LAIDBACK AND OFFBEAT
Legendary Surf Towns
Follow the surf-board-toting crowd, and wherever you land, you'll find a great vibe. Not to mention plenty of sun, sand, and good eats. Surfer Kimball Taylor takes you on a guided tour.
Sleep: All of the bungalows and cottages at Camping du Lac have full kitchens and sleep four to six people. Open April to September (580 route des Lacs, 011-33/5-58-43-53-14, camping-du-lac.com, one-week minimum in July from $386, two-night minimum for the rest of the season from $134).
Fuel up: Surfers like to boost their energy levels with fresh fruit or vegetable juice from Le Café Sud (Les Terrasses de l'Océan, Capbreton, 011-33/5-58-43-42-64, lecafesud.com, juice from $5).
Hang out: Follow the crowd to Rock Food, a restaurant and bar right next to the beach. When the Quiksilver Pro surfing contest is in town every September, the festivities last well into the night (place des Landais, 011-33/5-58-43-43-27, rockfoodhossegor.com).
Surf: Surf Trip will teach you how to ride a longboard or shortboard, bodyboard, or bodysurf (011-33/5-58-41-91-06, 90-minute class $52).
A relative newcomer on the surf scene, this tiny South American village is what some of the more established surf towns were like 20 years ago. Many of the accommodations are hostels or just barely a step above, but the bohemian international crowd wouldn't have it any other way. After all, the camaraderie—and consistently good waves from November through April—are why people come here in the first place.
Sleep: About a block from the beach, the hostel Cabañas Pakaloro has 10 rooms and plans to open more before the end of the year. Each room boasts a private bath. Most have a balcony with a hammock, and there's a shared kitchen and courtyard (Guido Chiriboga Parra, 011-593/9-741-5413, pakaloro.com, from $8 per person).
Fuel up: Go to Hotel Restaurante La Casa Blanca for the omelets and fruit smoothies, and stay for the board games in the open-air setting (Guido Chiriboga Parra and Costanera, 011-593/9-318-3202, continental breakfast $1.75).
Hang out: The nightly happy hour at Tiki Limbo Restaurante tends to be the ignition point for beach bonfires and all-night fiestas (Guido Chiriboga Parra, 011-593/9-954-0607, montanita.com/tikilimbo).
Surf: Montañita takes a laid-back approach to pretty much everything, surf lessons included. Rather than book in advance, simply meander along the three blocks of the main road, stop in one of the surf shops, and ask for a lesson. Rates start at $15 for a two-hour private session.
They say that if you're not surfing the monster waves on the North Shore between November and February, you're not serious about surfing. Fortunately for novices, there are some small, gentle breaks, too. When you're not in the water, head to Haleiwa town for its surf shops, cafés, and shave ice, a sno-cone-like Hawaiian specialty. Flip-flops required.
Sleep: Sharks Cove Rentals offers beach cottages with full kitchens and close access to Waimea Valley, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Shark's Cove, a favorite snorkeling spot (59-672 Kamehameha Hwy., 888/883-0001, sharkscoverentals.com, from $75).
Fuel up: Big waves call for big breakfasts, and Café Haleiwa provides. Oversize omelets, banana pancakes, and breakfast burritos draw surfers, both before and after they ride the waves. (66-460 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-5516, breakfast from $6).
Hang out: The pupus—the Hawaiian word for appetizers—and cocktails at Haleiwa Joe's Seafood Grill are a nice way to end your day, but it's the view, which is worth a whole lot more than the price of a mai tai, that makes this spot a favorite gathering place (66-011 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-8005, haleiwajoes.com, appetizers from $3.50).
Surf: Hans Hedemann Surf, founded in 1994 by a former pro surfer from Hawaii, gives lessons at North Shore's Turtle Bay Resort (808/447-6755, hhsurf.com, two-hour lesson $75).
The breaks attract surfers, and the setting—rain-forest-covered mountains, the Río Barú, long stretches of beach—attracts everyone else. This small Pacific coast town has experienced a bit of the Costa Rican boom in the past few years (Internet cafés and tropical-fusion restaurants abound), but it has managed to hold on to its rustic roots.