Rye on the Rocks, N.H.

New Hampshire's 16-mile seacoast offers some extraordinary beaches, but surfers unanimously agree that Rye on the Rocks is the most notable break. Known for beefy, left-to-right moving waves that crash at an exposed rock reef above boulders in cold, crisp water, it evokes all that is adventuresome – and sometimes dangerous – about northeast swells, and it requires finesse.

Peering down from the tops of these waves is sometimes like looking at base camp from a steep ski mountain, and to avoid bad, truly risky wipeouts on hard rock, you may have to really know how to use your knees to propel your board through a barrel. That said, the thrills are worth the risks for somewhat experienced surfers, and the locals are unusually friendly.

You're in New England, after all, and you can expect good food and sophisticated culture nearby, especially in Portsmouth, a small port city with an 18th-century-style center and cheeky shops, including a real vintage record store, Bull Moose Music (603-436-8887). For surf gear and lessons, we recommend driving down Route 1A into nearby Hampton Beach, where you'll meet friendly local watermen who own Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company (603-929-7467).

To acquire the rest you may need after a day in the waves, stay in the updated Ashworth by the Sea, which remains a strong choice for old-fashioned New Hampshire flavor and panoramic ocean view rooms as well as an outdoor restaurant deck that leads right onto the sand. (603-967-4398). For something a bit more secluded and away from the busy beach-town bustle, head back down 1A to New Castle, right next to Rye, and stay at the Wentworth by the Sea (603-422-7322), a grand old Victorian resort that was built in 1874 and has a spa and an 18-hole golf course. Or check out Portmouth's Jumpin Jay's Fish Café (603-766-3474) just off the city's Market Square, where you can choose one of the various daily catches off a blackboard and then add a refined sauce, offering you the strong sense of place you perhaps already experienced inside one of Rye's unfailingly forceful water-crashers.