Front-row seats to the prettiest shorelines

Image: Agate Cove Inn
Set 125 feet on a bluff above the Pacific, this farmhouse and collection of cottages are well guarded from the occasional 25-foot wave that crashes into the cliff below.Courtesy of Agate Cove Inn
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With cooling ocean breezes and miles of striking coastline, Newport was an obvious place for turn-of-the-century tycoons to build their summer mansions. But you too can live like a steel baron at the OceanCliff Hotel, a red granite Rhode Island estate surrounded by 10 acres of rolling lawns that overlooks the graceful yachting traffic in Narragansett Bay. The price, however, is decidedly less aristocratic: just $250 a night.

Oceanfront hotels, with water views and steps-from-shoreline locations, usually command a premium price. But don’t let your budget keep you from getting close to the water. All along the U.S. coastlines, you can find charming inns set right on the water for $250 and less.

Sometimes it takes a little research and flexibility to get these great rates. But it doesn’t mean endless web searching. Now innkeepers are searching out former and prospective guests with social-networking tools to lure them with discounts and promotions. The ’Tween Waters Inn in Captiva, Fla., recently alerted its more than 5,000 fans on Facebook of a summer getaway sweepstakes. Up for grabs: two nights free at the playful resort straddling the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound.

Travelers can also save money by zeroing in on seashore destinations where small inns and B&Bs are not as common, says Bill Montcrief, president of Select Registry, an association of independently owned inns. The little-known Waimea Plantation Cottages are a bargain on Kauai, where the bulk of guest rooms are found at major resorts in Poipu. Every cottage at the former sugar plantation features a private lanai and barbecue grill for guests to best enjoy the low-key, authentic Hawaiian vibe, for as low as $239 a night during high season. The pool looks out over the shoreline, and a hammock strung between two coconut trees makes for the perfect spectating spot to watch the sun sink into the ocean. Active explorers can enjoy close access to the trails of Waimea Canyon and the mind-boggling beauty of the Na Pali coast.

Lastly, explore all pages of your calendar when planning your trip to the seashore. “On the East Coast, the mid-Atlantic during fall gives the best value because demand is down,” says Montcrief, who is also owner of the Candlestick Inn in the seaside town of North Wildwood, N.J. “Many people don’t realize that the water temperature usually stays above 70 degrees through the end of September.”

On the West Coast, where the weather is less variable, some places have no high season, such as the Agate Cove Inn on California’s Mendocino coast, a farmhouse set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific coast, where rates stay unchanged all year long (rooms from $179 to $329 a night) and every season offers a different attraction: whale-watching in winter, the birth of harbor seals in spring, blackberry picking in summer, and mushroom-hunting walks through the forest in autumn.

So whether you want to play in the waves or catch your own seafood dinner, you’re bound to find that perfect summertime escape with our list of affordable seaside inns.