perch. The place lends instant gratification to those who relish a beachside Florida vacation that feels like the 1950s. "We're one of the last properties in the area that hails from that era," says manager Nikki Floyd. The pool stays heated November through March, as off-season rates drop dramatically. Year-round, the property's bikes allow guests to wheel down the road to Seaside's architectural wonders, shops, and eateries. But everyone's happy to return to the lodgings, each with all-you-need amenities―cable TV, stereo, refrigerator, and, of course, patios or decks with that view of the jewel-tone Gulf. Rates: $82-$290; 800/336-4853 or seagrovevillas.com.
On Chicago's North Shore, a $34 million renovation hasn't brought Lake Michigan views into the hotel's 276 guest rooms and suites. But a lovely residential walk quickly puts you on lakeshore beaches, and there's an endless water vista from ninth-floor conference rooms. A longtime institution for visitors to this Northwestern University town, Hotel Orrington closed for 10 months to reinvent itself and reopened its doors in October 2004. Now it's a proper anchor for any traveler to waterfront communities from Chicago to Lake Bluff. Evanston has become one of the Chicago area's restaurant meccas. In June, the Orrington enhanced that reputation by bringing Chicago chef Jacky Pluton here. His newest restaurant, Narra, opened on the Orrington's street level and settled in nicely with the hotel's sleek new personality. Rates: $119-$349; 847/866-8700 or hotelorrington.com.
Hoopes' House Bed & Breakfast
When in Rockport, do as the Texans do: Witness flocks of migratory birds, fish your heart out, and stay at the sunny yellow inn on Aransas Bay. Built in the 1800s and on the National Register of Historic Places, this delightful eight-room Victorian attracts vacationers who hail from San Antonio to Japan. Stained-glass windows and antiques original to the house marry old-world charm to New Age telephones, color TVs, Frette robes, and spalike baths. Room No. 1's internal staircase leads to a shower inside a turret as well as an elegant claw-foot tub. After a day at Rockport Beach (across the street) or at the inn's stately pool and hot tub, curl up next to the wood-burning fireplace or snack on homemade brownies. But be sure to wake up hungry for the Full Gourmet Breakfast―possibly fried pork chops, strawberry-mango pancakes, or plump omelets―whatever owners Mike and Paula Sargent decide to cook up. Rate: $140 (breakfast included); 800/924-1008 or hoopeshouse.com.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
A half-hour beyond Victoria, check into The Aerie for a perch over Finlayson Arm that only a seaplane could match. The Olympic Mountains and Pacific fjord views from this Relais & Chateaux hotel fall nothing short of spectacular. Interiors dazzle as well, with fine upholstery and tasteful amenities. Though posh to its core, the 35-room resort mirrors the warmth and friendliness of Maria Schuster, who created her dream-come-true hotel here in 1991. For fine dining, don't miss the talents of Executive Chef Christophe Letard. But also allow time for a day trip to the Cowichan Valley below. There, in what's called "Canada's Provence," you can visit wineries, artisan cheesemakers, herb farms, salmon smokers, and numerous other foodie havens. Rates: $195-$995 Canadian; 250/743-7115 or aerie.bc.ca.
Puerto Vallarta Resort
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
Outside the Presidente Intercontinental, Pacific waves crashing on the white-sand beach sound like a summer afternoon thunderstorm. But soon, the low roar of the ocean becomes background music for an afternoon swim and nap in the sun. An attentive, Spanish- and English-speaking staff greets each arriving guest. From the thatched-roof, open-air lobby to the 10 floors of large guest rooms, the hotel, remodeled in 2004, offers stylish, relaxing accommodations. One of three restaurants serves an impressive breakfast surfside. The pool with a swim-up bar gives beachgoers a freshwater option just steps from the sand. Travel the five miles to downtown for shopping, sightseeing, and more dining. Rates: $126-$1,500; 888/303-1758 or ichotelsgroup.com.
Saint Barths, West Indies
Tucked above the village of Saint Jean and a mere 40 yards from sand and surf, the Tropical's simple, chic accommodations sit alongside terraces and give stunning views of the ocean or the hotel's lush garden. In keeping with the island's romance, mosquito netting drapes from beamed ceilings over comfortable beds, and well-appointed baths have room for two. In each of the one-story hotel's 21 rooms you'll find an air-conditioner (which you'll need) and a TV (which you won't). Pair the Continental breakfast, served near the pool or in your room, with a bowl of the island's amazing fruit. Sit back and let this French Caribbean island cast its spell. Rates: $144-$420; 05/90/59/027-6484 or tropicalhotel.net.
Jeff Book, Jennifer Chappell, Jacquelyne Froeber, Lacey N. Howard, Susan C. Kim, Steve Millburg, Diana Morley, and Julia Dowling Rutland