Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Credit: Antonio Saba / Getty Images

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Thanks to stunning views, wide beaches, reliable infrastructure, and the 'Endless Summer' surf movie franchise, Americans have flocked to Tamarindo, Costa Rica for years. So many have bought homes or started businesses that the town is now referred to by locals as "Tama-gringo," but the not-too-sleepy spot has remained authentic – in a way. If this laid-back destination no longer feels like a Central American hideaway, that's because it has become something rarer, an old-fashioned American beach town.

Tamarindo has paved roads, drinkable water, and dependable electricity. The town has excellent restaurants – Wok & Roll offers stunning sushi – a bar scene, and an easygoing vibe. Most of the expats speak Spanish and most of the locals have an impressive command of English. Everyone drinks with everyone.

Instead of offering the opportunity to get off the grid – Internet is easy to come by – Tamarindo allows travelers to stay connected while drinking a pina colada by the pool. The sprawling Hotel Diria, a four-star all-inclusive, along with its surrounding restaurants and condominiums, has played a lead role in Tamarindo's transformation into a major tourist destination. It attracts a steady stream of travelers who seem to spend 80 percent of their time on vacation.

Visitors looking for a more intimate setting wind up at the Hotel Villa Amarilla, a recently renovated and more affordable eight-room hotel that feels more like a friendly B&B than a beachside resort. The place is owned and operated by T.J. Krantz, who seems baffled – like a lot of expats – to find himself living in Costa Rica.

"Two years ago, we came down for a week-long vacation," says Krantz. "We ended up buying a hotel, moving here, and we could't be happier."

Hotels aside, Tamarindo's undisputed main attraction remains its waves. For anyone who surfs or has ever wanted to learn, the swells rolling up on Tamarindo's palm-fringed shores deliver world-class rides, particularly for beginners and intermediates. For the more advanced, a quick boat- or road-trip up the Guanacaste coast promises access to near-deserted lineups and surf-able waves nearly all year round.

More information: Most major U.S. airlines have direct service to Liberia, Costa Rica. From there, it's a 45-minute taxi ride to Tamarindo.