Leave the cold-weather blues behind with these seven beach hot spots.
WINTER CAN BE a relative term in California, but as the days get shorter and our circadian rhythms slow, something shifts inside, causing us to hibernate a bit, or pack on a few pounds despite our good intentions to not overindulge during the holidays. But then there’s the soul-stirring beacon of a winter escape — that electrifying vision of soft white sand and cerulean seas, of stepping off a plane into the warm embrace of tropical air, and that devilish feeling of freedom in shedding the winter armor of fleece and Uggs and dipping your toes into gin-clear oceanic bath water. Whether you seek an adrenaline-punched adventure or alpha-wave bliss with a splash of culture, these seven spots will recharge the spirit, and the only winter blues in sight will be an ombré of sea and sky from your room with a view.
Trips for the Adventurer
Bora Bora Liquid Festival and IronMana
Each December, water sports enthusiasts outnumber the cocooned honeymoon crowd and gather in the bucket-list paradise of Bora Bora for a weeklong event that features world-class competitions such as long-distance OC-1 outrigger, stand-up paddleboard, prone paddle and swim races, along with beach parties, water-skills clinics and island adventures. Honoring Tahitian traditions, the festival kicks off with the postcard-perfect arrival of several Polynesian sailing canoes that have traveled from Tahiti to Bora Bora via celestial navigation instead of GPS. Daily races are a mash-up of long-distance and sprint events, followed by evening dance parties, sprawling buffets and nights on the town in Vaitape. For the hard core, an IronMana elite event — a grueling 50k (34 mile) OC-1 outrigger race, 45k SUP race and 12k long-distance swim — caps the week, while anyone can enter the final 40k solo or team-relay SUP race circumnavigating the island. And everyone including world-class athletes, amateurs and spectators mixes it up with the affable local Tahitians, while enjoying the mind-bending colorscape of the teal-and-turquoise lagoon fringed by white sand and looming jade green volcanic mountains. At base camp, Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort, Liquid Festers can retreat to the lush garden or over-the-water bungalows where an evening swim means a dive from your private deck. December 3–6. easytahiti.com/noa/bora-bora-ironmana.html
Healey Water Ops (HWO) Nihiwatu Resort
Charismatic big-wave surfer and professional waterman Mark Healey is offering oceancentric “trips of a lifetime” on the pristine island of Sumba, east of Bali. At Nihiwatu Resort, guests find compelling extremes like luxe seaside villas and an intact authentic indigenous culture. Nihiwatu’s one-and-ahalf- mile stretch of beach hosts more water buffaloes and wild horses than people, not to mention an epic wave out front deemed “God’s Left” that fills the daydreams of the world’s best surfers. Healey and his highly trained team guide guests through this untouched aquatic paradise whether they want to snorkel its reefs, scuba around massive boulders and pinnacles, free-dive into the depths, spearfish for bigeye tuna and mahimahi, line-fish with the locals, swim under 100-foot waterfalls, or charge off-the-charts empty waves. “There’s no other place like this on the planet,” says Healey, who’s trodden the planet the better part of the last 15 years chasing swells and adventures. “You come for the perfect wave, fall in love with the raw beauty, and return for the local people and culture. The indigenous Sumbanese are one of the last remaining intact animistic societies on the planet. It’s definitely one of the most unique places I have ever been.” Nihiwatu is the initial stepping-stone of HWO’s plans for global one-of-a-kind ocean adventures. nihiwatu.com/the-experience/by-sea
Turtle Bay Resort
Ah, the North Shore of Oahu, home to 26 miles of golden sand and thundering waves, surf shacks, Matsumoto Shave Ice, shrimp trucks and hula pie at Ted’s Bakery. And yes, that was crooner Jack Johnson you just saw in the Sunset Market talking to shredder Kelly Slater. It’s a world away from Waikiki, and a bubble of bohemian surf culture. Down the Kam Highway, Turtle Bay Resort awaits with 880 acres of prime beachfront splendor and amenities: 36 holes of shoreline golf, a stable full of horses, 12 miles of oceanfront trails, a sweet surf break and the Hans Hedemann Surf Center for barrel lessons or SUP rentals. Kuilima Cove calls for snorkeling with the hotel’s aumakua or spirit animal: the sea turtle, tai chi master of the ocean. While the guest rooms and suites in the main hotel have been renovated and deliver a luxe landing spot with ocean views, it’s the 40-plus private cottages with butler-style service, lanais, hammocks and sunken tubs that pique the senses. Turtle Bay is home to the Stand Up World Series finals and will host the Sunset Beach Pro and Turtle Bay Women’s Pro SUP competitions in February 2015. Women interested in the sport can sign up for SUP clinics, then witness some of the world’s best in action either from a board or on land with a mai tai in hand. Alohaaaaaa. turtlebayresort.com
