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A cozy bean bag chair can be a great addition to any children’s room, dorm room, or game room.
The best bean bag chairs are filled with soft materials and can support multiple seating positions.
We recommend shopping with these six brands for comfortable bean bag chairs.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
When many of us think of bean bag chairs, we think of the uncomfortably flat, outdated blobs of childhood. However, modern bean bags have evolved significantly, and are now made of more durable materials, have stylish designs, and are big enough to be used while sitting and laying in different positions. Bean bag chairs make a great addition to game rooms, small living spaces, and of course any college dorm room.
As anyone who’s lived in a college dorm knows, seating and space are extremely limited. Bean bag chairs can be a fun way to decorate your space while also adding more seating for friends and roommates. They can also be a very inexpensive furniture option if you’re outfitting a room on a budget.
After doing extensive research, we found that these six retailers are the best places to shop for bean bag chairs. These brands offer chairs that are great for movie nights, impromptu naps, and even for working comfortably from home.
Here are the best places to buy bean bag chairs in 2021
Moon Pod offers bean bag chairs that are crafted to mimic the feeling of anti-gravity weightlessness and can change shape based on your preferred seating position or activity.
Pros: Offers support and holds its shape, eco-friendly materials, built-in carrying handle
Cons: Some models are too small for larger adults
Moon Pod‘s uniquely shaped bean bag chairs are built to support multiple body types and seating positions. Each Moon Pod is hand filled with high-density beads to replicate the feeling of flotation therapy, which purportedly promotes relaxation and stress relief. A soft cover is included with every Moon Pod purchase and can be removed and washed. Choose from five different cover colors including Neptune blue, rose quartz, and space gray.
I tested the Moon Pod over a period of several weeks and found it to be comfortable and easy to set up. Upon receiving your Moon Pod you’ll need to put its cover on it, a process that is extremely easy due to the bean bag only weighing around 12 pounds. It takes a few days of sitting on the Moon Pod for it to fully expand and become more flexible. Overall, the chair is comfortable and provides enough support to work sitting up, but is still cozy enough for a quick nap. The Moon Pod can also be stored standing up and can easily fit in smaller corners and spaces without taking up an excessive amount of space.
Moon Pod also offers fun accessories to pair with your chair, including the back rest Crescent and the Lunar Lift foot rest. Extra covers are also available for purchase if you need a replacement.
What to buy:
The Moon Pod (medium)Super Moon Pod (medium)
Wayfair combines budget-friendly prices with a wide selection of products.
Wayfair‘s wide selection of bean bag chairs includes many price points and styles. You can even find chairs specifically for children, along with uniquely-shaped chairs.
Wayfair prioritizes a positive customer shopping process; each of its bean bag chairs has easy-to-read product snapshots of the most important features. These features include the chair’s weight capacity, fill type, and whether it has a removable cover.
The retailer also offers extensive customer service hours, with representatives available until midnight EST.
What to buy:
Milano Medium Bean Bag Chair (medium)Large Classic Bean Bag (medium)
From small game room chairs to giant multi-seaters, Lovesac offers a wide size range of bean bags.
Lovesac is no stranger to creating comfortable seating options; the brand has been making bean bag chairs since 1995. It offers its “Sacs” in six different sizes which range from single seaters to giant bean bags that can accommodate up to four people. Each Sac is covered in a removable cover that can be washed. The brand currently offers more than 200 cover options, making it easy to find a style that will complement your home’s decor.
Instead of using microbeads like most brands, Lovesac’s Sacs are made of durafoam which helps to absorb body weight while maintaining shape and support. After unboxing your Sac you’ll want to give it up to a week to fully expand to its true size. The brand also offers accessories like its Squattoman and Footsac blankets.
Lovesac also has a generous 60 day home trial so you can decide if it’s right for you. While the brand’s prices are on the higher side, its durable designs, generous warranty, and return policy make it worth the splurge.
What to buy:
GamerSac (medium)MovieSac (medium)
In addition to a seamless shopping experience, Target offers a selection of affordable bean bags in a variety of unique designs.
Target prioritizes its customer’s shopping experience by offering curbside and in-store pickup, and free two-day shipping on orders over $35. Its bean bag chair selection isn’t extensive, but includes several affordable, highly rated chairs.
Many of the chairs are available in multiple colors, styles, and materials including suede and microfiber. Target also makes it easy to search by budget, color, and material preferences for a seamless shopping experience.
What to buy:
3′ Kids’ Bean Bag Chair (medium)Madison Faux Suede Beanbag 5′ (medium)
Pottery Barn Teen
If you’re looking for a stylish bean bag chair that will complement your decor, Pottery Barn Teen has a collection of modern designs.
Pottery Barn Teen is well-known for its furniture, which offers Pottery Barn’s classic style with a fun teenage flair. Its furniture doesn’t just look great, but is also designed to be fully functional. The retailer’s bean bag offerings include chairs made of unique materials like sherpa, denim, and pony faux fur. It also has fun Harry Potter-themed designs, which would be a welcome addition to any fan’s room.
Pottery Barn’s bean bag chairs are surprisingly affordable given the high-quality materials and typical premium prices of the brand.
What to buy:
Charcoal Chamois Bean Bag Chair (medium)Ivory Polar Bear Faux-Fur Bean Bag Chair (medium)
Amazon offers a wide variety of products and convenient two-day shipping for Prime members.
Amazon is well known for its customer-friendly shopping experience that includes a wide product selection, and free and fast shipping with a Prime membership.
Customers can narrow down their bean bag chair selection by using one of Amazon’s many filters: search by brand, material, bean bag chair size, color, or by other customer reviews. The retailer currently offers more than 1,000 different bean bag chairs.
What to buy:
Memory Foam Filled Bean Bag Chair (medium)Bean Bag Chair (medium)
What’s the best bean bag chair size for your college dorm or small space?
If you have a smaller space and are looking to add additional seating with a bean bag chair, you’ll want to be very aware of the size limitations of your space. We strongly suggest paying attention to measurements when shopping and even taking the time to measure your space prior to making any purchases.
How do you clean a bean bag chair?
When purchasing a bean bag chair you have two main options, a chair with a removable cover and a chair with a non-removable cover. You can easily machine wash and dry a removable cover if any spills or messes happen. However, with a non-removable cover, you’ll need to spot clean the chair, which may be difficult depending on the materials. Overall, if you’re worried about having to clean your bean bag chair, we recommend opting for a chair with a removable cover.
What are the best materials to look for when purchasing a bean bag chair?
Choosing a material for your bean bag chair is mostly dependent on your personal style preferences. Fabrics like denim, sherpa, and velvet can add a stylish hint of decor into your space. Faux leather and nylon are also performance fabrics and can work great at repelling liquids and stains. If you’re purchasing a chair for young children, we recommend prioritizing function over style.
How do you refill a flat bean bag chair?
Your bean bag chair may flatten after sitting and laying on it over time. Some brands such as Posh Creations sell extra beads or inserts that you can purchase to refill your bean bag chair if it’s starting to feel deflated. Other brands like Moon Pod encourage customers to reach out to its customer service team if your chair has flattened.
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Ice cream is the perfect summer treat, and vegan options are more abundant than ever.
Sure, you may have heard of Oatly and So Delicious, but the world of artisan vegan ice cream is vast.
Here are 6 vegan ice cream brands you probably haven’t heard of but need to try this summer.
My picks include an olive oil ice cream, macadamia nut milk ice cream, and coconut meat ice cream.
I am a full-time food journalist and eat more ice cream than anyone I know. Over the years, I’ve published stories about the best ice cream parlors in the United States, gourmet soft serve, ice cream sandwiches and artisan ice cream makers that began shipping their ice cream nationally during the pandemic. I’ve even been invited to judge gelato festivals and weighed in on new flavors by cult favorite ice cream makers at company headquarters. Last summer, I received 60 pints of ice cream from nearly a dozen different brands delivered on the same day and all the liquid nitrogen fog permeated my entire house.
Recently, I’ve discovered more and more great plant-based ice creams popping up. I’ve tasted through flavors from more than 20 different vegan ice cream brands and have learned that vegan ice cream can be just as delightful and delicious as dairy ice cream. Even if you’re not vegan, trying plant-based ice creams offer unique flavor combinations you won’t find in dairy ice cream.
Sure, I’ve tried the usual vegan ice cream suspects you find in grocery stores, but I’ve been truly delighted by the small-batch artisanal brands, many of which are charting new territory in the world of plant-based ice cream. Below you’ll find six bespoke vegan ice cream brands that I love; many you probably haven’t heard of before.
Here are 6 vegan ice cream brands worth trying this summer:
The first and only macadamia milk ice cream
Mauna Loa Macadamia Milk Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, $9.99 per pint, available on Instacart and Mauna Loa
Most vegan ice creams are made with coconut, cashew, soy or almond milk bases, but Hawaii’s most famous producer of macadamia nuts, Mauna Loa, has upped the ante, debuting the first and only macadamia milk-based frozen dessert this summer.
Higher in monounsaturated fat and lower in carbs than other popular nuts, macadamia makes for an ultra creamy base that’s also keto-diet friendly. Flavors like Kona coffee, vanilla orchid and mango liliko’i showcase more of Hawaii’s natural bounty and there’s even the cheeky Rocky Road to Hana, named for the famous winding drive on Maui. This is the most decadent flavor of all — a fudgy chocolate base studded with soft marshmallows and crunchy macadamias instead of almonds.
While you can purchase pints online, they’re also available at Sprouts in 23 states and Albertsons and Safeway locations in California, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii and Seattle.
A small batch oat milk ice cream with inventive mix-ins
Oat milk is the plant-based milk alternative of choice among baristas for its thick, creamy texture in lattes and cappuccinos, so it’s no surprise that it also makes a rich ice cream base. Sisters Courtney Blagrove and Zan B.R. make their own oat milk for their new line of oat milk “ice crème” at Whipped Urban Dessert Lab. This stuff is better than Oatly and chock full of mix-ins like strawberry shortcake crumbles, chocolate cookie chunks, and cinnamon apple crisp.
This is the first ice cream brand that I’ve seen where the pint packaging is labeled upside down too. Apparently, storing ice cream (or ice crème!) upside down in the freezer helps prevent freezer burn because any partially melted bits will collect on the lid, which keeps ice crystals from forming.
Next time I’m in New York, my first stop will be Whipped Urban Dessert Lab’s Lower East Side storefront to try a swirl of sweet creme and chocolate twist at the world’s first oat milk soft serve shop.
A modern Mediterranean plant-based gelato
Wildgood Plant-Based Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, $9 per pint, available on Instacart and Wildgood
Olive oil has been a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet for millennia, but could it also be the secret to rich, creamy vegan ice cream that’s low in saturated fat? Rather than using nut milk, Wildgood relies on a blend of extra virgin olive oil, pea protein and chicory root fiber, sweetened with fructose, to achieve a soft and creamy consistency straight out of the freezer. All of the olive oil comes from Greek ice cream maker Sotiris Tsichlopoulos’ family’s ancient groves in Corfu.
For an ice cream so low in saturated fat and calories, Wildgood is surprisingly rich and you can really taste the olive oil in each flavor, adding a sophisticated savory undertone. Chocolate hazelnut is a favorite, reminiscent of the best gianduja chocolate spread I’ve ever tried in Piedmont.
With such a short ingredient list, the quality of each ingredient is paramount. Simple flavors without many mix-ins allow ingredients like Alphonso mango, California pistachios and Oregon hazelnuts to shine.
Wildgood is available in eight flavors so far, and you can find it on Instacart or order online to ship anywhere in the continental United States.
Scoops on Tap was created by two friends who love craft beer and ice cream and wanted to blend them together for a line of beer- and spirit-infused ice creams. Up until recently, their product was only available at farmers market and specialty retailers in Southern California, but now they’re shipping pints nationally with Goldbelly.
After Hours vanilla bourbon is a year-round favorite that I most enjoy with a shot of espresso poured over top and sprinkled liberally with toasted cacao nibs. The sumptuously smooth texture is a combination of a coconut cream and oat milk and don’t worry — it’s less than 5% ABV.
Seasonally, many more plant-based boozy ice creams are available, like Cocosaurus Rex, a toasted coconut ice cream with a fair trade dark chocolate fudge swirl infused with a coconut stout, and Madeline, a lemon and grape sorbet steeped on toasted oak chips infused with a grape sour ale. The latter is perfect as a refreshing float with prosecco if you wish to add more booze to the equation.
Hand harvested certified organic and fair-trade young coconut meat, plus coconut sugar and raw coconut oil forms the holy coconut trinity that is the base of all Sacred Serve gelato flavors. Superfoods like matcha green tea, Afghan saffron, chaga mushrooms and raw cacao are blended in for an ingredient list that’s so nutritious you’re almost suspicious that these could possibly taste good — until you take the first bite. This gelato is subtly sweet with a super creamy texture.
Sacred Serve’s newest flavor is a reinvention of childhood favorite cookies and cream with tigernut cookies instead of typical Oreos. The cookie crumble is darkened with activated charcoal and made with prebiotic-rich tigernut flour and adaptogenic mucuna.
The gelato is rock hard when you first pull it from the freezer, so you need to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to melt to a creamy consistency. You can find Sacred Serve in more than 150 stores across the country including Whole Foods, Foxtrot, Plum Market and Erewhon.
Lisa Stoy’s plant-based gelatos all have four ingredients or less, starting with a coconut milk base sweetened with maple syrup, plus fresh mint, vanilla beans, cardamom, turmeric or cacao depending on the flavor. The ice cream sandwiches at Green Girl Bakeshop have just the right ratio of cookie to ice cream, keeping the focus squarely on the ice cream with the cookies playing a supporting role.
Depending on the flavor, the ice cream is sandwiched between gluten-free chocolate chip, dark chocolate, or ginger cookies, made with cassava flour and applesauce. It almost sounds too healthy to be a cookie, but they freeze nicely, remaining soft enough to bite into without the ice cream squishing out the sides. The golden turmeric ice cream with ginger cookies and the classic vanilla bean ice cream sandwich with chocolate chip cookies are the best of the bunch.
Our testing methodology
I’m a food journalist with a predilection for ice cream and I’ve been known to regularly finish a pint in one sitting. Recently, I have been eating a predominantly plant-based diet and made it my mission to find the best plant-based ice creams that are just as satisfying as the dairy ice cream I’ve known and loved.
Flavor: Favorite flavors vary widely among ice cream lovers, so I included ice creams that recreated classic flavors impeccably as well as innovating new flavors. Most of all, I should be able to easily discern the flavor in a blind taste test and the ice cream shouldn’t taste muddied or cloyingly sweet. You should be able to eat a full scoop without feeling like you’ve developed a cavity.
Texture: A great plant-based ice cream should mimic the decadently smooth and satisfying mouthfeel of premium dairy ice cream. I chose ice creams that didn’t taste watery or gummy and didn’t develop too many ice crystals.
Ingredients: The best plant-based ice creams use high-quality ingredients, and I looked for shorter ingredient lists made with real foods rather than ice creams filled with emulsifiers and sweetened with corn syrup or glucose syrup. For example, Oatly’s frozen dessert, which includes dextrose, dried glucose syrup and rapeseed oil, did not make the cut.
Check out our other vegan and vegetarian food guides
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Karie Johnson, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Cleaning the litter box is the most dreaded job of any cat guardian, and without a high-quality cat litter, it’s made all the worse. What makes a person happy, however, can be the exact opposite of what a cat prefers. If the texture is wrong or the litter is perfumed, a cat may even choose to do their business outside of the box.
To help us identify the best litters to please both cat and guardian, we consulted four veterinarians to learn more about the litter preferences of cats and their toileting needs. Guided by their advice, we selected and tested 28 different litters, including clay, paper, silica gel, wood, grass, and corn substrates. Editorial review samples were provided by their manufacturers, with the exception of Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter.
Testing cat litters for this guide was done in two phases: a pre-cat phase and a cat phase. In the first phase, I compared litters belonging to the same category in heats of four at a time, assessing them for a variety of factors, including clumping ability, dustiness, scent, and texture.
The top two litters in each heat went on to the next phase. The litter was poured into a litter pan for the cats to use for anywhere from one to four weeks to test for odor control and tracking. Litters that were tested for two weeks or less were those that my cats refused to use, or those we tested prior to receiving the bulk of the litters for this guide. For each litter, I assessed the following qualities:
Litter weight, shape, and softness: Because cats typically prefer a soft, grainy substrate that is easy to dig, I evaluated the shape, texture, softness, and density of each litter. I measured 1/4 cup of each on a kitchen scale to compare their weights side by side.
Dust and scent: Cats are sensitive to both dust and scent, so I measured the relative intensity of each. I noted the amount of dust emitted when pouring and scooping the litter, as well as how much peppered the sides of the bowl or litter box. With scent, I went by the advice of Dr. Catherine Tannert, co-medical director of VCA Old Marple Animal Hospital, in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who said, “Cats prefer unscented litter to the cloying smell of kitty litters that are developed for the owner’s perception of cleanliness.” I did a sniff test of each litter in both phases of testing, including the thankless job of lifting clumps of litter to my nose to gauge how much of an ammonia scent they emitted.
Clumping ability and ease of cleaning: In phase one testing, I compared a small amount of each litter in plastic bowls with slick interiors similar to a litter pan. I added 1/4 cup of water to each bowl in two separate trials to gauge how quickly and easily it was absorbed, as well as how solidly it clumped and stuck together upon scooping. At the end of both trials, I emptied each bowl to look for moisture that had escaped the clumps and adhered to the bottom of the bowl.
