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.

Dominical, Costa Rica (Nikki McLeod)

BRAZIL
Fernando de Noronha
This island 225 miles off the northeast coast of Brazil is as pristine as they come, and it's determined to stay that way—visitors have to pay an environmental preservation tax (TPA) of $20 per day. But the surfing, diving, and snorkeling are so good, and the scenery is so lush, that no one seems to mind chipping in for the island's protection.

Sleep: The bright, air-conditioned apartments at Pousada Del Mares are decorated with Brazilian artwork (Rua do Sol, Vila dos Remédios, 011-55/81-3619-1243, from $111).

Fuel up: Surfers love Fernando's big family-style dinners, which have a tradition of joining locals and travelers together. Palhoça da Colina serves up one of the best spreads on the island—but make sure you have a reservation, and get there by 8:30 p.m. (Estrada da Colina 4, Vila do Trinta, 011-55/81-3619-1473, palhocadacolina.com, from $49).

Hang out: Join the eclectic crowd at Bar do Cachorro, which thumps nightly with forró music—similar to a polka lost in island rhythms (Terminal Turístico do Cachorro, Vila dos Remédios).

Surf: The friendly folks at Your Way will set you up with a local instructor suited to your level of experience (011-55/81-3619-1796, www.yourway.com.br, one-hour lessons from $31).

MEXICO
Troncones
Though only about 50 miles from the larger resort communities of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, its rural setting, jungle backdrop, and eco-vibe make Troncones feel a world away. The town is a haven for surfers, who are lured by the miles of waves and white- and golden-sand beaches.

Sleep: Quinta d'Liz is a clean and colorful B&B made up of six beachfront bungalows. Each has a private bathroom, and there's a communal kitchen (Playa Troncones, 011-52/ 755-553-2914, playatroncones.com, from $38).

Fuel up: The resort food at Manzanillo Bay's garden-patio restaurant might seem a bit much for surfers (golden malted waffles with fresh fruit and cream, anyone?), but that doesn't seem to deter them. Of course, the nice surf break directly in front of the restaurant doesn't hurt (Playa Troncones, 011-52/755-553-2884, www.manzanillobay.com, breakfast from $4.25).

Hang out: Go to the beachfront restaurant El Burro Borracho for local seafood like red snapper, shrimp tacos, and abalone fajitas. Wash it all down with a michelada: ice-cold Mexican beer that's accented with lime juice and salt (Playa Troncones, 011-52/755-553-2834, burroborracho.com, entrées from $6).

Surf: ISA Mexico offers one-day group and private lessons year-round. From November through May, when the weather is more reliable and the waves are more rideable, it also conducts multiday surf camps (541/550-7343, isamexico.com, lessons from $50).

PORTUGAL
Ericeira
With its cobblestoned streets and tiled buildings, Ericeira looks like a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. But north and south of the village center, scalloped cliffs give way to white-sand beaches and—much to surfers' delight—consistent right-hand reef breaks. Done surfing? Spend some time at the region's palaces and vineyards.

Sleep: Pensão Gomes, home to 20 modest rooms, might be a little rickety, but the staff is so effusively friendly that you won't mind a bit (Rua Mendes Leal 11, 011-351/261-863-619, from $37).

Fuel up: At Pão da Nossa Vila I, a café on the east side of the village square, the servers may be stoic, but the stiff cappuccinos, delicious pastries, and seven types of queques, similar to muffins, are anything but (Praça da Republica 12, 011-351/261-865-958, pastries from $1).

Hang out: In the center of town, the cozy Neptuno Pub offers Super Bock beer and, occasionally, fado, traditional Portuguese music with soulful lyrics backed by acoustic guitar (Rua Mendes Leal 12).

Surf: Na Onda Surf School has been teaching mere mortals to surf since 2003. It offers private lessons as well as multiday packages (Rua Patrocinio Ribeiro 7, 011-351/917-822-851, ericeirasurf.com, two-hour lesson $30, packages from $88).

FRANCE
Hossegor
The combination of relaxed European living—think leisurely French lunches—and miles of beaches with waves for every level has lured surfers to this spot in southern France for 20 years. A word of warning: If you're looking for a little peace and quiet, don't schedule your trip for August, which is when the rest of Europe descends on the town.

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