If you want to indulge in opulence and elegance, try some of the Sunshine State’s most historic hotels.
"There's something very special about stepping inside one of Florida's grand historic hotels, especially when they've been beautifully preserved, like The Breakers and Boca Raton Resort, or reimagined for the modern day, like the Fontainebleau,” said Shayne Benowitz, a Miami-based hotel expert. “You feel like you're stepping back in time and there's an element of glamour that can't be recreated in new hotels."
Dating to a bygone era, some of Florida’s resorts have attracted the social elite for a century. "Florida's unique history has gifted us with extraordinary hotels that boast hints of various cultures and extravagant styles," said Angela Caraway-Carlton, a Florida-based travel journalist. "I also love that many of our hotels have drawn countless celebrities, performers and politicians throughout history.”
Let’s take a tour of some of these luxurious and historic hotels across the state.
Casa Monica Resort & Spa in St. Augustine
One of the oldest hotels in the country, Casa Monica Resort & Spa is a historic gem in St. Augustine. Nestled on Florida’s Historic Coast, Franklin W. Smith opened the hotel in 1888 then later sold it to railroad tycoon Henry Flagler. The ornate lobby with opulent chandeliers and bubbling fountains will instantly transport you to a bygone era in Morocco.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach
Located on the coast just outside of Jacksonville, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club opened in 1928 and quickly became one of the premier vacation destinations for wealthy American families and golf enthusiasts. In fact, the ninth hole on the Ocean Course, designed by Herbert Strong in 1928, is the first island green ever built.
The Breakers in Palm Beach
One of America’s most legendary resort destinations, The Breakers is a 540-room, Italian Renaissance-style hotel situated on 140 acres of oceanfront property in the heart of Palm Beach. Founded in 1896 by industrialist Henry Flagler, the luxury hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has attracted the who’s who of early 20th-century royalty like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors.
Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton
Located on 356 acres in Boca Raton, Waldorf Astoria's luxurious Boca Raton Resort & Club is famous for its history, grandeur and elegance. Designed in 1926 by legendary architect Addison Mizner, the resort is brimming with an impressive list of amenities and activities, including an award-winning spa, championship golf and tennis, gorgeous beach club and expansive marina.
The Biltmore in Coral Gables
The brainchild of Miami developer George E. Merrick, The Biltmore opened in 1926 to much fanfare in Coral Gables. The hotel was a favorite for Hollywood elite like Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. President Franklin D. Roosevelt even set up a temporary White House office at the hotel when he vacationed on fishing trips. Today the hotel is listed as a National Historic Landmark and has a popular 18-hole golf course.
Fontainebleau in Miami Beach
Located on the oceanfront in the heart of Miami Beach’s Millionaire’s Row, the Fontainebleau opened in 1954. Known for his modernist architecture, Morris Lapidus designed the hotel with significant features like the “Stairway to Nowhere,” six acres of formal gardens paying homage to Versailles and opulent antiques meant to convey the hotel’s French period theme. Entertainers have stayed and performed at the resort for years, including historic headliners like Elvis Presley and Bob Hope to today’s hottest recording artists like Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber.
Casa Marina in Key West
Another historic resort conceived by Henry Flagler, often referred to as the father of Florida tourism, Waldorf Astoria’s Casa Marina was originally designed to be the last top on the Overseas Railroad, spanning from Miami to Key West. The hotel opened on New Year’s Eve in 1920 after Flagler’s death, so the architects wanted the resort to serve as a memorial to the magnate’s memory. Three days after the grand opening, President Warren G. Harding stayed at the property, cementing the hotel’s reputation as a must-visit hotel for society’s’ elite for years to come.
Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach
The Don CeSar Hotel is situated on the sugary white sands of St. Pete Beach and opened at the height of the Great Gatsby era in 1928. Known affectionately as the Pink Palace, the hotel has hosted well-heeled families from around the world for years. Notable guests throughout history have included American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, baseball great Lou Gehrig and mafia gangster Al Capone. Today families flock to the resort for beach getaways.
The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg
The idea to build the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club in downtown St. Petersburg started with a friendly wager between businessman Aymer Vinoy Laughner and famed golfer Walter Hagen and the rest is history. Construction began in 1925, and the architect set a construction record for completing the 375-room hotel in just under 10 months, which was just in time for a grand opening gala on New Year's Eve in 1925. Famous guests include Marilyn Monroe, President Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Today many pro baseball players choose this hotel.
The Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande
Offering a taste of Old Florida, The Gasparilla Inn & Club is a hidden historic gem on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Boca Grande. Construction began in 1911 and expansions followed in the following years in picturesque Gasparilla Island. Boston’s society elite became the first distinguished guests and the hotel soon attracted the likes of Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Katharine Hepburn. Today the hotel has been a favorite for political families like the Bushes.
The Belleview Inn in Belleair
The Belleview Inn's story began in 1897 when railroad and steamship magnate, Henry Plant, constructed the Queen Anne-style Victorian Hotel. In 2018, a portion of the Inn was meticulously restored to its former Gilded Age glory and is now located in a new residential community in the affluent town of Bellair, just minutes from downtown Clearwater and its world famous sugar sand beach.
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