Wanderlust, Florida Style: Historical Hotels

Don CeSar Hotel in St. Petersburg Beach

History seeps through Florida’s old hotels—and you can be a part of its timeline

ST. FRANCIS INN

Lily’s Room at the St. Francis Inn

To be truly immersed in Florida’s history, head to the oldest house in the nation’s oldest city. The inn was built in 1791 when the king of Spain gave the lot to Gaspar Garcia, a military man. Over the following centuries, it was bought and sold to different families and changed names until 1948, when it was dubbed the St. Francis Inn. In 1985, the  Finnegan family took over as owners and innkeepers. They say that the ghost of Lily, a 19th century slave from Barbados who fell in love with the innkeeper’s nephew, haunts the home. 279 St George St., St. Augustine; 904/824-6068

THE LODGE AT WAKULLA SPRINGS

The Lodge at Wakulla Springs is surrounded by 6,000 acres of cypress trees and springs for a quiet getaway—that was the intention of the lodge’s founder, Edward Ball, when he built it in 1937. (Ball, head of St. Joe Company back in the day, was a powerful Florida robber baron from the 1930s, who was once a member of the “Pork Chop Gang” which ruled state politics and business for decades.) The lobby ceiling is covered in a painting of a nature scene, the hotel’s iconic soda fountain has a 70-foot marble bar, and the views from every room can’t be beat. 550 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs; 850/421-2000

CASSADAGA HOTEL

Nestled in the tiny metaphysical community of Cassadaga amid moss-strewn oaks and an abandoned orange grove, this 1927-vintage hotel offers communion with the spirit world along with room and board. The hotel hosts spiritual development classes, meditation circles, goddess retreats, past-life regressions, seances, crystal healing, psychic readings and shamanic rituals. It’s supposedly haunted, but not to worry—the entities are said to be friendly! 355 Cassadaga Road, Cassadaga; 386/228-2323; cassadagahotel.net

DON CESAR HOTEL

“The Pink Palace” opened its doors in 1928, and celebrities like F. Scott Fitzgerald soon flocked to the beachfront resort for a getaway in the sun. Its heyday came to an end during World War II when it was converted into an Army hospital and then a regional office for the Veterans Administration. Locals banded together in 1971 and successfully resuscitated the hotel, leading to a $3.5 million renovation. Today, the resort holds a special place in Gulf Coast history as well as in the hearts of guests near and far for its dining (including an ice cream parlor!), event space and beauty. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg Beach; 727/360-1881; doncesar.com

VAGABOND HOTEL MIAMI

Vagabond Hotel Miami

Art Deco gets most of the attention in Miami’s architectural history, but we love the MiMo (Miami Modern) memories from the rock ‘n’ roll 1950s. The Vagabond was built in 1953 and was a popular hangout for the Rat Pack and other performers staying in the Magic City. The property was recently renovated, but the retro glam heritage is embedded in the redesign, from the starry front sign to the houndstooth seating at the Vagabond  Kitchen & Bar to the iconic Coppertone Girl sign nearby. 7301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305/400-8420; thevagabondhotelmiami.com


This story comes from our June/July/August 2018 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.