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Architecture

10 of the Most Beautiful Historic Hotels in the U.S.

By Bradley O'Neill
Read time: 7 minutes

Who doesn’t love staying at a luxury hotel? And when that hotel has a storied past, it can make your stay a bit more intriguing than your typical getaway. Even if you aren’t a history buff, you may appreciate knowing that you stayed in the same room as a Hollywood celebrity or wandered the same halls as a former President. Check into 10 of the most beautiful historic hotels in the U.S.

The Palmer House – Chicago, Illinois

Grand lobby with painted ceilings inside the Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois
Photo credit: Hemis/ Alamy Stock Photo

One of America’s longest-operating hotels, the Palmer House began life in 1871 as a wedding gift from Chicago businessman Potter Palmer to his bride, socialite Bertha Honoré Palmer. By the start of the 20th century, the Palmer House had become the city’s most prominent events venue, hosting everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald. It was the first hotel in Chicago to have electric light bulbs and telephones in its rooms. 

The Palmer House is also credited with the invention of one of America’s most beloved sweet treats: the brownie. In 1893, Bertha Palmer challenged the in-house pastry chef to create something suitable for the woman attending the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, the hotel still makes and serves the original brownie recipe — a decadent fudge creation topped with walnuts and an apricot glaze. Those looking to spend a night here can choose from a whopping 1,641 guest rooms and suites, which blend modern touches and the historic legacy of the hotel. 

The Mansion on the Sea – Key West, Florida

Welcome sign, palm trees, and Victorian exterior of the Southernmost House in Key West, Florida
Photo credit: Dimitry Bobroff/ Alamy Stock Photo

Located in the heart of Key West’s historic Old Town District on Duval Street, the adults-only Mansion on the Sea (formerly the Southernmost House) caters to beach lovers and sun worshipers who prefer restored mansions to sprawling resorts. The original structure, built by the prominent Harris family in 1897, was designed as a one-room Queen Anne Victorian mansion.

Thomas Edison oversaw the building’s original electrical design and installation work. During Prohibition, the Southernmost House served as a speakeasy, catering to mafia dons and the Hollywood elite who visited on their way to Havana, Cuba. In the 1940s, the mansion hosted a Cuban-themed nightclub, which welcomed famous residents and visitors to Key West such as Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Charles Lindbergh. It was renamed the Mansion on the Sea in 2023.

The Peabody Memphis – Memphis, Tennessee

Brick exterior of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee
Photo credit: Nikreates/ Alamy Stock Photo

This historic Memphis hotel has welcomed notable guests such as President Jimmy Carter, Michael Jordan, and Billy Joel. But the Peabody may be even better known for its web-footed residents. During the twice-daily Peabody Duck March, the hotel’s adorable resident ducks walk along a red carpet towards the fountain in the lobby, where they’ll usually take a dip in the waters. Ducks have resided at the Peabody since the 1930s, when the general manager and a friend placed some live duck decoys in the fountain as a prank after a hunting trip.

Today’s Peabody Memphis retains the ornate beauty of the original hotel which opened in 1869. In 2019, major renovations introduced Carrara marble tile floors, quartz vanities, and plush decor to each room. The upscale rooms are the perfect place to put your feet up after exploring nearby Graceland or visiting the historical sites in Memphis.

Grand Hotel – Mackinac Island, Michigan

Driveway leading to Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Photo credit: Dimitry Bobroff/ Alamy Stock Photo

The opulent Grand Hotel is the crown jewel of Michigan’s Mackinac Island, which can only be reached by plane or boat — no cars are allowed on the island. This makes the Grand Hotel an ideal laid-back summer getaway for anyone who wants to walk, bike, or explore the peaceful surroundings by horse-drawn carriage.

With about 400 guest rooms, the Grand Hotel has plenty of space for guests to enjoy the hotel’s historic architecture and fascinating history. It has hosted dozens of notable guests over the years, including Robert DeNiro, Madonna, and several Supreme Court Justices and American presidents. Mark Twain was the hotel’s first notable guest when he lectured at the casino in 1895.

The Plaza Hotel – New York, New York

Steps to the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in New York City lit at night
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Alamy Stock Photo

Located on the south end of New York City’s Central Park, the Plaza Hotel was built in 1907 and remains one of Manhattan’s top luxury destinations today. You’ve most likely seen its ornate, spacious lobby in one of several movies filmed on location, such as North by Northwest, The Way We Were, Home Alone 2, and The Great Gatsby.

