Historic American Hotels: 8 Timeless Seaside Retreats

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It seemed to take forever this year, but spring has finally arrived. Warm weather and bright days can only mean one thing: beach season is coming. So, in between downing celery sticks and logging major treadmill time to be bathing suit ready, it's time to plan a seaside escape. This year, instead of staying at the same condo that hasn't seen an interior designer since the days of disco, think about staying at an even more historic locale.

It seemed to take forever this year, but spring has finally started to arrive. Warm weather and sunshiney days can only mean one thing: beach season is coming! So, in between downing celery sticks and logging major treadmill time to be bathing suit ready, it's time to plan a seaside escape. This year, instead of staying at the same condo that hasn't seen an interior designer since the days of disco, think about staying at an even more historic locale.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many grand beach retreats were built along America's coasts. Often they existed to provide wealthy tycoons with a place to escape the big city.

Here are just eight such resorts where historic elegance still exists.

Have a favorite historic seaside hotel? Let us know in the comments below.

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Historic American Hotels: 8 Timeless Seaside Retreats

Easily recognized by its iconic red shingled roof, the Hotel del Coronado has been a Southern California retreat since 1888—back when a trip to “the Del” took seven days from the East by train. The Del is situated on 28 acres of beach in Coronado, Calif., (outside San Diego) and features 679 guestrooms plus 78 cottages and villas. For the real Victorian experience, ask for a room in the Victorian Building. Disney World fans will recognize this historic inn—it served as the inspiration for the Grand Floridian Hotel in Florida. And, movie buffs might recognize it as the backdrop for movies like "Some Like it Hot."


1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA; 619-435-6611
Reservations: 800 468 3533
Rates: Vary by date of stay, check availability online

On the Gulf Coast side of Florida, guests have been staying at the Gasparilla Inn and Club since it was but a small seaside hotel. Originally the 1911 Hotel Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island, was a small, simple hotel. But, local investors decided to turn the little inn into a world class resort. It reopened as The Gasparilla Inn in 1912. The northern elite, including Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, J.P. Morgan and Henry DuPont, once roamed its halls. Modern day guests can stay in a room in the main inn or choose a private cottage or villa. Activities at the inn include golf, tennis, boating, fishing and croquet.


500 Palm Ave., Boca Grande, FL; 941-964-4500
Rates: From $225

Georgia's Jekyll Island was privately purchased in 1886 to become a winter haven for the America's rich. Its Jekyll Island Club touted among its members J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Joseph Pulitzer and William Vanderbilt. The clubhouse officially opened in 1888 and was constructed in Queen Anne Style. However, membership eventually dropped off due to the Great Depression and World Wars. The state of Georgia eventually bought the entire island and opened the club properties as the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Today, the hotel evokes the feeling of being at the club in the early 1900s. It comprises 157 rooms set in five historic club buildings.


371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, GA; 912-635-2600

Reservations: 800-535-9547

Rates: From $169

Built in 1876 by a Civil War colonel, this Cape May hotel was originally intended to be a boarding house. For today’s visitors, The Chalfonte’s long gingerbread verandas are a reminder of a time gone by, and are a great place to relax on a rocking chair while taking in the sea breeze. Plus, with no televisions or phones in guestrooms, visitors can truly immerse themselves in the historic experience.


301 Howard St., Cape May, NJ; 609-884-8409
Rates: Rooms from $80 with shared bath; Private bath from $139

While it may not be necessarily on a sea, Michigan’s Grand Hotel still fits the bill. Opened in 1887, the hotel rests on car-free Mackinac Island in Lake Huron (visitors instead use horse drawn carriages and bikes to get around). At the hotel, no two rooms are alike, and a full breakfast, luncheon buffet and five-course dinner are included in most room prices. In keeping with the formal Victorian vibe, evening wear is required at dinner in the main dining room and throughout the hotel after 6:30 PM.

286 Grand Ave., Mackinac Island, MI; 906-847-3331
Reservations: 800-334-7263
Rates: Double: from $249.00 (per person) Single: from $423.00; Children 11 and under are free

A relic of the roaring '20s, Virginia Beach’s Cavalier opened its doors in April 1927. Guests could be shuttled to the property by the hotel’s limousine fleet, or even arrive into a private train depot from far-off places like Chicago. Many modern amenities were available to guests, like tubs that drew healthful salt water, cold running water thanks to melting ice on the roof and a salt-water pool—that one stuck until the 1970s. The modern Cavalier is now made up of two hotels. So, guests wanting that old-time charm should request a room in the Cavalier on the Hill rather than the newer Cavalier Oceanfront. However, while the Cavalier Oceanfront is open year-round, the Cavalier on the Hill is only available from June 15 through Labor Day.


4201 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach, VA; 757-425-8555
Reservations: 800-446-8199
Rates: Vary by date of stay, check availability online

The original building for the La Playa Hotel was designed in 1905 by an artist as a home for his wife, who was part of the Ghirardelli chocolate family of San Francisco. This mansion was connected to another building in the 1920s that would house most of the guest rooms. In 1983 the hotel underwent a major renovation complete with design elements of European antiques and California memorabilia. A few years later, the 1940s-era cottages-by-the-sea would be added and the property's gardens renovated. Today the accommodations at this Carmel, California property have a Mediterranean feel and are just two blocks from the ocean (five cottages sit closer to the water).


Camino Real at Eighth Ave. Carmel, CA; 831-624-6476

Reservations: 800-582-8900

Rates: Rooms from $195; Cottages from $425

In the late 19th century, with the arrival of railroad tycoon and Standard Oil co-founder Henry Flagler, St. Augustine, Florida, became the winter playground of the northern elite. Casa Monica opened in 1888, but was purchased by Flagler and thrived under the name Hotel Cordova. The Cordova closed in 1932, was turned into a county courthouse in 1962, and finally renovated and reopened as Casa Monica in 1999. Visitors to the “nation’s oldest city” can enjoy one of Casa Monica’s 138 guestrooms while taking in centuries of history. Fans can also visit Flagler’s other properties: the Ponce De Leon, now Flagler College, and the Hotel Alcazar, now the Lightner Museum.


95 Cordova St., St. Augustine, FL; 904-827-1888
Reservations: 888-213-8903

Rates: Vary by date of stay, check availability online

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