Four nights + perfect beach + grilled-pork bun = $235 for a long weekend.
For a fraction of a typical stay on the French or Italian Riviera, you can catch a tan on one of Spain’s nicer beaches, Playa de Arenales del Sol, located eight miles south of gloriously cheap Alicante. Before hopping on one of the hourly coaches from the bus station just south of the city center, buy a bunch of Valencia oranges ($6)—they taste like Spain itself—at the modernista-style Mercado Central. After a siesta on Arenales, squeeze into the tiled tapas bar El Cisne de Oro (Calle César Elguezábal 23) and munch on tiny sloppy buns of grilled pork ($3). Spend the night at the quirkily decorated Les Monges Palace (from $58; 34-965-215-046 or lesmonges.net), named for a nearby convent, but not nearly as chaste—the noisy bars of the Barrio del Carmen are just down the street.
Sebastian Inlet, Florida
Two nights camping + sirloin-tip sub + surf rental = $70 for a two-nighter.
It’s been three decades since surfers first started doing aerials off Florida’s sleepy Space Coast, yet somehow the waves still aren’t that crowded. Set up camp with the Jimmy Buffett crowd at Sebastian Inlet State Park ($23 a night; reserveamerica.com) and break through the swells at First Peak, next to the north jetty. If you’re feeling daring, paddle a third of a mile to Monster Hole, one of the longer waves on the East Coast. Refuel on sirloin-tip steak subs ($8.75) at the Long Point Café (longpointcafe.com). Wake up at dawn to reapply wax or rent boards (from $15 a day) at Ron Jon Surf Shop (ronjons.com), open 24 hours a day.
Tofino, British Columbia
Four nights + free wellies + fish tacos = $1,125 for a long weekend.
In summer, Tofino’s surfer-filled Chesterman Beach is Canada’s answer to Laguna (albeit with Sarah McLachlan sightings instead of Lauren Conrad). But in winter, it’s the coast-pummeling storms that are the main draw. From Vancouver, ferry to Vancouver Island, then drive through the old-growth forests of Pacific Rim National Park to the Wickaninnish Inn (from $280; wickinn.com), which slashes its peak-season rates to lure in hardy souls who pre-reserve window seats at the Pointe restaurant so they can watch winter storms make landfall. When you want to leave your picture window and get soaked, grab the free rain gear from your room and ask the front desk for Wellies. Once you’re good and wet (and hungry), drive up the road to SoBo (sobo.ca), a former takeout truck with a killer fish taco (it’s literally called that: the Killer Fish Taco; $5). The fancy new digs have great views of the Clayoquot Sound.
Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic
Three nights + palm groves + whale colony = $1,758 for a long weekend.
Drive two hours along the newly built highway from Santo Domingo to the Samaná Peninsula, where the year-old Peninsula House is easily one of the nicest hotels on the island (thepeninsulahouse.com). The room rates, from $520, are slightly more reasonable if you book a three-night package ($1,700) that includes full breakfasts, a dinner for two, and a pair of poolside massages. Sip your wake-up espresso in one of the guesthouse’s six airy suites—request one of two that face the ocean—then sit poolside and survey the surrounding palm plantations and mangroves. Lunch is at the Beach restaurant, plopped right on a long arc of sand that you might have to share with, say, one other couple walking their dog. If you arrive between January and March, head out to sea on a Whale Samaná motorboat (from $58; 809-538-2494) to gape at the hundreds of humpbacks that winter in Samaná Bay. Swap whale tales over mojitos ($4) at El Mosquito Art Bar in Las Terrenas’ Fishermen’s Village; the string of beach shacks have been restored, largely by French expats, into loungey, laid-back nightspots.
San Sebastián, Puerto Rico
Two nights + pick- your-own coffee beans + omelettes = $298 for a two-nighter.
The lush hillsides surrounding the Hacienda El Jibarito (from $129; haciendaeljibarito.com) don’t just provide a pretty view. They’re also the source for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A unique agro-tourism lodge (the name means, roughly, “House of the Hillbilly”) two hours west of San Juan, Jibarito lets visitors pick eggs from the on-site chicken farm, then deliver them to the kitchen to be whipped into omelettes. Request one of the freestanding wooden villas, some of which have views of roaming Brahman cows. For $40, you can tour two nearby coffee plantations, pick your own beans, bring them back to the hacienda to roast, and then bestow them on coffee drinkers back home as holiday gifts.
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Four nights + birds, bats, butterflies + sea trampoline = $522 for a long weekend.
