For families looking to immerse their children in the past, staying at a historic hotel is an experiential lesson that doesn’t feel anything like school.
Meet 9 properties that are steeped in tradition without being the slightest bit dowdy. Loaded with yesteryear charm and individuality, there’s nothing cookie-cutter about them. Each one welcomes families with open arms.
Multi-generational vacationers take note: these dignified hotels hold special appeal for grandparents eager for a nostalgic holiday with the grandkids that recalls a more gracious era of travel. Stay in one and chances are, the kids will be having so much fun they won’t realize how much they are learning.
Willard InterContinental, Washington, DC
There’s no hotel that swims in political history quite like the Willard. President Franklin Pierce was the hotel’s first presidential patron, Abraham Lincoln took up residence for 10 days prior to his inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. edited his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the lobby.
The Willard offers children a touch of pint-sized luxury. Each child is greeted with a welcome packet that includes a personalized library card. The Willard’s children’s library highlights various individuals and events that shaped the nation’s history and played a role in the hotel’s past.
There’s a family-friendly history tour given each Saturday. The tour provides an overview of historic moments that have occurred at the hotel and sheds light on the many famous figures who have stayed here.
Teatime at the hotel serves up plenty of Downton Abbey-style charm alongside dainty finger foods and live harp music.
The Belleview Inn, Clearwater, Florida
For decades, the Belleview Inn was a civilized vacation haven for Gilded Age tycoons, celebrities, athletes and US Presidents. Illustrious guests from Babe Ruth to Bob Dylan have basked in the Gulf Coast sunshine. Fred Rogers, better known to generations of children as Mr. Rogers, was a hotel regular.
Built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant in 1897, it was known as the White Queen of the Gulf during its heyday. It closed in 2009 and has just re-opened after a meticulous restoration. Authentic features have been maintained, including the original grand staircase, hardwood floors, fireplaces and Tiffany stained glass panels.
The veranda is a shady spot for adults to relax with a cool drink while the kids play catch on the spacious lawn or swim in the gorgeous pool. Guests are invited to play a round of golf next door at the Belleview Country Club’s course, the oldest in Florida.
The Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark that has been hosting overnight visitors since 1778. Guests, including dozens of American Presidents and scores of royalty, have long been lured to the Allegheny Mountains and the healing properties of the local mineral springs.
The Greenbrier is confident enough in its grandeur to unapologetically maintain bygone formalities. At dinner, no jeans are allowed in the main dining room and jackets and ties are required for men.
The resort offers a wealth of activities, from fishing to falconry. Carved into the mountainside is an emergency fallout shelter that was once a top-secret relocation facility for Congress during the Cold War. Guests may take a guided 90-minute bunker tour for a closer look.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Broadmoor has been introducing families to the traditions of the American West for over a century. This legendary property is a gateway to authentic Western adventures such as cattle-drives and fly-fishing. As an added bonus, the nation’s only mountainside zoo is perched just above the hotel.
Situated on 5,000 unspoiled acres outside of Colorado Springs in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, it was originally a dairy farm and gambling casino before the land was transformed into a luxury resort. The distinctive pink stucco exterior, fabulous floral arrangements and sparkling chandeliers ooze timeless elegance.
El Tovar, Grand Canyon’ South Rim, Arizona
The majestic Grand Canyon is an unforgettable family vacation. For visitors seeking a historic hotel directly on the canyon’s rim, El Tovar is a winner.
El Tovar opened its doors in 1905, one of a chain of hotels built by the Fred Harvey Company in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. Constructed with local limestone and Oregon pine, many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River. In 1987, the hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Each guest room is uniquely decorated. The 12 suites have hosted luminaries and notables like Albert Einstein, Teddy Roosevelt, President Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney.
Guests today can snag a window seat in the dining room for breakfast to catch sunrise views over the canyon rim while being surrounded by murals depicting the customs of Native American tribes.
The Adelphi, Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs is an upstate New York town rich in healing mineral springs that have attracted visitors for generations. Horseracing season and a robust cultural calendar draw a crowd in summer. The National Museum of Dance and Saratoga Automobile Museum are a treasure trove for families.
When it’s time to head outdoors, Saratoga Spa State Park has miles of trails and spring-fed swimming pools.The Adelphi Hotel opened its doors in 1877 and quickly became a Saratoga favorite. It recently re-opened after an extensive renovation. The revitalized Adelphi honors the elegance that upscale Saratoga has been long been known for while delivering a modern reimagining of classic luxury.
The tall ceilings and sweeping staircase are the heart of the property’s communal space. Guest rooms feature hardwood floors, old-fashioned soaking tubs and art from the hotel’s vast collection. Plus, the in-town location can’t be beat.
La Fonda On the Plaza, Santa Fe, New Mexico
When it comes to history, few American cities rival Santa Fe. Founded by Spaniards in 1607, the oldest capital city in North America is a terrific vacation destination for families. Rich in arts and culture with outdoor adventures at its doorstep, Santa Fe has it all.
La Fonda is the only hotel located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza. The current structure was built in 1922, though the hotel’s roots can be traced back nearly 400 years. Original design elements, including hand carved beams, stained glass and towering cathedral ceilings, abound. The authentic New Mexican architecture, local art collection and upscale modern amenities mingle in just the right proportions.
Hotel Alex Johnson, Rapid City, South Dakota
Alex Carlton Johnson built his namesake hotel as a tribute to the Lakota Sioux Native Americans. Opened in 1928, the building’s design respects the Plains Indians and Germanic Tudor architecture, representing both indigenous and German immigrant influences. The hotel is not far from Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial and around an hour from the rugged beauty of Badlands National Park.
Look closely at the lobby’s original bricks and note the Native American symbols embedded in them. The one-of-a-kind chandelier made of war spears has hung from the rafters for over 80 years.
Numerous sitting presidents have rested their heads on the hotel’s plump pillows. Alfred Hitchcock incorporated shots of it into his famed film, North By Northwest, much to the delight of movie buffs. Countless ghost sightings have been reported, putting the Alex Johnson on the radar of those with an interest in paranormal activity.
Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan
Owned by the same family for three generations, Grand Hotel opened in 1887 as a summer retreat for Midwesterners who arrived via lake steamer. Distinguished guests have included Mark Twain, who lectured here in 1895, numerous US Presidents, Supreme Court Justices and Michigan native Madonna.
Open annually from May-November, the hotel maintains fading traditions such as dressing for dinner, afternoon tea and nightly dancing to a live orchestra. Each of the 397 rooms is individually appointed.
The hotel’s front porch, said to be the longest in the world, presents views of the Straits of Mackinac from comfy rocking chairs. No cars are permitted on the island, adding to the throwback quality. Most visitors arrive by ferry and get around by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage.
By Allison Tibaldi