Odor control and tracking: The top two litters from each category went on to phase two testing in a litter box for one to four weeks. I cleaned the litter pan twice daily and swept up any tracked litter once a day, noting how easy clumps were to remove and how much ended up on the floor. A daily sniff test informed me of the extent to which odors were under control. Because my cats refused to use the paper litters, I was unable to complete a phase two test on them.
Cost: I calculated the cost per pound of each litter and compared them. With lightweight clay litters, I first calculated their weight relative to a standard clay litter and adjusted the price accordingly.
The best cat litter overall
Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a super absorbent clay-based clumping litter that does a superior job containing odors, produces very little dust, and is easy to clean.
Pros: Activated charcoal controls odors; forms tight, easy-to-clean clumps; does not contain fragrances or dyes; lightweight; produces minimal dust; has texture many cats prefer; reasonably priced
Cons: A fair amount of litter tracks outside the box
Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter is a dye and fragrance-free clay-based clumping litter with the grainy, sandy texture that most cats prefer, or at least tolerate well. It produces very little of the little dust that can irritate cats with sensitive respiratory systems and contains bits of activated charcoal that help control odors.
In testing, Naturally Strong absorbed liquid quickly, forming a tight clump that was easy to remove in a single piece. I also found that this litter rarely left moistened clay stuck to the interior of the litter box. Best of all, it was effective at preventing foul odors throughout our three-week testing period.
Pros: Tight-clumping medium-grain clay litter, unscented, very little dust, low tracking, does a fine job of controlling odors, affordable
Cons: Odors can accumulate over time
Several years ago, I switched my cat to the unscented Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter at the recommendation of a veterinary behaviorist, and I’ve been using it religiously ever since. But with the opportunity to test nine clumping clay litters for this guide, I was anxious to see how it would hold up compared to other brands. Quite well, it turns out.
For a highly affordable litter that is odor-containing and easy to clean, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra is as good as it gets. The unscented medium-grain clay litter also satisfies a cat’s need to scratch, dig, and bury their waste. Because it produces very little dust, it’s also a good choice for cats with respiratory issues.
In testing, it absorbed liquid almost instantly and clumped tightly. With a bit of heft to its grains, less litter was carried out of the box on my cats’ feet than with our top pick, Tidy Cats Naturally Strong Litter.
Although Dr. Elsey’s Ultra controls odors, it relies on 100% sodium bentonite clay to minimize odors instead of activated charcoal. I have found that if I’m lax on emptying and completely cleaning the box every couple of months, odors can begin to accumulate.
At around $0.50 per pound and sold in bags up to 40 pounds, Dr. Elsey’s is one of the top two most cost-effective brands in this guide, along with Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter.
The best non-clumping litter
Pretty Litter‘s color-changing silica gel formula is an early warning system for detecting feline urinary health problems.
Pros: Changes colors to monitor a cat’s urinary health, made of safe silica gel, absorbs and controls odors, automatic delivery, 30-day money-back guarantee, reasonably priced, lightweight formula
Cons: Ammonia scent toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 12 days for two cats), false health readings toward end of litter’s lifespan (around 14 days for two cats)
Feline urinary tract diseases (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation, urinary stones, or crystals are common in cats, according to Tannert. Just as common is a cat who tries to hide their pain and discomfort, making it all the more challenging to figure out if there’s a problem.
Pretty Litter takes the guesswork out of monitoring a cat’s urinary health with its color-changing silica gel litter. When a cat’s urine is too acidic, too alkaline, or contains blood, the litter changes color from a healthy yellow-green to an ominous dark yellow, blue, or red.
Both of my cats used Pretty Litter willingly, and despite its light weight, it did not stick to their feet as much as the clay litters. The litter is dust and fragrance-free, but it does have a bit of a chemical scent.
Pretty Litter does not clump. Instead, urine is absorbed into lightweight silica gel flakes made from safe naturally occurring minerals like those frequently used in medications, food, and cosmetics. The flakes have a light, sandy texture that satisfies a cat’s instinct to dig and bury their waste. Solids need to be scooped out daily.
Pretty Litter did a good job of controlling odors. I did find that the closer we got to the end of the litter’s lifespan (about two weeks for two cats), the more I noticed a slight ammonia scent.
Around that same time, the litter can also give false color readings. We had one stressful morning where one of my cat’s urine turned blue. It turned out the only thing that was wrong was that I hadn’t changed the litter fast enough.
For a single cat, a bag lasts a month before requiring changing. Pretty Litter is a subscription service priced at $22 per month for one cat. If either you or your cat isn’t a fan, the company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Pros: Made of sustainably sourced paper pellets, free of dyes and synthetic chemicals, very little dust, biodegradable, pellets are soft and less than 1 inch long, unscented
Cons: Expensive, some cats do not like using a pellet-style litter
Paper litters, most of which come in the form of small, firm pellets, can be a good substrate solution for cats that suffer from respiratory problems. Of the five paper varieties we reviewed, Ökocat’s Paper Pellet Litter performed best in my first round of testing. It absorbed liquid quickly and the paper pellets didn’t immediately fall apart.
Ökocat’s pellets were also the softest and smallest (approximately .5 to 1 inch in length) of the paper litters we tested, making them more conducive to natural scratching, digging, and burying behaviors than brands with heavier, larger pellets.
This litter does not clump. Instead, the paper pellets absorb as much liquid as they can before falling apart and turning into a sort of mulch. Scooping is only necessary for solids.
Unfortunately, because neither of my cats were willing to use the paper substrates, I can’t speak to how well Ökocat controls odors or holds up over time. However, it is clear from the weight and shape of the litter that the pellets are very low tracking compared to smaller-grained clay and natural varieties. We will be testing this litter out with some willing participants for a later update to this guide.
While Ökocat Paper Pellet Litter isn’t dust-free, it is close. The paper pellets are also biodegradable and do not have any scent. But this litter is also 35% to 60% more expensive than the other paper brands we tested. Unlike most paper litters, Ökocat uses sustainably sourced dye and white paper free of synthetic chemicals instead of recycled paper — a less environmentally friendly policy that nonetheless is likely better for sensitive cats.
Pros: Made from compressed corn kernels, similar texture to clay litters, controls odors well when cleaned frequently, minimal dust, reasonably priced
Cons: Odors can build up without frequent cleaning and become more noticeable around three weeks of use by two cats
In our tests, World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter came out on top of the 12 natural litters we considered, thanks to its good clumping ability and odor control. Made from compressed corn kernels, this litter’s lightweight granules are slightly harder than the clay litters in our best overall and best budget litter categories, but they are still satisfyingly scratchable.
World’s Best absorbed liquids instantaneously to form tight, solid clumps that maintained their shape and structure on removal. Its natural corn-cereal scent controlled odors well when cleaned twice a day. However, I found if I left clumps in for a 24-hour period, the scent of ammonia became increasingly strong.
Tracking of this litter is relatively minimal — about equivalent to our top clay litter selections. This litter is also free of synthetic additives, chemicals, and fragrances and produces very minimal dust.
According to World’s Best, a 14-pound bag of Multiple Cat Litter is intended to last about a month (33 days) for two cats. However, I found that in the last few days of our three-week testing period, the remaining litter in the pan was somewhat less effective at absorbing odors than it had been in the beginning. Based on this observation, I would expect that by the end of four weeks, ammonia odors are likely to be even more noticeable.
What else we considered
Clumping clay litters we liked
Cat’s Pride Unscented Natural Care Multi-Cat Clumping Litter: This affordable clay litter absorbed liquids instantaneously and formed clumps that were only a little more likely to break apart during cleaning than our top picks. Cat’s Pride is lighter weight than most clay litters, but that also makes it more likely to be tracked than heavier formulas. For every 15-pound jug purchased, the company donates a pound of litter to an animal shelter.
Tidy Cats Free and Clean Lightweight Litter: This Tidy Cats Litter was on par with the brand’s Naturally Strong variety, which we selected as the best litter overall for this guide. The Free and Clean litter absorbed liquids on contact, clumped tightly, controlled odors with activated charcoal, and produced very little dust. It was also significantly lighter, making it easier to carry and pour. That lighter weight, however, resulted in more tracking than the Naturally Strong litter, with granules of litter sometimes riding on my cats’ feet all the way to the living room couch.
Frisco Scoopable Unscented Litter: Frisco’s Multi-Cat Litter is a steal. Though it is less instantaneously absorbent, forming thinner and more fragile clumps that spread more widely across the pan, Frisco’s litter controls odors as well as our top budget pick, Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Multi-Cat Strength Litter. Unscented and among the least dusty formulas we tried, this is another great option for anyone looking to save a few bucks.
Clay clumping litters we don’t recommend
Arm & Hammer Unscented Multi-Cat Litter: Although it is advertised as unscented, this litter has a light laundry detergent odor. And while it did form solid clumps, it was the dustiest of all of the litters we tested.
Cat’s Pride Scented Bacterial Odor Control Multi-Cat Litter: Cat’s Pride Bacterial Odor Control Litter produced very little dust and clumped reasonably well, but it failed to capture all of the testing liquid, leaving wet clay stuck to the bottom of the pan. This litter has a light soapy scent.
Arm & Hammer Cloud Control Litter: Arm & Hammer’s Cloud Control was the least absorbent litter out of the nine clay varieties we tested, although that which it did absorb clumped solidly. A heavy litter perfumed with a light laundry scent, Cloud Control is, at the very least, dust-free.
Petsafe Scoop Free Scented Crystal Litter: Lightly scented and with very little dust, this crystal litter absorbs moisture and captures odors. Like Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s non-clumping crystal litter is made from silica gel and a single bag lasts up to 30 days for one cat. Unlike Pretty Litter, Petsafe’s litter does not warn guardians when their pet might be experiencing urinary trouble.
Paper cat litter
Yesterday’s News Clumping Paper Litter: The only clumping paper litter we tested, this recycled paper formula worked reasonably well to absorb moisture and form clumps. Its flaky, soft texture is also more similar to clay litter than the other varieties. Unfortunately, it was the dustiest of the bunch.
Yesterday’s News Non-Clumping Paper Litter: Made from recycled paper, this unscented eco-friendly paper litter is absorbent and virtually dust-free. However, being made up of long, hard pellets of 1.5 to 2 inches in length, it was among the least conducive to natural scratching and covering behaviors of all the litters we tested.
Pioneer Pet Smart Cat Clumping Grass Litter: I really liked this grass litter because it acted almost exactly like a good clay clumping litter. The naturally wheat-cereal-scented grass particles absorbed moisture instantly and formed strong, solid clumps. Soft to the touch, essentially dust-free, and odor-trapping, the only thing keeping this litter from the top spot was its cost — almost double the equally effective World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter.
World’s Best Zero Mess Cat Litter: My cats and I both liked the Zero Mess formula from World’s Best, which blends the company’s typical corn kernels with additional plant fibers to absorb liquid and form tight clumps. On sniff tests, this litter also did a great job of minimizing odors. Ultimately, however, I found the Zero Mess formula to work no better than World’s Best Multiple Cat Litter, our pick for best natural litter, despite costing around 25% more.
Frisco Corn and Wheat Cat Litter: I was disappointed by this litter’s absorbency. Not only did our tester liquid spread out within the litter, it seeped all the way to the bottom of the pan and left it wet. The clumps that did form were also quick to fall apart, making this litter more challenging to clean.
Ökocat Super Soft Wood Litter: Of the three wood litters we tested, I liked Ökocat’s Super Soft formula best. Like the other wood litters, this version did an excellent job of absorbing liquids and preventing odors. It also had a superior clumping ability as opposed to Feline Pine and Okocat’s Original Litter — though clumping was less solid and more likely to fall apart in cleaning than some of the other natural varieties we tested. As the name suggests, this litter has softer, smaller granules than its competitors, which my cats seemed to prefer. They toileted in it a little more frequently than the others, though still not as often as the grass, walnut, or grain varieties.
Ökocat Original Wood Clumping Litter: Ökocat’s original clumping formula is made of the same sustainably sourced wood as the Super Soft Clumping style and it absorbs moisture just as quickly. However, I found this litter’s clumping ability to be somewhat disappointing. It stuck together in some places, while in others, the wood granules quickly degraded. When dry, those same granules are quite sharp and stiff, a texture that sensitive cats may prefer to avoid.
Feline Pine Clumping Wood Litter: Made of reclaimed lumber shavings, this was the softest of the wood litters, but it was also the dustiest. In testing, I was unimpressed with Feline Pine’s clumping ability. It absorbed moisture slowly and turned mealy like oatmeal instead of forming a solid clump.
Littermaid Natural Premium Walnut Clumping Litter: My cats and I liked this walnut litter, which clumped tightly and controlled odors well. Because this slightly softer substrate is heavier than its competitors, it also tracked less and produced a little less dust. One thing to note about Littermaid is that it sometimes absorbs liquids slowly. The company recommends waiting a full 15 minutes after urination to scoop, but we found that often absorption took less than a minute.
Naturally Fresh Quick-Clumping Walnut Litter: This clumping formula was my least favorite of the walnut litters we tested. It absorbed liquid well, but its clumping ability was just okay. In cleaning, many of the clumps fell apart and were more challenging to remove. It was also the dustiest of the three nut-shell varieties we tested.
Clumping vs. non-clumping litters: Cat litter is sold in both clumping and non-clumping formulas. Clumping formulas, including those made from clay, corn, wood, and grass, form solid masses when they encounter urine, and those must be removed from the litter daily.
Non-clumping litters absorb urine, too, but instead of forming clumps, the granules of silica, wood, or paper become saturated and gradually break down over time. On each cleaning, the substrate must be stirred to distribute the ammonia in the box. There is no difference between how non-clumping and clumping litters interact with solids — feces must still be scooped daily.
Both clumping and non-clumping litters manage bad smells. In the case of clumping formulas, urine is removed through daily scooping. In non-clumping formulas, urine accumulates in the box over time. Clumping litters can be topped off with additional litter as needed, but boxes filled with a non-clumping litter must be completely emptied and refilled after a period of two to seven weeks, depending on the brand and type of litter.
Litter texture: Litter preferences vary from cat to cat, according to Dr. Karen Sueda, veterinary behaviorist at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital, but every feline wants a toileting substrate they can easily dig and cover their waste in. Cats with sensitive feet may avoid using litters with sharper granules, such as crystal or pellet formulas.
Dust-free litter: Dusty natural and clay litters can be problematic for both cat and human. Dust may cause sensitive cats, particularly those with allergies or respiratory issues like asthma, to cough, sneeze, or wheeze during or after using their litter. It can produce the same effect in humans when filling or scooping the box. While no litter is completely dust-free, those that produce very little dust are less likely to have unintended respiratory effects.
Scent-free litter: Because cats have an extremely strong sense of smell, the scent of a litter is a significant factor in whether they will use or avoid a litter box, according to Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine. Even a natural scent may deter a cat. Calder, Sueda, and Tannert all recommended sticking to an unscented variety.
Why we didn’t consider the flushability of natural cat litters: One of the purported benefits of some natural cat litter varieties is that they can be flushed in the toilet. But just because you can flush natural cat litter doesn’t mean you should, and not just because low-flush toilets and pipes made for human waste often can’t handle clumps without clogging.
Cat waste can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that causes flu-like symptoms at best and, at worst, fetal development disorders, brain damage, and premature birth in babies. Water waste treatment plants are unable to filter out this harmful parasite and it can end up in treated water that’s released back into the environment, harming fish, killing native plants, and making recreation areas unsafe. Scientific studies have found that T. gondii especially poses a threat to marine mammals like sea otters.
Types of cat litter
Nearly every one of the more than a dozen veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists, and cat specialists I’ve spoken to about cat toileting behavior over the last six months has agreed that most cats prefer, or are at least more tolerant of, nonperfumed clay litters. “Generally speaking, I recommend a fine-grained, clay-based clumping litter that is unscented,” said Sueda.
Most clay cat litters are made from absorbent sodium bentonite clay, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip-mining and broken down into pebble-sized granules. Some clay litters are mixed with activated charcoal for additional odor absorption. They come in both unscented and scented varieties. Traditional clay litters are also quite dusty when poured, scratched at by a cat, or cleaned, though many newer formulas produce very little dust.
Pros: Preferred or tolerated by most cats because they make practicing natural toileting behaviors like digging and covering waste easy; absorb liquids instantly and form tight clumps for easy cleaning; control odors, especially those formulas that contain activated charcoal; cost efficient; some formulas are virtually dust free
Cons: Weigh more than some other varieties of cat litter; are produced in an environmentally unfriendly way; scented formulas can be too strong for a cat’s sensitive nose; can be easily tracked out of the litter boxes, especially lighter weight formulas; some formulas are very dusty
For cats that suffer from respiratory problems like asthma or have recently undergone surgery, Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, in New York City, typically recommends a paper litter, which tends to be less dusty than clay litters and less likely to stick to incision sites. Most paper litters come in pellet form and are made from either recycled materials or sustainably sourced wood. They are also almost always non-clumping with pellets that absorb liquid and slowly break apart over time. Only solids need to be scooped out of a litter box filled with paper litter.
Pros: Good for cats with respiratory problems, only solids need to be scooped from the litter box, pellet formulas are low-tracking, made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials
Cons: Some cats dislike the texture and weight of paper pellets, pellets fall apart over time, odors may increase over time as pellets become saturated with urine
Silica gel litter
Silica gel or crystal litters are made from sodium silicate sand, a naturally occurring material acquired through strip mining. They do not contain crystalline silicate or other carcinogenic materials that may be harmful to cats, but the inhalation of microscopic silica dust over time could lead to respiratory issues.
Silica gel litters are ultra-absorbent odor-eaters, but as the non-clumping granules saturate with urine over time, they may become less effective at preventing ammonia odors. Some silica litters, particularly crystal versions, may be too sharp for sensitive paws.
