New Orleans, Louisiana
Here's one way to help post-Katrina NOLA: Just show up. Your tourist dollars can make a difference while you anchor at International House, two blocks from the French Quarter. In 1998, local visionary Sean Cummings transformed the historic Beaux Arts building into a boutique hotel with 117 sleekly styled guest rooms. Built as a bank in 1906, the lofty space later thrived for 40-plus years as the country's first World Trade Center. Today it exudes the spirit of that storied past―artfully blended with a neutral color scheme, streamlined furnishings, vivid art, and homages to local culture. Candlelight shimmers in Loa, the lobby bar. Details: $89 to $319; 800/633-5770 or ihhotel.com.
THE BATTLE HOUSE
At last, this historic seaport city has a hotel to boast about. A $250 million investment in downtown included restoration of the grand old Battle House (abandoned since 1974); the shining new version opened in May. In the lobby and among 238 guest rooms―126 in the historic section―architectural details recall an ornate era, while woven red, blue, and gold fabrics add color and whimsy. Amenities include hotel-wide wireless Internet access; suites offer plasma TVs and iPod speakers. About half the guest rooms view downtown or the Mobile River, which leads to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. The hotel's gorgeous Trellis Room serves a delectable dinner (and breakfast and lunch), and other hip dining choices are close by. Details: $179 to $400; 251/338-2000 or rsabattlehouse.com.
A HIGHLANDS HOUSE BED & BREAKFAST
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
From scenic Highway 30-A, on the Florida Panhandle, A Highlands House looks like a honeymoon bungalow tucked into a nook. However, one quick turn into the drive reveals a large, Charleston-style home and a land- and seascape of lush vegetation and deep blue-green water. For weddings, quite popular at the inn, all 10 rooms are available for guests. Otherwise, among the eight regular guest rooms, five command glorious Gulf of Mexico views. At sunset, head to the water-facing front porch. Afterward, explore nearby Grayton Beach's fine and funky bars and restaurants. But don't stay out too late: Every morning, the innkeeper plates up a classic Southern breakfast. Details: $150 to $250; 850/267-0110 or ahighlandshouse.com.
It's all about the urban, waterfront view from 43 stories of glass designed by architect Harry Mohr Weese. A standout among Chicago's renowned skyscrapers, this branch of the international Swissôtel group welcomes guests to 632 rooms and suites with vistas that define The Windy City. They can ooh and aah over panoramas of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Harbor, boats plying the Chicago River, and nearby landmarks from the Navy Pier Ferris wheel to stunning Millennium Park. In addition to huge windows, rooms feature high-speed Internet access and furnishings that meld seamlessly with the contemporary design. The scenery from the 42nd-floor health club ($10 fee) and pool (complimentary) inspires guests to stay in shape. Service in the hotel and its fine-dining restaurant, The Palm, is Midwestern-friendly. Details: $109 to $1,500; 312/565-0565 or chicago.swissotel.com.