Post pandemic, many of us feel like Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving’s short story character who emerged from a mysterious 20-year sleep to find a very different world.
We weren’t away that long but a year-plus in our houses without travel feels like a reawakening when we finally emerge to head out on the road. U.S travel is on an uptick to almost pre-pandemic levels, and we are finding the world a little different. Prices are higher as hotels try to recoup losses and services such as daily room service are often curtailed because of skeleton staffs.
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But life is getting back to normal and we are finally planning long-awaited trips. Here is a list of 10 Florida destinations for those who want to plan their first trips close to home.
Some possibilities are islands – Cabbage Key and Sunset Key – and some cottages have enough room for friends and family you haven’t seen lately, for example a six-bedroom house in Seaside. And some resorts made the list because of recent renovations and additions that make them worth a visit. Welcome back!
Cabbage Key, Pineland
One of the best parts of a trip to Cabbage Key is the ferry ride across Pineland Sound on the west coast of Florida between Gasparilla and Captiva islands.
A rambling historic inn, the Historic Cabbage Key Inn, built by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart in 1936, tops a ridge overlooking the sound. The marina is usually filled with boats arriving for a lunch or dinner of stone crab claws and the inn’s famous hamburgers. Dinner guests often end up staying for a night or two. They find good company at the lively bar.
Eight cottages also are available for guests. Several have private docks such as the two-person Dollhouse Cottage and Tarpon Cottage and the four-bedroom three-bathroom Harborview Cottage.
Off-season inn rates (July 16-Feb. 13) start at $125 per night; the Dollhouse Cottage, $185; Tarpon Cottage, $250, and Harborview Cottage, $475. Rates are higher for weekends and holidays.
The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach
At the 262-room AAA five-diamond Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, guests can head to the spectacular wide stretch of Atlantic beach in northeast Florida following in the footsteps of other guests since 1928.
Or they can go to one of two golf courses including Ponte Vedra’s formidable Ocean Course, which made its debut in 1931, and had a recent multi-million-dollar renovation. Forty-one luxurious beachfront rooms and suites were added in the spring, and a new croquet lawn and bocce court opened in the summer.
A half-dozen restaurants and taverns, most offering ocean views, can satisfy the most discerning appetites. Others come here just for the spa, or to play on one of 15 Har-Tru clay tennis courts. Guests can schedule private lessons to improve their games.
A wide range of rates include golf and tennis packages. Summer room rates start at $399.
Sunset Key Cottages, Key West
If you’ve ever enjoyed a sunset at Mallory Square in Key West, you probably noticed the island on the horizon 500 yards offshore. That’s Sunset Key, a 27-acre island with 48 Bermuda-style single-family homes, some of which are available for guests. Rentals range from one bedroom to four bedrooms.
Sunset Key’s fine-dining restaurant is Latitudes, named Food & Wine’s “Most Romantic Restaurant in Florida” in 2018 and proclaimed one of Open Table’s “50 Best Restaurants for a Date in America in 2019.” The restaurant is known for its seafood, including lemon-glazed yellowtail snapper, pan roasted cobia and seared scallops.
Rates vary according to house and dates. A two-bedroom cottage starts at $1,019 per night in August.
Isla Bella Beach Resort, Marathon
The Isla Bella Resort, which opened in April 2019 in Marathon in the Florida Keys, has 199 rooms including one- and two-bedroom suites in three-story buildings that curve with the bends of almost a mile of waterfront.
Fishermen stay at the resort to book fishing charters with Capt. Jack Carlson, owner of Two Conchs Charters and host of TV fishing shows, and his son, Capt. Austin Carlson, a third-generation fishing captain.
At the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Il Postino, diners can choose a table outside next to the beach or indoors for Italian dishes including blackened mahi-mahi peperonata and bucatini pomodoro. For lunch, there are burgers and mahi-mahi sandwiches at the Beach Bar. Guests can also book massages at the spa and go shopping at the Marketplace.
Summer rates for one-bedroom guest rooms start at $281; two bedrooms, $359.
islabellabeachresort.com; 305-481-9451, reservations 844-885-4706
The Pearl Hotel, Rosemary Beach
The 55-room Pearl Hotel, which is home to the popular Havana Beach Bar and Grill, sits in the heart of Rosemary Beach surrounded by shops and beach houses. The four-story inn, which has a clock tower and black and white striped awnings waving in the gulf breezes over balconies, looks like a beachside inn from the early 1900s, but it opened in 2013.
The town draws country music stars such as Garth Brooks, and Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill, who rent million-dollar homes with gulf views. Kellie Pickler got engaged here.
Rosemary Beach, founded on the principles of “New Urbanism” 25 years ago this year, was the vision of Miami architects Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Inspired by the architecture of the Caribbean and New Orleans, the cottages, big and small, are a lovely and spirited mix of architectural styles.