Pros: Made from safe, natural silica gel; ultra-absorbent and good at preventing odors; non-clumping formula does not require removal of liquids
Cons: Inhalation of silica dust over time may lead to respiratory issues, crystal formulas may be too sharp for sensitive paws, smells can worsen over time as silica gel becomes saturated with liquids, not environmentally friendly
Grain, grass, wood, and walnut shells are all used as alternative materials in natural cat litters. According to Satchu, not only are these biodegradable options more environmentally friendly, some have additional benefits, too. Due to their absorption ability, wood litters are typically low tracking and do a good job minimizing odors while grain litters are a safe bet for cats who like to snack on litter due to behavioral issues.
Ultimately, the superiority of one style of natural litter over another comes down to a cat’s individual preference. “I try to encourage owners to choose one litter and stick with it through kitty’s life because they are ultimately creatures of habit,” said Satchu. “Any litter that will keep kitty going where they’re supposed to be going is a good litter in my book.”
Pros: Many formulas are low dust, natural scent of some varieties controls odors without additives, biodegradable, made from sustainable materials
Cons: Some cats may dislike the scent and/or the texture of natural litters, lightweight formulas are more easily tracked than heavier clay litters, more expensive on average than clay litters
FAQs about cat toileting
How many times a day does a cat normally use the litter box?
On average, cats urinate two to four times a day, but according to Sueda, this can vary from cat to cat. Cleaning litter boxes at least once daily can help guardians determine if there’s a change in frequency, which may indicate a health problem.
Typically, cats defecate one to two times a day, but this, too, can vary from cat to cat. Like with urination, sudden changes in frequency may indicate a health problem.
What size and how many litter boxes do I need?
A litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of a cat, large enough for them to comfortably scratch and bury their waste. The standard rule of thumb is to have one litter box per cat plus one extra, and ideally one on each floor of a home. A home with multiple cats, however, may be able to get away with fewer extra-large litter boxes as long as they are cleaned at least twice a day, according to Sueda. See our guide to the best litter boxes for more on this.
What does it mean if a cat stops urinating?
If a cat stops urinating altogether, it is likely they are experiencing a feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD) such as bladder inflammation or urinary stones or crystals. Male cats are particularly susceptible to the latter. “Male cats have a very narrow urethra, so crystals and mucus can form a plug or a single tiny stone may become lodged anywhere along this narrow tube,” said Tannert.
If a cat is unable to urinate, deadly toxins begin building up. Death can occur if the blockage isn’t removed by a veterinarian within 24 to 48 hours. If a veterinarian rules out medical problems like FLUTD, anxiety may be the culprit, a problem a veterinary behaviorist is best equipped to handle.
What does it mean if a cat goes outside the litter box?
According to Calder, cats that eliminate outside the litter box are engaging in one of two behaviors: toileting or marking. In toileting (also called inappropriate elimination), a cat has found a place to do their business outside of the litter box. Sometimes, this behavior occurs when a cat does not like the location or size of their litter pan, the type of litter in the pan, or the cleanliness of the litter.
Other times, going outside the box is related to anxiety (for example, a cat who worries about being ambushed by another pet while using the litter box may stop using it altogether) or to a medical problem such as FLUTD. A cat may also choose to go outside of the litter box if they find a spot that satisfies their need to scratch and bury their waste, such as a pile of dirty laundry or a potted plant.
Whereas toileting typically occurs on horizontal surfaces, marking occurs on vertical surfaces. Instead of squatting, when a cat marks they back up with a raised tail to spray their pheromones. “Marking cats are trying to communicate something, and most have some kind of conflict or anxiety,” said Calder. Cats that mark are typically intact males, but fixed males and females can spray, too.
Dr. Christine Calder, veterinary behaviorist at Midcoast Humane in Brunswick, Maine
Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer, Bond Vet, New York, New York
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Lively outdoor dining, entertainment, and activities make Atlanta an attractive place to visit.
Nature enthusiasts will also find rivers, trails, and parks to explore in the “City in a Forest.”
We’ve chosen well-located Airbnbs in the city and just beyond, ranging from $75 to $157 a night.
As travel picks up, the historically busiest airport in all of America, as well as Atlanta’s famous nightlife, are getting back into full swing. There’s no mistaking that the vibrant capital of Georgia is still hot, and heating up even further alongside the weather.
As a longtime Atlanta resident, I know first-hand just how much the city has to offer. The Big A’s gorgeous climate means mild, short winters and lots of sunshine, which gives it a longer season for outdoor dining and activities.
Miles of green space, like city parks, playgrounds, raw and paved trails like the BeltLine and Silver Comet, and the wide, chill- or thrilled-filled (depending on your chosen activity) Chattahoochee River ensure you don’t forget that this bustling destination is also known as “The City in the Forest.” Not to mention the architectural gems that take visitors on a time-traveling tour of design and innovation, despite the city’s infamous torching amidst the Civil War.
Like a stay at grandma’s house, this guesthouse feels homey, comfortable, and familiar, with simple but fun accents from the yellow bed quilt and floral ottoman to the antique pinball machine in the living area. The home also has a private patio that overlooks the main house, which was built during WWII for the nearby Lockheed airplane factory — a great example of working-class housing during that time.
Be aware that this guesthouse is located on the same property as the host’s main home, but it is entirely separate and has its own private entrance. The grassy lawn provides a nice area to play or enjoy a picnic, and an extra Twin rollaway bed makes this a nice option for small families.
Located just six blocks from Marietta Square, which you might recognize from “Dumb and Dumber To” and the upcoming Aretha Franklin documentary, “Genius: Aretha,” this area less than half an hour from Midtown Atlanta is rife with charm. Its picturesque square is surrounded by trendy and traditional eateries, shops, and even breweries, and offers events both big and small, such as Taste of Marietta and Tuesday night bluegrass.
On the other side of the square, by the Marietta Museum of History, is the Marietta Square Market, an urban-style food hall with some of the best affordable, casual dining in Atlanta. Its parking lot turns into a bustling farmer’s market on weekends that’s ideal for grabbing some snacks before or after a self-led tour of the many uniquely designed historic homes that line nearby Cherokee, Whitlock, and Church Streets.
Vinings loft with air hockey table near Truist Park
Just across the ‘Hootch from the Paces division in upscale Buckhead, this unique neighborhood is among the city’s most desired. It’s here that the walkable Vinings Jubilee shopping center is located, with specialty stores and restaurants inlaid in a village-like design. This area is home to the historic Old Vinings Inn and the iconic Canoe restaurant, as well as residential neighborhoods with homes set to stun. Closer still is Truist Park, where the Braves and local residents play, and Cumberland Mall, the first four-anchor mall built in Georgia.
Vinings also puts you right at the foot of some great trails along the river, but staying at this loft, you needn’t go too far to get your workout in. Located within a development, there’s a walking trail right on property, along with shared tennis courts, and a resort-style pool. Not to mention the fitness center and on-site studio great for yoga, spin, pilates, or barre workouts.
This listing boasts steel cable-strung stairs that lead to a roomy loft bedroom, with sunlight streaming in from a row of windows at the base of the dramatically high ceilings. Below, you’ll find a blue velvet couch, a four-person dining table, and a full kitchen with granite countertops. There’s even an air hockey table for those who want a little friendly competition.
For the best outdoor views, head to the patio around the lake in the complex. There, bistro tables give guests a spot to take a deep breath and enjoy some sunshine.
The trendy Atlantic Station neighborhood is perhaps one of the best examples of what it means to live/work/play, all in one luxurious and well-appointed bubble. On the west side of the city, this strategically developed area was built to house 50 shops, a Central Park with live outdoor shows, BODIES The Exhibition, and a movie theatre in a streetscape-like setting. And when the temperatures drop, there’s outdoor ice skating during the short winter season, which ends around mid-February.
Close to Atlantic Station’s big-brand stores, sidewalk cafes, and boutique hotel is this lovely apartment with a modern-eclectic energy thanks to a dynamic mix of patterns and materials, from a green velvet couch to a zebra rug. The balcony offers views of a resort-style saltwater pool that’s enchantingly lit up at night in soothing aqua blues. By day, this pool area is a prime spot to luxuriate under a warm Georgian sun, giving the rooftop with its city views some stiff competition for vacation-luxury vibes.
This bird’s eye view puts into context just how close this location is to some of Atlanta’s biggest attractions, like the High Art Museum and Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre. It’s due north of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium — home of the Falcons — and State Farm Arena, and due south of Buckhead, just on the other side of the highway from buzzy Midtown.
This stunning space in Midtown is everything city-lovers imagine in an upscale urban high-rise, including its prime location. Eye-level with the skyline, you can plan your day just by looking down and out and pointing where next to explore. Floor-to-ceiling windows make up the walls of the bedroom, spacious living room, and even the marble kitchen — a massive benefit of a corner unit.
Another perk is the large wraparound balcony that boasts it is “large enough for a morning workout.” But if you need more space than that, there’s an all-glass-view gym in the building too, complete with a workout studio, plus a heated outdoor pool and working spaces, just in case you play too hard and feel like you ought to make up for it.
After all, in this location, it’s not difficult to have too much fun. Midtown, the “heart of the arts,” is where all the city’s action really is. Public transportation via the MARTA is more accessible here than almost anywhere else in the city, but if you’re driving in and taking advantage of the included secure parking of this home, everywhere you might want to visit is only minutes away.
Over 150 restaurants, clubs, and bars are scattered throughout this neighborhood, and Piedmont Park and the BeltLine are only steps away from this high-rise. Follow that paved trail to find tiny doors and the Ponce City Market, the city’s largest adaptive reuse project with shops and an incredible food hall of chef-led innovation.
Buckhead is a posh address shared by the Governor, and this one-bedroom apartment puts you right in the center of it. It’s only a few walkable blocks to Lenox Square, a premium shopping mall with 250 stores spread across nearly 1.6 million square feet. As if that weren’t enough, Phipps Plaza is also only steps away, impressive with its mahogany walls, marble floors, chandeliers, and grand staircase.
But Buckhead isn’t just primed for commerce — it’s good for art and action, too. Around Miami Circle and Bennet Street are clusters of independent art galleries, and the young, affluent professionals that live in this neighborhood frequent the bars, clubs, and chic restaurants along Peachtree and Roswell Roads.
You can prep for a glamorous night out in this light, bright, and spacious apartment, channeling the elegant decor of the apartment. In the bedroom, an upholstered bed is furnished with a memory foam mattress under a trey ceiling, and a minibar stocked with small bottles of liquor and wine offers a pre-gaming amenity. The spacious living area is decked out in a soothing cream and blue color palette, and the modern kitchen includes all-white cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, and grey tiling.
During the day, take advantage of the on-site gym and the rooftop pool. The latter overlooks the city skyline, magical any time. Garage parking for one means you can linger as you like.
For anybody who ever wanted a tree house as a child and now wants style and character as an adult, this novel rental is just the ticket. Half an hour out from Midtown Atlanta in the suburb of Kennesaw, near the mountain, battlefield, and university of that same name, is this charmer with its own private driveway. Once parked, follow the outdoor string lights to find a handcrafted staircase the leads to a vintage front door.
The exterior is all rough, raw wood, but the inside is a quintessential example of the rustic-chic farmhouse aestehtic. Tall ceilings soar up to a high peak over a stained glass window, while additional floor-to-ceiling windows lend light and airiness to the space. Hardwood flooring, stunningly distressed, contrasts with clean-whitewashed wood plank walls, and a country chandelier hanging over the bed. Antique-style accents like a reading chair, handmade bench, and 100-year-old cabinet are offset by modern amenities like an electric fireplace, heating, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi.
Outside are two rocking chairs, set on a porch that overlooks a backyard meadow. Steps from there is a surprisingly nice outhouse with a composting toilet and a sink powered by a manual water dispenser. Guests staying for two or more nights get use of a basement shower just 30 steps away.
The Chattahoochee Plantation neighborhood is unique not just for its architecturally diverse mega-mansions and its many entrances to the nature preserves along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, but also for its stubborn history. For years, this tiny, ten-foot by seven-mile city was the only thing standing between the city of Atlanta creeping into the boundaries of Cobb County just north of Sandy Springs.
This studio is on the Atlanta side of the river to its obstinate neighbors on gawp-able Paper Mill Road, Columns Drive, and Atlanta Country Club Drive, but gives you plenty to go ga-ga over right on the grounds. Attached to a huge contemporary home overlooking a scenic wooded creek, it has its own private entrance. Just inside, you’ll find an absolutely spectacular indoor pool and hot tub.
Under soaring ceilings held up with exposed beams are walls of windows and a posh seating area with cabana curtains for privacy, creating an experience not unlike an oversized hydrotherapy room in an upscale resort spa. From there, a back deck and outdoor grill are at guest disposal to better enjoy Marsh Creek views.
The Old Fourth Ward, affectionately abbreviated to O4W, is one of central Atlanta’s most happening neighborhoods. Just east of Downtown and south of Midtown, it’s now an intriguing combination of new, trendy developments and design right alongside historic sites like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home. Atlantans love this neighborhood for its miles-long, paved, and elevated BeltLine Trail and the myriad of attractions sprung up around it, like the amazing Ponce City Market.
A block away is where you’ll find this upscale Nordic-style tiny home, whose minimalistic style and plush fur-trimmed accent decor create a sense of Scandinavian simplicity and peace. Every precious inch of this space is used well and Instagram-ready, from the Brazilian hardwood shower that recalls a spa sauna to a lofted bed with skylight window to the small desk that overlooks a rock creek right outside. Also outside is a 125-year-old American sycamore tree in the private yard, and a fenced space that offers a smokeless fire pit and two lounge chairs facing the tiny home’s little patio.
You’ll be walking distance to trails, shops, and restaurants, but should you want to stay in, there’s a UHD Smart TV that’s Netflix-ready, and a kitchenette that comes complete with an induction cooktop, microwave, and a retro-style fridge.
Just east of Midtown, Virginia Highlands has been recognized by “Southern Living” as the fourth best neighborhood in all the South — and it’s no wonder. Its tree-lined streets shade beautiful homes and over 75 restaurants, shops, and bars, including Atlanta’s oldest continually licensed tavern, Atkins Park. It’s host to Summerfest in the (you guessed it!) summer and Tour of Homes for looky-loos in the winter; and puts you within steps of the BeltLine, Piedmont Park, and Atlanta’s Botanical Garden.
Homes here are traditionally the beautiful bungalow-style of the ’20s and ’30s, with high ceilings in the pre-war build. This brand-new loft guesthouse is right off the main strip.
Arrive to a gorgeous Craftsman-style entrance with a rose-strewn portico at the entrance, just off the parking area that’s overhung by the loft’s balcony. Once inside, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide which of the two bedrooms you’d rather have: the ground level one with French doors, plantation shutters, and an outside entrance, or the novelty of the loft suspended over the living space and bounded by steel cables. A soothing palette of blues, creams, and natural woods dominates the aesthetic, creating a cool contrast to the rich brick and brown of the exterior.
Right on the border of quirky, accessible Edgewood and just south of Inman Park and bohemian Little Five Points, this hotel-style resort apartment is at the crossroads of artsy and independent city culture.
The creative vibe of its location makes it into the decor of a gorgeous common area lounge. It’s stylish and posh, and sexy besides, with splashes of deep reds, rich purples, and bright oranges. The expansive common area also has an oversized shared worktable space with pop-up plugs to keep your gear fully juiced, and a wet bar, dining tables, and TVs to channel more of that city-life workspace feeling. A spiffy gym, also decked out in bold colors, is yours to enjoy during your stay. The apartment has a full modern kitchen, but this close to the Krog Street Market, a world-class and famous food hall, you likely won’t make much use of it.
Outdoors, though, is where visitors find their R&R. The building’s resort-style pool has private cabanas and tanning areas around it, as well as firepits to gather your group of up to four around.
This carriage house may be less than a mile away from Chastain Park, but it almost feels like your own private preserve. Its long meandering driveway takes you to the wooded property before dropping you off at your new doorstep. Once inside, you’ll find a modern, cool aesthetic that includes a new kitchen with granite counters and gray cabinets, and a spacious, bright marble-pattern bathroom. All around are windows with views of the trees beyond and your closest neighbors will be a barred owl and whatever birds happen to visit the feeder.
As nice as these digs are, outside is actually where the greatest attractions for this property lie. The carriage house opens up to its own deck, which then leads to a charming brick path on a sloped hillside. Head toward the hammock to get to the lovely in-ground pool, which even has fountains spouting into it. Between dips, grill up a meal and enjoy it on various premium loungers, the bar table, or the seats around the fire pit. But if you want a fire pit closer to nature, make your way to the treehouse and the large swing beside it. There’s a more rustic fire pit with tree stump seating there.
Granted, you’re half an hour or so away from the heart of the action in Atlanta’s Midtown out here in suburban Kennesaw, but that seems like a small price to pay to stay in such a fantastical setting. This true tree house, built into the canopy and in one part, around an actual tree is a self-contained adventure. It even has an escape room-type treasure hunt challenge built into your stay.
Comprised of three floors total across two independent structures connected by a rope bridge lit by fairy lights, the first building features vaulted ceilings with pine beams and a tin roof for rain to gently pitter-patter down. Its walls are made of knotty bamboo walls whose patterns are broken up by a stained glass window and French doors that open wide. Through those doors, access a wraparound porch that leads to the other building, which has a screened-in area with tables and chairs for dining or relaxation, and a ladder fastened against the central tree’s trunk that leads up to a crow’s nest observatory.
Like the rest of the home, the bamboo it’s made of comes from only a few miles away, making it not only a sustainable material, but local to boot. Other local and personal touches include handmade lamps, a cypress and blue resin water pitcher table made with love by the owner, a cedar plank writing desk, and a bucket and pulley system in the crow’s nest. A manmade stream runs beneath, complete with mini waterfalls, a bridge, and hammocks ripe for taking naps to the tune of the gentle gurgle.
