For most of us, Tahiti is a stereotype: a South Pacific honeymoon spot but with actual native Polynesians fishing off their traditional outrigger canoes. Fact is, though, that few giddy newlyweds actually stay on the main island, and, after landing at Pape'ete airport, promptly continue on instead to Bora Bora or the neighboring atolls, with their luxurious overwater bungalows. We fly to Tahiti, however, for one important reason: Teahupo'o.
A remote fishing and farming village on the southern tip of the main island, Teahupo'o is a mystical green-mountain wonderland where wild roosters and dogs scamper around, locals sell pineapple and raw tuna poisson cru, and incredible waterfalls and deserted swimming spots are within a short drive. The place looks like a set from 'Lost' in the best of ways, and it comes alive every year during Billabong's annual surf competition, which pits the world's best surfers against possibly the world's heaviest wave – a torque-driven monster that breaks in shallow water over a reef that can slice your head off. (Laird Hamilton famously battled it in the excellent 2004 surf-doc 'Riding Giants').
Surprisingly, summer is the best time to visit Tahiti: Despite a permanently warm, humid climate, the island is never drier and cooler than in June, July, and August. Even then it's hard to find good accommodations in Teahupo'o proper, so we recommend staying at the Manava Suite Resort (from $270; spmhotels.com), an all-suite W-style hotel that's a departure from all the other old-school-Polynesian options. What's great about the Manava, besides sleek design and the largest infinity pool on the island, is that it's minutes from the main Tahiti airport in Pape'ete, where you often must land late at night. It's also just a 40-minute drive down to Teahupo'o. In fact, we've spotted surf-contest competitors staying there, and it looks right out on the island of Moorea, which has its own killer surf breaks and is accessible via a 30-minute ferry ride.
Can anyone surf Teahupo'o? Don't be ridiculous. Despite its tempting barrels, this wave ranges from 10 feet up to 70 and is all but reserved for experts. But watching the pros from a small boat piloted by a local from the town's marina is one of the great spectator sports in the world. If you want to get in the water as a novice, there are plenty of more manageable breaks along the roads that lead back up to your hotel – although after seeing some epic Teahupo'o wipeouts, we're not always in the mood.
More information: Air Tahiti Nui and Air France offer direct, nine-hour flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti's main airport at Pape'ete. To get to Teahupo'o, rent a car, and drive south from the airport along the western coast of the island until you hit the southern portion of the island called Tahiti Iti. Teahupo'o is in the southern portion of that area.
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Cape Cod is beloved by Northeasterners on vacation, to say nothing of the many people who fly in from all over the world, to experience some Norman Rockwell-hits-the-beach charm when the days get long and the sun stays hot. But Cape Cod – that is to say most of the parts of it that you may want to visit – has a tourism problem. There are too many people, too many cute B&B's, too many general stores where you can buy homemade candy, rubber sharks, and souvenir T-shirts. The crowd issue is especially acute around Hyannis, where the Kennedys live, and further east, toward Brewster and Yarmouth.
We don't recommend avoiding the Cape altogether – although you will experience traffic with a lovely Los Angeles quality on weekends. We just prefer to head past the cutesy areas of the south and western Cape and drive right up to the northeastern section, just south of the tip, on the protected national seashore. The name of the place is Wellfleet (you may recognize the name from seeing its superior oysters on the menus of great restaurants), and it's still a wooded wonderland of rustic homes, fresh and saltwater ponds, a laid-back harbor-and-ocean town – albeit popular with discerning tourists for art and antique galleries – as well as magnificent 150-foot-high sand-cliff beaches.
But don't just take our word for it. The place has served as inspiration and sanctuary for some of the finest writers, including Thoreau, Edmund Wilson (the critic who mentored F. Scott Fitzgerald and frequently welcomed visitors like Auden and Dos Passos), John Cheever, The New Yorker's Philip Hamburger, and many other masters of narrative. (Vonnegut lived nearby in Barnstable, but we won't hold that against him.)
We love Wellfleet's simplicity, even if our favorite stretch of sand veers toward the popular. It's called Cahoon Hollow Beach, and it backs up to those epic sand cliffs you must climb down. Once you're at the water's edge, you are literally so far east that the sun is at your back, and it's not uncommon for people to sit with a view of the cliff behind you. Sure, a shark or two has been seen in this refreshingly chilly water, but more have been seen in the manicured and mannered Chatham to the south, and the water here is rougher, rendering it ideal for a body – or a surfboard. Luckily, you don't have to venture far for refreshments, either. At the top of the cliff, where you parked your car, lives a famous restaurant and bar called The Beachcomber, where you must eat fried whole belly clams (or some shellfish) and drink a summer ale, lest the magic of the place with its bustling outdoor deck, impassioned Red Sox fans, and haphazard nature fail to appeal to you.
Wellfleet's not about luxury hotels, which is part of why we love it, and it's most common to rent yourself a cottage in the area, either through HomeAway or at the Wellfleet Colony, a collection of Bauhaus-inspired homes where the writers Lionel Trilling and Bernard Malamud retreated from their urbane, literary lives. Wellfleet is unapologetic about its intellectual history, but it lacks pretensions, and that's likely what provided solace to so many notable minds, to say nothing of the many doctors and academics who continue to seek out the place. What the town can promise you is rest, a sense of escape that will reboot you anew. That's why everyone, including the Pilgrims, first came to the Cape.