While hotels and resorts have long leaned on Mother Nature to enhance their guest experiences, few wild assets rival that of prime waterfront real estate—be it on a sugary sand beach or a dramatic rocky bluff. Fortunately for travelers, there’s a lot of choice for those seeking a great coastal getaway.
Culled from Travel + Leisure’s 15th Annual World’s Best Survey Awards, the following hotels were determined by readers to be among the top hotels in the country—and all come with ocean breezes, water views, and ultra-scenic shores. Asked to rate properties on rooms/facilities, location, service, restaurants/food, and value, 2010 poll takers once again made it clear that a coastal location can also be one of a hotel’s greatest features.
No matter your definition of what makes a great coastal hotel, there’s one clear characteristic—whether you’re in Big Sur or on a Hawaiian island—that all of the properties flaunt: location, location, location.
#1 Inn at Palmetto Bluff
With Spanish moss dripping from low-lying oak branches and egrets soaring overhead, life at this plantation-style luxury resort seems to move at the pace of a deep-southern drawl. But the many diversions—a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, fly-fishing, spa treatments, naturalist-led alligator “hunts”—sequestered on 20,000 acres of South Carolina coastal marshland leave little time for ennui. Twenty-nine cottages house 50 enormous rooms and suites (1,150 and 1,350 square feet, respectively), with pine floors, gas fireplaces, and private screened porches.
Room to Book: Cottages Suites have antique pine floors, fireplaces, plasma TVs, and screened verandas.
Insider Tip: Though river views are pricier due to impromptu bottlenose dolphin shows, the lagoon is equally lovely and attracts an abundance of birdlife.
#2 Post Ranch Inn
The hotel opened in 1992 and is made up entirely of small buildings set on a ridge high above the Pacific. In 2008 Post Ranch added 10 new sculptural structures, spiraling Pacific Suites, cantilevered Peak Houses, and Richard Serra-esque Cliff houses clad in torques of rusted steel. Staying in a Pacific Suite, wherever you stand you are exposed to the ocean and the sky but unseen by other guests. Even the tiled bath, big enough for two, has a commanding vista, and a floor-to-ceiling window that opens to let in Pacific breezes. The walls are paneled in redwood salvaged from old wine barrels and sheet metal art adorns the bathroom. Sierra Mar, the hotel restaurant will pack you a lunch to take down the Pacific Coast Highway in a Lexus convertible that guests can borrow for free. The mini-bar is complimentary, so take advantage on your balcony overlooking the ocean.
Room to Book: Mountain House rooms have views of the Santa Lucia mountain peaks from the bed, couch, tub, and terrace.
Insider Tip: Weather permitting, join the resident amateur astronomer in a star-gazing session.
#3 Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Florida’s most secluded and romantic retreat: a South Seas-style idyll set along a white-sand beach on a private 6-acre island, accessible only by boat or seaplane.
Room to Book: Suites 15 and 16 offer the most privacy.
Insider Tip: Visit Looe Key, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, located minutes away from the resort by kayak.
#4 Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu
“Perfect,” “heaven,” and “the best vacation of my life” are just a few ways guests describe this understatedly gorgeous, isolated resort where all 228 rooms, in low-rise bungalows, have ocean views. It’s popular with Hollywood celebrities for good reason: the five-star service is impeccable; the grounds border the dramatic volcanic rock coast with seawater and freshwater swimming pools; an open-air spa teems with tropical vegetation; and yoga, personal training, and a full menu of fitness classes are offered daily. The private 7,100-square-foot oceanfront Jack Nicklaus signature golf course is carved right into the underlying black lava, which serves as occasional bunkers.
Room to Book: The second story of bungalow 8: It overlooks a saltwater snorkeling lagoon, has ocean views, and is in the quietest, northern section of the property.
Insider Tip: For families there’s a tricked-out teen lounge and baby-proofed rooms for guests with infants.
Service rules at this recently renovated 5-acre Waikiki Beach beauty, which has existed for nearly a century. The Orchid Suite, the newest of the hotel’s premier rooms, made its debut in 2008. The fabled-hotel is a high-style base on Waikiki beach. Stay in one of two Vera Wang–designed suites—especially if you’re there to get married at sunset. Don’t miss breakfast either. At the open-air dining room at Orchids restaurant, paddle straight for the Hawaiian specialties: pipi kaula beef jerky, marinated ahi tuna poke, lomilomi cured salmon, Waimanalo roast suckling pig, local Kula tomatoes, and Big Island goat cheese. The Halekulani kitchen also whips up the Pacific’s best popovers.
Room to Book: Diamond Head suites on floors nine and higher have the best ocean and volcano views.
Insider Tip: Book a traditional Polynesian spa treatment like Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage.
Montage aims for an experience you might find in Positano, crisp service and the smell of the surf. You’ll find a pianist in the lobby, and a meal at the Studio, the hotel’s celebrated restaurant. The Arts and Crafts–style Montage Resort & Spa, the most architecturally impressive spot on the beach offers—in a too-rare instance of architectural common sense—262 rooms with Pacific panoramas. The location is exceptional, on a 30 acre spot on a bluff with a 280-degree view of the Pacific. The shingle-style architecture, all twists and turns and gables and porches, is incurably romantic; it’s a re-creation of the world of the California Impressionists who gathered in Laguna during the teens and twenties, lived in humble beach bungalows, and painted this coastline. The Montage showcases natural materials—stone, dark wood, copper—and a prominent collection of art from early in the 20th century, including works by William Wendt, Jean Mannheim and the other air painters who put this area on the map.
Room to Book: Ocean Surf View rooms on the upper floors have great views of the Pacific Break.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Thalassic Beach Walk—a complimentary, spa-therapist–guided stroll that focuses on the mind-body benefits of ocean air.
#7 Kahala Hotel & Resort
Oahu classic—fresh from a major renovation—with thoughtful in-room details (Frette linens; chenille robes; oversize showerheads). This 1964 colossus benefits from having about it a whiff of archaism. It was here, at what was then a Hilton and known as the Kahollywood, that Richard Burton and Liz Taylor hid out from the paparazzi in a private cabana.
Room to Book: Ocean suites have panoramic views of Diamond Head.
Insider Tip: Swim with dolphins in the hotel’s lagoon.
#8 Inn at Spanish Bay
Spanish influences in rooms and restaurant interiors amid Monterey pines, next to the famed golf course.
Room to Book: Those that overlook the fire-pits can see the bagpiper play at sunset.
Insider Tip: Check the inn’s calendar before booking—frequent and major events take place at Pebble Beach, from car shows to golf tournaments.
#9 Lodge at Sea Island
Sea Island, GA
English country manor charm meets Southern hospitality, overlooking fairways and the coastline.
Room to Book: Suites and living rooms are more than 1000 sq. ft and have water or golf course views, plus 24-hour butler service.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the bagpipe serenade at dusk every night.
#10 The Cloister
Sea Island, GA
Long a favorite of the East Coast Establishment; a mansion set on 1,000 acres of a barrier island.
Room to Book: Beach Club Suites, with kitchen, fireplace and balcony have family-friendly location close to three pools, an ice cream parlor, movie theater and children’s center.
Insider Tip: Would-be Annie Oakley’s can sign up for ladies-only clay target shooting lessons at The Sea Island Shooting School.