A stay here also provides plenty of creature comforts, including a full bathroom with a marble shower and handmade soap just yards from the front steps.
Where should I stay in Atlanta on vacation?
Midtown is one of the best areas to be close to much of the action. It’s close to the business district, as well as iconic hotels like the W Atlanta. Plus, it has a vibrant arts scene, along with bars, comedy clubs, boutiques, and some of the best restaurants in the city.
Virginia Highlands is a great option for those seeking a classic bungalow feel. As Atlanta native and prominent realtor Ariel Baverman of Keller Williams First Atlanta puts it, “Virginia Highlands is just cool. The bungalow homes are really nice and super upgraded, typically, built in the 1920s and ’30s, and tend to have high ceilings if pre-war.”
Edgewood is another great place to look for rentals. According to Baverman, it’s “a neighborhood that’s been on the rise over the course of the last 15 or 20 years,” with “lots of new construction” to add more architectural diversity to the traditional Craftsman bungalow blocks.
When is the best time to visit Atlanta?
From March to May is an especially ideal time to visit Atlanta. The weather is warm enough to take advantage of the numerous outdoor activities, but it won’t be hot and muggy yet.
Summers in Atlanta are known for being extremely hot and humid, and prices often soar during the peak summer season. On the flip side, if you visit in the winter, be prepared for lows in the 30s and possible ice storms.
Are Airbnbs safe?
According to the CDC, travel in the US is safe for anyone fully vaccinated. Additionally, experts have said private rentals like Airbnbs are one of the safest lodging options since you won’t encounter other guests or have any interactions with staff.
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For my first post-pandemic flight, I chose the regional airline JSX to avoid airports and crowds.
JSX is a lot like flying private; it feels elite, posh, and is much easier than traditional flights.
JSX looks very expensive, but it’s not. The experience cost me just $99 to fly between LA and Vegas.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
I’m a travel writer and frequent traveler, but due to COVID, I didn’t board a plane for more than 500 days.
Now that I am fully vaccinated, and with case numbers steeply declining, I planned a quick trip to Las Vegas from my hometown of Los Angeles.
With travel safety as my top priority, I chose JSX over traditional carriers. JSX is a hop-on jet service that isn’t technically a private jet, but offers many of the perks of one. Simply put, it’s private flying for the public.
While it sound like it must be expensive, get ready to be surprised. I paid just $99 for my JSX flight that had me feeling like a celebrity, and maybe even looking like one, too.
What is JSX?
JSX is a private regional airline that feels like a posh private flying experience, though it’s not because the public can purchase tickets.
But unlike major commercial airlines, JSX caps flights at just 30 people, and operates out of private terminals and hangars (technically known as “fixed-base operators,” or FBOs), which are adjacent to many major airports.
“JSX flights are classified as public air charters, which means they can depart from general aviation terminals and that comes with a number of key perks in the COVID-19 era,” explained Scott’s Cheap Flights Senior Member Operations Specialist Daniel Burnham, who will be including JSX fares in its new Elite deals platform launching later this month.
“Unlike a true private jet charter, JSX schedules flights in advance on a set route map. To fly, you’ll buy a seat ticket online like any other airline,” he said. “However, JSX flights have their own private hangars and waiting areas away from the main airport terminal, so you can show up right before your scheduled departure and breeze onto the plane without needing to go through a TSA checkpoint.”
Is JSX safe?
With JSX, you’ll bypass the traditional airport altogether by traveling through a private jet terminal. You also won’t encounter crowded and TSA lines, but you can still feel secure: JSX uses TSA Secure Flight, the same TSA-provided background check processes that major airlines use.
They also have extensive COVID safety measures in place, including requiring masks and new sterilization and contact-less protocols. More detailed information is available here.
Where does JSX fly?
The regional airline flies between major cities and destinations in the west and Texas, including Burbank (Los Angeles); Concord (East Bay/Napa); Las Vegas; Oakland; Orange County; Phoenix; Dallas; and Houston; with seasonal flights to places like Mammoth. It also serves Destin, Florida. You may view more details on routes here.
While still regional, JSX saw a 55% increase in new leisure market customers from February 2020 to February 2021, according to a statistic provided by the brand’s internal analytics team. And that’s a pretty huge stat for the COVID era.
In fact, COVID perhaps only increased demand for this hybrid style of flying as people sought out safer travel experiences.
“JSX has been well-positioned to serve this shift in priorities, and their domestic-heavy route map in Texas and California hasn’t been heavily impacted by testing requirements or closed borders,” Burnham said.
When booking a ticket, passengers select between one of two fare types. The cheaper fares, dubbed “Hop On,” include two checked bags, but are nonrefundable and have change fees.
The more expensive fares, “All In,” are fully refundable and include three checked bags. Everyone can bring a carry-on bag, regardless of which fare you choose.
There is only one class on JSX flights.
How to book JSX
Although it sounds highly specialized, you can book JSX tickets as you normally would any commercial ticket through the airline’s website, or through its booking and mobile boarding app. You won’t find it on online travel agency websites or aggregators like Kayak or Expedia, however.
Is JSX expensive?
In most cases, JSX is very affordable. Entry-level $99 fares are common on routes with advance booking and off-peak dates, making for an overall excellent value.
For example, a recent search identified plenty of $99 options between Phoenix and Burbank, or $149 between Oakland and Orange County. These are comparable to many commercial airlines such as the no-frills Southwest. For instance, you might fly JSX for under $100 between Burbank and Las Vegas, compared with Southwest’s $129 Wanna Getaway fare on the same route.
Of course, like all flights, popular days and periods see higher fares. But JSX also serves snacks, cocktails, and nonalcoholic drinks for free in flight, with coffee and tea for free in the terminal. Pets also fly free and so do checked bags.
Because my dates were flexible and I was only looking for one night in Vegas, I booked tickets for my husband and me on the Sunday of a holiday weekend. Because it wasn’t a desirable travel day, the price was cheap and I only booked about five weeks ahead of the trip. I paid $99 per ticket for a total of $198 for my husband and me.
Because our return flight fell on Memorial Day – an extremely popular travel day – a JSX ticket would have been much higher, well over $400. So I booked us on a traditional carrier for the return. However, it would still be far cheaper than flying an actual private plane.
Arrival and check-in
We only needed to arrive at the airport hanger about 20 minutes before our flight due to the simple check-in process.
We took a Lyft and didn’t need parking, but valet parking was available for $28 per day. For comparison, LAX central terminal self-parking costs $30 per day.
From there, we walked right in and showed our IDs for check-in at a small counter with no one else waiting in line. The capped flight number and lack of TSA checkpoints mean there are never long waits.
With JSX, passengers may bring one personal item onboard that fits under the seat in front of you; there are no overhead bins. With our fare category (the popular “Hop On” fare), we were permitted to check two bags weighing 50 pounds each for free. We rolled our bags over to the staff person, got our boarding passes, and pre-boarding was done.
The JSX hangar has just a check-in counter, a station for free coffee or tea, and a bathroom. It’s a simple but delightful experience for aviation enthusiasts as you’ll be right next to the planes. The hanger is also wide open with full ventilation, which is an added safety bonus during COVID.
There are no eateries, shops, or other concessions like you’ll find in airports, so be sure to bring what you will need for the flight.
We boarded the plane about 15 minutes before the scheduled takeoff. The small group of passengers walked a few dozen yards across the tarmac to the waiting plane, entering by way of an outdoor flight of stairs.
On this route, JSX flies either a 135 or 145 Embraer jet with 30 seats and the plane was about two-thirds full. The configuration is two-seats-by-one, which means no middle seats and there are no overhead bins.
My 6-foot-1-inch husband remarked on the substantial legroom, with the seat pitch a minimum of 36 inches.
There wasn’t much time in the air, but the flight was pleasant and comfortable. The cabin decor was greyscale and elegant and not heavily branded. Power outlets were available at seats.
Our flight attendant came around offering drinks, both alcoholic and non. Next, she made the rounds with elevated packaged snacks such as cheese straws and dried snap peas.
I used the bathroom once in flight and it was similar to those on any commercial flight.
We deplaned via an outdoor staircase and picked up our bags outside the aircraft without any delay before entering the private aircraft terminal. There is no luggage carousel as you’d find with a commercial flight.
Passing through, we headed outside to a quiet parking lot to await a Lyft to our hotel.
The bottom line
Flying JSX was a seamless, comfortable, and exciting experience, and one that looked extremely posh to my social media followers.
From arrival to check-in, and the in-flight experience, JSX feels exclusive and private. The aircraft even looks like a private jet and feels like one too since there are no crowds or security lines, a max of 30 passengers, plus free checked baggage, snacks, and drinks.
While the service routes are limited, if my destination is on the JSX map and the price is right, I’ll fly JSX 100% of the time compared with commercial flights. The perks are numerous, it’s a great flying experience at a great value, and I enthusiastically recommend it.
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Beachfront hotels are coveted stays with access to sandy shores, gorgeous views, and water sports.
We found the best beach hotels in the US, from Hawaii and California to Florida and Maine.
Keep in mind that summer is the peak season for many beach areas and hotel prices tend to increase.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
Summer is here and the urge to travel is at an all-time high. For those who crave an oceanfront getaway for some R&R, the good news is you don’t have to go far. The US has myriad gorgeous options from coast to coast for a sunny escape.
When it comes to the best beach hotels in the US, travelers are spoiled for choice there too. Whether located on paradisaical islands or romantic, windswept coastlines, beachfront hotels that overlook the waves act like surgical glue for the soul. Plus, many come with perks like gorgeous pools, beachside dining, and rooms with panoramic views.
We combed through hotels from California to Maine to find standout beach hotels for a salty-air retreat that’s still close to home.
Browse all of the best beach hotels in the US below or jump to a specific area here:
Pretty and romantic, this eco-efficient resort is ideal for couples or a group of friends. Aptly named, the Sanctuary Beach Resort is burrowed into the Marina Dunes of Monterey Beach and presents amazing opportunities from whale-watching trips to learning from local artisans.
Housing is in water-facing bungalows where rooms start at 380 square feet and come with a private patio or deck, as well as French slipcovered chairs, and binoculars for the aforementioned whale and other wildlife watching. A natural gas-fueled fireplace provides warmth, and beds are made up with Harbor Linen’s Monocle Collection that ensure a spectacular night’s sleep.
Tour around town on specially made Dutch-inspired Republic bicycles, and revel in complimentary nature walks, led by local guides through the Marina Dunes Preserves, every Saturday and Sunday. Complete the experience with a picnic basket on the beach from the hotel’s signature restaurant, Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette.
Sleek and modern, with a distinct minimalist architectural style, Tower23 takes its moniker from the lifeguard tower near the hotel.
Tower23 also takes its position as a place to sleep seriously. White goose-down duvets almost guarantee that once you retire for the night, you’re going to have a hard time getting up. The rooms themselves are uncluttered and painted in deep blues and aqua hues, and suites come with living rooms.
Still, whether you start or end the day with a sea-inspired spa treatment, the friendly resort staff knows their role is to get you out to the beach. The proximity to those Pacific Beach sands and the frothing surf is a large part of the hotel’s appeal, which is why the rooms face the west and bikes and beach accouterments are included. Even the highly regarded JRDN features a 70-foot long “wave wall” that reflects the famous sunset every night.
Dependable and reliably upscale without being pretentious, the Loews hotel brand always performs well in popular markets. Parked on Santa Monica Beach next to the Pacific Park Amusement Park, the Loews Santa Monica is no exception.
The contemporary interior design couldn’t say “Southern California” more. The double-story lobby’s floor-to-ceiling windows frame each inch of beach and ray of sun. The 347 rooms and suites, recently refreshed, are done in creamy tones of white and tan with wave-patterned carpets and sky-blue accent pillows. Views alternate between the beach and palm trees, or the fourth-floor pool deck and fire pits.
Have a light meal next to one of those 13 oceanfront fire pits, or take advantage of a more elegant al fresco opportunity on the terrace of Ocean & Vine, the celebrated coastal California cuisine restaurant. The daily resort fee includes beach and pool amenities, so be sure to allow the pool concierge to pamper you with fruit smoothies and spray Evian mist as many times as you require.
A combination 330-acre wildlife sanctuary and resort, South Seas dominates Captiva Island. It’s a family-friendly Gulf Coast resort that offers a variety of rooms, multi-bedroom villas, and private houses where you very much feel at home — if your home comes with sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, and long-legged water birds of various hues.
This former key lime plantation now caters to a variety of families, groups, and couples all looking for the same things: relaxation and beachside entertainment. Fortunately, it’s easy to find, given that rooms in the Harbourside Hotel are close to nine restaurant options, the resort’s interactive pool complex, the Gulf-side golf course, the marina, and the beach. Jet-Skis, fishing charters, sailing lessons, banana boat rides, parasailing, and kayak tours are just a few of the on-site activities that are available to book. If that’s not enough adventure and exercise, check out the beach and paddleboard yoga classes.
This lavish Hollywood resort is located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, bridging the land between the beach and the Intracoastal, so it’s essentially surrounded by water.
After a $100 million renovation that was completed in 2017, the hotel emerged with 1,000 rooms and suites, most of which have views of the waves. Rooms have either a sunrise or sunset color scheme, depending on which side of the resort they face. The lobby is dramatic, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows at the back where the indoor-outdoor wraparound Hotel Bar is located. That lobby also contains eight noteworthy restaurant concepts that range from Geoffrey Zakarian’s Point Royal to the Diplomat Prime Steak House.
While the beach offers jet skiing, ocean kayaking, and paddleboard rentals, younger family members also appreciate the Dip + Slide water park, where the slides end in a lagoon pool. There, parents can keep sight lines on the kids while enjoying poolside spa and lunch service. The kids’ club, Ocean Ambassadors, relieves parents of duty so that they can enjoy The Diplomat Golf Club and The Diplomat Tennis Center, too.
This hotel is currently closed but accepting future reservations. COVID-19 updates can be found here.
The versatility of the well-named Omni brand is legend. It can work as easily for a corporate retreat or destination wedding as it can for a couples’ getaway or family vacation. That’s because the resort, with 402 oceanfront rooms, sprawls over the tip of this barrier island, and includes everything from a conference center to a chapel.
Done up in pastel blues, aquas, and creams — with a patterned or red accent thrown in — the rooms start at a liberal 425 square feet. Beachy decor (think cane back chairs) extends to the balconies. The beds are particularly comfortable, with 330-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets over pillow-top mattresses.
If you don’t want to take advantage of the 3.5 miles of beach that beckons right outside the window, check out what the venue calls its “multi-tiered pool deck.” For adults-only, the infinity-edge pool is highly tempting, and for families, the 10,000-square-foot splash pool and water park is just as exciting. On cool nights, cozy up to two oversized fire pits.
Omni Amelia Island Resort is renowned for its two golf courses, one designed by Tom Fazio and the other by Pete Dye. Park the kids, if you have them, at Camp Amelia and head out for a round or two. Or take them with you. There’s instruction for all ages available.
Fair warning: WaterColor Inn & Resort is situated in the prettiest part of Florida Panhandle, where the award-winning beaches are so white and fine that you can’t help but think of cake icing.
David Rockwell designed the 60 rooms starting at 500-square-feet with Adirondack chairs on the balconies and cabana showers on the patios. The 500-acre setting includes long leaf pine forests for hiking and biking, a coastal dune lake for kayaking and canoeing, and a 1,400-square-feet of private beach. The hotel is also next door to Grayton Beach State Park, where you can make good use of the property’s complimentary bicycles, kayaks, and canoes.
Renovated in 2019, the resort also offers local seafood, Southern, and family-friendly fare via FOOW (formerly known as Fish Out Of Water) and a terrific collection of craft beers, wines, and cocktails. The spa and fitness center provides plenty of distraction, as do beach bonfires and outdoor movies.
With a bowling alley, an ice-skating rink, and a nightclub all in the lowest level alone, this hotel practically screams fun. But that doesn’t mean it lacks luxury. The tropical greenery and sleek midcentury modern decor stuns from the moment you walk into the posh lobby.
Custom and exclusive are two words that guide you through the EDITION experience, from the La Labo bath products to the fragrance made just for the hotel. Sip creative craft cocktails and trendy bites at Matador Bar or outdoors at Tropicale. Follow with a dip in the serene pool to soak up Miami’s Art Deco feels and beach breezes. Finish with an exquisite pan-Latin meal at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Matador Room.
Standard rooms, larger than average for the region, are tastefully decorated in hues of driftwood and white with marble bathrooms, wood paneling, and a variety of natural textures. Feather mattresses with pillow tops and duvets ensure an excellent night’s sleep.
Ideal for a romantic getaway, this award-winning resort is known as Kauai’s closest waterfront lodging. “Po’ipu” translates to “crashing waves,” and this south shore beach resort is one of the sunniest spots on the island, and consistently recognized by Trip Advisor and travel magazines for its 121 rooms that are only steps from the sand.
The Spa at Ko’a Kea incorporates island clay, indigenous nut oils, locally grown sugar, coffee, and floral essences in products. Try a treatment in the outdoor seaside cabana room; you’ll never want to go back to an indoor spa again. And, if you upgrade to a suite, the spa can provide an extraordinary in-room floral bath experience designed to restore and improve your immune system.
With executive chef and Kauai native Noelani Planas at the helm, the highly-rated Red Salt restaurant provides local and seasonal dishes, including ahi tartare and vanilla-scented Mahi. Sushi nights at Red Salt Lounge offer an alternative to the regular menu.
