Travel Destinations

Focus On Florida: Historic Florida Hotels

October 2017
Elnicki Wade

Imagine entering a hotel lobby with such breathtaking design that presidents, celebrities and royalty gasped in awe. Picture a place so lively that Prohibition couldn't stem the flow of champagne into delicate crystal glasses or silence jazz tunes that made appers' toes start tapping.Then envision all this splendor set along sugar-white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and plush gardens

.These vivid images, peppered with intriguing tales, serve as a backdrop to luxurious historic hotels built during Florida's Gilded Age where these grande dames of resorts reached a heyday in the early 1900s. Over time, some suffered from neglect but were lovingly restored to meet the needs of today's discerning traveler and give a glimpse into a time of opulence and ambitious dreams.


When visiting tropical resorts on Florida's Atlantic coast, it's hard to believe that a Cleveland oil tycoon was the mastermind behind their initial development. Henry Flagler, who helped John D. Rockefeller found Standard Oil, came to St. Augustine in 1880 seeking a hospitable climate for his ailing wife. Flagler became enamored with the area's pristine beaches but was dismayed by lodging and transportation options.

Seeing potential among the palm trees, this visionary planned to create a new American Riviera by turning shing villages into world-class resorts and erecting a train system that would run all the way down to Key West. Mile after mile down the Atlantic coastline, Flagler laid tracks for the Florida East Coast Railroad and built or bought hotels along the way. In some towns he established schools, churches and hospitals that sparked local business growth. Key West, the last stop on Flagler's line, was connected to the mainland by 1912.

In 1883, Flagler made St. Augustine his new home and the location for his first luxury hotel, Casa Monica. Built in 1888, the architectural gem was designed in Moorish Revival style and is famous for intricate balconies, Spanish tapestries and a stunning red roof. The owner ran into nancial trouble, so Flagler bought it and tacked on the new name, Cordova. When the stock market collapsed, Flagler abandoned the hotel and closed its doors in 1932. The structure sat vacant until 1962 when St. Johns County purchased it for use as a courthouse. At one point, the lobby housed police dogs trained to combat civil rights protesters. Fortunately in 1999, an Orlando developer got his hands on the property and restored Casa Monica to her former grandeur.

Flagler next set his sites on the barrier island of Palm Beach. On a 140-acre oceanfront property facing the Atlantic, he constructed a magni cent resort called The Breakers in 1896. Decked out in Renaissance Revival style with Italian art on the ceilings and a 200-foot long main lobby, this hotel attracted wealthy industrialists and socialites such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, American presidents and foreign royalty. Fires damaged the building in 1903 and 1925, but each renovation was more opulent than the next. It stands today as a monument to grand and gracious living.

Flagler continued to build hotels until his death in 1913, then others latched on to his dream of cultivating Florida's coastline. The Roaring Twenties' prosperity brought a uent visitors to glamorous new resorts along Flagler's train trail. Movie stars, sports heroes, tycoons and politicians sipped iced cocktails on palm-lined verandas, and developers built Gatsby- style mansions to meet the rich and famous' ravenous desire for lavish lodging.

One of the most extravagant resorts, The Biltmore in Miami, opened in 1926 to great fanfare. Exquisite frescos on vaulted ceilings, marble columns and mahogany furniture catered to America's most noteworthy from Ginger Rogers and Bing Crosby to Franklin Roosevelt and Al Capone. The 400-room hotel was surrounded by posh gardens, a golf course, polo eld and a 23,000 square foot swimming pool that hosted bathing beauties, synchronized swimmers and alligator wrestlers.

Delray Beach residents marveled at the vibrant splendor of Mediterranean architecture when Colony Hotel & Cabana Club premiered in 1926. Its twin domed towers mirror the colors of the red and yellow awnings hung above arched windows. The original manual elevator is run by a uniformed operator, and sun shines through wide skylights on vintage wicker furniture, exotic orchids and tropical trees in the lobby.

