Twenty-five hotels captured our hearts for this year's annual roundup.

By Susan Haynes
July 26, 2007
Beach Cottages at Castle Hill
Courtesy of Castle Hill Inn and Resort


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

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

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

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

Annapolis, Maryland
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

Smithfield, Virginia
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

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

Savannah, Georgia
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

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

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

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

Yachats, Oregon
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


Tiburon, Northern California
Across the bay from San Francisco, the tony Marin County village of Tiburon merits more than a day trip, especially now: Built in 1965, The Lodge at Tiburon recently emerged from a sorely needed interior/exterior makeover. The resulting 102 tastefully styled rooms and landscaping are designed to attract discriminating guests and business clientele. Outside, private poolside cabanas shelter visitors from the afternoon sun; fireplaces and teak seating allow them to relax with a glass of wine or enjoy alfresco dining at the hotel's Three Degrees Restaurant and Bar. At breakfast, a waiter will gladly whip up a frothy latte to go with specialties such as the Dungeness crab omelet. Tiburon's many shops, cafés, and fine dining establishments await within walking distance of the full-service hotel. Details: $149 to $399; 415/435-3133 or

San Francisco, Northern California
Elegance rides high in one of the Bay Area's tallest buildings, where 158 guest rooms occupy the 38th to 48th floors. Small wonder the Mandarin Oriental chose San Francisco for its first U.S. location (in 1987). Windows frame a dazzling waterfront panorama: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel islands, North Beach, Russian Hill, and Nob Hill. Ignore the bustle of the Financial District, far below, while you sip a complimentary jasmine infusion delivered to your room at check-in. Fresh, sophisticated fabrics, upholstery, and colors were part of a $4 million restyling completed in 2006. Plan on dinner (Tuesday through Saturday) at Silks, the hotel's showcase for Chef Joel Huff's culinary art. Details: $605 to $3,100; 415/276-9888 or

San Francisco, Northern California
Aptly named Panoramic Suites make the most of this stylish hotel's prime spot on the revitalized Embarcadero. Each features a bay window pumped up to room size, capturing a 180-degree vista from the Oakland Bay Bridge to the landmark Ferry Building and beyond. The spacious accommodations have modern furnishings in restful hues and―for a spectacular soak―windowside tubs for two. Separate, limestone-clad baths hold rainfall showers. Fitness buffs can start the day on a waterfront jogging path or in complimentary morning yoga and stretch classes. The ground-level Americano Restaurant & Bar draws a lively evening crowd from the nearby financial district. But you'll be tempted to order room service and dine in your suite while gazing at the city lights below. Details: $299 to $599 (penthouse, $1,500); 888/890-8688 or

Carmel-by-the-Sea, Central California
Pets are invited to bring their humans to this legendary overnight oasis a few minutes' walk from the beach and Ocean Avenue shopping. The 1929 white-stucco, Spanish Colonial inn reflects the style and personality of its owner―actress, singer, and animal advocate Doris Day. She lives in nearby Carmel Valley and pays occasional visits to the hotel. Even if you don't see her in person, nicely framed posters in the lobby and bar depict Pillow Talk and other classics starring the plucky gamine of 1950s and '60s films. With or without Fido, you can choose among 44 handsomely furnished guest rooms―two with water views. The hotel is fastidiously maintained, and no animals are allowed unattended in rooms. But with the concierge's list of vetted petsitters in animal-friendly Carmel, there's always a companion at the ready. Details: $145 to $575; 800/443-7443 or

Santa Monica, Southern California
Noted Los Angeles designer Kelly Wearstler should be crowned for the regal decor she brought to this proper hotel in a casually hip beach town. British Regency-style furnishings fill every room and public spaces. The hotel entry features an eye-catching 14-foot sculpture and elaborate fine-china display, and the on-site restaurant (try the splendid crab croquette) is named Whist, after the vintage British card game. The Viceroy can arrange hair and beauty treatments by a celebrity stylist. Better yet, you might spot George Clooney sipping wine with his agent at a terrace cabana or overhear, say, Kirsten Dunst chatting at the trendy Cameo Bar. Details: $359 to $1,500; 800/670-6185 or

Laguna Beach, Southern California
On a hillside overlooking Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean beyond, Casa Laguna Inn & Spa enchants guests with Mission-style architecture and lush landscaping. Paths of Catalina tiles weave among fountains and bougainvillea to 10 different styles of accommodations. The higher the room, the better the view. Or, from the Bell Tower, all guests catch spectacular sunsets and a Pacific vista. Rooms fronting the highway may not buffer all traffic noise, but the setting makes up for that. If you must leave the inn's verdant courtyard and ocean-view pool, you're just a short stroll from the beach and a quick bike ride from downtown. Details: $250 to $590; 800/233-0449 or