This 22-acre playground is a terrific family-friendly beach resort, whether taking a whirl down the longest water slide in Maui (325 feet!) or nesting at the adults-only infinity pool that overlooks waters so blue you ache to paint them. Bypass the pools to walk to Wailea Beach and Ulua Beach Park.
Rooms with private balconies (also known as lanais) are spacious, beginning at 437 square feet, and are soothing with marble bathrooms and palettes of white and wheat rather than clichéd tropical hues.
Views are stunning from wherever you are on property, but particularly from the Mandara Spa, which overlooks the Molokini crater and the island of Kaho’olawe. You can also experience the grandeur of the three championship 18-hole golf courses — the Wailea Golf Club is considered one of the best in the country — or get SCUBA dive-certified.
The embodiment of the Hamptons, Gurney’s is the only hotel in Montauk that’s open year-round. Stylish, sexy, and focused on service, the resort is a crowded, see-and-be-seen hot spot during the summer season when prices spike. But booking May through September gives you access to the 1,000-square-foot private beach, with its array of lounges and daybeds, as well as The Beach Club for food and beverage service. However, some seating is reservation only, so be sure to inquire about where you’re allowed to sunbathe.
Standard rooms feature natural cottons and linens and a crisp, nautical palette of white, beige, gray, and navy. Don’t let the bathroom’s vintage brass fixtures fool you — the rainfall showerheads are as up-to-date as they come.
If you like steam rooms, you’ll love the Finnish Rock Sauna, Russian Steam Room, and Roman Bath at the Seawater Spa, which offers Thalasso therapies. The indoor-outdoor seawater pool is a draw, too, as are the five dining-and-drinking options, including a sibling to Manhattan’s renowned Scarpetta.
Cape Cod has a certain captivation that exerts a pull like a magician on a rabbit’s ears. And the 22 historic buildings that comprise Wequasset Resort and Golf Club are Cape Cod incarnate, with beachside rooms and villas replete with plush armchairs, white wicker dining sets, gas fireplaces, and marble bathrooms.
Twenty-Eight Atlantic is not only the resort’s iconic restaurant, but it attracts foodies from all over the Cape. Chef James Hackney’s fluke crudo with salmon roe or his lobster carbonara served on Limoges china, explains why. After, enjoy cocktails under a pergola at LiBAYtion, which features stunning views of the water.
The neighboring par-72, 18-hole Cape Cod National golf course is one of those courses that is always and forever beloved by serious golfers. But for casual players, it’s also one of the prettiest places to play (even if you will tee off into the trees). Four Har-Tu tennis courts provide another option. But don’t forget why you’re here. If you want to get onto the water, Down Cape Charters & Boat Rentals will arrange any kind of kayaking, sailing, or fishing tour or charter.
Located in Cape Elizabeth, just seven miles north of Portland, Maine, the ecologically friendly Inn by the Sea commands a mile of sand on Crescent Beach that guests access by strolling through lush nature. The entire 61-room and suite property, which is also landscaped with indigenous flowers and bushes, attracts native birds and butterflies and is an Instagram lover’s dream.
Because Crescent Beach is spacious and the property limited, the beach never gets crowded, though there is also a pool. On cooler evenings, it’s also extremely pleasant to sit out on the expansive patios and balconies that rim the rooms and suites, which are decorated with a variety of lush textiles, metallic accents, and marble countertops.
A spa provides ocean-inspired treatments that use seaweed, salts, oils, and marine peptides. Dinner at Sea Glass, one of the best restaurants in the area, is an inventive adventure in seafood, especially if you order the tasting menu. The chef also is a whiz with vegan menus as well as gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free dishes.
Kiawah Island is more known for its stately residences than hotels, but one of the few luxury hotels available is the elegant Sanctuary Hotel. It’s also the only hotel located directly on the island’s 10 miles of beachfront property.
King bedrooms begin at 520 square feet with custom-made mattresses outfitted with matelassé bed covers. Lounge on them in the Italian linen robes provided, or just savor the stunning bathrooms with marble walk-in showers, double vanities, and soaking tubs.
If the beach begins to pall, visit two separate pools, one for adults and one for families, which are tended by beach concierges. To continue your workout routine, enjoy LCD flat-panel touch screens on cardio equipment, followed by a dip in the indoor pool. Or choose private Pilates and yoga sessions with personal instructors. Play outdoors on any of the five world-class golf courses or tennis on the 22 courts in the famous Roy Barth Tennis Center, now directed by Roy’s son, Jonathan.
As guest after guest notes, you get what you pay for at The Sanctuary Hotel. A room might not come cheaply, but the experience lingers.
With a manicured lawn in front and a beach in the back, this LEED-certified, pet-friendly resort represents both the south and the raw beauty of Jekyll Island to a T. Lushly landscaped with palm trees and tropical plants, the hotel offers nature, tranquility, and immediate access to seagrass dunes and sandy beaches, where birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife abounds.
Clean and modern, with updated technology and complimentary Wi-Fi, the business-accessible rooms are generously sized with at least a partial view of the water and a balcony. Some have inland views and no balconies, though, so be specific when you book. Westin’s trademarked Heavenly bedding is especially comfortable, and the rainforest showerheads are comforting.
Dining options include The Reserve Steak House, which features native Georgia seafood in addition to meat. Before or after a meal, perch at Harry’s Lounge for a craft cocktail and look over the dunes. A 20-mile bike path that stretches in front of the hotel is a terrific alternative to working out in the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio, even though it is nicely outfitted and open 24/7.
Whether you want to catch crabs and fish from the bracing Pacific or simply enjoy them by the fire at signature restaurant, Meridien, Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa is delighted to oblige.
As the name indicates, you really couldn’t get closer to the water than here, where the Nestucca River meets the Oregon coastline.
Choose from one of the 33 King or Double Queen rooms, all of which have 440 square feet (or more, if you request a corner room) and poetic views of Cape Kiwanda’s waves and Haystack Rock through picture windows. With luxe rustic furnishings, cast-iron tubs, gas fireplaces, and amenities that range from a Bonavita brewing system to a Bluetooth lantern speaker, there’s no need to upgrade to a two- or three-bedroom cottage unless traveling with a group.
While Tidepools Spa, which has an outdoor hot tub, and the restaurant are sophisticated, everything here is about the natural world, the adventures to be had in it, and the relationship with the small, unpretentious Pacific City community.
In addition to the criteria previously listed above, we considered these additional factors:
Price: We looked for starting room rates in low season under $500 per night.
Reviews: In addition to our own first-hand knowledge and stays, we researched reviews and ratings on sites such as Trip Advisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com, and took into account the experience of other recent guests.
Guests: We chose the best beach hotels for a wide audience, including families, couples, groups of friends, honeymooners, and more.
Amenities: We looked for beach hotels that feature well-appointed rooms, excellent locations, beach access, pool facilities, top-notch restaurants and bars, and other guest perks from golf courses to beachside dining and spa services.
COVID-19 safety: We selected hotels that prioritize the health and safety of guests with new strict new cleaning policies in light of COVID-19.
Where are the best beaches in the US?
There’s no shortage of beach paradises in the US. Places like Southern California and Florida offer year-round sun and Florida’s Gulf Coast, in particular, is known for its sugary white-sand beaches and clear, turquoise waters that rival the Caribbean.
Spots like Clearwater Beach and Amelia Island are especially well-known for being great for families. Of course, if you’re looking for more action, the party scenes in Miami Beach and South Beach are infamous. Just up the coast, don’t miss out on Hilton Head, Kiawah Island, and Georgia’s Golden Isles.
For surfers, beaches in California like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Pismo Beach are prime destinations. If you’re ready to go farther afield or crave a tropical getaway, Hawaii’s beaches are tough to beat, especially when it comes to activities like snorkeling.
In the Northeast, the Jersey Shore from Asbury to Cape May provides an easy getaway that appeals to young groups of friends and families alike, depending on the area. Coastal spots like Newport Rhode Island and Kennebunk Beach in Maine also offer top-notch sandy shores and salty breezes, and, of course, there are well-known destinations like the Hamptons. And on the opposite coast, Oregon boasts iconic destinations like Cannon Beach and Brookings.
How much does a beach vacation cost?
Beach vacations can run the gamut from budget to luxury depending on where you go and when. For more wallet-friendly stays, consider areas like Ocean City, Cape May, Virginia Beach, and Myrtle Beach.
Popular areas like Malibu, the Hamptons, Newport, Rhode Island, and Hilton Head are all well-known for being on the pricier side. And while there are always deals to be found, consider going on a beach vacation in the shoulder season if savings are your top priority. September or early May still see excellent weather in most beach destinations with far lower prices than during peak summer or winter dates. Additionally, keep in mind that peak weekends and holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July typically see beach hotel prices surge.
Most hotels have reopened following shutdowns due to COVID-19 with new safety procedures in place. While you’re more likely to encounter other people in common spaces and have more interactions with staff, experts say that with added caution, it is safe to stay in a hotel. We also recommend following CDC guidelines and wearing a mask in public, using hand sanitizer, and following social distancing.
Hilton Hotels currently offers 16 distinct brands for every type of traveler, with two new brands in development so keep an eye on newcomers Tempo by Hilton debuting in Louisville and Signia by Hilton in development for Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Orlando.
As a Hilton Honors elite member, I’ve stayed at countless Hilton properties across the country. Some of the hotels on this list are among my standout favorites, while others are included thanks to their incredible point redemption value and desirable location.
Hilton Honors members earn points with each stay and budget-minded travelers will often find great value in redeeming points at brands like Embassy Suites, Tru, and Hilton Garden Inn, but luxury resorts and boutique hotels are equally within reach if you save up an appropriate amount of points.
Even if not redeeming points, these top-rated properties are excellent options for earning points and working toward elite status. Travelers will find this list encompasses amusement park destinations and island retreats alike, while historic properties and luxury city escapes found their place, too.
These are the best Hilton Hotels in the US, sorted by point redemptions from low to high.
Not only is this Embassy Suites one of the lowest point redemptions across the brand, but it’s also a remarkable deal for staying at a golf resort. Tee time here is even more appealing as personal instruction from PGA pros is available, and there’s a short game practice area, too.
Even if you’re not a golfer, this hotel offers incredible points value with its cooked-to-order complimentary breakfast and evening cocktail reception, backed by mountain views and a resort pool sure to please the whole family. True to the brand, every guestroom here is a suite complete with separate sleeping and social areas with a refrigerator and microwave. Balconies offer views of the mountains or golf green, and some rooms sleep up to six guests.
Guestroom decor is traditional and functional, in line with the brand, and it’s only the presidential suite that has distinctive accents like a jetted tub and walk-in European shower. Yet most of your time here will undoubtedly be spent outdoors with the lush greenery, poolside cocktails, and hikes at Camelback Mountain just a few miles down the road.
Like many Tru properties, this Sandusky property has a youthful vibe thanks to vibrant colors throughout common spaces and funky features like swinging lounge chairs. Colorful wall murals welcome guests inside, while the hotel offers an outdoor verandah with fire pits for cozy evening socials.
With free parking, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast, a points redemption is already a great value here, but the location adds even more oomph for leisure travelers booking a stay. The Kalahari waterpark is only a mile away, while Cedar Point amusement park attractions are about a 15-minute drive.
Guestrooms are minimalistic in a cool contemporary way, with functional furnishings like a rolling workstation and ample storage, along with cozy bedding featuring a Serta mattress. Rooms have lots of natural light with oversized windows, a mini fridge, and glass shower doors. Complimentary coffee, tea, and hot chocolate is available 24/7 in the lobby.
For those who wish to stay in the heart of Times Square, Hilton Garden Inn New York offers an incredible location in the city that never sleeps. But sleep you will, with ergonomic design and Serta Suite Dreams bedding alongside upscale bath amenities and black-out curtains. Guestrooms also feature Herman Miller chairs and mini-fridges to store your NYC leftovers.
Some rooms have views of the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, which will equate to a higher point redemption, of course. Otherwise, this Times Square offers redemptions starting from as little as 28,000 points a night, which is a steal to be within walking distance of Broadway shows.
The hotel offers complimentary coffee and tea each morning while the lobby bar is ideal for evening cocktails overlooking Times Square. On-site restaurant Paul’s on Times Square offers a breakfast buffet alongside a lunch and dinner menu backed by floor-to-ceiling views of the city.
Depending on season, this stellar property near popular Orlando attractions can be quite budget-minded or lean toward a mid-range point redemption. Yet the location is incredible with Universal Orlando within a mile and Disney a little over nine miles away. Plus, the hotel provides a free shuttle to Universal Orlando Resort, increasing value for families.
Spacious guestrooms have a chic contemporary vibe with pops of color throughout, like vibrant orange sofas, teal ottomans, and bursts of lime green accents on wall shelving. A flex space offers a combinable workstation and food prep area with a fridge, microwave, and dishwasher all at hand. Portable induction cooktops are also available upon request.
Some studios sleep up to six guests with two queen beds and a sleeper sofa. Connecting rooms are also available for larger families traveling together. While the pool isn’t huge, it gets plenty of sun and is complimented by outdoor grills and shaded dining areas.
Motto by Hilton is Hilton’s newest brand offering with a micro-hotel urban vibe for youthful travelers. This less traditional lodging option is more like gathering friends for a shared home rental, without the home price tag. At this time, only one Motto is available to book, and it’s in a fantastic Philadelphia neighborhood for city exploration.
This downtown getaway is ideal for Amtrak arrivals, while cultural go-tos like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Love Park are within walking distance. Modern dwellings range from spacious king rooms to bunk bed suites for friends traveling together. Guestrooms feature hardwood floors, a soothing color palette of white and sea blue, and black and white bathrooms.
While the property doesn’t offer complimentary breakfast, temptation is available on-site with El Cafe’s breakfast tacos and Stumptown coffee. For light lunches or evening bites, El Techo is a taqueria spanning the 11th floor and offering wonderful skyline views thanks to its retractable glass roof. Then for a stunning on-site meal with friends, Condesa offers up Mexican fare with mezcal and tequila-based cocktails.
The Peery Salt Lake City Downtown, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
As a Tapestry Collection hotel, guests will immediately note the boutique charms of The Peery Salt Lake City from its historic Prairie and Classical Revival architecture to tasteful antique furnishings. Built in 1920, the hotel has only 73 guestrooms and retains its elegance with high-canopy beds, decorative molding, and classic wood furnishings, yet also offers modern bathrooms and Tempur-Pedic bedding.
A refined, neutral color palette with pops of color is consistent from guestrooms through to common areas and, while morning coffee is available in the lobby, breakfast service remains reduced at this time. The hotel also has secluded wine and tasting rooms available alongside two restaurant options.
The hotel is located in a prime location for exploring downtown pubs, breweries, dining high and low, and there’s even a murder mystery dinner theater across the street. Salt Palace Convention Center and Temple Square are just up the block, while the Natural History Museum of Utah is within five miles and Big Cottonwood Canyon is just a 15-mile distance for outdoors enthusiasts.
This downtown Nashville hotel generally runs a few hundred dollars a night, so the redemption value here is excellent – unless you plan to book during a major music festival when rates will go up no matter how you pay. After all, this property is in a prime location for taking in Nashville’s live music scene and the Country Music Hall of Fame is just a half-mile away.
Not only is this hotel in Nashville’s historic district, but the property itself was built in the early 1900s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel’s exterior retains Renaissance Revival architectural details, while inside reveals a modern venue with music-themed art adorning walls in public spaces and guestrooms alike.
Spacious guestrooms include a refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher while Serta Suite Dreams bedding ensures a sound sleep. Family travelers will find suites that sleep up to six guests.
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas opened in March 2021 and its slightly off-Strip location is perfect for those who want easy access to nightlife and attractions while embracing a little extra privacy. Unlike many Vegas properties, guests will never pay a resort fee at this Curio Collection property, making the moderate points redemption even more valuable.
Sunseekers will love the expansive resort pool surrounded by palm trees, lounge chairs, and private cabana rentals. For even more poolside fun, this summer will debut the Élia Beach Club with an all-day party vibe. Casa Calavera serves up traditional Mexican fare and cocktails on an outdoor patio overlooking the resort pool, while poolside coastal Italian cuisine is available from Kassi Beach House.
Additional on-site dining abounds with NOBU Las Vegas, Thai street food at Night & Market, steakhouses, and even a 24/7 option at The Kitchen at Commons Club, known for their carafe cocktails and beer flights.
On the lower end of points redemption, guests will find modern, spacious suites with colorful decor and plenty of cozy seating alongside organically sourced bath amenities. Strip-view and Grand Chambers will require thousands more points, so luxury-seeking high-rollers may prefer to book these extravagant multi-room suites with a credit card.
This Canopy property truly embraces an artsy Portland vibe with an unbeatable location in the nightlife-packed Pearl District. Complimentary bicycles are available for exploring the waterfront trail and downtown attractions like the Japanese Garden, while on-site amenities include a 24-hour rooftop fitness center that overlooks the neighborhood.
Eatery Vaux welcomes guests with exposed brick walls contrasted with vibrant local art, while the menu highlights sustainable practices and seasonal local products. The gallery-like property includes casual mezzanine seating, while cornhole games on the rooftop provide amazing cityscape views. There are plenty of little extras, like a water bottle filling station and private workstation cubbies in the common areas.
Guestrooms have nice touches like in-room Nespresso machines, a mini-fridge, chaise lounges, and sliding barn doors. Portland art and design influences functional, contemporary furnishings, and gel memory foam beds feature Serta Cool Balance technology for a super cozy sleep.
Points redemption can really fluctuate at this Vail hotel, thanks to its prime location for the winter ski season. Spring through fall offer the lowest redemption points, yet year-round this DoubleTree is a desirable property for its laidback resort vibe surrounded by Colorado mountains.
