Don't end summer without sneaking off to the coast--even if it's just for the weekend. Here are our favorite hotels by the sea.
Ride the bunny waves at Waikiki
Maybe you think you're not a Waikiki person. Maybe you think you prefer something a bit more secluded and exclusive. But consider this: With its warm water, dependably gentle waves, and novice-nurturing surf schools, Waikiki Beach remains the most forgiving place in the world to learn to surf or steer an outrigger canoe.
The Sheraton Waikiki stands midway along the 2-mile-long beach, and while its high-rise architecture shouts 1970s, a $187 million renovation has given it 21st-century polish. And those Waikiki waves are timelessly perfect. From $225; 800/325-3535.
La Jolla, CA
Give the stand-up craze a try
Anyone ready to try stand-up paddleboarding can get a thorough intro at Surf Diva's three-day SUP & Yoga Getaway. Both sports are all about core strength, balance, and flexibility, making them a natural pairing.
In between two paddleboarding lessons and one "surfer yoga" class per day, guests rest their rubbery limbs at the beachfront--and recently updated--La Jolla Shores Hotel. Packages from $977; Oct 1-3; 858/454-8273.
Choose the city's wavy side
San Francisco's hotels cluster downtown. But there's something to be said for a stay on the city's saltier, breezier, and less-known Pacific Ocean edge. Out here, a room at the Ocean Park Motel gets you in with the wetsuit-wearing, wave-riding crowd at Ocean Beach, famously foggy in summer but warm and sunny come September.
The 1930s modern motel has a pretty courtyard and (in many rooms) cute kitchens--all at a reasonable price, especially for the city. And it takes dogs (from $10/night), which is handy because Ocean Beach is dog heaven. From $135; 415/566-7020.
San Francisco day trips
Laguna Beach, CA
Some serious surfer cachet
You don't have to be a surfer dude to enjoy the splashy surf suites at the Hotel La Casa del Camino. They're done up with wall-size underwater-photo murals, surfboards on the walls, pillows made of boardshorts material, and, in some cases, views of the crashing waves from the window.
Pop up to the rooftop bar (the only one in town) for drinks and insanely gorgeous sunsets. From $229; 949/497-2446.
Just like home
The Venice Beach Eco Cottages have a sweet spot on a leafy street between Venice's famous beach and the shops and restaurants along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
We felt right at home basking in front of the Victorian fireplace, sipping coffee at the sunlit breakfast banquette, and soaking in the red claw-foot tub. From $215; 3-night minimum; 866/802-3110.
Art deco beauty near the beach
The recently renovated Hotel Shangri-La, across the street from the sands, oozes old-school details. Even the building has curves! Grab an era-appropriate drink from the poolside bar or from the rooftop bar, which looks out to the Pacific Ocean.
But truth is, the view from the in-room soaking tub is just as blue, blue, blue--these are some of the best tubs in California. (Fair warning: Weekend parties by the pool last past some people's bedtime.) From $295; 877/999-1301.
More coastal California hotels
El Colibri Boutique Hotel
Meet the Central Coast's new kid
Almost but not quite within sight of the Pacific, the new El Colibri Boutique Hotel is hidden by the trees along Santa Rosa Creek. That said, a 1/4-mile boardwalk path leads you to Moonstone Beach, the kind of beach that makes even seasoned coastal wanderers stop and whisper, Wow.
As for the hotel, it breaks out of the town's famous cutesiness for something that's a more Tuscany-meets-SoCal flavor of luxury. Check out the small but pretty top-floor spa for a massage. From $189, including breakfast; 805/924-3003.
More underrated beach towns
Sleek new architectural stunner Hotel Encanto is becoming known for its sexy nighttime lounge scene. But, really, it's at its best when sunlight streaks across chalk white walls.
Lounge poolside beneath a sail-like awning to take in the view from the hotel's covetable blufftop perch, well above the city's more chaotic quarters. From $375 U.S.