Flagler only lived one year after his Overseas Railroad connected Key West to Florida's mainland in 1912. He never saw his dream hotel open in 1920, but architects insisted the resort, Casa Marina, pay tribute to his achievements. To this day, Flagler's portrait hangs in the elegant lobby anked by arched French doors and dark mahogany pillars. The U.S. Navy bought the property in 1942 for officers' quarters during World War II. After decades of decline, the luxury hotel was fully restored in 2008. Today with chilled drinks in hand, guests gather at 6 acres of oceanfront beach to witness rosy Key West sunsets.


Florida's West Coast didn't have a billionaire oil baron to invest in historic hotels. Instead, the state's quieter side experienced more subtle growth by wealth generated from bustling ports, exceptional seafood, abundant natural resources and agriculture. Stunning beaches, pristine waters and world-class fishing have attracted adventurous travelers to its shores for centuries. Staying at vintage resorts in this enchanting region gives visitors a taste of Old Florida's grace and tranquility.

Up north on Florida's panhandle in Apalachicola, Gibson Inn has epitomized Southern charm since 1907. Built during the Steamboat Era out of native pine and black cyprus wood, this bayside beauty was acclaimed as the only first-class hotel between Pensacola and Jacksonville heated entirely by steam. During World War II, it was used as Army officers' quarters and then forsaken for years. Recent renovations restored its high ceilings, antique furniture and wrap-around porches with rocking chairs.

Overlooking Tampa Bay stands a spectacular model of Mediterranean Revival architecture, known as The Vinoy. Its distinctive rose-colored walls have drawn in notables such as Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Stewart since its launch in 1925. Like many resorts, it was seized by the Army and used as a training facility for military cooks and bakers. Some claim a ghostly gentleman strolls the grounds in old-fashioned formal attire. Perhaps he wants to derive a little paranormal pleasure from the luxurious estate, marina, golf course and spa.

Tarpon Lodge has had almost as many lives as a curious cat. Located at a secluded 32-acre estate on an island west of Fort Myers, this lovely hotel began in 1926 as a fishing lodge amid untouched natural beauty and crystal clear waters. Renamed Pine-Aire Lodge from 1945 to 1968, it became a favorite rural retreat for both business and labor leaders. Owned by American Bible College for over a decade, it became a learning center for the clergy. In 1980, Medical Management Institute bought and renovated the hotel to serve as an alcohol and drug rehab center, ironically on top of a wine cellar that was installed under the lobby during Prohibition. Today it's held in family hands and offers a serene getaway from the mayhem of modern life.

On a picturesque seaside property between Pine Island Sound and theGulf of Mexico stands Tween Waters Inn. No surprise how it got its name, but the splendor of this hotel can be astonishing. Built in 1931 from a string of shing cottages where the likes of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Teddy Roosevelt signed the guest book, its rustic ambience is alluring. The long stretch of white-sand beach presents an idyllic playground for sun worshipers and seashell collectors.

Related Articles
Camden, Maine

True boaters say the real Maine coast doesn’t start until you reach Penobscot Bay. This is “Down East” from Kennebunkport and Portland. The dramatic stretch of coastline from Camden to Mount Desert Island sparkles with granite shores, dotted with archipelagos of pine-tree covered islands and mountains cascading into the sea. This region offers some of the best cruising ground in the world.

Camden is a magical little seaside town in the heart of Maine’s mid-coast. It’s historic but hip. “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” is their moniker, as Camden Hills and 780-foot Mount Battie stretch down toward the bustling waterfront where this 1769 New England village sits, creating a postcard scene.

Camden is super foot-traffic friendly, starting at Harbor Park and the beautiful brick Public Library that graces the top of the bay by the Town Docks. Enjoy a picnic on the sprawling park lawn; there’s often a craft festival or free concert at the outdoor amphitheater. From the waterfront, stroll the quaint sidewalks leading to cafés, boutiques, craft stores and art galleries, pubs, and surprisingly trendy restaurants.