The resort has a ski chalet vibe with vaulted ceilings and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, and huge windows offer amazing views of the nearby slopes. On-site dining ranges from craft cocktails and shareable plates to American comfort food and Mexican classics.
That chalet vibe continues with fireplaces in some guestrooms, while some suites have loft bedrooms. Plus there is a heated outdoor pool surrounded by snowcapped mountains and a cozy outdoor fire pit, and a games room to keep the kids occupied at all hours.
One of the most appealing amenities at this beachfront hotel is the year-round outdoor heated pool, which means families are in for fun in the sun no matter the temperature outside. Plus, with direct private beach access, there’s a host of water activities to occupy your day, but the poolside tiki bar may also have a special spot reserved for you.
Don’t miss the amazing sunsets at this beach getaway which, by the way, is one of the overall best redemption values along the Gulf of Mexico and points are definitely the way to go in peak season when cash room rates tend to get quite high. With hot breakfast included, free parking, and proximity to both Gulf State Park and the Adventure Island amusement park, families will find exceptional value here. Note that not all rooms have a balcony or water view, so be sure to book according to your preferences.
Guestrooms are road trip and family-friendly with in-room mini-fridges and microwaves, and plenty of social seating areas. Rooms have a casual, spacious design with a beach-inspired color palette reflecting water and nature. Guestrooms with balconies will find these furnished with functional outdoor seating.
An obvious choice for business travelers, Hilton Americas-Houston connects to the George R. Brown Convention center via skywalk, yet this downtown flagship property is also a great choice for city explorers on the go. Discovery Green Park is right next door and home to live outdoor music and public art, playgrounds, and a calm pond for sightseeing by kayak. Visitors can easily take in a Houston Rockets game at the adjacent Toyota Center or wander to nearby eateries, museums, and the theater district.
One of the best features of this Hilton property is the infinity-edge indoor pool with amazing city skyline views from the 23rd floor. The spa offers soothing full-body scrubs, alongside manis and pedis to glam up for a night on the town.
Modern guestrooms have a chic vibe thanks to wall murals designed by a local artist and some rooms have full views of Discovery Green Park, while others have expansive skyline views. Business travelers should note the high-end appeal of executive suites towering over the city, complete with Executive Lounge access inclusive of continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres.
DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront
This family-friendly resort has a 27-acre footprint along the south end of Ocean Boulevard and offers direct access to Springmaid Pier with popular museums and attractions within a mile radius. Families will find a true resort experience with plenty of on-site activities ranging from lazy rivers and pools to a sprawling lawn for games, shaded patio seating, immediate beach access, and an option to book golf packages.
Regular guestrooms are vacation-oriented with a mini-fridge and microwave, small dining table, and a private balcony. Larger suites are ideal for families with a full-size fridge, family dining table, and the ability to sleep up to five guests. All rooms have a minimal interior design with crisp, cool colors with the focal point on ocean views from balconies.
All-day dining options include a buffet breakfast at Ocean Blue, beachside bites at Southern Tide Bar & Grille, and tasty cocktails at The Pool Bar. Guests may also book private cabanas stocked with water bottles and fresh fruit bowls, along with dedicated food and beverage service.
The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel
While there are plenty of exceptional hotels in New Orleans, finding a great hotel deal, particularly in the French Quarter neighborhood, can be a challenge – which makes redeeming points at The Roosevelt all the more impressive. Even during peak times, the redemption value at this Waldorf Astoria is one of the best Hilton Honors deals available.
Situated along the edge of the French Quarter with easy streetcar access on Canal Street, The Roosevelt New Orleans has been operating as a hotel since 1893. The property blends historic architecture and finishing touches like extravagant chandeliers and ornate mirrors with modern accents like a rooftop pool and jazz-themed local art. A swanky lounge serves up small plates alongside classic cocktails, while fine dining is served at Italian eatery Domenica.
Guestrooms combine period furnishings with contemporary amenities like multi-nozzle walk-in showers, large flat-screen TVs, coffee makers, and minibars. Common areas highlight historic New Orleans memorabilia and dramatic walnut-paneled walls, while the lobby is one of the best to visit during the holidays thanks to their elaborate annual decor traditions.
Hilton Aventura Miami is a completely new property and the latest luxury hotel to join the downtown Aventura skyline. Opened in May 2021, this culinary-focused destination is super close to Aventura Mall and North Miami attractions like Gulfstream Park and Hallandale Beach.
Guestrooms feature bedding from the Hilton Serenity Collection alongside custom decorative throws. White contemporary furnishings are sleek and streamlined, standing out against luxurious patterned flooring. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer amazing views of blue skies and famous Florida sunshine.
The signature restaurant, Gala, offers indoor and outdoor seating with a focus on South American cuisine. Muse offers craft cocktails and tapas. The Reserve transitions from a daytime coffee bar to a wine lounge in the evenings. Throughout, the hotel hosts saxophone nights, poolside DJs, and weekend brunches.
Conrad Hotels & Resorts is all about smart luxury, pairing pleasure with business, and while the brand typically costs several hundreds of dollars per night, this DC property has great value for points redemption.
With a location convenient to the White House, National Monument, and Smithsonian attractions, this luxe hotel is equally suited to leisure and business travel. Guests may take in those stunning skyline views atop the hotel’s rooftop bar, while the on-site restaurant features James Beard award-winners offering a seasonal tasting menu.
Guestrooms are true to Conrad styling with floor-to-ceiling windows, clean design lines with neutral color palettes, and spa-quality bathrooms with walk-in marble showers and soaker tubs. Some of the higher-end suites include fireplaces and separate dining, entertaining, and sleeping spaces.
Oceana Santa Monica overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and this high-end property delivers 5-star service to its discerning guests. Year-round points redemption starts at a consistent 95,000 but those seeking an indulgent penthouse experience may want to consider paying instead of forking over 446,000 points.
No matter which way you book, expect to unwind with amenities like complimentary morning beach yoga, Peloton treadmills in the fitness center, and a spa-like heated outdoor pool. Extremely spacious standard suites feature luxurious cashmere throws, Frette linens, and modern wall art while larger suites offer options like well-equipped kitchens, private terraces, walk-in closets, and spacious entertaining areas.
The boutique-style property has a great location along Ocean Avenue with popular downtown bars and restaurants nearby, while Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park are less than a mile away.
Redeeming points at a Hilton Grand Vacations property will always run on the high end as these are typically visited by vacation ownership guests, but this Waikoloa resort on the Big Island of Hawaii offers exceptional value. Located on the Kohala Coast, the resort tower is perched along the edge of Wailua Bay – ideal for boogie boarding, paddleboarding, and kayaking excursions.
Contemporary guestrooms boast ocean-inspired and island accents like local art and coastal colors, while dining venues and common areas are decorated with surfboards and sleek wood furnishings. Classic rooms include private balconies with waterfront views, while suites also include fully equipped kitchens with separate dining and living areas.
On-site food and drink range from fresh island cuisine to taproom favorites, along with the Legends of Hawaii Luau dinner and show, a Kona coffee bar, and homemade ice cream.
FAQ: Hilton Honors
What are the Hilton Honors membership levels?
There are only four tier levels to Hilton Honors, and it’s free to sign up for an account:
What are the best ways to earn and maximize Hilton points?
Every paid night earns members Hilton points, with Tru and Home2 Suites earning 5 base points per dollar spent, while all other Hilton properties earn 10 base points per dollar spent. There are also occasional member-only offers available on the hotel website for increased points earnings which maximize point collection. Being an Elite Hilton member (Silver, Gold, or Diamond status) comes with the perk of getting a fifth night free on award stays in standard rooms, which is a great way to stretch your points for a longer stay.
Guests can also earn even more points with one of the Hilton Hotel branded credit cards. Additionally, if you don’t have a lot of paid Hilton stays already racked up, opening one of Amex’s Hilton cards comes with the bonus of complimentary elite status.
How do I find hotels with the best value for point redemptions?
While Hilton doesn’t publish a standard award redemption chart, they do have an incredibly useful Points Explorer site that allows guests to find properties based on location and desired redemption ranges. Guests may set their preferred redemption level and search properties from low to high or vice versa. Or, guests can search specific locations to find the lowest redemptions in a specific area.
How else can I use my Hilton Honors points?
Points may be pooled with up to 10 friends or family members to splurge on a luxurious resort getaway. Points may also be used to pay for Lyft rides, redeemed for car rentals, or transferred to partner airline miles through their online membership account.
When should I use points and when should I pay for a hotel?
Hilton Honors points are worth, on average, 0.5 cents each according to Insider’s points and miles valuations. Always pay attention to the math to determine whether the stated points redemption is better than paying for a night. For example, if a hotel is listed at $122 per night while the points redemption would require 32,000 points for the same room, it’s a better option to pay as 32,000 points at 0.5 cents each equates to a $160 value.
Plus, sometimes it may be worth it to pay for a night if you are participating in a special members-only points-earning promotion. Hilton often offers special promotions like “earn 3x points on every stay,” where it makes sense to earn the bonus points within a limited timeframe.
If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
Tulum is a design and gastronomy mecca on a turquoise beach overseen by ancient Mayan ruins.
Hotels in Tulum push the limits of beauty and design but some come with astonishingly high prices.
We compiled a list of highly-rated Tulum hotels ranging from $128 to $669 per night to start.
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Two hours south of Cancun, Tulum is one of the hottest destinations on Mexico’s stunning Riviera Maya. This jungle-embedded city offers gorgeous and gentle Caribbean waters, lush jungles, ancient ruins, standout design, and plentiful hotels that showcase it all.
Spiritual centers, apartments, hostels, luxury, and boutique hotels all have a home here and proudly boast the Tulum aesthetic of natural wood, leafy palms, and just a touch of concrete or brass for an industrial edge.
I spent three months living in Tulum and the best hotel comes down to personal style and whether you plan to soak up the sun, admire the ruins of Coba, or go cenote-hopping in the beautiful swimming holes scattered within the jungle. Tulum hotels are also among the best wellness resorts in the Caribbean.
Tulum hotels push the boundaries of design, and their prices can often reach astronomical levels, but we found beautiful and accessible Tulum hotels that don’t skimp on comfort, beauty, or amenities.
Browse all the best Tulum hotels below or jump to a specific area here:
The Aloft Tulum is one of the newest and largest hotels in Tulum that offers the signature style of the hip and colorful Aloft brand and also many comforts that are hard to come by in Tulum, like industrial-strength air-conditioning and pristine and contemporary hotel rooms (that won’t cost a fortune). The hotel is located halfway between the city center and the beach zone, which means it’s a slightly shorter ride to the beach than from other hotels in town, but you can get there by bicycle or cab.
The Aloft has a bar space designed for live music, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a restaurant, and two pools. There’s a family-friendly pool on the ground level, but the adults-only rooftop infinity pool is the highlight of any stay with stunning views over the jungle canopy. It’s a great place to spend the day sipping cocktails, especially if you need to send out a few e-mails.
All rooms are modern and spacious with bright colors, natural textures, and amenities like Smart TVs and Marshall speakers. The polished style may not suit all types of Tulum-bound travelers, but for anyone dreading bugs and humidity, it’s a very comfortable and affordable place to stay.
In a quiet section of Aldea Zama, tucked between the beach and city center, Copal has apartment-style accommodations that are great for families and large groups.
The hotel has a polished jungle-inspired design with plenty of bamboo and natural wood finishes. Rooms feel brand new and modern with stainless steel appliances and Smart TVs and the most basic room is similar to a standard hotel room with a kitchenette. Larger rooms like the Studio Jungle Terrace have living spaces and kitchens, and there are also multi-bedroom suites with their own private rooftop and ground-floor pools.
Behind the hotel and through the restaurant, you’ll find a pathway to a small public cenote. It’s not as large as others in the area, and can sometimes get crowded, but it’s nice to visit for a quick and easy dip.
In Tulum’s super-polished Aldea Zama neighborhood, Orchid House is a quiet hotel with a serene nature-inspired design. As you enter the lobby, you’ll first notice the interior garden with tropical plants and a small footbridge perfect for a photo opportunity. Upstairs, the pool bar is the hotel’s main attraction, with a classy take on the in-pool seating so you can sip on a juice or cocktail without ever getting out of the pool.
Throughout the hotel, a light and airy color scheme reflects that natural environment, while intricate details and antique furniture add a necessary touch of luxury to this bohemian chic 10-room hotel.
Each room features a stunning wood-carved door, a plush King-sized bed, and a private terrace with a small plunge pool for two. For a little more space, Jungle Suites have terraces large enough for a hammock, and the Master Suites, which also have two additional twin-sized beds, have plunge pools that directly overlook the jungle.
Make sure to have at least one meal in the signature nest, a dining booth on top of the hotel, where you can enjoy an interrupted view across the treetops all the way out into the horizon.
There are a lot of glamping options in Tulum, but Nativus offers premium accommodations with access to a natural crystalline cenote. From the main area of the hotel, you’ll find the tents and a small restaurant, and a winding jungle path will take you all the way to the huge El Cenote Encantada, an open cenote where you can swim, kayak, and paddleboard. The cenote is not private, but it’s hard to reach and find if you’re not accessing it through a local business, so it doesn’t get very crowded. Every tent has a plush bed and its own outdoor bathroom, which is beautifully decorated with natural materials and has a very private outdoor rainfall shower.
This hotel is located at the end of the beach road, right before the entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve National Reserve, so you can indulge in more adventurous jungle experiences without compromising on proximity to the beach.
Located on the north end of Tulum’s beach road, which is closest to the entrance of the ruins, Ikal is a lively and hip spot that offers community events like Brazilian capoeira lessons, yoga, spiritual lectures, and eclectic live music. It is also extremely kid-friendly hotel with weekly events designed especially for kids relating to yoga, music, and art.
Although restaurant visitors are welcome to use the day beds on the beach, the pool is for guests only. There are a large variety of accommodation types from spacious and air-conditioned glamping tents with shared bathrooms to beautiful jungle suites with private plunge pools, outdoor showers, thatched walls, and eye-catching furniture pieces that look like they were magically summoned from the depths of the jungle. All rooms are unique but Cabaña 8 stands out with its huge macrame entryway that really tells you everything you need to know about Ikal’s dedication to a bohemian aesthetic.
La Zebra has a top-rated reputation for a fun ambiance, great service, chic rooms, and great beach access. The hotel has six different categories of rooms from basic Garden Rooms to beachfront suites with balconies and plunge pools. Rooms offer a harmony of natural beach tones and textures with a traditional design style that skips the flashy or industrial touches of other Tulum hotels. However, all rooms are still very sophisticated and luxurious and families will appreciate the suites, which come with one King-sized bed and two single beds.
The beach area offers plenty of space for guests to spread out on shaded daybeds. There is also a small spa and a beautiful restaurant with unique tabletops that pay homage to famous works of Mexican art. For epicurean guests, the hotel restaurant also offers an eight-course Chef’s Table experience that pairs artisanal cocktails, beers, and wine with Mexican gastronomy, hosted in a special dining room decorated with Mexican antiques.
Hidden in the less busy part of the Tulum city center, this adults-only hotel has loft-style villas with living rooms and private plunge pools. The lofts are beautiful, filled with natural textures and a dark color scheme, all tucked away in your own private corner of the jungle.
The shared hotel space is also sophisticated and calming, with nature and Mexican culture woven into every element of the hotel’s design. Special features include an agave garden and an ofrenda, or altar, decorated with black and white photographs and skulls.
The location is very far from the beach, but parking is free if you decide to rent a car. The common areas are lively, thanks to the inviting restaurant and bar with billiards and an inviting stone fire pit. The main pool has a fantastic design, fringed with lounge areas that have been sectioned off so you can enjoy a bit of privacy with your toes just inches from the water.
Hotel Bardo also offers many experiences for guests, like sunset intention-setting rituals, temezcal ceremonies, sound healing, and yoga. It may be a long journey to the ocean, but you’ll enjoy a rejuvenating and aesthetically pleasing experience in this hotel that encompasses all the reasons why people come to Tulum.
Located on the south end of the beach, Nômade is a beautiful resort where meandering pathways lead you through a jungle filled with thatched roof villas, treehouses, a yoga shala, a gathering nest, and a meditation tent. Each week the hotel offers a variety of programming from spiritual seminars, live music, tea and cacao ceremonies, and yoga. On the beach, there is a restaurant with seating areas, daybeds, and scattered hammocks shaded by swaying palm trees.
Accommodation choices range from boho-chic suites to deluxe glamping tents and whimsical treehouses. Perched up in the jungle canopy, these treehouses are artistic and intimate with working bathrooms and air-conditioning. As you walk up the winding staircase, you’ll feel like you’re stepping into your own private oasis, far away from any disturbances.
Though from the city center, there are plenty of posh places to eat and shop nearby while avoiding the more boisterous bars and party hotspots, and the beachfront location can’t be beaten.
At Be Tulum, a lush entry includes tall leafy palms and meandering paths that lead to a stunning oceanfront, for a feel as if you’re ensconced within a remote island oasis.
Rooms are modern but still embrace natural textures and colors and include a variety of jungle suites and oceanfront villas with multiple bedrooms, rooftop terraces, and private pools. Rooms at Be Tulum are full of stand-out design pieces you’ll want to take home with you, such as a cubical tree log nightstand and embroidered pillows.
The hotel’s spa, the Yaän Healing Sanctuary, is one of the main reasons to stay here. It offers a variety of indigenous-inspired treatments from healing rituals to more traditional body treatments like massages, facials, and herbal baths. You can also arrange to join a temezcal ceremony and there is daily yoga in the treetop studio. Not every room has a private pool, but all guests can enjoy the beach club which has two great restaurants, one is dedicated to seafood and the other serves elevated Mexican cuisine using ingredients from a sustainable garden.
