By Samantha Crespo
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area is home to three distinctive and historic grand hotels that offer classic luxury along with modern amenities and lovely water views. Whether you’re looking for an iconic place to stay or just want to set your sights on some spectacular old-world architecture, visit the Sandpearl Resort, Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club and The Don CeSar.
Sandpearl Resort: Chic at the Shore
From the moment you walk through the grand entrance of Clearwater Beach's Sandpearl Resort, the lobby reveals the resort's persona in panorama: ample windows frame its rollicking Gulf of Mexico beachfront while Christopher Still's oil on 14' x 7' canvas, Beneath the Waves, provides a precise underwater tableau. Beneath the Waves hangs behind the concierge desk, where a brochure details the nearly 40 objects that Still, a Clearwater native, painted into the piece.
Ambience: With soft sunny walls, gauzy white drapes and informal arrangements of "Oceana" balancing out the lobby's rich woods, the Sandpearl projects a friendly barefoot elegance rather than a "look – don't touch" sense of luxury. On the guest floors, white wainscoting conjures the feeling of classic beach retreats. The accommodations, ranging from standard rooms to junior and condominium suites (with one and two bedrooms, respectively), will feel like home to couples and families alike and, so, it's the kind of place that people tend to make a part of their family traditions.
Programs and Amenities: Enrichment programs echo the beach theme. Go behind the scenes at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to learn how the care for rescued dolphins and sea turtles in their marine hospital or board the Sea Life Safari for a two-hour trip into the Intracoastal Waterway. The Artists in Residence program allows guests to observe a featured artist at work and, in some cases, create something of their own. Younger guests can join Camp Ridley, the resort’s program for kids 5 to 11 that offers unique and fun activities themed around Florida’s animals and ecosystems. In the evenings, take advantage of Astronomy Night, hosted by the resort. For less structured days, head for the Gulf of Mexico beaches or, if you prefer, the resort's lagoon-style pool, edged with beach sunflowers and sand on one side and private cabanas (each with a flat-screen television and mini fridge) on the other.
Dining: Cooking demonstrations and wine tastings are presented by the staff of Caretta on the Gulf. (Executive Chef Stephen Jordan prepared celebrity chef Tyler Florence's wedding banquet.) At lunch, the restaurant's sushi chef might even walk you through his ceviche tasting's crunch, spice and sweetness. Save room for the Fried Cheesecake with mango-raisin chutney and cinnamon wonton. The Tate Island Grill, situated just steps from the beach and the pool, offers a more casual dining experience, and a perfect atmosphere for watching the sun sink into the Gulf.
Spa:The Sandpearl Spa provides deeply restorative body treatments in ultra soothing surroundings. Imagine getting the Ocean Memory Ritual treatment, which progresses from a full-body algae polish to a massage with algae oil, all the while soaking up the vibe of the cool color palette, generously sized treatment room and linens with the feel of ultra-suede.
Nearby Attractions: The Sandpearl is conveniently located near the local attractions, restaurants and nightlife of Clearwater Beach, which routinely lands among TripAdvisor's top five beaches in the U.S., taking the top spot in 2016 and No. 4 in 2017, and USA Today's "Best Beach Town in Florida" in 2013. At Pier 60, less than a quarter-mile away, the whole family will enjoy the nightly sunset celebrations, where dusk's enchanting colors are just part of the entertainment. The festive experience, complete with arts and crafts vendors, street musicians and entertainers, is like no other.
Vinoy Renaissance Resort: Chic in the City
Treat yourself to a little urban renewal at the AAA Four Diamond Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club. This legendary waterfront retreat is a true gem of Tampa Bay, perfectly located to enjoy the metropolitan delights of downtown St. Petersburg and the laid-back, seaside fun of St. Pete Beach.
Ambience: From the lounge-like lobby to the spacious rooms that merge antique charm and modern comforts, this resort exudes absolute luxury. But it’s the 1920s Mediterranean Revival architecture that has earned the Vinoy a place on the National Register of Historic Places. The resort’s renovation maintains the majestic details of its past, from dramatic archways to lush grounds, while adding all the offerings of a contemporary resort. You’ll feel worlds away without actually having to go all that far.
