Fifteen charmers captured our hearts for this year's annual roundup.
MIRALOMA ON THE COVE
Sidney, British Columbia
Travelers tend to hightail it from the nearby airport and ferries en route to popular Victoria. But you'll strike gold if you stay in Sidney―and 18-karat gold if you check into Miraloma on the Cove. Fans of its former iteration, the Shoal Harbour Inn, swear by the 2005 transformation into Miraloma. Third-generation hotelier Kevin Walker bought the waterfront inn and extensively upgraded the 22 studios and one- and two-bedroom suites. New touches include heated towel racks and bath floors, and equally warm interior colors. In keeping with world-class standards set by nearby Butchart Gardens, the treasured heritage gardens continue to flourish outside the inn, and guests can still enjoy fine dining at the adjacent restaurant, The Latch.
• Rates: $98-$475 Canadian ($85-$424 U.S.); 877/956-6622 or miraloma.ca.
LAND'S END RESORT
Aptly named Land's End sits at the tip of Homer Spit, a sliver of shore that cleaves through saltwater for four miles. Seafood dives, frontier-style saloons, RV parks, T-shirt shops, and fishing charters line Homer Spit Road to the inn's front door―but no matter. Your eyes will latch onto one of nature's most awesome settings: the towering Kenai Mountains, glacier- and iceberg-strewn alpine lakes, and the rich fjords and high tides of Kachemak Bay. The inn's Chart Room Restaurant and its deck showcase the panorama (and serve yummy halibut tacos). The tour desk arranges wilderness-adventure experiences, and the hotel's Raven's Nest Spa offers restorative treatments. You can walk to the Kachemak Bay Ferry for day trips to quaint Halibut Cove and its artists' exquisite creations.
• Rates: $69-$220 for the 86 guest rooms; up to $400 for the 22 one- to four-bedroom lodges; 800/478-0400 or lands-end-resort.com.
Long Beach, Washington
After many vacations on the Long Beach Peninsula, Washingtonians Pat and Bill Turner bought run-down motel property here and transformed it into a travelers' comfort zone. Two blocks from the beach, their 10-unit inn keeps getting better. A half-mile-long boardwalk parallels the stretch of "ocian" that dazzled Lewis and Clark 200 years ago. Inn guests can walk to beachside horseback-riding stables, the waterfront Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail, the peninsula's lone movie theater, and many other attractions. All guest rooms have queen beds, and four units feature living areas, fireplaces, and full kitchens. Rooms include coffees from Long Beach Coffee Roasters, whose WiFi café sits behind the inn. Each morning, Pat bakes pumpkin scones, cinnamon buns, or other yeasty starters for guests to enjoy in their rooms.
• Rates: $69-$189; 800/569-3804 or boardwalkcottages.com.
CANNERY PIER HOTEL
Breathtaking water views dominate this port city's newest boutique lodging. The lobby's exposed beams and wide expanses of glass underscore waterfront drama the moment a guest walks in―or sits down to the complimentary Continental breakfast. Extending 600 feet into the Columbia River, the hotel stands atop century-old pilings where the Union Fisherman's Cooperative Packing Co. once processed salmon. The hotel's design recalls that heritage, and the interior decor showcases local history. In contrast, 38 rooms and seven suites offer modern accommodations. The Pilot House penthouse guests enjoy two bedrooms, a kitchen, living area, private deck, and expansive river views. An on-site day spa, Finnish sauna, and exercise room keep guests relaxed.
• Rates: $149-$525; 888/325-4996 or cannerypierhotel.com.
This oasis of comfort, privacy, and five-star cuisine may be the Pacific Rim's best-kept secret. Surely not for long. Checking into one of 20 welcoming yet refined rooms, with hinged windows inviting sea-pine breezes and huge tubs atop a heated marble floor―what more could you ask for? Nothing, but if you can think of it, you'll get it. It's as though you're the occupant of a fully staffed private estate. In L'Auberge's 12-table restaurant (closed Mondays), Chef Walter Manzke presents an eclectic progression of gems from the land and sea, accompanied by impeccable tasting wines and top-notch service.
