I remember the moment I walked up the steep gravel hill toward Maderas Village — a boutique hotel at Playa Maderas, Nicaragua. A smiling woman was sitting on a balcony, swinging her legs like a kid hanging off the side of a tree fort. Beside her, two men, both chiseled out of wood with beards out of Kinfolk, sipped cocktails. I sensed instantly that these were the “beautiful people” Tom Wolfe wrote about in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Sexy, happy, tanned, flecked with salt crystals from hours spent in and out of the ocean.
“Get a drink, have a good time now, welcome to paradise,” the woman cooed from above.
Fellow electronic music lovers might recognize that line from “Since I Left You,” by the Avalanches, though the phrase itself is cribbed from a 1987 Linda Hamilton vehicle called Club Med. The point of the movie line, the song sample, and the iteration called down to me from a balcony all had the same effect: They were invitations to beachfront hedonism.
Later that night, I sat down at a communal meal and looked around the table. It was a startling array of glowing faces and perfect smiles.
“If that dude isn’t a model there’s no justice in the world,” I whispered to my cousin, referring to a Paul Newman lookalike sitting kittycorner from me.
He was. And he wasn’t the only one. For days we stayed there, steps from the sand. Surfing in the mornings, playing croquet after lunch, and watching the sun dip beneath the horizon from the shore. There were early yoga classes and late parties and even later afterparties and… this is what a good beach hotel does. It engulfs you in its distinctly beachy culture. It drowns you in its vibes.
Sadly, Maderas Village is currently closed due to political instability in Nicaragua. But these hotels are open and waiting for you. Calling to you with their patented siren song — the lapping of waves on shore. Since “beach hotels” is impossibly broad, we limited this roundup to hotels that are on the mainland. Or an island big enough to feel mainland-y. It’s not an exact science. Enjoy!
— Steve Bramucci, Travel Editor
Tower 23: San Diego, California
If those “location location location” gurus were offering a travel seminar, they’d highlight Tower 23, in San Diego’s famed Pacific Beach. Steps from the sand. Directly in front of a gentle surf break. And right in the thick of one of the best beach city bar scenes on the planet. This spot couldn’t be better situated.
Plenty of hotels have the great real estate but don’t do enough with it. Tower 23 does the opposite — throwing a whole welath of ideas at their guests. They have insane sugary-cereal-laden cinnamon rolls, a spa overlooking the ocean, and surf camps with pros.
If you’re looking to surf by day, party by night, and ignore your parked car for the duration of a long weekend, this is your jam.
Rooms start at $250.
Gran Meliá Nacional Rio de Janeiro: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The most opulent digs in the city, The Nacional is getting a second chance at life thanks to a huge remodel that honored the 1972 cylindrical tower that houses the rooms. But this is no kitschy nod to the 70s. Think more zeerust than Brady Bunch. Built by Latin America’s most celebrated modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, the hotel was begging to go a little Jetsons when it was revived. For instance, the restaurant bar has been compared to a Kubrick set, if that helps you to picture it. We dig on the original panel in the lobby that artist Carybé made from 300 pieces of concrete.
If you’re interested in having the best views of the city, then you have to stay here. You’ll have the chance to take in the mountains, the oceans, and the Christ all from the comfort of your bed. But you have to ask for a room on the northern side and above the 25th floor for the full view. All 413 rooms are gorgeous but the higher ones offer more striking views for sure. Be sure to check out the three hotel bars. Bardot specializes in the most heavenly tapas.
Rooms start at $410.