Not only has Halekulani recently invested millions in a huge refurbishment, but also all the rooms still have priceless views of the Pacific Ocean or the green slopes of Diamond Head, and the service remains quietly attentive, even anticipatory.
Food La Mer is Honolulu's top table for classical French, thanks to longtime chef Yves Garnier, and for romance, thanks to its view of the sunset over the ocean. Luxe dishessuch as bouillabaisse topped with puff pastry, or three kinds of local fish in a rosemary-salt crust (cracked tableside)create a sense of occasion by themselves.
Sports If you're not ready to surf with the pros on Oahu's wild North Shore, the ocean floor in front of the hotel creates the ideal learner's wavessmall close to shore, bigger farther out.
Spa In addition to offering the local style of massage, the ritual Lomi Lomi (a soothing, stretching style), the two-year-old spa specializes in pan-Pacific traditional treatments, like the tongue-twisting Nonu, Ton Ton Ama and Pohaku. No extra charge for explanations.
Details Doubles from $295; 800-367-2343, 808-923-2311 or www.halekulani.com.
LAJITAS West Texas
Just about the biggest thing in West Texas, this year-old, 72-room, 25,000-acre resort near Big Bend National Park is also the only thing for miles around. An hour's flight from Austin, it's in the atmospheric desert badlands near the Chisos Mountains. Blissful seclusion is guaranteed.
Food Jeff Blank, from Hudson's on the Bend in Austin, oversees Ocotillo; husband-and-wife team Chad and Amber Burns are chefs de cuisine. Their haute-cowboy dishes, like Davis Mountain venison stuffed with jackrabbit, use local products.
Sports The Equestrian Center, which provides guided trail rides and lessons, is the main draw. There's also golf, tennis and hunting, with quail, dove and mule deer as the quarry.
Spa A 30,000-square-foot spa, opening later this year, will take advantage of the natural hot springs under the property.
Details Doubles from $295; 877-424-3525, 877-LAJITAS or www.lajitas.com.
EL MONTE SAGRADO Taos, New Mexico
At this luxury eco-resort, which opened last July, the 37 outsize suitessome pueblo-style, others Asian-inspiredare built out of recycled concrete. The owner even designed a sustainable water-purification process for the private hot tubs.
Food Miami chef Johnny Vinczencz brings his Floridian styleand sense of humorto the mountains with his Duck Duck Duck Burger: ground duck breast stuffed with duck confit and foie gras. When possible, he incorporates produce from the resort's "biolariums," eco-friendly indoor gardens.
Sports Cross-country skiing is taught individually and in groups; guided hikes follow the spectacular Wheeler Peak trail.
Spa To ensure privacy, Detlev's is open to only two or three guests at a time. Treatments include a sweat lodge ceremony with a Native American healer.
Details Doubles from $275; 800-828-8267 or www.elmontesagrado.com.
STEIN ERIKSEN LODGE Park City, Utah
The 170-room Scandinavian-style ski lodge supreme, co-founded by the eponymous Scandinavian ski champ supreme, has been almost completely redecorated.
Food Watch the schussing from the restaurant Glitretind, where chef Zane Holmquist shows off his talent with new-American dishes like tea-and-pepper-crusted duck breast. And now pastry chef Raymond Lammer makes Valrhona- and Callebaut-based chocolates for dessert and for guests to eat in their rooms.
Sports The ski-in-ski-out resort is in the middle of Deer Valley, known for ski valets and its snowboarding ban.
Spa The Norwegian theme now extends to new treatments, like the Nordic Princess, a sugar-and-salt scrub followed by a massage with rosemary-scented oil.
Details Doubles from $140; 800-453-1302, 435-649-3700 or www.steinlodge.com.
ONE & ONLY PALMILLA Baja California, Mexico
Specializing in bringing legendary properties back from near deathLe Touessrok in Mauritius was the most recentOne & Only Resorts poured $80 million into this secluded 1956 hotel, which debuts next month. Each of the 172 rooms is at least 750 square feet; even the showers have a view of the Sea of Cortez.
Food The Adam Tihany-designed C is Charlie Trotter's first foreign venture (his longtime sous chef Guillermo Tellez is at the helm). The invitation-only chef's table is the ultimate coveted reservation.
Sports Palmilla's sportfishing expeditions are thrilling; the hotel calls Los Cabos "the marlin capital of the world," and there are dozens of other species of game fish. Those who prefer dry land can explore the two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.
Spa The indoor-outdoor spa has a massage pavilion and private treatment villas with their own gardens.