On what’s normally considered a busy strip, this small luxury boutique hotel offers a calm peaceful atmosphere with just eight rooms and one restaurant dedicated to its guests. Although it does not offer the wide range of amenities or “scene” you’ll find on other beachside hotels, it has plenty of space on the beach with inviting chairs and umbrellas, and great service from the front desk and restaurant staff. Ordering a drink or plate of guacamole to your beach chair is as easy as sending a text.
Each room has air-conditioning, luscious beds, and a spacious bathroom with an open shower. When you’re not lounging on the beach, relax on the front porch with a hammock and two chairs, and rinse off sandy feet in the seashell water basin. Not all rooms have ocean views, but they’re located steps from the beach no matter which room you get.
Encantada’s design scheme is nowhere near as flashy as other Tulum hotels, but it is still rich in beautiful details like the large macrame wall-hanging in the entrance or the blue stained glass windows in the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom.
Tulum is about 80 miles from the Cancun airport and it takes about two hours to drive there along the main highway. If you don’t rent your own car, you can either take a cab or car service to Tulum, or you can take the ADO bus for a more affordable option.
What is the best way to get around Tulum?
There are many taxis in Tulum, but prices can be quite high especially on a busy night. Alternatively, bicycles are very popular and there is a safe bike path that connects the city center to the hotel zone.
How far is the city center from the beach?
Because much of Tulum is still protected land, there is a lot of jungle between the hotel zone on the beach and the city center. The road from the center to the beach is 2.5 miles long. Without traffic, it takes about eight minutes to drive and 15 to 20 minutes to bike. If you’re considering walking, that will take you at least 45 minutes.
Which is the best side of the beach to visit?
When you reach the beach, you’ll notice that you can go left or right. It is easy to visit both sides in one trip, but you’ll find that it will be difficult to access the beach on the south side without paying an entry fee to one of the pricey beach clubs or having a meal at one of the hotel restaurants. Meanwhile, the north side of the beach has public access and is also closer to the Mayan ruins.
Where should I stay when visiting Tulum?
If you want to make the most of your time in the water, you should select a hotel on the main beach road but be aware that this will also come with a hefty price tag unless you choose glamping accommodations. There are many places to stay in the main town, but you will need to take a cab or rent a bike to get to the beach.
What are the best hotels in Tulum?
Our list is a 50/50 split between the best Tulum hotels near the beach and non-beach options since the beach hotels can be very expensive and there are other attractions that lure visitors beyond just the sand.
We picked the best hotels that represent a variety of lodging styles, budgets, and experiences. Additionally, we looked for strict COVID policies to protect the health and safety of guests, and not every well-regarded hotel in Tulum takes these measures seriously. We also considered amenities such as yoga shalas, beach clubs, spas, and special access to well-hidden cenotes, which are natural swimming holes that are a defining characteristic of the Yucatan region of Mexico.
Tulum also has many hotels that are famous around the world that we did not include, such as Casa Malca, which was also the former home of Pablo Escobar, and Azulik, which is known for its beautiful rooms that are more like works of art, and is the most expensive hotel in Tulum. However, we opted to not include these hotels in our list of the best hotels in Tulum because they are prohibitively expensive for most people.
To see the famous “Come to the Light” sculpture that depicts a towering female figure ripping open her chest, which is filled with lush green plants, you can visit Ahau Tulum. The Papaya Playa Project is another popular hotel that is well-known for its restaurant and community events, and one we considered.
Are hotels in Tulum expensive?
Tulum is one of the most expensive destinations in Mexico and travelers will pay premium prices for hotels right on the beach since that is the best location to be in Tulum. In the city center, there are more budget-friendly options, as well as Airbnb vacation rentals, and hostels, but you will be far from the beach.
During the low season, between late spring and fall, you can expect to pay at least $130 per night on a hotel in the city center or at least $200 for a hotel on the beach (unless you’re glamping). During the high season, which starts in November and lasts until March, hotels in town will likely raise their rates above $200 per night, and hotels on the beach can charge as much as $1,000 per night. The most expensive time of year is around Christmas and New Year’s.
What is a temezcal ceremony?
Many hotels may offer a temezcal ceremony on-site. This traditional Mexican ceremony is a cleansing ritual purported to have many health benefits. It requires sitting in a small domelike structure in which rocks are heated to raise the temperature and cause you to sweat. It is usually combined with some kind of meditation and is followed by a cold shower. Because it takes some time to prepare, the ceremony is usually only offered a few times per week.
Is Tulum beach swimmable?
The water in Tulum beach is very clear and the waves are extremely gentle. It’s very swimmable, however, the beach occasionally suffers from sargasso seaweed invasions. Most hotels employ teams to clean up the seaweed in the morning, but you still might encounter it as you swim. It can be very unpleasant, but the problem is an issue all along the Riviera Maya and throughout the Caribbean.
What are the different neighborhoods in Tulum?
Aside from the beach zone, which is split into the north and south side, there are many neighborhoods in Tulum.
The city center is where most locals live and where you’ll find lively restaurants and a shopping scene. Aldea Zama is a highly-polished gated community, which is more like a small suburb within Tulum. La Veleta is another community slightly further from the beach than Aldea Zama, where there are luxury apartments but there is still a lot of construction. Villas is a very small local neighborhood that is quiet and although there are no hotels here, you might be able to find a vacation rental.
Is it better to stay in Tulum Town or the beach?
It depends on your budget and what you plan to do. The beach is beautiful, but on top of the high nightly hotel rates, you will spend a lot of money at pricey bars and restaurants. However, if you want to spend every day at the beach, you’re better off staying in the beach zone since high taxi prices from the center of town will end up being just as expensive.
If you’re more set on visiting ruins, exploring cenotes, and taking day trips, you’ll save money on lodging and dining by staying in town, away from the beach.
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One of the first steps to combating racial injustice is learning and understanding Black history.
We’re highlighting great US destinations to learn about the contributions of Black Americans.
From museums and cultural sites to Black-owned hotels, here’s what to see and where to stay.
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President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring all persons held as slaves are henceforth free.
But it wasn’t until a full two and half years after this that all slaves in the United States were considered free in the eyes of the federal government, as this proclamation depended on the advancement of the Union troops.
The holiday Juneteenth, short for June 19, is a celebration of that freedom marking June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger read a Proclamation to the people of Galveston, Texas, announcing their freedom. Commemorative celebrations date back to 1866 and, as of 2019, 47 states and DC have recognized Juneteenth.
This Juneteenth is a great opportunity to kick off your summer travels and learn about Black Americans’ contributions to the United States while celebrating a fun holiday.
We’re rounding out our recommendations for places to visit to learn about Black history with Black-owned hotels, shops, and eateries not to miss.
Here are some of the best destinations in the US to learn about Black history
Begin your summer tour at Houston’s Emancipation Park for Juneteenth. The park was established in 1872 when former slaves formed the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association for 10 acres in Houston.
Houston, Texas is one of the country’s most diverse cities and has included a large Black population of freemen and majority slaves since its founding in the 1830s. Post slavery, African Americans from other Southern cities migrated to Houston for job opportunities. Houston also attracted Buffalo Soldiers (Black cavalry during the Indian Wars and American Civil War). They protected mail, escorted stagecoaches, and even guarded the Mexican-American border. Learn more about them and Black cowboys at Houston’s Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and Taylor-Stevenson Ranch.
While spending time in Third Ward, the Black heart of Houston, know that you’re in the home of some of Houston’s most important hometown heroes, including Beyonce, Solange, Phylicia Rashad, and Debbie Allen. Though currently still closed due to COVID-19, during non-pandemic times a visit to Project Row Houses is well worth it. The shotgun houses of newly freed slaves have been converted into art installations primarily designed by African American artists.
Nicknamed Space City, check out the recent movie “Hidden Figures” before visiting the Houston Space Center for historical context on Black contributions to the US space program. After, sink your teeth into some of that famed Texas barbecue at Black-owned Ray’s BBQ. Co-owner and official pitmaster Ray Busch is a native Houstonian who started his own barbecue food truck in 1985 before eventually joining forces with his longtime friend Maxine Davis and opening Ray’s BBQ Shack, the brick and mortar location specializing in hickory-smoked meats and plenty of soul food with Cajun influences.
Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts
If you’re planning a visit to Massachusetts’ beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard, be sure to explore the well-known summer destination’s deep African American roots. Photos of the Obamas vacationing there may have announced Martha’s Vineyard as a playground for the country’s Black elite to those who weren’t already in the know. But long before that, Martin Luther King Jr. vacationed in Oak Bluffs, as did Joe Louis, Harry Belafonte, and Dorothy West. Maya Angelou also once described Oak Bluffs as “a safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Located on the north shore of the island, the town of Oak Bluffs and its eye-catching gingerbread houses have been attracting tourists for generations. Since the 1920s, it’s been a safe haven for Black Americans in search of sea, sun, and respite from beaches that were historically deemed “Whites Only.”
The first Black Americans on Martha’s Vineyard came before that though. They were freemen whalers, indentured slaves, and runaways that sought a livelihood in Martha’s Vineyard whale oil economy. By the 1950s, Oak Bluffs was attracting Black doctors, lawyers, and executives, along with storied figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Places like Shearer Cottage, founded by Charles and Henrietta Shearer in 1912 as a summer inn, were one of the first of these establishments that catered specifically to African Americans.
Visit beautiful and lively Inkwell Beach, the Oak Bluffs town beach. Origin stories of the name differ on if it was a pejorative by nearby segregated white beachgoers in reference to the Black population or — the story I like to go with — it was a reference to the Harlem Renaissance writers and poets that found inspiration and camaraderie in the Oak Bluffs community. Washington DC’s National Museum of African American History includes Oak Bluffs in their permanent exhibition, “Power of Place,” such is its place of importance to the Black American community. Enjoy film festivals, book clubs, historical Black churches, and The African-American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard for more in-depth history during your visit.
The port city of Baltimore is in the middle of a rebirth. And with colorful row houses, murals depicting legends, and historical sites like the Royal Theatre, Baltimore’s nickname of Charm City is quite fitting.
With a population that is 60% Black, Baltimore’s African American history runs deep. Famed sons and daughters of Baltimore include Jazz great Billie Holiday, the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and US Congressman and Civil Rights activist Elijah E. Cummings.
The city was also once home to abolitionist and adviser to President Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, who spent his youth an enslaved young man in the shipyards of Baltimore. Later, he returned to Baltimore, now as a free man and the highest-ranking Black man in the US, and built five homes on Strawberry Alley (now known as Dallas Street).
It would not be a trip to Baltimore without trying crabs or crab cakes, and checking out Baltimore’s Black culinary scene is a must. Head to Ida B’s Table for a culinary trip through Black history. Ida B. Wells was an activist and journalist in the south covering Southern issues of race and politics in the reconstruction period. As forward-thinking and boundary-pushing as its namesake, Ida B’s Table serves modern, farm-to-table soul food. Chef Thomas even sources from one of the few African American farms remaining in the country: Gaithers Gardens, which dates back 138 years and is family run.
If you’ve already been on the classic historical family trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, consider a visit to the state’s capital. Richmond is a destination deeply important to Black American history as it was once the center of the domestic slave trade in North America. One of America’s oldest cities, this spot on the James River has a history that is at times painful. However, that only cements the vital importance of a visit here.
The Richmond Slave Trail is a walking trail that chronicles the history of the trade of enslaved Africans from Africa to Virginia until 1775, and away from Virginia to other locations in the Americas until 1865. The route begins at the Manchester Docks and goes through sites like the slave market of Richmond and the First African Baptist Church, a center of African American life in pre-Civil War Richmond.
In more recent times, you may have seen Richmond and the captivating photos of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the city, as well as the reclaiming of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Activists have transformed the base of the sculpture, covering it with names of victims of police violence, calls for peace, as well as light projections, murals, and other artworks, transforming it into an influential work of art. Additionally, many public spaces, including the Marcus-David Peters Circle, are dedicated to art that highlights Black history and culture in Richmond.
Charleston, South Carolina is another old American city that is rich with Black history. African heritage helped shape the low country culture. In 2018, the city of Charleston finally passed a resolution acknowledging that the city profited greatly from slave labor and extended an apology.
Start your day with a delicious Lowcountry breakfast from Hannibal’s Kitchen, which has been serving Charleston unique dishes like shark and grits for over 40 years. The Africans brought to the Carolina Colony used the similarities between the agricultural environments of the Lowcountry and Africa’s West Coast, and you will see this same tasty tradition in Gullah cuisine.
The Gullah/Geechees have been said to have preserved their history more than any African American community in the United States. They are descendants of Central and West Africans and were enslaved together on the isolated islands which stretch along the US coastline from North Carolina down to St. Johns, Florida. To learn more about this history, book a tour of the Black history of Charleston with native Gullah Charlestonian Alphonso Brown of Gullah Tours.
A visit to the McLeod Plantation Historic site is also in order. The plantation is a 37-acre Gullah-Geechee heritage site that pays tribute to the enslaved Africans who lived and worked on the sea-island cotton plantation from the 1800s. Guests can learn about daily plantation life and tour the preserved dwellings of both the owners and enslaved families. The grounds include a riverside outdoor pavilion, a sweeping oak allée, and the McLeod Oak, which is thought to be more than 600 years old.
An equally important place to spend an afternoon is the Slave Mart Museum. At one point, 40% of the slaves in the United States came through the port of Charleston and this museum stands on the site of one of the last existing slave “showrooms” in the city in Charleston’s French Quarter. Many of the museum’s docents can trace their family history to slaves from the area.
Opera fan? Head over to Cabbage Row on Charleston’s Church Street where you’ll find Revolutionary War-era houses once home to the families of freed slaves. Black residents would sell cabbages from their window at one point, giving the area its name. Charleston native Dubose Heyward used Cabbage Row as his setting for his 1925 novel “Porgy” which was the basis of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy & Bess.”
Round out the day with a stop at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, founded in 1816. This is the church’s third incarnation. The first was burned by local whites in 1822 and the second was destroyed in an earthquake. The church has hosted notable Civil Rights figures like Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Booker T. Washington. Pay your respects and acknowledge recent turbulent history at the Emanuel 9 Memorial, which was constructed following the devastating murders of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverand Celementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverand Daniel Simmons, Reverand Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson on June 17, 2015.
To many, Mississippi conjures up ideas of the deep South at its worst and most racist (see the recent debacle over Martin Luther King Day just a few years ago in Biloxi, Mississippi). But it would be wrong to ignore the great influence and continued presence of Black Americans in the state.
Explore the Biloxi Visitors Center to learn about the African American cultural influence in the state, but more importantly, venture across the street to the beach. A commemorative plaque will tell you that this was the site of the Biloxi wade-ins, which were conducted by local African Americans from 1959 to 1963 to desegregate the beaches of coastal Mississippi. Following what The New York Times described as the worst racial riot in Mississippi history and protests following the assassination of the NAACP field secretary of Mississippi Medgar Evers, the 26-mile long beachfront was finally opened to all races.
For blues fans, a visit to The 100 Men Hall is a must. A longtime center of African American social life and entertainment since it was built in 1922, it has brought in countless blues, rhythm & blues, and jazz acts. Local residents have been treated to performances by Etta James, Big Joe Turner, Guitar Slim, Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, Ernie K-Doe, Deacon John, Earl King, and numerous others here.
Upstate New York
With a renewed interest in the wine scene and thriving arts community, the Hudson River Valley and upstate New York have attracted major tourism in the last few years. During vineyard crawls and fall foliage getaways, take some time to learn about the Black history of the region. New York state played an important role in the Underground Railroad, which helped tens of thousands of freedom seekers escape enslavement.
Opened in 2018, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center tells the stories of freedom seekers who risked their lives to escape slavery and oppression by journeying north to Niagara Falls as one of their final stops and border crossing to Canada. Virtual Freedom Conversation Tours are also available twice a week. John Brown, known for his raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, maintained a home near Lake Placid that was a key stop on the Underground Railroad, which is now also a site you can visit. You can also stop at the home of Harriet Tubman in the Finger Lakes region of Auburn, New York.
Honor the role Black soldiers played in the Revolutionary war with a visit to Saratoga National Historical Park. At the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, 400 Black soldiers fought along white soldiers in a pivotal battle during the Revolutionary war that resulted in the British Army’s first surrender.
The history of Black people in this area can be traced pre-Revolutionary War though. The two biggest slave markets in the country before the American Revolution were in New York City and Albany. Fans of Hamilton can visit the St. Agnes Cemetery, an African burial site discovered on the grounds of Schuyler Mansion, where they’ll learn that yes, Eliiiiiiiiiza’s father was a slaveholder.
In Buffalo, grab a drink and listen to live music at The Colored Musicians Club. Formed in 1917 due to discrimination from an all-white club, the Colored Musicians Club was the only operating African American jazz club in the United States and was a place where Black musicians were welcomed to socialize, play music, and rehearse. Famous musicians who have performed here include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. The first floor of the building serves as a multimedia museum where guests can interact and listen to jazz and enjoy historic memorabilia.
I grew up believing my parents had eyes in the back of their heads, but, sadly, I didn’t immediately sprout an extra pair of eyes after donning the title of mother. Video baby monitors are the next best thing. While there’s no substitute for being in the room with the baby, these monitors allow parents and guardians to to keep eyes and ears on the baby from another room.
A good video baby monitor answers questions that a simple audio monitor cannot, like, When did the baby fall asleep? Just 10 years ago, these monitors were clunky gadgets that played constant audio and offered a pixelated picture of the crib. Now they can send a detailed sleep analysis to your smartphone, play white noise, and even track breathing.