• Rates: $295-$545; 831/624-8578 or laubergecarmel.com.
Pacific Beach, California
The words "contemporary swank" come to mind as you enter the oh-so-minimalist lobby at Tower23 and meander to the hotel's waterfront restaurant, JRDN (pronounced "Jordan"). The sleek, white architectural lodging and dining box opened in 2005 to acclaim among travelers seeking beachside luxury in the San Diego area. Locals and visitors alike love it for breakfast, lunch, cocktails, and dinner. (The maverick seasonal menu features such creations as sea urchin with tagliatelle.) A sense of energy enlivens everyone here. Maybe it's the subtly changing light on the restaurant's chic "wave wall." Or the hotel and restaurant staff, sincerely engaged in serving guests. Or the vista: All but four of the 44 guest rooms and suites overlook lifeguard tower number 23 (thus the hotel's name) and an expanse of sea to the horizon.
• Rates: $199-$1,500; 866/869-3723 or tower23hotel.com.
TURTLE BAY RESORT
Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii
Praised for its two championship golf courses, Turtle Bay Resort may underwhelm you as you enter the main hotel's uninspired grounds. Surroundings perk up slightly by the check-in counter. Then, as you cross the threshold of your private cottage, both your heart and judgments stand still. These 42 sleeping giants are exquisitely appointed, with views that will keep you from closing your curtains. The cottages, along with dinners at adjacent partner restaurant Ola, give ample reason to visit the resort, an hour from Honolulu Airport. Ola's views equal those in your cottage, and the restaurant's creative entrées, coupled with a friendly, knowledgeable staff, make for a wonderful evening. The best part? You finish dinner just steps away from your cottage, where an ocean serenade lulls you to sleep.
• Rates: $900 per night; 800/203-3650 or turtlebayresort.com.
INN AT MYSTIC
With 67 Yankee-accented rooms scattered among five buildings, the Inn at Mystic delivers a charming combination of luxury and nature. As if to prove the point, early one New England morning, a deer browses the grass in the orchard. An observant guest quietly leaves his room and tiptoes across the 18-acre grounds toward breakfast. The deer glances up, then nonchalantly resumes nibbling. The guest pauses and eases into a strategically placed Adirondack chair. Watching the young rays of sun spill over Long Island Sound and the sailboats anchored in Mystic Harbor, he decides breakfast can wait. First comes nourishment for the soul.
• Rates: $135-$325; 800/237-2415 or innatmystic.com.
EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL
New York City, New York
Hudson River views, live-in comfort, and unbeatable value make a win-win-win combination for this hotel in Manhattan's Battery Park City neighborhood. A short walk from Ground Zero, the six-year-old hotel closed after 9/11 and reopened in 2002. As a Hilton brand, Embassy Suites offers certain universal characteristics, but this particular location stands out. Bold art and dramatic color energize the lobby, the soaring vaulted-glass atrium, and interiors in the 15-story hotel. Daily, complimentary services for all guests include not only hot and cold breakfast fare, but also evening cocktails. Construction under way on the Hudson River side, when completed within four years, is anticipated to obstruct hotel water views somewhat (below the seventh floor). But with outlooks to the water or the city, the 463 suites will still embrace a dramatic slice of New York.
• Rates: $169-$599; 212/945-0100 or embassysuites.com.
FIVE GABLES INN & SPA
St. Michaels, Maryland
It looks like a modest white frame house on the main drag of once-gritty, now-trendy St. Michaels. Amazingly, the building houses eight guest rooms, a spa, a sauna, a steam room, and even a swimming pool, all without seeming crowded. Another surprise hides across the street, behind the brick facades of two historic homes: three more guest rooms plus three suites, all with utterly romantic, funky-chic decor. And the growing inn has just added a building with one guest room and five suites. Every room contains CD players and gas fireplaces. And oh, the baths―spa tubs, Aveda toiletries, and, in the suites, multijet showers that almost make the spa massage seem superfluous. But not quite.