Details Doubles from $475; 877-472-5645, 011-52-624-146-7000 or www.oneandonlyresorts.com.
BALBOA BAY CLUB Newport Beach, California
If you crossed a Caribbean plantation house with a Tuscan villa, this eight-month-old, 132-room hotel could be the result. The bayfront property was once a club where John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart hung out.
Food First Cabin has a marina view and simple, fresh Euro-Cali cuisine (warm mushroom tart; napoleon of seared yellowtail tuna) by Austrian chef Joseph Lageder.
Sports The hotel can supply almost any kind of vessel, from kayaks to yachts.
Spa The 17,000-square-foot spa has an equally vast treatment menu, including Vichy showers and herbal body wraps.
Details Doubles from $295; 888-445-7153, 949-645-5000 or www.balboabayclub.com.
tennis & golf
THE PHOENICIAN Scottsdale, Arizona
This 654-room desert classic offers a serene atmosphere whether you stay in the Southwestern-style main building at the base of Camelback Mountain that faces an elaborate series of pools or elsewhere on the 250-acre grounds.
Food Chef Bradford Thompson had a hard act to follow when he took over the kitchen at Mary Elaine's from James Boyce a year ago, but he's found his own following with dishes like tarragon-scented lobster risotto.
Sports The facilities here are legion: top-class golf; a dozen tennis courts finished in four surfaces; and nine swimming pools, newly alabaster lined, with teak decks and laser lights at night. There's even family yoga.
Spa Amenities like a meditation atrium and tarot- card readers are balanced by more traditional pampering services like lemongrass leg massage.
Details Doubles from $255; 800-888-8234 or www.thephoenician.com.
tennis & golf
BOCA RATON RESORT & CLUB Boca Raton, Florida
Not $1 million, not $10 million, but $100 million was just lavished on the small city (356 acres, 1,041 rooms) that's grown around Addison Mizner's 1926 Gold Coast hotel. That building, now called the Cloister, still has a palms-and-black-tie old-Florida charm. The sybaritic Boca Beach Club is near the private beach.
Food Of the 15 restaurants, Lucca is the standout. New York City restaurateur Drew Nieporent created this lively Tuscan place serving tuna carpaccio and wood-grilled steaks.
Sports Chris Evert teaches at the 30-court tennis center periodically. Plus, there are two golf courses and a 32-slip marina.
Spa Spa Palazzo is adorned with Roman-style colonnades and features Hungarian herbal baths.
Details Doubles from $150; 888-495-2622 or www.bocaresort.com.
golf & swimming
GRANDE LAKES Orlando, Florida
Two new colossia 584-room Ritz-Carlton and a 1,000-room JW Marriottface off across 500 acres of lakes and gardens. You know you're in Orlando thanks to (free) theme-park shuttles and a "citrus consultant" who supplies Key lime pie recipes.
Food At Norman's at The Ritz, famed Coral Gables chef Norman Van Aken draws on Caribbean influences for his conch chowder with saffron. Melissa Kelly splits her time between Primo at the JW Marriott and her Maine restaurant of the same name; both showcase her Italian, produce-led cooking.
Sports The Marriott outdoes Disney with its 24,000-square-foot pool. The Ritz has a Greg Norman- designed 18-hole course with caddy concierges who not only repair divots but also organize lunches.
Spa The hotels share the Ritz-Carlton's spa and its citrus theme (think Tuscan Citrus body polishes).
Details Doubles from $190 at JW Marriott, 800-576-5750; doubles from $240 at The Ritz, 800-576-5760 or www.grandelakes.com.
MAROMA Yucatán, Mexico
This 64-room Mayan Riviera resort hidden at the end of a mile-long jungle path was literally hand built on the beach by its founder over the course of 14 years. Regulars worried when Orient Express Hotels took over in 2002, but the barefoot elegance has only been enhanced by a new wing and refreshed decor.
Food The young New Zealand chef Stephanie Rowe at the beachside El Sol plays with traditional Mexican dishes, but still lets local ingredients shine: shrimp empanadas with ancho-chile sauce; seared scallops on sweet potato with tangerine butter.
Sports Guests can snorkel and scuba dive, exploring the world's second-largest coral reef (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef). Marine biologists on staff give private underwater tours.
Spa Sparkling new, the spa offers massages in beachfront palapas and Temazcal, a Mayan herbal steam and mud bath, inside a pyramid.
Details Doubles from $340; 866-454-9351 or www.orient-express.com.