1. Kauai, Hawaii
Hawaii's lush Garden Island can keep active couples blissfully busy. Adventurous choices include snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking (where waterfalls compete for attention with ocean vistas), windsurfing, fishing, horseback riding, and golf, all of it top-notch. But every visitor should also simply lie on the beach and enjoy scenery so pretty that it has shown up in a long list of TV shows and movies, from "Fantasy Island" to South Pacific. The luxurious Princeville Resort, overlooking Hanalei Bay, supplies exceptional views as well as soothing post-exercise spa treatments; 800/826-4400 or princeville.com.
2. Big Sur, California
No place in the world offers a more sublime landscape. It almost takes two to fully drink it in. Thoughtful couples, in fact, trade off stints at the wheel while traveling this awesomely rugged stretch of Central California coast. Drivers negotiating the twists and turns of Highway 1 as it clings to the cliffs can spare precious little attention to admire the view. Fortunately, the Western-accented Ventana Inn & Spa provides compensatory pampering; 800/628-6500 or ventanainn.com.
3. Sanibel and Captiva islands, Florida
Stunning sunsets, strictly limited development, and musical beaches create a truly enchanting hideaway. Gulf of Mexico currents toss up millions of seashells, which sound like wind chimes as they tumble in the waves. No wonder Anne Morrow Lindbergh's visits inspired her to write Gift from the Sea, her lyrical meditation about life and love. The recently renovated resort Song of the Sea, where each of the 30 rooms features a kitchenette and a screened porch, exemplifies the islands' low-key charms; 800/965-7772 or songofthesea.com.
4. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Fantasies of fleeing to an unspoiled tropical paradise really do come true here. A national park covers two-thirds of the 20-square-mile island. Vast stretches of white-sand beaches draw only handfuls of visitors. St. John's best lodgings keep the focus on the surroundings. Maho Bay, which pioneered deluxe tent camping, now offers four different resorts―some with more-conventional structures, all with fabulous views; 800/392-9004 or maho.org. Exclusive Caneel Bay, with its seven beaches and gloriously landscaped grounds, has finally installed air-conditioning but still resists in-room TVs, phones, radios, and clocks; 340/776-6111 or caneelbay.com.
5. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
New Englanders escape here in summer for beaches, natural beauty, history, great seafood, and quirky shopping. All those attractions also beckon in winter, albeit in a quieter way. Deserted shores invite hand-in-hand strolling accompanied only by the placid splashing of the waves. Enough restaurants and shops stay open year-round to keep the credit-card companies happy. In Chatham, sweethearts can snuggle at the superb Captain's House Inn, where every one of the 16 rooms and suites includes a fireplace; 800/315-0728 or captainshouseinn.com.
6. Savannah, Georgia
This historic and eccentric city richly lives up to its reputation as a dreamy destination. Grand homes overlook landscaped squares decorated with moss-draped trees and splashing fountains. Genteel retirees mix amiably with creatively costumed Savannah College of Art and Design students. For sumptuous lodging, we like The Ballastone (800/822-4553 or ballastone.com) and Foley House Inn (800/647-3708 or foleyinn.com). Elizabeth on 37th delivers gracious dining, with updated versions of traditional cooking and a wonderful wine list; 912/236-5547 or elizabethon37th.com.
7. Santa Barbara, California
Beautiful beaches, charming Mediterranean architecture, excellent restaurants both casual and chic, acclaimed wineries, and a general air of laid-back sophistication add up to an enticing place for couples to explore. Parks and gardens sprout everywhere, probably because the glorious weather encourages everyone to stay outdoors. At Simpson House Inn, guests can play English lawn croquet among an acre of English gardens, all secluded behind tall hedges. Fifteen rooms, suites, and cottages feature luxurious but comfortable decor; 800/676-1280 or simpsonhouseinn.com.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana
"We're coming back, and we're going to be bigger and better." Cynthia Reeves is speaking of The House on Bayou Road, her quiet hideaway of an inn just off Esplanade Avenue near the French Quarter. She could also be referring to New Orleans itself, sadder and wiser after its assaults by hurricanes, but still saucy as it prepares to welcome visitors once again in 2006. Cynthia hopes to reopen The House on Bayou Road (800/882-2968 or houseonbayouroad.com) in February 2006. The Hotel Maison de Ville and the Audubon Cottages, an oasis of tranquility amid the swirl of the Quarter, also aims to reopen around the beginning of the year; 800/634-1600 or hotelmaisondeville.com.
9. San Juan Islands, Washington
Peaceful and rustic, this cluster of islands north of Seattle also packs a lot of surprises. For one thing, the sun shines much more often than the Pacific Northwest norm. Visitors know about such nature-based attractions as whale-watching, bicycling, and kayaking. But the uninitiated might not expect the quality and variety of the artwork, especially on Orcas Island―or the llama and alpaca farms. Of the four islands accessible by ferry, Orcas has the most diverse landscape and biggest variety of recreation; San Juan offers a more historic feel; Lopez, the flattest, makes for the easiest biking; and Shaw appeals to lovers of peace and quiet. The Trumpeter Inn Bed & Breakfast (800/826-7926 or trumpeterinn.com) on San Juan Island appeals to everyone. Amenities include an on-site massage studio.
10. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Couples visiting during winter can have this frozen-in-time Victorian vacation village almost to themselves. When snow works its magic on the landscape, a cross-country ski excursion or a horse-drawn carriage ride can seem like a Currier & Ives print come to life. This time of year, the island relaxes its no-motor-vehicles rules to allow snowmobiles. But horse-drawn drays still provide hauling services. Bogan Lane Inn, with its living room fireplace and straightforward, cozy rooms, stays open year-round; 906/847-3439 or boganlaneinn.com. As spring blossoms begin to open, so do the big resorts―including, on April 21, 2006, the majestic, 1887-vintage Grand Hotel; 800/334-7263 or grandhotel.com.
published January 2006