• Rates: $160-$425; 877/466-0100 or fivegables.com.
To sleep in the epicenter of the city's beautiful historic district, book some time here, on Reynolds Square. The 60-room Planters Inn offers elegant rooms, great service, and a jovial wine and cheese reception where people linger each afternoon. Breakfast is self-serve, with delicious selections but without intrusive fuss. Adjacent to the inn, The Olde Pink House restaurant provides room-service dinners. For a view, request one of the few rooms overlooking Reynolds Square Park (others face a parking garage―not as bad as it sounds). Most Savannah guided tours include Reynolds Square, so you can join one right outside the hotel. You can also walk to numerous restaurants and shops on Broughton and River streets. Better yet, step outside the inn and get lost among the azaleas and architecture. Just make it back in time for your daily dose of wine and cheese.
• Rates: $149-$229; 800/554-1187 or plantersinnsavannah.com.
LAGO MAR RESORT AND CLUB
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Cached away on a secluded beach, hugging the Atlantic Ocean, this family-owned resort embraces Florida's classic past while extending four-star service. The carefully appointed decor throughout the complex and its 204 rooms and suites eases weary arrivals into a restorative pace. The spacious swimming lagoon, Olympic-size pool, and abundant beachside lounging grant everyone a spot in the sun or shade, depending on preference. With the full-service spa and four dining options, there's little reason to venture outside the resort. For gourmet offerings, sup on tonno asciutto in padella (seared tuna, three-olive/sun-dried-tomato tapenade, sweet-potato mash, and sautéed spinach); it's just one of the many Italian-style entrées offered at Acquario. Or sit by the pool under the stars and trees for a relaxing dinner at the Seagrape Terrace. It's not easy to leave this hidden gem.
• Rates: $160-$950; 954/523-6511 or lagomar.com.
The hypnotic sounds of water surround you. You seem to be floating yet solidly anchored at the same time. Standing on stilts over the blue-green Atlantic Ocean, six of the 84 cabanas at 9 Beaches provide this ethereal experience. Other cabanas perch at the water's edge or overlook the sea from an elevated peninsula. You need a bit of backpacker spirit at this most casual resort in buttoned-up Bermuda: The lodging consists entirely of high-tech tents. They feel, however, quite substantial, with real baths, French doors, verandas, ceiling fans, and even air-conditioning. And, though they do lack soundproofing, they have sailed through the toughest storms, including a 2003 hurricane.
• Rates: $170-$375; 866/841-9009 or 9beaches.com.
LONGBOAT KEY CLUB AND RESORT
Longboat Key, Florida
If you're a high-energy traveler seeking "active leisure," you've come to the right place. Technically a private country club, the high-rise Longboat Key Club and Resort welcomes visitors vacationing in the Sarasota area. Golfers find challenge and paradise across the water, trees, and sand of the resort's two championship courses―45 holes total. Some 38 courts answer the question, "Tennis, anyone?" Bikes entice guests to explore, as rafts and body boards invite ocean plunges. For lodging, you can choose among the 216 one- or two-bedroom suites or popular full-kitchen club suites. But don't cook every night: Four casual-to-elegant resort restaurants wait to please your palate.
• Rates: $250-$1,160; 888/237-5545 or longboatkeyclub.com.
MONTROSE HIDEAWAY BED-AND-BREAKFAST RETREAT
For years, the neighboring towns of Point Clear and Fairhope offered all the prime lodging along the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. But when Mary and Greg McNair moved to Montrose from Bandon, Oregon, they transformed a private home into classically appealing space for themselves and their guests. Visitors in the five units awake to Mary's rich breakfasts, relax among the 10 acres of flowering trees and shrubs, and meander Montrose's shaded residential streets. For less peace and quiet, it's only a 15-minute stroll to the cafés and bayfront park in the village of Daphne.
• Rates: $125-$325; 866/443-3299 or montrosehideaway.com.
Steve Millburg, Tate Taylor, Kelly Brown Tomas, and Vicki J. Weathers
(published September 2006)