These grand hotels blend history with luxury

Rosemary McClure
CompassJuly 31, 2013

Many U.S. cities have grand hotels, but only a few of those hotels could be classified as American treasures — legendary top-end hotels with history, charm and elegance. Here’s a look at some of the best.

The Grand
Mackinac Island, Mich.

The name of this stately family-owned hotel says it all. Built in 1887, The Grand looms over northern Michigan like a royal personage and qualifies as a prime attraction in itself.

Part of the appeal lies in The Grand's sweeping veranda, more than twice the length of two football fields and graced by 100 white rocking chairs and thousands of bright red geraniums. The 385 guest rooms are equally impressive, with no two decorated alike.

The Grand also qualifies as a movie star of sorts. “Somewhere in Time,” a time-travel romance, was filmed here in the late 1970s, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

Rates from $294 per couple per night, with meals.

The Willard InterContinental

It would be difficult for any hotel to match the historic credentials of The Willard, which served as a home away from home for Abraham Lincoln and a host of other presidents and luminaries.

But the Willard InterContinental isn’t just a historic place; it’s also a landmark hotel with top scores for elegance, style and tradition.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, it has been the focal point for elegant dinners, meetings and gala social events for more than 150 years.
Rates from $200, double occupancy.

Royal Hawaiian
Honolulu, Hawaii

It’s hard to imagine Honolulu without the flamingo-pink Royal Hawaiian, the state’s best known and most iconic hotel.

Hidden away in a lush garden with a spectacular banyan tree, the Royal Hawaiian brings calm to the hectic frenzy that surrounds it in Waikiki.

The Spanish-Moorish hotel, built by the Matson steamship line in 1927 to offer accommodations for passengers, has been renovated often, including a recent $70 million update.

Set on 10 acres of prime Waikiki beachfront, the Pink Palace, as locals call it, is part of the Starwood Luxury Collection and still offers guests vintage grandeur whether they’re just there for a sunset drink at the Mai Tai Bar or to spend a week in an oceanfront suite.

Rates from $327 per night, double occupancy.

Waldorf Astoria
New York City

The Art Deco-style Waldorf Astoria, an official New York City landmark, occupies an entire block of prime midtown Manhattan real estate.

It’s a tourist attraction in itself, drawing thousands of vacationers who can’t afford to stay here but visit anyway to explore the lobby, have a drink in the bar or enjoy the hotel’s $98 Sunday brunch, where they dine on eggs Benedict and Waldorf salad, both invented here.

The hotel was the dream of William Waldorf Astor, who opened the Waldorf Hotel in 1893. The current hotel, which opened in 1931, has 1,415 guest rooms.

Rates from $199 per night, double occupancy.

The Breakers Palm Beach
Palm Beach, Fla.

This family play land on the Florida coast is one of America’s best-known oceanfront resorts.

Founded in 1896, The Breakers is known for gracious service and leisure facilities, with 140 waterfront acres, five pools, two 18-hole golf courses and 10 tennis courts.

The hotel is still owned by descendants of its founder, Henry Flagler, and is said to have had $250 million in renovations in the past decade alone.

Rates from $299 per night, double occupancy.

Four Seasons Resort Biltmore
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Santa Barbara, sometimes called the American Riviera, has served as a getaway for generations of Hollywood A-listers. One of their favorite stops is The Biltmore, perched on a scenic slice of coastline.

Built in 1927, the hotel — with lush gardens, casually sophisticated accommodations and a sweeping view of the Pacific — is considered one of the West Coast’s premier resorts.

Now officially renamed Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara, the hotel is owned by Ty Warner (of Beanie Babies fame), who purchased it in 2000 and spent $350 million upgrading and preserving it.

Rates from $345 per night, double occupancy.

The Drake

The Drake hotel, with 535 rooms and a reputation for charm and splendor, is one of Chicago’s favorite landmarks.

Built by brothers John and Tracy Drake, the hotel sits at the beginning of the city’s Magnificent Mile, is modeled after Italian Renaissance palaces and has a panoramic view of Lake Michigan.

Like many of America’s most treasured hotels, it is a gathering place for celebrities, politicians and diplomats, frequently welcoming President Barack Obama, among other leaders.

It has been a set for several movies, including “The Blues Brothers,” “Risky Business, “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Hero.”

Rates from $170 per night, double occupancy.