Kelsey Blodget

This post originally appeared on Yahoo! Travel.

We’ve all spent some time California dreamin’ at one point or another — and who can blame us? The state has just about everything, including gorgeous natural scenery, sunshine, and miles upon miles of beautiful coastline. We especially love the idea of cozying up in one of the state’s coastal inns. To us, a trip that involves whale-watching, walking along rugged cliffs in misty mornings, exploring quaint towns, and relaxing in a rustic-luxe cottage with a glass of wine sounds like heaven. At many of these eight spots, it’s possible to do just that.

Sea Rock Inn, Mendocino

Sea Rock Inn watermark
The cozy, cabin-like rooms at this upscale inn have paneling in knotty pine and wood-burning stoves. Binoculars are provided for whale-watching, which guests can do from Adirondack chairs in the garden or from their own private, ocean-view decks. The delicious, free breakfast with homemade baked goods, bottle of wine upon check-in, and afternoon tea with brownies complete the experience at this intimate property.

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For true foodies, a vacation that doesn’t involve mouth-watering cuisine is hardly worthy of the title. In fact, food can often be a major focus of a trip; it’s hardly uncommon for the taste connoisseurs among us to plan a foodcation. And in our opinion, it should all start with your hotel. If you stay somewhere with a truly phenomenal restaurant right on the premises, your foodcation will be off to a wonderful start. Whether you’re heading to New York City for its famous fine dining, California wine country for its earthy farm-to-table fare, or Mexico for an elaborate upscale meal on the beach, we’ve got a first-rate foodie hotel for you. Take a look at the top hotel restaurants we’d travel for in the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean.

Dry Creek Kitchen at the Hotel Healdsburg, California

Dry Creek Kitchen at the Hotel HealdsburgCharlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen is one of the best – and best-known – restaurants in the Sonoma area, and for good reason. The farm-to-table, seasonal menu features items such as California Sea Bass with sweet corn fondue and Sonoma County Liberty Duck with crispy sunchokes. The restaurant’s outdoor terrace is situated under a shady arbor.

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Samsara

No one likes being nickel-and-dimed — especially not by hotels. After you’ve already shelled out major bucks for your vacation, charging for extras like Wi-Fi can feel like adding insult to injury. Some fees are especially egregious, and we’ve encountered charges for everything from air-conditioning to towels to electricity. (Yes, electricity.) These are the seven costs you probably never knew you had to watch out for.

1. Air-conditioning

This is just sneaky. Of course you’re going to pony up for air-conditioning on a hot day — no one wants to try to sleep in the sweltering heat. But once you’ve checked into your room and you’re drenched in sweat from lugging your bags in the hot sun, finding out it’s going to cost you to cool down is seriously cringe-inducing (and probably sweat-inducing, too). Watch our for this at the Samsara Cliff Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica.

2. Mini-fridges

At the GHT Oasis Park and Spa in Lloret de Mar, Spain, guests must pay extra to use their mini-fridges. Have some leftovers you want later and trying to avoid food poisoning? That’ll be about four euros a day, please. Or a tummy ache — your choice.

Get ready for some more temper-flaring fees that are just plain ridiculous after the jump >>

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Merlin’s beard! This hotel room gives a whole new meaning to “magical getaway.” If you’re hoping to channel Harry Potter on your next trip, the Wizard Chamber at London’s Georgian House is full of wizardly goodness: from a “cauldron” by the fireplace, to an owl figurine by the bed, from old-fashioned luggage under the bed, to “potions” in the bathroom. Just BYO-W(and).

Guests who book the Harry Potter Tour Package not only get to stay in the Wizard Chamber, but the package also includes breakfast, a Muggle Walking Tour, and a Warner Brothers Studio Tour on the making of Harry Potter.

Want a preview? We don’t have a magic mirror, but we DO have lots of great photos after the jump >>

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3215777143_9fd88fc35b_b[SPOILER ALERT: The following article makes some rather pointed insinuations about the film's plot.]

If you’re anything like us, you breathlessly awaited the premier of Gone Girl, the dark psychological thriller based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling book. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as that oh-so-charming couple, Nick and Amy, it hit theaters earlier this month. And just in case you’ve been living under a rock (we prefer luxury hotels, ourselves, but no judgement), the book (and movie) begin on the day that Amy has mysteriously disappeared. We’re not going to tell you what happened to her (she MAY have been murdered, or she MAY have been shacking up at a motel in the Ozarks as part of an elaborate ruse to frame her husband). But for argument’s sake, let’s just say she was shacking up — and that she encountered some unsavory fellow hotel guests who robbed her. We personally think Amy (hypothetically, of course!) could have done a whole lot better in her hotel choice. If only she’d known about Oyster! Because we could have helped her out…but better late than never. So, travelers and unhappy spouses of the world, we bring you seven hotels that we think are smart places to hide out — next time you want to get gone. Read More »

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For many of us, long days at the office, stress, and errands can get in the way of a healthy lifestyle. So we often look at our vacations not as a chance for a calorie binge (well, not always), but as a chance to hit the reset button and get back to our exercise and fitness regimens. And those who do manage to stay fit year-round may not want to part with their healthy lifestyle choices when they go away for a week or two. After all, there’s a lot to be said for the mind-body connection — and considering that September is Yoga Month, it feels like there’s no better time for a calming, healthy getaway. From a rustic yoga retreat to a luxe private island escape, these are the 14 best spots for a health and wellness vacation.

Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, Bahamas

Yoga Retreat

Those looking for a relaxed vacation with some yoga thrown in should look elsewhere. This is a serious ashram by an established group (there are nine Sivananda Yoga Ashrams throughout the world) and the 5:30 a.m. wake-up bell proves it. Guests focus on postures, breathing, positive thinking, and meditation, and have some free time to take advantage of the beautiful beach setting. Seemingly a world away from neighboring mega-resort Atlantis, this five-and-a-half acre oasis has a range of accommodations from tents to Beachfront Suites (most rooms have shared bathrooms, though). Two vegetarian meals are prepared daily right after each two-hour yoga class , while morning and evening satsangs (a mix of meditation, chanting, lectures, singing and dancing) help create a sense of community. Extra workshops and lectures are built into the daily schedule, and there’s a wellbeing center for massage treatments and Ayurvedic body treatments.

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We all know that stomach-sinking sensation of showing up to a hotel and finding that it is nothing like we expected. Critters for roommates, chemical plants on the premises (with just “a safe amount of pollution,” the hotel promises), bulletproof glass in reception… When you only get one or two vacations a year, you don’t want to feel like you’re sleeping in a prison. We here at Oyster have encountered some hotels that, are, well, just plain disasters as we’ve traveled the world, taking photos of every nook and cranny. But these 10, they’re the worst of the worst.

La Semana Hotel, New York City

La Semana

It’s a special kind of hotel that earns a reputation for being both disgusting AND dangerous: Within five minutes of entering La Semana, it’s evident that it is both. Not only have there been reports of mentally unstable clientele and gunshots, but the check-in clerk stands behind bulletproof glass, and many rooms’ windows are covered in bars and barbwire, which creates the feeling of entering a prison. The rest is downhill from there: Holes in the (barely six-foot-high) ceilings, no doors on the dirty bathrooms, exposed wires, disgustingly dirty TV remotes, furniture that looks too cheap for a tailgate party, and beds without blankets make this one of the seediest hotel experiences in New York.

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Let’s play a game of “would you rather.” Would you rather stay in a cute boutique in Istanbul or a dated (but canal-side) hotel in Venice? A historic country estate in Ireland or a stylish, woodsy hotel on the fjords in Norway? Everyone’s preferences are different, but one thing is for sure: Not every destination around the globe will deliver the same level of accommodations for your travel dollar. That’s why we decided to launch a new series to expose just how much bang for your buck you’re actually getting on your trip.  It may change your mind about where to go next…and you may even find yourself packing your bags for somewhere unexpected — but totally awesome, and affordable! This week, we’re taking a look at what you can get in cities across Europe. The price: $250/night. The dates: October 10th through 17th. And we’re off!

Which hotel would you choose? VOTE ON FACEBOOK or let us know in the comments section below!

Hotel Indigo London Kensington – Earl’s Court: $237/night

Hotel Indigo London Kensington

This is one of the trendiest Indigo properties anywhere, with bold, stylish decor and a quirky theme that’s inspired by Victorian manor houses (which this hotel once was) and French boudoir style. Each floor is themed after a different color (think: lime, teal, or fuchsia), and the hallways are lined with portraits of Lordships and Ladyships. There’s not a lot to dislike, although the hotel’s address isn’t the major selling point — the location on the west edge of Kensington is accessible (via the nearby Earl’s Court tube station), but there’s not a lot within walking distance.

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Haven’t planned your beach vacay yet? Or trying to figure out how to pay for that relaxing trip to the sand? A lot of us are in the same boat, and with the weather so beautiful, the beach is beckoning. Oyster may be able to help! Since we know how much our Oyster fans love to travel, we are giving away $500 toward your summer beach getaway. Hurray! All you have to do is sign up for a chance to win. Pretty easy, huh?

Enter Here >>

Don’t have Facebook or don’t want to enter on Facebook? Not a problem. You can also enter here using the subject line “Sweepstakes Entry.”

And of course, make sure to read the fine print!

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Sometimes, the journey is about the destination. Because the destination is so special, your whole travel experience is wrapped up inside it. We’ve traveled the world and have been to some pretty special spots. From a western dude ranch to a Florentine palazzo to an African canoe excursion, these 11 trips offer a far richer experience than your typical overnight stay.

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