Realign and Recharge
The former private residence of Ian Fleming and the setting where he penned all 14 James Bond novels, GoldenEye is Jamaica’s raddest resort, owned by arbiter of cool Chris Blackwell — the Island Records legend who launched Bob Marley, U2 and Zero 7, just to name a few. Whether you wish to luxuriate in Fleming’s Villa with a dedicated staff or check into a beachfront cottage, GoldenEye provides a halcyon gated oasis in Oracabessa (near Ocho Rios), where the fresh–lime juice mai tais come spiked with Blackwell’s own line of dark rum and the greens on your plate are plucked at his local farm. An international crowd enjoys snorkeling the reefs out front or stand-up-paddling the emerald green lagoon out back. Guests can swim or kayak over to the FieldSpa on the edge of the lagoon — one of the prettiest in the world — and enjoy salt scrubs, massages and facials in the open-air treatment rooms. The more spiritual set can do sound meditation and sunset yoga on the deck. Full moon parties include jerk barbecues, James Bond flicks under the stars and bonfires on the beach. The main bar and dining area’s walls and ceiling are plastered with rock ’n’ roll memorabilia and often Mr. Blackwell himself can be spotted mingling with guests in his Jamaican paradise. goldeneye.com
If your iPhone is attached to your ear and you spend more time with your laptop than your mate, this stylin’ hideaway on Maui is the place to unplug. Lumeria’s elegantly restored sugarcane plantation with wraparound porch sits high on the hill above bohemianchic Paia and the cresting waves of the Hookipa Beach. Yoga on the lawn starts the day, followed by time floating in the infinity pool, lomilomi massage in an outdoor hale tucked into the Whispering Pine Forest, a walk through the labyrinth, aromatherapy and essential oil classes, meditation and chill time in the hidden hammocks scattered throughout the impressive gardens. After getting your om on, head to Paia for boutique shopping, cafe hopping, sashimi at Mama’s Fish House and live music at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon, where big names often drop in to jam. When it’s time to get wet, Lumeria will arrange for private surf, SUP or windsurfing lessons with elite trainer and badass waterwoman Suzie Cooney. Back at the estate, founder Xorin Balbes is an architectural conservator with an eye for beauty and a heart for preservation, so high design abounds, with four-poster beds, river rock showers, and giant Buddhas and antique urns dotting the Eden-like garden that honors the local indigenous flora and the island ancestors. Paradise found. lumeriamaui.com
Designed by famed beach architect Jaime Barba, this spanking-new 40-villa hideaway and spa perches above Banderas Bay, just north of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. The spacious digs sport teal, cream and natural tones, ocean views, and plunge pools on shaded decks for lazy lounge-y afternoons serenaded by the jungle’s birdsong. After a day of catamaran sailing, hiking, kayaking, surfing or fishing, slip into the resort’s infinity pools or drift over to the Makawé Spa, which nods to the healing rituals of the Huichol culture with treatments like the “Huaxe” — a traditional massage with gourds that begins with the burning of ceremonial aura-cleansing copal incense. Guests of Matlali have an open invitation to the colorful Eva Mandarina Beach Club — think seaside retreat meets art installation with paint-spackled VW bug, hanging white bicycles and yellow rubber duckies, a whimsical vision of famed Guadalajarabased artist Abel Galvan. A stroll through the nearby cobblestoned fishing village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle delivers the chance to explore the mercado, interact with local artisans and take in live music in the plaza. matlali.com
This adobe-style-meets-Balinese-chic, 26-room boutique hotel in Baja California Sur is the antidote to the mega hotels and madness of Cabo. Leave the kids at home: Rancho Pescadero is a mighty tasteful oceanfront playground for adults, whether you want to decompress while floating in the pool clutching a fruity elixir, downward dog to the sound of waves, elevate your surf technique or gallop along the shore. Thirty minutes north of Cabo with no other hotel in sight, Rancho Pescadero stands out for dependably perfect moments — a toes-inthe- sand private dinner for two by a fire pit, a nap on the cushy beachfront daybeds, kayaking with gray whales, watching baby turtles migrate out to sea. Massages take place in the cozy low-fi spa shacks on the beach, and moonlight suppers are served in the vegetable garden, where guests can sit at the counter and watch chef wizardry in the outdoor kitchen. Housemade tequila spills from petite wooden barrels and the talented bartenders shake up endless nectars. Translucent netting envelops the suites’ plush beds, and swinging chairs and comfy loungers fill the decks for ocean views and stargazing. Artsy Todos Santos sits 10 minutes away with galleries, groovy restaurants and rooftop bars for margaritas and more magic. ranchopescadero.com