In hot pursuit of great story ideas, our writers and editors check into hundreds of hotels
coast to coast. We've picked these favorites to share with you.
The Royal Hawaiian
Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Return to the halcyon days of Old Hawaii, where the hotel presides over Waikiki Beach's famed waters. The cotton candy-pink accommodations, also known as the Pink Palace, opened in 1927 on land that was once playground to King Kamehameha I. With Matson cruise-ship tourists in mind, designers planned the hotel to include extra-wide halls for wealthy guests' large steamer trunks. Though suitcases are de rigueur today, the same welcoming spirit reigns. It's tough to decide where to relax: in the shade of the peaceful Coconut Grove, at the famed Mai Tai Bar, in the tropical gardens, or in your spacious room. (We prefer the ocean-view rooms in the historic building, rather than in the modern addition.); 808/923-7311 or royal-hawaiian.com. -Paige Porter
Cape Mudge, Quadra Island, British Columbia
The inn's simple but inspired Big House architecture bears the imprint of Canada's First Nation Kwagiulths, and a sense of rejuvenation pervades here. In the fir-beamed lobby, 30 lodge rooms, and four beachfront cottages, you'll sit ringside for nature's show: Soaring bald eagles demonstrate aerial grace, while feisty seagulls dive for quick catches in Discovery Passage. Enjoy it all as you savor salmon Wellington in the airy dining room or on the sunny deck. Tsa-Kwa-Luten means "gathering place" in the Kwakwala language, and both newcomers and repeat guests arrive from May until mid-October. Canadian First Nation groups hold retreats during the remaining six months. Prior to this summer, the lodge nicely punctuated a packed-dirt road from the island's main route, but recent updates introduced asphalt. Fans hope the original sense of peace and beauty never gets paved over in this special place; 250/285-2042 or capemudgeresort.bc.ca.
The Chrysalis Inn
An hour south of Canadian Vancouver and 90 minutes north of Seattle, the 3-year-old Chrysalis Inn and Spa at the Pier has become a hot pick in a town that's large enough (population 69,000) for high-end lodging but small enough for charm. One guest dubbed the hotel's design "Scandizenian"-sleek but serene. All 43 rooms and suites feature fireplaces and cozy window seats for vistas of Bellingham Bay and the San Juans. The spa offers a full-service menu of treatments. Locals vie with hotel guests for seats at the superb Fino Wine Bar & Fine Food restaurant. When ready to move on, guests can walk to local ferries for regularly scheduled day trips to Victoria, British Columbia; 888/808-0005 or thechrysalisinn.com.
Inn at Harbor Steps
Devotees of the Four Sisters Inns, which work their magic in 10 Washington and California locations, won't want to miss this prize. Because a four-towered condo complex embraces the 28-room hotel, the location couldn't be more urban. From check-in to checkout, you'll feel as if you have your own pied-à-terre. Just cross the street to the renowned Seattle Art Museum, dash down to piers and ferries, or zip up to Pike Place Market. All guest rooms have lovely sitting areas and views either of the cherry-blossomed courtyard or lively Harbor Steps Park and Elliott Bay. The inn's expansive breakfasts feature an ever-changing array of hot dishes, such as Mexican quiche or blueberry bread pudding; 888/728-8910 or foursisters.com.
Newport Belle Bed & Breakfast
Let's see, breakfast on the bow as the morning sun warms the deck? Or cocktails on the stern as sunset turns Yaquina Bay Bridge into a glowing silhouette? Do both aboard the Newport Belle Bed & Breakfast, a 97-foot stern-wheeler. The Belle's five staterooms are theme-decorated (captain's cabin, for example), and all have private baths. Live-aboard owner Sherry Porter serves breakfasts-homemade quiche with smoked salmon or fresh croissants with marionberry jam-in the main salon, which is warmed by a glowing woodstove. Nice weather may entice you to have coffee on deck. Watch for cormorants, common loons, belted kingfisher, osprey, California sea lions, and harbor seals; 800/348-1922 or newportbelle.com. -Linda Hagen Miller
Beguiling inns make this artistic community one of the most popular draws in the state. But 10-room Stevenswood stands out for two reasons. First, owners Robert and William Zimmer avoided the teddy-bear route. The brothers opted for a casual, fresh look in lodge design and decor, letting the small inn revel in its surroundings next to Van Damme State Park. (Guest rooms have garden, forest, or meadow views, or dappled glimpses of the Pacific.) Secondly, chef Marc Dym reigns in the intimate dining room. Repeat guests know to save room for an espresso crème brülée; 800/421-2810.