You can hike, bike or drive the toll road up Mount Battie in Camden Hill State Park, which encompasses 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails. Your reward is spectacular panoramic views of the harbor and Penobscot Bay below.

Eaton Point, at the eastern entrance to the harbor, is home to a new Lyman-Morse yacht facility. Camden remains a working harbor with lobster fishermen, boat builders, ferries and tall-masted schooners taking folks out for scenic sails.

Camden hosts festivals throughout the summer season of jazz, film and its trademark Windjammers. In winter, the U.S. National Tobogganing Champion-ships are held at Camden’s namesake Snow Bowl – our country’s only ski area with views of the Atlantic.

Camden is an ideal boater’s gateway with all the services and shops you need in walking distance from the waterfront. Excursions from this protected harbor are countless and legendary. A quick cruise brings you to quiet Lasell Island for a sunset anchorage. Farther on you reach Maine’s Maritime Academy home in beautiful Castine, and the rustic islands of North Haven, Vinalhaven and Deer Isle. Ultimately you can cruise north and east through beautiful Merchants Row, or the more protected Eggemoggin Reach, to Mount Desert Island, home to famed Acadia National Park, Northeast, Southwest and Bar Harbors.


Camden Public Landing
Town Docks

Contact the harbormaster for overnight slips, limited but in town, and moorings throughout the harbor.

Lyman-Morse at
Wayfarer Marine

Across the harbor on Camden’s east shores, this revamped marina is a half-mile walk to town, with new docks and a marina facility, home of Lyman-Morse Boatyard and 30 slips plus moorings.


40 Paper

Relish artful cuisine locally sourced from farmers, fishermen and “foragers.” In an historic wool mill in downtown Camden, it’s comfy but chic. Savor octopus, lamb, mussels, salmon and more with fresh produce and creative sides. Save room for dessert made from scratch.

Peter Otts on the Water

Get your chowder and Maine lobster fix from Chef Peter. This classic setting overlooking the harbor is a Camden staple you “ott” not miss. Open for lunch or dinner.

Franny’s Bistro

With a neighborhood feel, Franny’s serves up lobster fritters, crab cakes, shrimp dumplings and land-lubber faves, too. A fun menu in a cozy setting.

Bagel Café

For fresh-brewed morning coffee and daily “boiled then baked” bagels or breakfast sammies served all day.

Read More
Jamestown, Rhode Island

Located on Conanicut Island, Gould Island and Dutch Island, Jamestown welcomes boaters to Narragansett Bay.  Its southernmost point is on Gould Island and marked by Beavertail Lighthouse and State Park. The northernmost point is marked by Conanicut Island Lighthouse.  While Conanicut Island is the second largest island on Narragansett Bay, it is near the western mainland in Kingston, and Newport lies to the east on Aquidneck Island.  Hop on the Jamestown Newport Ferry to get the lay of the land and sea.

Jamestown was settled early in colonial history and was named for James, Duke of York, who became King James II in 1685.  By 1710, many of Jamestown’s current roads were already in place and a lot of its early architecture is well preserved. Soak up some local history at the Jamestown Fire Memorial Museum, Beavertail Lighthouse Museum and Park, Jamestown Windmill, Watson Farm, Conanicut Island Sanctuary, Fort Wetherill State Park, and the Jamestown Settlement museum.

The main town, shops and restaurants are located on the eastern shore of Conanicut Island.  But even from the western side, Dutch Harbor and other attractions are easily accessed with a one-mile walk.


Conanicut Marina

This full-service marina has a ships store/chandlery, gift shop, extensive dockage and a large mooring field.  It’s located in the heart of town overlooking Newport and the Pell Bridge, but bring your fishing poles for the kids.

Dutch Harbor Boat Yard

Located on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, this small, local marina has good moorings, launch service and facilities.  At times, the harbor can be rolly from a SW wind up the West Passage.  The holding ground is excellent for anchoring, but the dinghy dock is by seasonal permit only.

