Listen to the ocean from your room in one of these lesser-known coastal inns
Thomas J. Story
This ragged stretch of the Sunshine Coast is so unspoiled and awe-inspiring, it's sometimes hard to imagine that anyone but a bald eagle or two has been here before you.
Check in: Wooden walkways meander through the forest where Rockwater Secret Cove Resort's 13 roomy, light-filled, adults-only canvas tent suites―with fluffy king-size duvets and tubs for two―perch above the blue water. Each suite has a deck and views to inspire castaway fantasies. From $315 U.S. through Oct 12.
Explore: At Rockwater's Spa Without Walls, treatments are on a platform at the water's edge with stunning views. Horseback riding, bocce ball, croquet, and beach volleyball, will tempt you to stay on the property, but make time to explore the ocean by kayak. Horseback rides $52 U.S. for 90 minutes;
sea kayaking $57.20 U.S. for half-day.
Photo by John Granen
Washington State Parks resuscitated this beloved cluster of '30s-era cabins set between forest and sea last year, and ever since, it's been a go-to destination for anyone seeking a taste of the simple life.
Walk the beach or tootle around Saratoga Passage in a vintage rowboat. After dark, toast marshmallows around a beach bonfire with other adventurers lucky enough to have scored one of the 33 cabins. Finally, hunker down under the covers while Puget Sound sings you to sleep.
Check in: Splurge on a two-bedroom bungalow for $129 a night. Save by checking into a standard cabin for $45 a night. Save more after October 15, when cabins start at $23 a night. Two-night weekend minimum; parks.wa.gov/camabeach
Explore: Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats has a new location, at Cama Beach. Rent a cute boat to explore the Sound―fisherman's sweater and pipe not included. Closed Mon–Tue; rowboats $20 per hour; 360/387-9361. –Jenny Cunningham
Photo by Andrew Geiger
If Goldilocks were a beach girl, Manzanita would be the town on Oregon's northern coast she'd find "just right." Not too swanky, not too tacky. A bakery, wine bar, organic clothing store, and spa are all worthy indulgences, but you've got to see the beach first: seven wide-open miles of sand, big boomy waves, and poetry-worthy sunsets.
Check in: A group of "cabins" in name only, the Zen-like Coast Cabins is set in a bamboo grove a couple of blocks from the beach, with private outdoor spas, sculptural firepits, and heated floors. From $165.
Explore: Tear around the packed sand on a "fun cycle," a recumbent tricycle that appeals to the kid in all of us. Manzanita Bikes & Boards; closed Mon;
$8 per hour; 503/368-3337. –J.C.
Photo by Ebbe Roe Yevino-Smith
The luxurious new Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is a curving sweep of glass, steel, and wood beside the rain forest and above a surge channel that boasts the best storm-watching in the West.
Check in: Each room comes decked out with a fireplace, balcony, and flat-screen TV ― not that you'll need it. What's really worth watching here is the view out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Feeling restless? Switch it up by taking in the view from one of the spa's outdoor hot pools. Storm-watching season starts mid-November. From $237 U.S.
Explore: The Wild Pacific Trail skirts rocky cliffs and meanders through dense old-growth rain forest to reveal dramatic vistas of the moody, tossing surf. –D.L.
Andrea M. Gómez
On the far side of Catalina, away from the main town of Avalon, is Two Harbors, a tiny boaters' haven that feels like an island on the island.
Check in: For all the isolation, you don't have to rough it here. In addition to boat-in and walk-in campgrounds, Two Harbors has the Banning House Lodge in the vacation home of Catalina's onetime owners. All 12 rooms have views of the harbor. From $128.
Explore: At Two Harbors, you can snorkel through swaying kelp beds and kayak to hidden coves. Steep trails lead into the Catalina backcountry. Or just stroll across the isthmus and look out over the Pacific: next stop, Hawaii, 2,500 miles away.
Photo courtesy of Timber Cove
A narrow ribbon of road clings, against all odds, to a grassy slope that plummets into the Pacific along this overlooked coastline with views to infinity.
Check in: It always had the million-dollar spot on a solitary rocky point above the waves, and its rugged lodge look and soaring lounge haven't changed. But with new ownership and a cash infusion, Timber Cove has shed its '70s decor and gone for a more streamlined, romantic look. Private decks are perfect for whale-watching and sharing a Sonoma Coast Pinot. From $169
Explore: Pull off at Salt Point State Park to ramble by wild-colored succulents and alien rock formations carved by the sea. $7 per vehicle
The small surf town of Cayucos has remained miraculously immune to over-development for decades, despite its great wines to the east and white sandy beaches to the west.
Check in: The elaborate breakfast (included!) is nearly as good as chef Jensen Lorenzen's seasonally inspired dinner (if it's on the evening menu, the oxtail soup is a must). But the best part about the 1800s Cass House? That would be twin sisters Grace Lorenzen (the innkeeper) and Carla Wingett (groundskeeper), who manage the organic garden and the five impeccably turned-out guestrooms. From $165
Explore: With sand dunes climbing hundreds of feet above miles-long beaches and eucalyptus-lined hiking trails, the Montaña de Oro park (a 25-minute drive away) is a must.
Photo by Chris Leschinsky
Remember those beach vacations you took with your parents back in the day? Sandy motel floors, over-chlorinated pools, and too much junk food? Tiny Avila Beach, smack at the midway point of California's Central Coast, is that throwback beach town, upgraded for your new, adult standards.
Check in: Yes, kids love the pool, the giant chess game, even the putt-putt golf green at Avila Lighthouse Suites, but lush landscaping, a location to die for (the motel is maybe 10 steps from the beach), and 54 large guest suites with low-key nautical decor and mini kitchens make the grown-ups giddy too. From $229
Explore: Avila Beach is tailor-made for strolling around in your flip-flops eating ice cream. But if you tire of that, take a docent-led 3.5-mile hike on Pecho Coast Trail (9 a.m. Sat; free, reservations required) to Point San Luis Lighthouse ($5). –Samantha Schoech