Casa del Mar
Santa Monica, California
Check into this "house of the sea" and leave the rest of Los Angeles metro behind. After a $50 million-plus renovation in 1999, the hotel's double staircase, tile-mosaic floors, and lofty ceilings recall another era. Light infuses the 129 rooms, done in soft mango, lemon, and sea-green hues. Some face the lively Santa Monica Pier, a short walk away, and every room features a spa tub that just might rival the ocean in terms of fun. To get a water-view room, be sure to book early. Whatever you do, don't miss the lounge's baby-grand pianist, live music, and wide-angle views of the beach; 800/898-6999 or hotelcasadelmar.com. -Paige Porter
Punta Mita, Mexico
In just five years, this Four Seasons resort has made a gentle footprint along Banderas Bay, north of Puerto Vallarta. In fact, it's easy to think this stretch of Mexico's Pacific Coast would be lonely without it. Tropical trees and flowering shrubs line narrow walkways that seem to undulate as they connect Sol, Luna, and other tile-roofed casitas with 140 rooms and suites. Access to Mexican culture abounds-from tequila tastings and artifacts talks at the resort's cultural center to the unforgettable Temazcal spa treatment. This modern version of an ancient ritual takes place in a small, volcanic-rock-heated adobe hut overlooking the Pacific. Temazcalero Marcelo Juri follows the ways of his indigenous Huichol people and leads the 45-minute steamy detoxifying process; 011/52/329/291-6000 or fourseasons.com.
Can you say "Eggemoggin Reach"? From Memorial Day weekend until late October visit the Oakland House Seaside Resort on East Penobscot Bay, and you'll learn how. On this picturesque shoreline, it's easy to find a private nook for sunning, and don't be surprised to see a tall ship sailing past. The 50-acre resort has been family-owned and operated since 1889, when retired sea captain Emery H. Herrick and his wife, Flavilla, took in guests. Today's lodging choices include Arts and Crafts rooms within Shore Oaks Seaside Inn, where Down East hospitality features lobster picnics. Chef Woody Clark serves fine food with flair; 800/359-7352 or oaklandhouse.com. -Ruth Mitchell
Inn at Stonington
With an active fishing fleet, a blend of 17th- and 18th-century architecture, and plenty of interesting eateries and antiques shops, Stonington Borough abounds with charms. The Inn at Stonington offers one more. Few places to stay existed in this exclusive enclave until the upscale inn opened three years ago. Now visitors can settle into one of 18 individually well-appointed rooms. The living area and third-floor Harborview Room offer comfortable places to mingle, while guest quarters provide luxury that feels low-key. Despite impressive amenities, such as limestone soaking tubs, Frette robes, and Anichini bed linens, the inn has a casual ambience. Its harborfront location provides views of fishing boats bobbing toward open waters; 860/535-2000 or innatstonington.com. -Jennifer Chappell
Southampton, New York
Blissful oblivion beckons in the form of enormous fluffy white beds. A half-dozen pillows stand along the headboard like sheep ready for counting. The plump, welcoming duvet seems big enough for a soccer match. As you sink into this vast softness, the world simply floats away. The Atlantic does offer other enticements. The exterior, still showing its roots as a standard-issue motel, barely hints at the playfully minimalist interior design-a sort of Martha Stewart/starving New York artist look. The 5-acre grounds include a pool, tennis courts, and lots of thick, green grass. Ah, but those beds; 631/283-6100 or hrhresorts.com. -Steve Millburg
Inn at 2920
Inn at 2920 provides so much comfort and sheer fun that you don't even notice it's good for you. The four guest rooms, for example, contain low-allergen bedding and all-natural toiletries (even Tom's of Maine toothpaste). But you'll probably care more about the spa tubs or the striking decor, an elegantly balanced blend of the antique and the sleekly contemporary. Co-proprietor and chef David Schwartz cooks sumptuous organic breakfasts. The inn inhabits a three-story row house in the historic Canton neighborhood, two blocks from the waterfront and one block from O'Donnell Square's excellent restaurants and vibrant nightlife; 877/774-2920 or theinnat2920.com. -Steve Millburg
The Rhett House Inn
Beaufort, South Carolina
What would make a guest room really special? A nice bed, a big closet, cable TV, a minibar, a coffeemaker, and a hair dryer, of course. How about a comfy chaise lounge with a well-placed reading light, a robe, a gas fireplace, and a CD player (with CDs, in case you forgot to bring your own)? Perhaps a bath with lots of shelf space, a shower, and a spa tub? Let's throw in an umbrella, a bicycle, a ceiling fan, and an orchid. That describes one of the 17 rooms at The Rhett House Inn, an unfailingly thoughtful hideaway in a gracious old Southern port city. Breakfasting on the porch of the white-columned main house makes you realize just how good life can be; 888/480-9350 or rhetthouseinn.com. -Steve Millburg
The Marshall House
The $12 million reincarnation of this historic property, which originally opened as the Mary Marshall in 1851, has worn well since the 1999 overhaul. At that time, it seemed risky to put so much into a closed, run-down structure three blocks from the Savannah River, in an area that was just starting to turn around. But the renovation helped inspire others to bring the neighborhood back to life, and The Marshall House now has its share of repeat guests. In 2001 restaurateur Sandy Hollander transformed the hotel's Cafè M into 45 Bistro. High-end artwork fills his sleek and contemporary setting. The hotel maintains the warmth of a B and B, but with full-service amenities; 800/589-6304 or marshallhouse.com.