Keep in mind: Some of those features of smart monitors may not be as great as they seem. The AAP and pediatricians we spoke to emphasized there is no evidence that smart monitors prevent incidences of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Read more about smart monitors, sleep safety, and what our experts had to say at the end of our guide.
While features vary by model, video monitors typically come equipped with a night mode to see the room in the dark, a thermometer to measure the temperature in the room, and two-way audio to talk to the baby (or tell the toddler to get back in bed). Some baby monitors are fixed in place, while others have cameras that can be controlled remotely to pan around the room. With smart baby monitors, the list of potential features is even longer.
I tested nine of the top-ranked video baby monitors with my now 1-year-old. Each monitor that made the top of our list was tested for at least one month, including naps and nighttime snoozes.
With excellent picture and sound, the Vava is an affordable video baby monitor that has everything you need.
Pros: Clear video and audio, easy setup, remote panning and tilt, affordable
Cons: No VOX
Although the Vava lacks the fancy features of a smart monitor, it’s easy to use and offers clear audio and video, with a few extras including two-way audio.
Most standalone video baby monitors use a low-resolution fixed camera that doesn’t show the finer details, but the Vava’s video quality is so good that I could often see my son’s chest rise and fall as he slept. The handheld unit’s 5-inch screen is what really allows you to see the detail picked up by the Vava’s 720p resolution camera. The monitor’s night vision is also better quality than other units I tested.
With the controls on the parent unit, the Vava can be turned 270 degrees and tilt up or down 108 degrees, offering a view of almost the entire nursery except. The remote pan and tilt are preferable to using a wider lens because you can get a closer look at the baby while still being able to see if, say, a pet is accidentally locked in the nursery.
The Vava’s solid video quality is also paired with excellent audio. There’s no voice-activated alert (VOX) option, but the volume settings are varied enough that the fan in my baby’s nursery, while slightly audible, wasn’t annoying.
The 900-feet range didn’t once drop a connection in my house or even when I went out to the porch. Because the Vava doesn’t use Wi-Fi, hacking risk is low. The parent unit battery lasted for two daytime naps before needing a charge.
There are a few features that I would have liked to see, such as VOX, but the Vava had better video and audio quality than similarly priced monitors. Smart monitors like the Nanit and Miku offer more features and budget monitors like the VTech, a better price. But, ultimately, the Vava checks all the must-haves without a high price tag, making it our top pick.
The best smart video baby monitor
The Nanit Plusvideo baby monitor offers excellent video and audio, along with extras like sleep tips.
Pros: Sleep tracking and tips, contactless breathing monitor, quick alerts, reliable app, good video and audio quality, two-factor authentication
Cons: Pricey, sleep insights require subscription after first year
Many smart monitors deliver late alerts or poor audio, but the Nanit Plus doesn’t skimp on the basics in order to deliver the smart features.
The monitor’s audio was free of white noise, and I could turn the volume down enough not to hear the fan in my son’s room but still hear his cries. Picture quality is excellent, even for the night camera.
The Nanit was the most reliable smart monitor that I tested. It never crashed while livestreaming, though it can run few seconds behind depending on internet speeds. The one time the app stopped working (while using push notifications, not the livestream), it alerted me. For added security, it offers two-factor authentication, which Nanit says is continually audited for security compliance.
Unlike many breathing monitors, the Nanit Plus also doesn’t require extra devices. With a patterned fabric band, swaddle, or sleep sack, the camera detects pixel-level changes in that pattern to monitor the rise and fall of the baby’s chest. Even without the wearable, the monitor can still recognize movement to track sleep. False alarms can cause unnecessary worry, but I didn’t experience any.
The app’s interface is easy to navigate. It charts sleep times, duration, and time it takes to fall asleep. Using that data, Nanit Insights offers personalized sleep tips developed by a certified infant sleep coach. I shared these tips with Dr. Fern Hauck, professor of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia, who said they provided reasonable advice about establishing sleep patterns. However, these tips can also be found in inexpensive parenting books and are not the solution to every sleep problem.
Outside of the downsides of app-based monitors, like quickly depleting the smartphone battery, I have very few complaints. One minor inconvenience is that you need to go into the app and start a session in order to monitor breathing.
The Nanit Plus is one of the pricier smart baby monitors, although the wall mount option is less expensive than the floor stand. Insights also requires a paid subscription after the first year. Still, it’s $100 less than options like the Owlet and Miku.
Smart monitors are not for every family. Solid-performing, less expensive audio and video monitors are available, and breathing tracking isn’t studied for SIDs prevention (read more about this at the end of the guide). But, out of all the Wi-Fi connected monitors that I tried, the Nanit Plus delivered the best experience with the most reliability.
The best wearable-free smart baby monitor
The Miku accurately tracks breathing and sleep patterns without any wearables.
Pros: Sleep tracking, contactless breathing sensor, simple to use, plays lullabies or white noise, reliable app
Cons: Slow push notifications, white noise during livestreaming
With a radio-wave sensor built into the camera, the Miku tracks sleep and creates a color-coded chart that illustrates how well the baby slept. The well-designed app tracks data such as how long it took for the baby to fall asleep, sleep quality, and average bedtime, which may be helpful for new parents establishing a routine.
This monitor narrowly missed beating out the Nanit, largely because the audio had constant white noise detectable even at the lowest volume. (Audio performance could possibly differ based on the smartphone you are using — I tested using an iPhone 7.) The notifications were too slow to be a suitable substitute. However, if you’re looking for easy sleep tracking without any form of wearables, the Miku is a great option.
The app never crashed during testing and it can send push notifications that the baby has woken up. In order to avoid false alarms simply because the baby rolled over, there’s an intentional delay on those alerts. Unfortunately, the alerts are also delayed for cries. For that reason, I preferred streaming the audio.
Video is also easy to review with an option to watch the feed from any time the app detected motion or noise. The Miku also has a built-in sound machine — you can play white noise or lullabies and control them from the app.
Simple setup requires pressing a physical button to start a new connection, which feels a bit more secure. The Miku also has a built-in crypto security chip and includes features like two-way authentication.
Like with the Nanit, smart monitors are not a necessity. For some families, tracking breathing can lead to more worry and distraction. The AAP cautions parents that breathing monitors have not been studied for reducing SIDs. But, for families that want that extra tracking, the Miku offers those added features without the need to attach anything to the baby.
The best budget video baby monitor
The VTech RM5754 video monitor proves you don’t need to spend a lot to keep an eye on the baby, from anywhere.
Pros: Parent unit and Wi-Fi app, affordable, movement alerts
Cons: Lower night-camera quality, buggy app
The VTech RM5754 is a good monitor for those on a budget. It is unique because it’s a standalone monitor that also offers app access via Wi-Fi and VOX so you don’t have to listen to annoying background noise. The parent unit is the most convenient way to monitor, but the app allows you to watch the baby from anywhere.
The camera has a higher 1080p resolution and the parent unit a large 5-inch screen. The 100-degree wide-angle lens means you can see much of the nursery, but it doesn’t provide the close-up detail of some of the other monitors. While the night vision camera is low quality, it’s enough to see.
Audio isn’t the greatest. There were some audible static noises from both the parent unit and the app, but turning on VOX — my favorite feature — meant I only heard the static when there were loud noises in the room. The feature wasn’t explained in the user manual and is hiding in the menu, so it takes some tinkering to set up.
The VTech monitor also provides movement alerts, something uncommon with standalone monitors. From the parent unit, you can play white noise or lullabies through the monitor and turn on the night-light.
The app performance is inconsistent — it kept crashing on my iPhone 7, but ran much smoother after I updated my phone. The static is worse on the app and VOX isn’t available on a mobile device.
While I preferred the Vava’s better picture quality and sound, the VTech costs less and includes app access and VOX. This makes it a decent option for caregivers on a limited budget or families who can’t decide between a standalone camera and a Wi-Fi enabled one.
Our testing methodology
I tested nine video baby monitors over the course of several months with my now 1-year-old. The top picks were tested for at least one month. During that time, I evaluated the following features.
Audio quality: Parents will listen for a baby’s cries more often than watching the video screen, which means audio quality is still a major consideration. I listened for annoyances like static and white noise, as well as how sensitive the microphone was to both soft sounds and loud noises.
Video quality: Baby monitors don’t need cinematic 4K, but I looked for footage that was detailed enough to tell if the baby’s eyes were open or closed. Ultimately, I wanted a monitor that would cover the entire crib while still showing enough detail to see if the baby is awake or simply rolling over in their sleep.
Smart monitoring: For smart monitors, I also used the breathing tracking and sleep tracking. Thankfully, I never experienced what happens when a baby stops breathing. I did, however, research what I could into how the alarms work (including this Nanit and Miku comparison from Dad Verb using a robotic baby). I also noted any false alarms and eliminated options that caused more worry than it prevented. As noted throughout this guide, APA does not endorse breathing monitors for infants. Studies have not shown whether or not the devices have any effect on reducing SIDs.
Connectivity, battery life, and overall usability: Throughout my testing, I noted any app crashes and difficult setups. For Wi-Fi based monitors, I noted the battery life and range of the parent unit, including taking the unit outside. For smart monitors, I considered how simple the app was to use and whether or not the extra smart features were actually helpful.
What else we considered
Levana Mila: The Mila would be one of my top picks, except it’s not available yet. Originally expected out in June 2020, its release is now delayed indefinitely. I was impressed by its mode that turns the screen and audio off when no noise is detected in the room, which preserves battery life. The same mode also works with two cameras to display footage from the room when noise is detected.
Pampers Lumi: In addition to monitoring sleep, the Lumi uses a sensor on the baby’s diaper to track wet diapers, though it’s not recommended to wake a baby just to change a diaper. It simply wasn’t the best because anytime the sensor stops moving, the Lumi labels it a nap. The camera’s wide-angle fish-eye lens makes it difficult to see details, and audio is inconsistent across devices — on my iPhone, it generated constant white noise, but the iPad app didn’t have that issue.
Angel Care 3-in-1 AC337: This unique standalone monitor uses a sensor placed under the mattress to monitor breathing. To make sure an alarm is heard even if the parent unit has a dead battery, the alarm also sounds in the nursery so false alarms could wake the baby. I got a few false alarms and stopped using the breathing pad because I was worried about waking the baby up with those false alarms. The camera lens also isn’t a wide enough angle.
Cubo A.I. Baby Monitor: The Cubo uses facial recognition to alert you if the baby’s face is covered by a blanket or if the baby rolled over, while “detection zones” alert you if the baby enters a preset area. While this feature worked great, when I followed safe sleep tips, I just got notifications for rolling over and placing a hand over his face. The Cubo did have one feature I wish the other smart monitors had — push notifications are a chirping sound instead of the default, which means you know it’s a baby monitor alert and not an alert from any other app.
Owlet Smart Baby Monitor Duo: Unlike the Miku and Nanit, the Owlet Smart Sock tracks oxygen levels and heart rate — neither of which are recommended by the AAP. It doesn’t, however, track sleep data or send push notifications when noise or movement is detected. The smart sock is difficult to put on, and I don’t like placing electronics directly on my baby’s skin. I also had to try three different socks before getting one to work properly, suggesting some quality control issues. But, for what it’s worth, excellent customer service.
Standalone vs. smart baby monitors
Video baby monitors used to be simply a camera that allowed you to see and hear your baby, but the tech now falls into two major categories.
Stand-alone baby monitors are the traditional monitors that come with everything you need in the box. These monitors have both a camera and a parent unit with a screen that displays video.
Smart baby monitors come with only a camera; the rest is done via an app on a smartphone or tablet, connected via Wi-Fi. Because these app-based baby monitors are essentially running on a mini-computer (the smartphone), this type can include a lot of features that standalone monitors lack. Smart monitors can track sleep patterns, send push notifications for sound and movement, and some even track breathing.
With the Wi-Fi connection, smart monitors are never “out of range” like a traditional monitor. That means you can check in on the baby while you are out and the baby is with another caregiver, or you can work outside in a big yard and still use the monitor.
The downside is that these monitors rely on an internet connection. If your home internet is slow, the video will lag behind and occasionally freeze up, and when the internet is out, so is the baby monitor. App-based monitors can also fail if the app freezes. If that happens overnight, parents could potentially miss baby’s cries. Smart monitors will also drain your smartphone battery faster and granting access to the app to a babysitter can be a hassle.
Safety considerations for smart baby monitors
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse breathing monitors for infants because studies have not shown whether or not the devices have any effect on reducing SIDs. “There are no data that other commercial devices that are designed to monitor infant vital signs reduce the risk of SIDs,” the AAP states. Every smart monitor that I tested came with a legal disclaimer that the monitor is not a medical device for preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While we like features like sleep tracking, we don’t recommend buying a smart monitor exclusively for the sleep tracking. It’s unproven and often adds another item to the already too long to-do list.
Dr. Justin Smith, a pediatrician and the medical advisor for digital health at Cook Children’s in Trophy Club, Texas, told Insider Reviews: “There is no evidence that wearing a monitor will prevent or allow a parent to act in order to prevent SIDS. Parents should assess whether using a monitor would give them peace of mind or cause them stress and anxiety. False alarms are common and can lead parents to seek medical care for normal babies.” He emphasized that parents should adhere to safe sleep practices above all.
Dr. Fern Hauck, a family medicine doctor and University of Virginia professor that focuses much of her research on SIDS, echoed similar thoughts. “Some parents may feel more comforted by the home monitor and, at other times, monitors cause distress because of false alarms,” she said. “As a safe sleep expert, the bottom line is that we don’t have evidence that these monitor’s prevent infant death. There may be more evidence in the future.”
While our medical experts stressed that there is no evidence that monitoring breathing at home reduces the risk of SIDs, both pediatricians noted that parents that find more peace of mind from a smart monitor can choose to do so with a few safety guidelines in place. A smart monitor should never be an excuse not to follow safe sleep practices — for example, just because a monitor is watching the baby breathe doesn’t mean it’s okay to load the crib up with loose blankets, bumpers, and stuffed animals. Infants should be placed on their backs on a flat, firm sleep surface with no loose bedding. Hauck also cautions against moving the baby to their own room before the AAP recommended 6 to 12 months, even with a smart monitor.
Parents should also ensure the monitor itself doesn’t pose a hazard. Wearable sensors can also pose a choking hazard if a sensor becomes loose or comes off, according to Smith. “In addition, any sensor with a cord could cause strangulation. Battery-powered devices could cause skin sensitivity or a burn injury if it malfunctions,” he said. Monitors placed over the crib could be safer if the device isn’t able to be pulled into the crib or can’t fall off.
Because the last thing new parents need is to spend money on a device that will make them more anxious, we quickly eliminated the options that sent a lot of false alarms during testing. The Nanit Plus ended up being my favorite smart monitor because I still loved it even after discontinuing use of the breathing band. It has excellent features worth paying a little more for, like sleep tracking and clear audio and video. Parents, however, shouldn’t feel like they have to spend so much on a monitor to keep the baby safe because there’s no evidence that smart monitors are actually safer.
How does AI Sleep Monitoring work, and is it worth it?
Both the Nanit and Miku monitor the baby’s sleep, offering stats like how long the baby slept and when. The Nanit goes a little bit further and adds sleep tips, delivered once a week based on the infant’s sleep data.
Those tips are developed from a certified infant sleep coach, according to Nanit. The AI determines which tips to send based on the sleep data and the baby’s age, but the tips themselves were written by actual baby sleep experts. Essentially, using Nanit is like having someone tell you which chapters of the baby sleep book to read first for your particular baby.
The tips that Nanit Insights sent during my testing were similar to what I’ve read about establishing healthy sleep habits, such as a consistent bedtime. I shared Nanit’s tips with Dr. Fern Hauck, professor of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia, they provided reasonable advice about establishing sleep patterns.
You can find similar tips in a $15 baby book without spending $300 on a baby monitor. But, if you need to buy a monitor and prefer one that is Wi-Fi-based, having sleep tips tailored to your baby’s age and sleep habits is a nice extra. Don’t impulse buy the Nanit Plus at 2 a.m. while holding a wide-awake baby out of desperation, though.
Baby monitor security
Wi-Fi enabled monitors have another downfall: As with any Internet of Things (IoT) device, they are susceptible to hacking.
According to Deral Heiland, the IoT research lead for cybersecurity management company Rapid7, there’s no actual internet connection to hack into with a stand-alone monitor, and any hacker would have to be within range of the camera. Radio monitors don’t have the same encryption measures, but a hacker would still need to be within a few hundred feet of the monitor.
Wi-Fi based monitors have more risks, but they can be mitigated through a few best security practices, Heiland told Insider Reviews.
“Just like any camera-based technology, there’s some risk, but there are ways to mitigate that risk,” he said. “Most of the risk on camera-based technology is password reuse. Don’t reuse passwords. Don’t use the baby’s name, a phone number, or a home address, or anything that people can easily guess. Create a complex password that is not used on other accounts.”
If you choose a smart monitor, Heiland recommends looking for one that offers two-factor authentication, which requires a code to be sent to your phone anytime a new device tries to log in. The home Wi-Fi network should also have a hard-to-guess password that’s a series of random letters and numbers rather than a known phrase.
Brand matters, too. A well-known brand will quickly patch up any vulnerabilities to maintain its brand reputation. Off-label brands sometimes have known vulnerabilities that are never patched.
But a total lack of vulnerabilities isn’t necessarily a good sign. All technology has vulnerabilities, Heiland said, so with any IoT device, choose a company that has patched security issues before and provides a place to report them.
Unlike hacking into credit card data, there’s no monetary gain to hacking a baby monitor (unless your monitor has a paid subscription) — the outcome is just shock and fear. While you can find stories dotting the internet about baby monitors being hacked, Heiland said that in almost every case, it was a simple target of opportunity with a weak or default password.