Renting is the way to go. No, you don’t get the key to the owner’s closet, but you’d just find sandy beach chairs and crabbing nets in there anyway. You get to pick a different sunny destination every year. You get privacy. You get homey comforts like a porch and a kitchen, but without the maintenance or mortgage. Buying a second home is so pre-recession.
Renting a cottage attached to an inn or resort doubles the bonus. Want room service? Have a question for a local expert? Need a concierge to arrange dinner reservations or a spa appointment? Done. Here are 16 rental opportunities, on every coast, that offer all the comforts of home.
Spend a week in a real-life summer beach house. The 17 cottages shaped more like full-fledged homes were originally built as part of a lumber mill company town. More than a century later, the large homes rent for weeks in summer, making for ideal base camps on Lake Michigan. Dine at the inn with the rest of the community. Every Wednesday there’s a barbecue.
Field trip: Take a book and a blanket and wander through the dunes to the Outlet, a shallow flow of warm water that connects Lower Herring Lake to Lake Michigan. Also, the inn can arrange hikes with a local naturalist.
Night out: Coho Café offers casual bistro-style local and regional food, while The Fusion dishes out a mix of Asian fare. Both are in Frankfort, about five miles from your cottage.
Contact: 231/352-9083 or watervaleinn.com.
The 24 cottages offer the best of both worlds: They hang over the harbor water but are steps away from downtown. The renovated cottages have kitchens, and the front desk will stock them with your shopping list prior to your arrival. That’s what we call rock star room service!
Field trip: Arrange a private sail aboard Endeavor at the dock outside the cottages and enjoy a sunset cruise for two or a pirate-themed adventure with the kids.
Night out: You might hear a live piano and sing-along on a stroll through downtown. That’s The Club Car, an iconic seafood and steak restaurant in an old train car.
Contact: 866/838-9253 or thecottagesnantucket.com
These little dollhouse cottages face a common green that opens onto the calm waters of Cabot Cove. Each cottage is individually owned and has a distinct decor, though you won’t find Victorian tea cup collections anywhere. There’s no big lodge, but somehow a breakfast basket arrives at your door each morning, and someone is always available to help launch a kayak or suggest a restaurant.
Field trip: Have the concierge schedule a trip on a lobster boat. It’s a popular activity, maybe because you get to reap the benefits in your cottage’s kitchen.
Night out: Bandaloop in downtown Kennebunkport has a slick atmosphere and a local, organic menu including such fare as wild haddock in horseradish-panko crust.
Rates: $185–$695; 877/524-2004 or cabotcovecottages.com
Field trip: The front desk will organize chartered windjammer sailboats for a sunset cruise and harbor tour. Pick up a lobster roll and slice of Key lime pie at Phil the Baker’s roadside restaurant.
Night out: The inn’s dining room is tough to beat, but head into town for the summer lobster paella at historic Thistle Inn.
Rates: $1,500–$6,000/week; 800/654-5242 or newagenseasideinn.com
What, can’t afford a second house in the Hamptons? Don’t have a house-share with 20 friends? Rent one of Gansett Green’s 13 cottages and studios and it’s yours for a few days. We like the charm of the Caribbean cottage best. The Manor has no food service, but you’ll have concierge assistance for reservations at the highly selective Hamptons dining scene nearby.
Field trip: The Farmer’s Market on weekend mornings is a sight to behold. Grab coffee, a pastry, The New York Times, and a seat on the lawn, and watch it all go by.
Night out: Cittanuova in East Hampton is a lively spot, with all the Hamptons beauties nibbling on steamed mussels and such.
Rates: $275–$650/night for cottages for two to six; 631/267-3133 or gansettgreenmanor.com
Cape May looks like a movie set of Victorian homes and storefronts. Huge mansions line the beachfront boulevard, culminating in the stately Virginia Hotel. Rent one of its five cottages in the heart of downtown. Use the elegant hotel for the amenities, but pretend you’re a wealthy industrial baron in your summer beach house.
Field trip: Climb the 199 cast-iron spiral stairs to the top of the 1859 Cape May Lighthouse and wander through wetland trails on the property.
Night out: Reserve a table on the oceanfront patio at Peter Shields Inn, then look for the Maine lobster crab cake.
Rates: Cottages rent by room, $90–$700/night. White Cottage rents by floor. Summer rentals are generally weekly; 800/732-4236 or virginiahotel.com.
Field trip: Drive about 20 minutes to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore for miles of empty beaches.
Night out: The 1587, the restaurant of the Tranquil House Inn in historic Manteo, calls the fresh daily catch the “Freestyle Fish,” and there’s almost always local tuna steak.
Rates: $125–$285 for cottages; 252/473-2434 or theislandmotel.com
Not only do you get a private bungalow with kitchen and washer/dryer, but also you step outside onto 1,100 feet of private beachfront on the Florida Keys’ Islamorada. The former coconut plantation has been transformed into a white-sand, uber-luxe paradise with 18 cottages and houses.
Field trip: Grab a bucket of fish and feed the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina, then rent a kayak and paddle 20 minutes to Indian Key.