The Inn at Oak Street
Details matter-such as the incense and candles that subtly lift your spirits, or the soothing background music in the public rooms, or the carafe of water and Ghirardelli chocolate mint that magically appear on your nightstand each evening. Though different in each of six guest rooms, the decor remains clean, uncluttered, chic, and comfortable throughout. The Boudoir, with its four-poster king bed, gas fireplace, and double-head shower, wins "most romantic" hands down. Other rooms offer spa tubs, and all have TVs with DVD/CD players. A two-block stroll through the historic residential neighborhood leads to the broad sweep of the St. Johns River. And, though small, the inn does offer spa treatments; 904/379-5525 or innatoakstreet.com. -Steve Millburg
GULF & CARIBBEAN
The Audubon Cottages at Hotel Maison de Ville
New Orleans, Louisiana
Lots of NOLA visitors know Hotel Maison de Ville, but not many have heard of the Audubon Cottages. Squirreled away on Dauphine Street, these seven gems sit a block and a half from the main hotel. Passersby can't even see what magic lies behind the high-gloss, loden green gateway. But gain entry and behold a dazzling courtyard oasis of shade trees, tropical plants, a glittering pool, and chattering birds. Perhaps their ancestors' songs reached James Audubon's ears when he lived in Cottage #1 and produced the Louisiana portion of his Birds of America series. Furnishings and artwork exude pure luxury in the five two-bedroom/two-bath and two one-bedroom/one-bath cottages. None has a kitchen, but no matter: The main hotel delivers a bountiful Continental breakfast and provides full room service from its Bistro restaurant; 800/634-1600.
In the heart of this sleepy fishing town, The Consulate combines lodging with local history. Atop the recently renovated Grady Building, the inn offers four luxury suites with Apalachicola River and downtown views. A 1995 restoration brought attractive antiques stores to the lower level, hotel suites above. Each room features original artwork, exposed brick walls, and high, tin-plated ceilings. Claw-foot tubs add vintage appeal; modern amenities include fully equipped kitchens and laundry facilities. Early risers can take their cup of joe to the balcony and watch local fishers glide their boats out to the Gulf. The oysters, shrimp, and crab they catch appear on local menus, making this quiet town a culinary mecca; 877/239-1159 or consulatesuites.com. -Julia Dowling Rutland
The Beach Club
Gulf Shores, Alabama
West of crowded Gulf Shores proper lies the Fort Morgan coast. Like other Southeast coastal developments, The Beach Club consists of high-rise condominiums, but the surroundings set it apart. Trails into the 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge begin just down the road, and segments of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail loop nearby. Visitors check into one- to five-bedroom suites at The Beach Club as if it were a hotel, albeit with a racquet club, a full-service spa, six swimming pools, two restaurants, and a market deli. Cook in your condo kitchen at least one night and serve the freshest fish you'll ever taste, from Billy's Seafood in the village of Bon Secour, about a 30-minute drive away; 888/260-7263 or beachclubal.com.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Get thee to a nunnery for your next Caribbean rendezvous. That is, head to the exquisitely restored, 16th-century convent-cum-hotel in Old San Juan. If those Carmelite ladies could see their home's transformation, they might momentarily consider relinquishing their vows. They could kick back in one of the hotel's 58 rooms decorated to reflect the island's Spanish heritage. On the top two of five floors, they could look out to San Juan Bay and historic Old Town sites. They could sample the pool on the diminutive rooftop terrace, or sidle up to the tapas bar at El Picoteo restaurant (independently owned), or sip a drink amid tropical breezes that sweeten the courtyard. But since that's sheer fantasy, modern-day travelers just have to take their place atàone of the loveliest hotels in a city that has no lack of beautiful accommodations; 787/723-9020 or elconvento.com.
THE NORTH COAST
Le Chateau Boutin
Le Chateau's sister property, Old Rittenhouse Inn, enjoys frequent mention in references to its Bayfield home. That enticing Lake Superior town lies about a 90-minute drive east of Duluth, Minnesota. But particularly for small groups or family gatherings, the seven well-appointed rooms with private baths in Le Chateau bear noting. Broad porches and most of the rooms in this elegant 1908 Queen Anne mansion deliver enthralling vistas of Lake Superior and its emeraldlike string of Apostle Islands. (They are easily accessible by ferry and private or chartered boat.) The delightful cafès and shops of Bayfield begin just a block down the hill. Mystery weekends are a big hit at the Chateau and include five-course dinners catered by the Old Rittenhouse, whose braised pork loin with apple cider marmalade garners kudos; 800/779-2129 or rittenhouseinn.com.