(Sunset.com) -- Listen to the ocean from your room in one of these lesser-known inns along California's jaw-dropping Pacific coastline.
Coast Guard House Historic Inn in Point Arena, California
Atop a bluff and offering nose-bleed views of the major highway for gray whales --- aka the Pacific Ocean -- is this Cape Cod-style seaside estate from 1901, with slatted ceilings, vintage photographs, and piles of firewood near the basement.
Check in: It's hard to shake the Agatha Christie vibe at the windswept inn, what with the grandfather clock ominously stopped at 4:20, a house dog named Winston, and a Friday-night wine and cheese party where you meet the other suspects, ahem, guests. Two cottages and four rooms are shipshape cozy. From $165, breakfast included; two-night weekend minimum; coastguardhouse.com
Explore: Tiny Point Arena isn't exactly booming, but nearby are sand dunes, pocket beaches, the Point Arena Light Station and the great Pinots of Anderson Valley. --Christine Richard
Two Harbors on Catalina Island, California
On the far side of Catalina, away from the main town of Avalon, is Two Harbors, a tiny boaters' haven that feels like an island on the island.
Check in: For all the isolation, you don't have to rough it here. In addition to boat-in and walk-in campgrounds, Two Harbors has the Banning House Lodge in the vacation home of Catalina's onetime owners. All 12 rooms have views of the harbor. From $128
Explore: At Two Harbors, you can snorkel through swaying kelp beds and kayak to hidden coves. Steep trails lead into the Catalina backcountry. Or just stroll across the isthmus and look out over the Pacific: next stop, Hawaii, 2,500 miles away. --Matthew Jaffe
Timber Cove Inn on Sonoma Coast, California
A narrow ribbon of road clings, against all odds, to a grassy slope that plummets into the Pacific along this overlooked coastline with views to infinity.
Check in: It always had the million-dollar spot on a solitary rocky point above the waves, and its rugged lodge look and soaring lounge haven't changed. But with new ownership and a cash infusion, Timber Cove has shed its swinging '70s decor and gone for a more streamlined, romantic look. Private decks are perfect for whale-watching and sharing a Sonoma Coast Pinot. From $169
Explore: Pull off at Salt Point State Park to ramble by wild-colored succulents and alien rock formations carved by the sea. $7 per vehicle. --Lisa Trottier
Cass House Inn & Restaurant in Cayucos, California
The small surf town of Cayucos has remained miraculously immune to over-development for decades, despite its great wines to the east and white sandy beaches to the west.
Check in: The elaborate breakfast (included!) is nearly as good as chef Jensen Lorenzen's seasonally inspired dinner (if it's on the evening menu, the oxtail soup is a must). But the best part about the 1800s Cass House? That would be twin sisters Grace Lorenzen (the innkeeper) and Carla Wingett (groundskeeper), who manage the organic garden and the five impeccably turned-out guestrooms. From $165
Explore: With sand dunes climbing hundreds of feet above miles-long beaches and eucalyptus-lined hiking trails, the Montaña de Oro park (a 25-minute drive away) is a must. --Jaimal Yogis
Avila Lighthouse Suites on Avila Beach, California
Remember those beach vacations you took with your parents back in the day? Sandy motel floors, over-chlorinated pools and too much junk food? Tiny Avila Beach, smack at the midway point of California's Central Coast, is that throwback beach town, upgraded for your new, adult standards.
Check in: Yes, kids love the pool, the giant chess game, even the putt-putt golf green at Avila Lighthouse Suites, but lush landscaping, a location to die for (the motel is maybe 10 steps from the beach), and 54 large guest suites with low-key nautical decor and mini kitchens make the grown-ups giddy too. From $229
Explore: Avila Beach is tailor-made for strolling around in your flip-flops eating ice cream. But if you tire of that, take a docent-led 3.5-mile hike on Pecho Coast Trail (9 a.m. Sat; free, reservations required) to Point San Luis Lighthouse ($5). --Samantha Schoech
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