Safe Harbor Jamestown Boatyard

Jamestown Boatyard is renowned for excellent workmanship on all types of boats.  It also has a large mooring field and is in a beautiful location on the East Passage.


Slice of Heaven

This family-owned café and bakery with an outdoor patio is an ideal spot for breakfast and lunch, especially if you’re looking for tasty gluten-free and vegetarian options.

J22 Tap & Table

This lively, year-round restaurant specializes in classic American cuisine and local seafood dishes such as New England clam chowder, lobster tail and seared yellowfin tuna while accommodating meat eaters with wings, burgers and steak tacos.

Village Hearth Bakery & Café

Take a seat inside this rustic eatery or outside on the patio to enjoy wood-fired bread, pizzas and pastries with a cool beer or wine.  To start your day with a smile, order a cup of the eco-friendly coffee.

Bay Voyage Restaurant

Inside the Wyndham Bay Voyage Inn, this casual dining establishment presents a seasonal menu of American cuisine standards and seafood with fresh ingredients and a stellar view of Narragansett Bay.

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Explore the Spirited Lakefront of Burlington, VT

A vibrant, compact city hugging the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain, Burlington abounds in scenic beauty, four-season recreation, a college town vibe, arts and culture, and a quirky character all its own.

Burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Church Street | Michelle Raponi on Pixabay

Eclectic shops named Anjou & the Little Pear or Common Deer, and restaurants called Zabby & Elf 's Stone Soup or The Skinny Pancake dot the urban landscape. A local artist's satirical comment on the bureaucracy of urban planning called File Under So. Co., Waiting for..., consists of 38 filing cabinets welded together to a 40-foot height. Birds frequently nest in the upper chambers.

History buffs stroll through the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum or the Fleming Museum of Art's multi-era artifact collection while hikers trek the 12.5-mile path at Burlington Waterfront Park, which offers bicycle, rollerblade and kayak rentals. In season, the path connects to the Lake Champlain Islands via bike ferry.

burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Bike Path | Michelle Raponi on Pixabay

Since the 1800s, the Old North End has been the city's melting pot, and global cuisine from Nepalese dumplings to the African Market can be found here today. Between munches, stroll over to historic Elmwood Cemetery, whose residents include Revolutionary War soldiers. Hear their stories and perhaps have a chance encounter with a local spirit on a Queen City Ghostwalk Tour. Liquid spirits rule when the internationally famous, regionally beloved and hidden gem breweries line up for the annual Vermont Brewers Festival. Year round, enjoy homemade bratwurst and drafts at Zero Gravity Craft Beer. At acclaimed Foam Brewers, the patio faces Lake Champlain waterfront and the Adirondack Mountains. Hop on the Sip of Burlington Brew Tour for a dozen tastings and the sights of this dynamic, energetic city.

Where to Dock

Burlington Community Boathouse Marina


This full-service marina is the centerpiece of a growing waterfront. Amenities include 105 slips up to 65 feet, Splash Café and a fantastic sunset over the Adirondacks.

Burlington Harbor Marina


With 160 slips (60 transient slips up to 80 feet), this new marina's tranquil harbor setting is convenient to downtown amenities and recreational activities.

Where to Dine

Honey Road


Savor sophisticated Mediterranean small plates, cocktails and creative desserts in a comfy tavern setting.

burlington - destinations - marinalife
Burlington Church Street | Needpix

The Farmhouse Tap & Grill


This farm-to-table gastropub dishes up local burgers, charcuterie and innovative specials. Sip on local brews in the beer garden.



According to Irish playwright Brendan Behan, The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you. RíRá fuses classic Irish with pub grub to satisfy the first two.

Leunig's Bistro & Café


Step inside the lush garden courtyard to watch fresh local fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood transform into classic French dishes. Come enjoy a romantic evening meal.

Hen of the Wood


Enjoy a true Vermont dining experience in a romantic, rustic atmosphere adjacent to the Hotel Vermont.

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