A one-hour flight from Panama City gets you to Colón, the main island of the idyllic Bocas del Toro archipelago. Check into an air-conditioned balcony room at the Bocas Inn (from $88; anconexpeditions.com/lodges.html). Through the front desk, hire a guide and hash out a boat tour through the area’s 68 islands ($165 for two)—Isla de los Pájaros is best for birding, Isla Bastimentos for bats and butterflies. Get a taste of Colón’s no-holds-barred nightlife by hiring a water taxi ($5) to go out to Aqua Lounge (bocasaqualounge.com), a hostel-bar where you can sip Panamanian “cholos,” seco with milk ($3), and then launch yourself off a floating trampoline.
Baja California Sur, Mexico
Four nights + sea-lion encounters + deep-sea fishing = $391 for a long weekend.
With its $250 greens fees and $50 lunch entrées, Cabo San Lucas can empty your pockets pretty fast. But just 60 miles north, on the Sea of Cortez, there’s lush, rustic Cabo Pulmo. Check into a bungalow or casita at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort (from $69; cabopulmo.com). Guides from the resort’s dive center can take you scuba diving with a colony of sea lions or a school of manta rays in the National Marine Park ($55) or drop you off for a snorkel at Mermaid Beach. Fish for wahoo or marlin with local fishermen in pangas ($60 to $100 for four hours), or just order fish tacos at La Palapa (no phone), a short walk from the resort, while the blue-footed boobies swoop above.
Two nights + reggae royalty + roasted breadfruit = $900 for a two-nighter.
The Marley Resort & Spa isn’t just the only high-end property on the island actually owned by Caribbeans, it’s run by actual Marleys (from $450 before December 15, $650 after; marleyresort.com). Opened last July by Bob’s daughter (on what was once the family’s vacation property), the inn’s sixteen massive suites are decorated with elaborately carved wooden headboards, Bahamian and African textiles, and coral stone-tiled baths. Start the day with a breakfast of callaloo and roasted breadfruit on the sea-view terrace; then sunbathe on the slice of sugary beach, or back-float around the waterfall-fed swimming pool (where guess whose music wafts from hidden outdoor speakers). At night, various Marleys have been known to stop by for impromptu jam sessions at the Stir It Up bar.
Desert Hot Springs, California
Two nights + mineral baths + delicious coffee cake = $390 for a two-nighter.
Palm Springs might draw more sucked-in celebrity stomachs, but Desert Hot Springs, just 25 minutes north, is California’s real desert oasis. The Coachella Valley’s mineral-rich hot (120 to 180 degrees) and cold springs (fed by snow runoff) are put to use for both soaking and drinking at the minimalist, seven-room Sagewater Spa (from $195; sagewaterspa.com). After a morning soak, indulge in co-owner Rhoni Epstein’s Russian-Jewish- style coffee cake. After dark, take advantage of the valley’s new light-pollution ordinances by driving twenty minutes over to Joshua Tree National Park to spy the green-eyed coyotes and jumping cholla cacti.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua
Seven nights + private cook + sloop sailing = $1,580 for a week.
On the one hand, you have to survive a 2.5-hour drive from the Managua airport. On the other, you get a private (pretty much) beach, seven nights in a four-room villa, and your own cook, all for roughly $1,500. Go through the friendly, well-stocked, English-speaking Aurora Beachfront Realty (aurorabeachfront.com). Book a sailing trip on the Pelican Eyes resort’s 42-foot sloop ($80 per person; piedrasyolas.com), stopping at one of Nicaragua’s countless fantasy beaches. At night, do the swordfish-and-sangria thing at El Colibrí (located behind the church in the city center) for $30 a couple, or stuff yourself on fresh-caught lobster, about $2.50 a pound. Word of warning: If you’re here around New Year’s, pack a flashlight. A flood of upper-crust youth descends on their parents’ beach homes every year, literally sucking the energy out of the town. Expect frequent, although not entirely unromantic, blackouts.
Two nights + fish cakes + surf lesson = $500 for a two-nighter.
The 50-cent “World Famous Fish Cakes” at a Friday-night open-air fish fry in the town of Oistins are almost worth the four-plus-hour flight by themselves. And they’re not the only thing on the tiny, flat island that’s a bargain: If you book by November 22, the Crane resort (from $210; thecrane.com) is offering 30 percent off all rooms, plus a free breakfast. The steady breeze that blows across the island means constant wave action, and a troop of sunbaked dudes are available to teach surfing lessons starting at $80 for two hours (barbadossurf .com), or to give a guided surf tour of the island ($100). For something just as authentic but a lot less strenuous, try a tour of the Mount Gay Rum distillery (mountgay.com)—free samples included. The view from the terraced pool area over the bluff will make you feel like you’re in a glossy advertisement for paradise—provided you have a rum punch in your hand.