There’s plenty to do in town including beach water sports, fine dining and enough trendy shops to keep even the biggest spender happy, but a lot of visitors just want to stroll the streets and look at the houses designed by some of the most famous architects in the country.
You can rent houses here, but the hotel is a good bet for enjoying the town and beach. The Forbes rated four-star and AAA four-diamond hotel overlooks a green lawn and one of the prettiest white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
Summer advance purchase rates start at $339.
The Don CeSar, St. Petersburg Beach
The legendary Don CeSar looks like a pink palace as ornate as a wedding cake. A big three-year renovation was recently completed on the hotel that opened in 1928. The “Pink Lady” reigns over a white sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico, and a glamorous history includes guests such as Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Renovations included upgrades to the 277 guest rooms and suites from spacious junior suites to two-story penthouse suites such as the lavish three-bedroom three- bath Bayhouse Penthouse.
An additional 71 suites are in the resort’s Beach House a half-mile down the beach from The Don.
Amenities are many: kayaks, paddle boards, beach chairs and cabanas. And there are a half-dozen dining and bar options. Once you arrive at this resort, there’s really no need to leave.
Standard summer room rates start at $449 per night; one-bedroom suites start at $794.
Seaside cottages, Seaside
At first glance, Seaside is the quintessential seaside village with its pastel clapboard cottages, wraparound porches, white picket fences and metal roofs, but it didn’t evolve as a town. Three Ivy League planners considered every detail from the length of space between porches and sidewalks that would make conversation with passersby easier, to how high the wood buildings should be off the ground for air circulation.
There would be no garages visible from the street, no dead-end cul-de-sacs, and no grass lawns. Landscaping would include only native plants that required no fertilizer, pesticides or watering. Lots of tall oak trees would help keep houses and people cool.
Seaside’s founder was Robert Davis, who had a business degree from Harvard and built the first two houses in 1981 on 80 acres of prime beach real estate. He brought in Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, both graduates of Princeton University with master’s degrees in architecture from Yale.
Their concept was mixed-use buildings where residents could live and walk to work. Architecture students often make pilgrimages here to see the Victorian, Modern, Postmodern and Neoclassical architecture.
Airstream food trucks serve food for picnics, and there are fine-dining restaurants, cafes and a gourmet grocery store.
Seaside’s 135 private rental cottages range in size from one bedroom, with rates starting at about $675 per night, to six-bedroom six-bath villas starting at about $3,188.
Moorings Village, Islamorada
Moorings Village’s compound of eight cottages, shaded by tall coconut palms, is Florida at its most beautiful and natural.
Guests can sit on a porch or relax in a hammock. Those with more energy can enjoy the resort’s lap pool. The small estate sits in the middle of condos and larger resorts but somehow manages to be completely removed from them. It’s a short walk to some of the best gulf-side restaurants in Islamorada.
The resort, which was the main location for the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Bloodline,” has a long beach and a pier for swimming and fishing.
Rates range from $595 to $5,000 per night.
Henderson Park Inn, Destin
If you think the Henderson Park Inn looks like a beachside inn in New England you would be right. Destin residents Bill and Steve Abbott built the main building in 1992 to resemble their uncle’s inn in Maine, the Sparhawk Oceanfront Resort. The brothers had worked for years at the inn and wanted to bring New England style to the Emerald Coast. They succeeded. It’s Maine without the nor’easters in winter.
The best thing about Henderson Park Inn in Destin is what’s next to it — Henderson Beach State Park and a mile of undisturbed beach. But the bed-and-breakfast inn with only 37 rooms is pretty great, too.
The romantic adults-only inn is a popular place for popping the question.
A made-to-order breakfast, boxed picnic-style lunch and Happy Hour adult beverages at the tiki bar are all included in the price. Dinner at the Beach Walk Cafe is not included but you won’t want to miss it. Reservations are required — the restaurant fills up fast.
Guests also have access to all the amenities including a resort-style pool, fitness center and spa at the much larger sister property, The Henderson, a Salamander Resort & Spa, nearby.
Summer rates range from $446 to $1,045 a night. Ask about birthday and romance packages.
The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club, St. Petersburg
When you walk into the Vinoy’s vaulted lobby, you get the feeling that great things happened here, and they have. The glamorous Vinoy Hotel opened New Year’s Eve 1925 and has attracted celebrities and heads of state including Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, Babe Ruth and U.S. presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
The elegant Vinoy Hotel overlooks the resort’s marina and Tampa Bay. This is not a beach hotel, although it’s not far from the beaches, but is downtown in the midst of restaurants and upscale shopping, and a short walk to the newly reopened St. Petersburg Pier.
The hotel is also near the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team’s stadium, Tropicana Field.
Summer rates start at about $337.