Honolulu, Hawaii
For civilized calm amid bustling Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider embodies the best of Old Hawaii. Despite its size (793 guest rooms), the hotel makes each visitor feel at home. New arrivals are greeted with a fresh lei, a chilled towel, and a glass of tea. Suddenly, the long flight seems completely worth it. The beloved Moana, this area's first hotel, opened in 1901―on the same pristine oceanfront location it commands today―and underwent a $50 million renovation in 1989. Its plantation-style porch, lined with rocking chairs, opens onto a courtyard canopied by a soaring banyan tree. After snorkeling, surfing, or lazing about, visitors enjoy live island music beneath the banyan. Small, tidy guest rooms feature plush bedding―ask for a courtyard or oceanfront room to avoid nighttime street noise. Details: $395 to $710; 808/922-3111 or

Galveston, Texas
Only 11 years after the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900, Hotel Galvez rose majestically from a site directly across from the sturdy new seawall. Built in the style of the grand hotels of its time, the Galvez enjoys new life today thanks to Texas preservationists George and Cynthia Mitchell, who bought it in the mid-1990s. All 226 rooms have been handsomely redone, and a new 8,000-square-foot spa was completed in 2007. The eight-story hotel's U-shape design allows ocean views from most of the guest rooms. From the hotel, it's a short drive to world-renowned Moody Gardens or a quick trolley ride to the historic Strand neighborhood for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Details: $99 to $595; 409/765-7721 or


New Orleans, Louisiana
Here's one way to help post-Katrina NOLA: Just show up. Your tourist dollars can make a difference while you anchor at International House, two blocks from the French Quarter. In 1998, local visionary Sean Cummings transformed the historic Beaux Arts building into a boutique hotel with 117 sleekly styled guest rooms. Built as a bank in 1906, the lofty space later thrived for 40-plus years as the country's first World Trade Center. Today it exudes the spirit of that storied past―artfully blended with a neutral color scheme, streamlined furnishings, vivid art, and homages to local culture. Candlelight shimmers in Loa, the lobby bar. Details: $89 to $319; 800/633-5770 or

Mobile, Alabama
At last, this historic seaport city has a hotel to boast about. A $250 million investment in downtown included restoration of the grand old Battle House (abandoned since 1974); the shining new version opened in May. In the lobby and among 238 guest rooms―126 in the historic section―architectural details recall an ornate era, while woven red, blue, and gold fabrics add color and whimsy. Amenities include hotel-wide wireless Internet access; suites offer plasma TVs and iPod speakers. About half the guest rooms view downtown or the Mobile River, which leads to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. The hotel's gorgeous Trellis Room serves a delectable dinner (and breakfast and lunch), and other hip dining choices are close by. Details: $179 to $400; 251/338-2000 or

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
From scenic Highway 30-A, on the Florida Panhandle, A Highlands House looks like a honeymoon bungalow tucked into a nook. However, one quick turn into the drive reveals a large, Charleston-style home and a land- and seascape of lush vegetation and deep blue-green water. For weddings, quite popular at the inn, all 10 rooms are available for guests. Otherwise, among the eight regular guest rooms, five command glorious Gulf of Mexico views. At sunset, head to the water-facing front porch. Afterward, explore nearby Grayton Beach's fine and funky bars and restaurants. But don't stay out too late: Every morning, the innkeeper plates up a classic Southern breakfast. Details: $150 to $250; 850/267-0110 or

Chicago, Illinois
It's all about the urban, waterfront view from 43 stories of glass designed by architect Harry Mohr Weese. A standout among Chicago's renowned skyscrapers, this branch of the international Swissôtel group welcomes guests to 632 rooms and suites with vistas that define The Windy City. They can ooh and aah over panoramas of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Harbor, boats plying the Chicago River, and nearby landmarks from the Navy Pier Ferris wheel to stunning Millennium Park. In addition to huge windows, rooms feature high-speed Internet access and furnishings that meld seamlessly with the contemporary design. The scenery from the 42nd-floor health club ($10 fee) and pool (complimentary) inspires guests to stay in shape. Service in the hotel and its fine-dining restaurant, The Palm, is Midwestern-friendly. Details: $109 to $1,500; 312/565-0565 or


St. John's, Antigua, West Indies
The touch of a masseuse is the only pressure you'll feel at this Caribbean destination. Service staff, who keep the 77 rooms, suites, and villas tip-top, magically appear if needed. Otherwise, you can enjoy splendid isolation amid tropical gardens, two white-sand beaches, and three freshwater pools. Tennis, kayaking, windsurfing, and snorkeling can wait until after that novel. Or until you've had an old-fashioned rum punch from the open-air bar. With alfresco Palm Restaurant and air-conditioned Vyviens restaurant on-site, you won't have to venture into town, but if you do, it's 10 minutes by taxi or shuttle to Antigua's lively capital. The resort successfully caters to honeymooners, empty nesters, and young families alike. Details: All-inclusive daily rates (includes three meals, afternoon tea, branded bar drinks, and house wines): $340 (double guest room) to $2,000 (three-bedroom beachfront villa), plus $121 charge per day per person; 800/557-6536 or

Contributors: Mandy Bolen, Jeff Book, John Brandon, Sarah Brueggemann, Sara Gray, Bonnie Henderson, Susan C. Kim, Steve Millburg, Abigail B. Millwood, Ramsey Prather, Kelly Brown Tomas, and Vicki J. Weathers