The Plaza has also hosted countless dignitaries, celebrities, and famed business leaders over the years, such as John Lennon, Conrad Hilton, Truman Capote, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Additionally, every American President since William Howard Taft has made at least one visit to the Plaza. 

The Miami Biltmore – Coral Gables, Florida

Palm trees and lawn facing the Miami Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida
Photo credit: Ian Dagnall/ Alamy Stock Photo

The sprawling, 15-acre Miami Biltmore Hotel and Country Club is a National Historic Landmark that was built in 1926. The hotel’s tower was designed as a recreation of the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain, and its main structure is reminiscent of Mediterranean Renaissance–era architecture, with several balconies, ornate terrazzos, and tile floors.

In the 1920s, the new hotel drew notable guests such as Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Franklin Roosevelt, and Al Capone. During World War II, however, the luxury hotel was converted into an army hospital. The building remained a Veterans Administration Hospital until the City of Coral Gables restored it to its former glory in the 1980s. The modern Biltmore also underwent a more recent $40 million dollar renovation, which added a championship golf club. At this historic destination, you’ll get to relax by one of the largest hotel pools in the country.

La Fonda on the Plaza – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Adobe exterior of La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Photo credit: Arpad Benedek/ Alamy Stock Photo

Situated on a corner of Santa Fe Plaza in one of America’s oldest cities, La Fonda on the Plaza holds an esteemed place in Santa Fe’s history. This particular corner has been accommodating travelers ever since the Spaniards built an inn here in 1607. In 1821, Captain William Becknell stayed here during an expedition that led to the creation of the Santa Fe Trail. The adobe-style lodging soon became a popular overnight stop for frontiersmen, gold seekers, and trailblazers.

Much of the landmark that exists today dates back to 1920. The interior retains traces of its original elements, including handmade beams, spectacular stained glass skylights, and sparkling chandeliers. The 29 room types offer a blend of historic and contemporary charm, with hand-painted headboards, handcrafted furniture, and original artwork. Of particular note is the Pueblo artwork by regional Native American artists. A hotel tradition started by reputable art lovers Sam and Ethel Ballen, all acquisitions help to support the annual Santa Fe Indian Market.  

Hotel del Coronado – Coronado, California

Pool and domed red-roofed building of the Hotel Coronado in Coronado, California
Photo credit: Peter Schickert/ Alamy Stock Photo

Located at the southern end of Coronado Beach on San Diego County’s Coronado Island, Hotel del Coronado opened in 1888. The legendary beach resort is split into five elegant districts, ranging from the original storybook Victorian section of the resort to modern condo residences and a gated beachfront community of cottages and villas. 

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, the grandiose hotel appeared in the classic 1958 film Some Like it Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, and it hosted President Richard Nixon’s state dinner in 1970. Today, guests can experience a variety of upscale amenities, from cooking s’mores on a private bonfire to boat rentals or surf classes with a professional Hawaiian surfer. 

The Pfister Hotel – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Exterior of the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee
Photo credit: Chuck Eckert/ Alamy Stock Photo

Billed as “the Grand Hotel of the West” when opened in 1893, the Pfister features a stunning Romanesque Revival architectural design. A Milwaukee icon, the hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 1962 after movie theater operator Ben Marcus purchased it. Today, it offers over 300 sophisticated rooms and 82 suites that fuse contemporary designs with old-world allure.

Over its storied history, the Pfister has hosted dignitaries and Presidents such as Warren Harding, Theodore Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Besides its exceptional hospitality and swanky accommodations, the Pfister celebrates the talents of local artists through the in-house Artists in Residence program. Artists are invited to spend up to 30 weeks at the hotel to prepare for their exhibition.

The Henley Park Hotel – Washington, D.C.

Entrance to the Henley Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., lit at night
Photo Courtesy of The Henley Park Hotel, Washington DC, a member of Historic Hotels America®

First built in 1918 to provide upmarket residences for congressmen and senators, the Henley Park Hotel is a sublime example of Tudor Revivalism architecture. In the hotel’s early years, it was known as Tudor Hall. Its exterior is decorated with 119 gargoyles, two of which depict the lead architect Walter Granville Guss and his wife. Inside, rooms were made to resemble an English country manor. 

Over the years, the Henley Park Hotel was a popular gathering place for D.C.’s political and social elite. After a period of neglect, a major investment in 1992 brought the hotel back to its former glory. Much of the architectural integrity was preserved, as were the original interiors. Today, each of the hotel’s 96 rooms are elegantly appointed and merge historic charm with contemporary luxury. 

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