Programs & Amenities: The Vinoy lays claim to being the only luxury hotel on Florida’s west coast that features a private marina, 18-hole golf course and 12-court tennis complex. There’s also an expansive outdoor pool with tranquil waterfalls, plenty of seating and views of the marina. For a break from the Florida sun, relax in the refreshing atmosphere of the lobby, library or open veranda.
Dining: The resort’s flagship restaurant is the elegantly appointed Marchand's Bar & Grill featuring award-winning American cuisine with signature Floribbean flair. Its Sunday brunch is a favorite of both locals and visitors. At Fred’s, enjoy fresh seafood and prime beef in a classic steakhouse setting, and for tropical fare and open-air dining, try the charming Alfresco.
Spa: Not unlike its luxurious surroundings, the Vinoy Salon & Day Spa offers an indulgent retreat from the hustle and bustle of the outside world in a nurturing, restful environment. In addition to a full menu of rejuvenating treatments, the bayfront spa also offers salon services and fitness facilities.
Nearby Attractions: While it might seem easy to spend your whole vacation in such luxurious accommodations, the Vinoy Renaissance is located near downtown's amusements and just a short drive from beautiful St. Pete Beach. Within easy walking distance, the waterfront Museum of Fine Arts and iconic The Dali Museum inspire with diverse permanent and rotating art exhibits. Loll away the rest of your afternoon amid local art galleries and boutiques. Try Florida Craftsmen for artisan finds.
Be sure to save room for dinner at one of downtown’s enticing eateries and sample the wide-raging cuisine, from tapas and paella at Ceviche to contemporary American at the Parkshore Grill. Then, head to outdoor concert venue Jannus Live for live music and people-watching.
The Don CeSar: Pretty in Pink
This historic hotel sits on St. Pete Beach, voted TripAdvisor's No. 3 Beach in the U.S. for 2017. The Don CeSar, locally known as the "pink palace," was built in 1928. Its distinctive color and ornate architecture make it one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Gulf Coast--it's even a point of reference on maritime charts.
Ambiance: Boasting 277 luxurious rooms including 40 suites, most with spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico or Boca Ciega Bay, The Don CeSar is listed among the Historic Hotels of North America, on the National Register of Historic Places and as a historical monument by the National Archives. Upon opening in 1928, “the Don” instantly attracted some of the era's biggest stars, from F. Scott Fitzgerald and FDR to Al Capone. Numerous restorations over the years have preserved its rich sense of history while adding in modern amenities. The Don celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2003; you can expect a hotel experience that’s grounded in a long history of pampering.
Programs & Amenities: The resort's rich past makes for an intriguing story, so be sure to ask about the history tour and its famous ghosts. The one-of-a-kind Shoppes at The Don provide a varied shopping experience. Lowes Loves Kids program includes custom-designed activities and toys and a full camp program, Camp CeSar Kids Camp, ensures kids will stay occupied and entertained. Pets get their own pampering: The Don's renowned pet-friendly services include everything from specialty treats to dog massages. Two luxurious beachfront pools with poolside dining and a variety of watersports mean that you don't have to venture to the beach if you want to stay put.
Dining: For a unique dining experience, treat yourself to the Maritana Grille for a meal that combines local seafood, organic ingredients and expert culinary techniques. The restaurant also features decor worthy of an iconic beachfront hotel: 1,500 gallons of saltwater aquariums filled with colorful, native Florida fish. Other hotel eateries include the beachfront Sea Porch, the the classically coastal Rowe Bar, which offers a perfect waterside location for toasting the end of the day and the delightful Uncle Andy's Ice Cream Parlor, featuring homemade ice cream.
Spa: The 11,000-square-foot Spa Oceana offers a full menu of spa and salon treatments, a relaxing Whisper Room and rooftop garden overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, all of which will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, no matter if you opt for a day, an afternoon or just an hour of indulgence. The hotel’s enchanting beachfront pool will also leave you with a sense of calm and serenity.
Nearby Attractions: Stay here and you'll be surrounded by the alluring attractions of St. Pete Beach. John's Pass Village and the St. Petersburg Pier together offer over one hundred merchants and numerous restaurants. But you'll, no doubt, also want to sample the amazing nature-based sites like Fort De Soto Park where wildlife sightings are rampant and outdoor activities, from hiking and kayaking to fishing and shelling, give you the best of what the outdoors have to offer.