St. Regis Princeville Resort
The Islands' best view
You might suspect the St. Regis Princeville Resort of stocking its corner of Hanalei Bay with sea turtles, rays, and Technicolor coral--the snorkeling is that good. But with big mountain-to-bay views from the private beach, you'll hardly miss out if you don't snorkel. Even better: Since its jillion-dollar redo last fall, it now has the contemporary Hawaiian look it deserves.
Best thing about the rooms? It's a toss-up between the shower with a view of the green Na Pali Coast and the butler service--they'll unpack your bags, and get you into chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's on-site Kaua'i Grill. From $460 (sometimes less-search the resort's website); 808/826-9644.
Beginner's guide to Kauai
Little River, CA
A retro-chic hideout
The Andiron's 1950s cabins are something out of the ordinary along the sleepy, rural stretch south of Mendocino. They don't look it from the road, but peek inside and you'll see that the inn's new owners have redecorated each of the 11 redwood-paneled rooms with quirky rummage-sale finds. (Our favorite: No. 5, done up in "library chic" and nicknamed Read.)
Half the rooms have kitchenettes and wood-burning stoves; all have decks looking down the grassy hill to a fringe of cypress trees and the ocean beyond. From $89; 800/955-6478.
More of the greatest beach hideaways you've never heard of
Vancouver Island, B.C.
Cabins on the cliff
Victoria may be only an hour away, but the 25 cabins at Point-No-Point Resort might as well be at the end of the Earth--a rugged, woodsy, ocean cliff stretch of it at that. Cedar-cute and woodstove-cozy, many of the one- and two-room cabins were built in the '50s but ace the test of time.
All have picture windows framing the Pacific, wooden decks with bright red Adirondacks, and pebbly paths that lead to the intimate, window-walled Tearoom restaurant--and the private beach below. From $168 U.S.; 2-night minimum.
Slow way, way down
Quaint and compact Sayulita is Mexico's chill-out destination du jour, but in September, when the weather's hot and kids are back in school, things slow down considerably. Relax on the stylish rooftop lounge at Petit Hotel Hafa, a tiny boutique hotel two blocks from the beach, where the Moroccan-inspired decor in the middle of the Mexican tropics draws both design enthusiasts and hideaway seekers.
Owners Christophe and Marina Mignot know everyone in town and are happy to share all off-season secrets, so a stay here feels like the real local's-eye-view. From $53 U.S.; 2-night minimum.
San Juan Island, WA
Back to the wild
A quick, calming country drive from the bustle of San Juan Island's ferry landing, Lakedale Resort sits on 82 forested acres with 3 freshwater lakes.
It's always had campsites, cabins, and a lodge, and now it's added a cluster of 13 canvas tents decked out with pillow-top bedding, lanterns, even bath products to cart to the bathhouse. Canvas tents from $149; 800/617-2267.
Big Island, Hawaii
Your tropical estate
Think of it as the anti-resort. Not that Puakea Ranch's four private bungalows at the Big Island's northern tip are short on luxury: You'll nap in four-poster beds dressed with Italian linens, cool off in your own dipping pool, and enjoy views of the Pacific from your tree-shaded front porch.
But the low-key property, once a sugar mill and a cattle ranch, is also refreshingly rustic. Collect eggs for an omelet from the chicken coop, and ride one of the ranch's horses for a view of the famed Kohala Coast--a short drive away when you're ready to hit the beach (we like Kauna'oa, pictured). From $200, plus $100 cleaning fee per stay; 2-night minimum; 808/315-0805.
Pacific Edge Hotel
Laguna Beach, CA
Perhaps it's the moment when a beach sherpa scurries out with your chair and umbrella on the white-sand beach that happy shock sets in. Or maybe when you're curled up in an Adirondack above the waves on your beachfront balcony that you'll shake your head in giddy bafflement. How you can be camped out at a chic hotel on the prettiest stretch of beach in Laguna and not be going into credit-card debt is best left a mystery. At the Pacific Edge Hotel are sassy chartreuse walls, Endless Summer surf art, and pillow menus that you'll appreciate when you're not on the sand, in one of the two pools, or finally taking that surf lesson. From $160; 949/281-5709.
It's not too soon to begin planning your fall getaway now!