When browsing vacation options online, all the wide-angle photos and five-star reviews in the world can’t replace that most valuable criterion: a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust. That’s why we’ve put together this eclectic list of ten rentals our writers have recently stayed in and enjoyed. Whether you’re seeking a rustic cabin or a luxurious beach house, a steal or a splurge, there are options here for every price point and personality.

Travel during the pandemic requires taking extra precautions. Before you book, browse the listing and message the host to confirm what safety measures are in place, such as contactless check-in and checkout and extra cleaning. You’ll also want to research regulations in the community you’ll be visiting. When in doubt, stay home and let yourself daydream about your next adventure.

Desert Outpost in Terlingua

 $286/night


This adobe house has one of the most incredible views of Big Bend National Park of any home in the Terlingua–Study Butte area. If you desire quiet, solitude, starry skies, and a spacious living area, all just a few minutes from town, then the four-person Casa Vista Grande is the place for you. The skies over Big Bend are the darkest of any national park in the continental United States, and this hilltop location provides stargazers with an ideal vantage point from which to take them in. The sunrise and sunset views of the Chisos from Casa Vista Grande are unparalleled, making for an ideal location for photographers. Settle in next to the fire pit and greet your neighbors: owls, coyote, and javelinas.
—Pam LeBlanc, freelance writer


Funky Artist’s Community in Marathon

$110/night

La Loma Del Chivo (“the hill of the goat”), in the tiny West Texas oasis of Marathon, is one of the most pleasantly unusual places I’ve ever paid to rest my head. Described as “an experimental community,” the hostel is a colorful amalgam of papercrete beehives, stone cottages, and whimsical sculptures that stands in stark contrast to the ocotillo-studded desert. Like much of this corner of Texas, La Loma’s four rental structures are rough around the edges. Everything from bathrooms to the outdoor pavilions were DIY projects by local or drifting artists and carpenters, and for some of the structures it looks like ambition may have outrun execution. (For those seeking a more traditional stay in Marathon, stick to the wonderful Gage Hotel.) But if you’re not fussy about your architecture or where your commode is, the wild charm and creative spirit of this place will win you over. And at night you’ll be rewarded when you (carefully) climb the stairs to the observation deck and, cold beer in your hand, watch the sky weep meteors. —Christian Wallace, associate editor


Roomy Beach House Near Port Aransas

 $495/night

Located about six miles south of the town of Port Aransas, this 2,600-square-foot house is one of a handful situated at the backside (and beachside) of the Gulf Waters Beach Front RV Resort, a friendly community of winter Texans who park their fancy recreational vehicles amid tall palm trees, thatch-roofed cabanas, and colorful flowers. Comfortable and tastefully decorated, the pet-friendly house sleeps twelve people. Its four bedrooms and three baths are all on one level, along with a well-equipped kitchen (two ovens! a wine fridge!) and a big, sunny living room that opens onto a deck with spectacular views of the dunes and ocean. The huge garage downstairs is a veritable rec room, with a TV, pool table, Ping-Pong, and mini-fridge. Renters have access to the community pool, and the beach is just a short stroll down the boardwalk. —Courtney Bond, senior editor


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Frank Salas

Cheerful Tiny House in Houston

$75/night

I admit to being a little hesitant before my first stay in a tiny house—and this one is truly tiny, at 190 square feet. Would I hit my head on the loft ceiling when I woke up in the morning? Would it smell weird? Luckily, the answers were no and no. Snuggled into the cozy sleeping loft, I drifted off to one of the best nights of shut-eye I’d had in months, and a discreet essential oil diffuser made the whole place smell faintly of lavender and mint. There were thoughtful little touches everywhere, from a spare toothbrush in the bathroom to the choice of either a drip coffee maker or a French press. To my delight, a basket in the kitchen held appropriately tiny single-serving boxes of tea. Eating breakfast at the cafe table and chairs out front, sipping our coffee as the morning sun glinted off the house’s cheerful yellow door, remains a lovely memory. And if you fall hard for the tiny house lifestyle, you can hire the owners, Rene and Veronica Rivera, to build your own custom escape. —Rose Cahalan, associate digital editor  


Western Ranch House in Bandera

$225/night

The early November weekend when I ventured out to The Anchorage, a 1940s-era former family vacation home turned Hill Country getaway, I’d been intent on finally reading the books that’d been gathering dust on my desk over several busy months. But once my companions and I reached the spacious ranch house—replete with wonders including bonafide mid-century doodads, two covered patios ensconced in drooping Spanish moss, and a fully functional smoker—I quickly tabled the literature in lieu of some restorative idling. I’ve never had so much fun doing absolutely nothing save for taking pulls off a Lone Star, playing cards, and waiting for a brisket to turn from tough to tender. The house was so cozy, in fact, that we tried to sneak in a few more nights—only to be crushed to learn that the next guests were arriving the next day. —Paula Mejía, culture editor


