The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island | Photo courtesy of Flickr user marada
In a world full of fads and flash-in-the-pan pop stars, visiting a place with a sense of history can be a refreshing course correction. In the lobbies, corridors, and guestrooms of America’s historic hotels, there’s an echo of different eras and a commanding sense of constancy that makes them wonderful escapes from the contemporary flurry–if only for a weekend.
Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, NH
You only need to drive three hours north of Boston to cross the majestic White Mountains via Route 302. Along the way, you’ll no doubt come upon the red-roofed turrets of the equally majestic, Renaissance Revival-style Mount Washington Resort. The gleaming white palatial dream of Boston coal-baron Joseph Stickney debuted in 1902 thanks, in no small part, to efforts by some 250 Italian craftsmen. The period’s wealthy from New England and beyond traveled by rail to vacation here, and its stature made it an appropriate choice for the 1944 International Monetary Conference, whose delegates set the gold standard and established the World Bank. Time and a $60-million renovation have further refined this grand dame. It’s a great base for hikes in the surrounding White Mountain National Forest, for downhill and cross-country runs at Bretton Woods Ski Area, and for golf on two resort courses. To travel up the northeast’s tallest peak, follow the Mount Washington Auto Road or ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
Mansfield Plantation, Georgetown, SC
This 300-year-old rice plantation on nearly 1,000 acres of land is an example of high style in Lowcountry. Following a 92-year break in family ownership, Mansfield Plantation was reclaimed by a descendent of the original owners, who in turn restored the gardens and grounds and introduced bed-and-breakfast accommodations, afternoon tea, and wildlife walks. The hotel is perfectly situated less than an hour south of Myrtle Beach’s sandy stretches and high-energy attractions and an hour north of Charleston’s antebellum charms. Ten minutes away is historic Georgetown, born of river barges and cargo, reborn as a quaint town of shops and restaurants ranging from casually elegant to extremely informal.
Renaissance Vinoy, St. Petersburg, FL
A feeling of Old Florida still exists in this 1925 Spanish Colonial–revival hotel on Tampa Bay. Gulf breezes, paddle fans, pastel-colored stucco, ornate arches, French doors, and intricate architectural accents showcase an age of craftsmanship. Knocked from its pedestal during the Great Depression, the Vinoy became a training facility for military cooks in the 1940s; by the 1970s, it was a $5-a-night boarding house. Its Jazz Age glow was restored 20 years ago with a $93-million investment. Sail from its private 74-slip marina, board a free trolley to St. Pete Beach, or stroll across Straub Park to the British Colonial–themed Moon Under Water tavern. Visit the nearby Dali Museum, with the world’s largest collection of the surrealist’s works, or the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, with its world-class photography, paintings, and antiquities. All in all, the Vinoy and her neighbors are a worldly collection of masterpieces.
The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI
Something is missing on Mackinac Island. Noise. Enforced since the 1930s, a ban on motorized vehicles favors the happy clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and the smooth whir of bicycle tires over the usual din of traffic. Rising above it all is the Grand Hotel, originally built in 1887 and added to over the course of a century. Its commanding porch surpasses the length of two football fields and is a lovely perch overlooking sparkling lakes Michigan and Huron. The elegance and romance of this Gilded Age icon was brought to a new generation through the hotel’s starring role in the 1980 love story Somewhere in Time. Sharing space on the four-square-mile island (most of it overseen by Mackinac Island State Park) are fewer than 500 residents—many living in historic homes—as well as the circa 1780 Fort Mackinac. The island also has charming boutiques, including those selling the famed Mackinac Island fudge.
The Strater Hotel,Durango, CO
When his redbrick hotel opened in 1871, Cleveland pharmacist Henry Strater believed he could tame the Wild West. Yet memories of it still float through Durango. They’re particularly pronounced in the Victorian antiques of the Strater’s guestrooms, in the jangling piano tunes of its Diamond Belle Saloon, and in the pages of Louis L’Amour novels—inspired by the author’s frequent stays above Belle’s in Rooms 222 and 223. And the Old West extends out from here in all directions. You can head north to Silverton, at 9,308 feet, along the narrow tracks of the Durango–Silverton Railroad. Head west, and you’ll eventually reach mysterious Mesa Verde National Park, which Willa Cather described as “a city of stone, asleep.”
The Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park, CA
The beauty that naturalist John Muir said “cleanses and warms like fire” is reflected in the 1927 Ahwahnee’s harmony with Yosemite National Park. Built in a style known as National Park Service Rustic, it’s a towering structure whose gray-stone façade is supported by hidden steel as well as by exposed concrete made to look like redwood. Inside, the flooring and enormous beams are, however, created from roughly 30,000 feet of true timber, and the décor blends Native American culture with Arts and Crafts Movement design. Modesto, the closest city, is three hours west, and although nearby Yosemite Village has art galleries and essentials, you’re pretty much left to relish your surroundings. Reservations well in advance are a good idea for stays here; fishing licenses are required on park waters; and great skill is certainly required to scale El Capitan. Alternatives: The introductory Valley Floor Tour; visits to the famed giant sequoias; or short, serene hikes.