Night out: You don’t have to go far for the best dining options. For high-end, find Pierre’s Restaurant in a two-story plantation house; for more casual, head next door to Morada Bay Beach Café.
Rates: from $250/night (cottages) up to $10,500/week (houses); 305/664-4708 or themooringsvillage.com
If you like packing your finest evening wear along with your bathing suit, this grand old Southern inn will give you occasion to wear both. Sit on the porch of your cottage and sip a cocktail as the sun drops into the Spanish moss. Facilities are limited on the island, so the inn is your go-to for meals, guides, and any other services.
Field trip: You’re on your own with kayaks, bikes, and fishing gear provided. Or take the naturalist-led sunrise shorebird excursion to the south end of the island.
Night out: Rates include dinner in the lodge. Put on your finery and delicately dig in to fresh blue crab, shrimp, and red snapper—probably caught that day.
Rates: from $395, includes three meals and tours; 866/401-8581 or greyfieldinn.com
Left: Greyfield Inn gardens
Florida’s Highway 30-A spreads vacation rentals behind its paper-white beaches like dune grass. WaterColor is a planned community built like traditional neighborhoods. Most of the privately owned homes, from one to six bedrooms, are available by the night—you can view styles and floor plans and pick out your dream cottage rental. Staying here gets you access to the resort’s tennis courts, seven pools, and private golf courses.
Field trip: Take a bike from the inn and coast about two miles over Western Lake to the town of Grayton Beach for lunch and shopping; try the Shops of Grayton.
Night out: In neighboring Grayton Beach, the owners of Fire restaurant brought their New Orleans coastal cuisine to the 30-A area. Save room for warm toffee sticky pudding.
Rates: $230–$645 for one- to two-bedroom rental homes; 866/426-2656 or watercolorresort.com
Field trip: Mendocino is a few miles up the road, and there’s never been a bad walk through that town, but take a hike past Van Damme State Park’s redwoods in the early morning. You’ll see.
Night out: If you’re staying at Sea Ridge Cottage, the Ledford House restaurant is a mile away. Every table has an ocean view, and the husband-wife chef team leans to the French side of California cuisine.
Rates: on-site rooms and suites, $121–$326/night, and Sea Ridge Cottage, $213–$305/night; 800/822-4536 or glendeven.com
This historic landmark sits just off the coast of San Diego. The new Beach Village at The Del opened in 2007, and the 78 private luxury cottage and villa rentals share a pool and club. It’s like moving onto your own private resort island.
Field trip: You can bike the entire island in a four-seater surrey from the hotel. Also check out the surf lessons on the island’s perfectly mellow beginner waves.
Night out: Take a ferry or drive 10 minutes into downtown San Diego and find The Fish Market right on the water. Go upstairs for fine dining, downstairs for casual.
Rates: from $675/night; 866/433-3030 or delbeachvillage.com
These are the cottages you drive by on Highway 1 that make you wonder who gets to live in those 12 perfect little clapboard houses on the edge of that perfect cove on Tomales Bay. No one, permanently; they’re rentals. Bandit’s Bungalow and Nicolina, a boat-shaped cottage cantilevered over the bay, have the most charm.
Field trip: Put on your fanciest flip-flops and head down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Hog Island Oyster Company for grill-your-own oysters on the edge of Tomales Bay.
Night out: Stay in for this one. Chefs Mark Franz and Adam Mali adhere to a farm-to-plate menu in the inn’s restaurant. It’s roadhouse in appearance but overachieves with dishes like Bandit’s shellfish cioppino with Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, and shrimp.
Rates: $255–$595/night (weekends, on the water); 866/636-4257 or nickscove.com
Field trip: The resort will connect you to San Juan Outfitters for a whale-watching tour to Lime Kiln Point State Park, an orca playground.
Night out: Tucked into a side alley in Friday Harbor, the Backdoor Kitchen serves local oysters, farm-to-plate salads, and pork chops with an international flair.
Rates: cottages, $199–$339/night (summer), and Village Homes, $379–$799/night (summer); 800/451-8910 or rocheharbor.com
The Inn at Langley rents two cottages that sit with their back doors overlooking Puget Sound and Mt. Baker on the mainland. The front doors lead to downtown Langley and Moonraker Books, Useless Bay Coffee Company, and Whidbey Island Soap Company.
Field trip: Grab lunch to go at the Coupeville County Deli and hike down Ebey’s Landing to reach an empty sweep of Puget Sound beach.
Night out: At Café Langley, the Garibyan brothers serve a mix of Northwest and Mediterranean cuisine like Penn Cove mussels and Dungeness crab cakes.
Contact: 360/221-3033 or innatlangley.com
This former sugar plantation has been converted into an inn with beachside pool on Kauai. Rent one of the renovated plantation houses with large porches and clapboard exteriors and interiors spread about a green lawn lined in coconut trees.
Field trip: Hike Waimea Canyon, or drive along the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.
Night out: The 20-mile drive from Waimea to Poipu is worth it for wasabi-crusted snapper at the waterfront Beach House Restaurant.
Contact: 808/338-1625 or waimeaplantation.com
(published April 2010)