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Modern Seaside Resort in Port Aransas

$129/night

Opened this summer on Mustang Island, Lively Beach is a contemporary beach resort with nary a seashell lamp or nautical knickknack in sight. Because the six-building complex is located right on the beach, with its own private boardwalk entrance, my family was in the ocean about twenty minutes after arriving (the remote check-in helped as well). Condo options, most of which include a full kitchen, range from a studio efficiency to a two-bedroom, three-bath unit; we opted for one with a master bedroom on the main level and an upstairs loft area with two sets of bunk beds. The private balcony facing the ocean was lovely, and all guests can enjoy two communal roof decks as well. The large, shallow swimming pool offers a nice break when all of the vehicles on the beach become too much. —Kathy Blackwell, executive editor


Hill Top Valley View Cabin

 $225/night

“If you squint, it looks like we’re in Tuscany,” I told my husband and teenager as we sat on our tiered terrace overlooking a panorama of treetops. No, our Wimberley weekend getaway wasn’t the same as our son’s long-planned trip to Italy, canceled because of the pandemic, but we still felt like we were far from home. Set on two shaded acres on the crest of a hill, the cozy Hill Top Valley View Cabin (with two bedrooms, plus a sleeping loft) felt just remote enough for a responsible mini-vacation, complete with a deck-side hot tub and large above-ground pool—bring your own floats for sublime stargazing. —Kathy Blackwell

Cozy Casita in Fort Worth

$96/night


Vacation rentals give us the chance to inhabit a fantasy for a night or two. That alternate reality need not be lavish or exotic: for some of us, it’s sufficient to imagine we live in a space as stylish and orderly as an Airbnb. What peace of mind we’d have, what great things we’d achieve if our own home had this immaculate kitchen and minimalist aesthetic! Casita Calmont allows its guests to indulge in these domestic daydreams in central Fort Worth. The cottage is tucked behind the owner’s house in Arlington Heights, a neighborhood of one-story colonials and bungalows with neat lawns and wide sidewalks. Inside, the three rooms feel spacious despite the small square footage. Sunlight brightens the white-tiled kitchen and spills onto the gleaming wood floors in the living room. When it’s time to explore, the brick-paved and cafe-lined Camp Bowie Boulevard is a fifteen-minute walk away. There, you’ll find the Blue Bonnet Bakery (and its delightfully decorated sugar cookies) in a former church. Renowned art museums and bustling Seventh Street restaurants are two miles down the road. Melt into the queen bed at the end of the day, ready to dream of how you’ll make over your house—your life!—when you return home.
—Robyn Ross, freelance writer


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HipCamp

Lakefront Cabin in New Braunfels

 $200/night

This cabin and RV site feels like a true getaway while still being close to in-town amenities. At the beginning of the summer, my parents, sister, and I booked an extended weekend trip here with our two dogs. The cabin, though compact, was able to comfortably fit everyone, with two beds and a pullout couch, and it had everything we needed to recharge and regroup. The half-acre lot is lush with trees, which provided a cool canopy from the summer heat as well as an ideal spot for birdwatching. We ate all of our meals outside on the back patio and enjoyed the hammocks spread across the space while the dogs ran around. The lakefront property also has a dock that’s ideal for fishing, as well as plenty of floats, kayaks, and paddle boards to enjoy, but we spent most of our days on the floating pad, sunbathing and watching ducks swim by. If you visit during the cooler months, there’s also a fire pit. —Arielle Avila, editorial coordinator


Beachfront Condo in South Padre

$207/night


My favorite feature of the Bahia del Mar condo complex on South Padre Island is the long, open deck that overlooks the beach. With patio sofas and umbrellas set more than six feet apart, it’s a peaceful place to watch the sunrise or read a magazine while a soft sea breeze stirs the pages. There are also two large pools and hot tubs, none of which were crowded when our family visited in October. The three-bedroom, eight-person apartment was nothing fancy, which was fine by us; we spent most of our time outside, either on the beach or birdwatching at the sprawling nature center just across the street. Walk a mile south down the beach to order a margarita to go from the wonderfully tacky, Jimmy Buffett–esque Wanna Wanna Beach Bar, then stroll back at a leisurely pace as night falls and ghost crabs skitter over the sand.
—Rose Cahalan