Top 10 Vintage Resorts

A collection of our favorite keepsake accommodations to save you the guesswork.

Roche Harbor

Courtesy of Roche Harbor

Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham, MA
For all the resort's grandness―and the 1914-vintage Main Inn exemplifies the word "regal"―it never puts on airs, as befits its down-to-earth origin as a hunting lodge. The 205 rooms in the resort (40 rooms in the main building and the two dozen or so cottages) take full advantage of the Atlantic Ocean views here on the elbow of Cape Cod. (The inn's name comes from the sandbars just offshore.) After spending its first 90 years as a summer resort, Chatham Bars now stays open year-round. Happily, most rooms feature cozy fireplaces; 800/527-4884 or chathambarsinn.com.

Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa, Galloway Township, NJ
It seems to come out of nowhere along two-lane U.S. 9―a red-roofed ghost from a more elegant era, set majestically at the apex of a grand semicircular drive. Serious golfers know about Seaview's two courses, one of which curves along Reeds Bay. But this 1912 gem also deserves attention for its tennis facilities, indoor and outdoor pools, nature trails, and Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Faultless service helps preserve the classic ambience; 609/652-1800 or seaviewgolf.com.

The Cloister, Sea Island, GA
Most places simply demolish outdated buildings. The Cloister, by contrast,  faithfully rebuilt its Mediterranean-style signature structure in the spirit of the rickety 1928 original. (Meanwhile, guests can lodge elsewhere on the property.) The family-owned Sea Island Company has always shown extraordinary respect for both tradition and the natural environment of the Georgia sea islands. It also knows how to pamper, with amenities such as a spa, golf, tennis, riding stables, a renowned children's program, even a shooting school; 800/732-4752 or cloister.com.

The Breakers, Palm Beach, FL
Let's be honest: The Breakers, like virtually all of these properties, is expensive. But what a glorious place to be pampered! A $225 million renovation and expansion has reinvigorated the 108-year-old resort, preserving the historic character of the landmark Italian Renaissance-style building while adding every possible 21st century amenity. The splendidly landscaped grounds complement the wide Atlantic Ocean beach. As an indication of its obsession with service, the resort points out that its staff of 1,800 claims a collective fluency in more than 56 languages; 888/273-2537 or thebreakers.com.

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, Naples, FL
Glitz? Ostentation? Not here. The Naples Beach Hotel comes across like a favorite uncle: unpretentious, friendly, and always able to make you feel special. Six lodging buildings rise along the beach amid wide sweeps of green lawn. They're nothing much from the outside, but you'll like the Old Florida feel of the colorful, newly decorated guest rooms. You can swim in the pool or the Gulf of Mexico, play golf or tennis, or just romp on those emerald lawns; 800/237-7600 or naplesbeachhotel.com.

The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, Point Clear, AL
A recent $50 million renovation has freshened this venerable property on Mobile Bay. Fine furnishings and limited-edition prints have transformed the guest rooms. The beach has been greatly expanded, and a new, 20,000-square-foot spa offers all the latest services. Fortunately, the oak-studded landscape and exemplary service haven't changed, drawing visitors as they have since 1847. To learn more about the resort's heritage, stop by the bell desk for a chat with de facto historian Chester Hunt. He has been a member of the staff for more than 60 years; 800/228-9290 or www.marriottgrand.com.

Hotel del Coronado, Coronado, CA
We've heard of some service glitches around the time The Del changed ownership last year. We hope they were just transitory problems because we love this fairytale place so much. The Ocean Towers and Cabanas rooms, opened in 1977, are nice enough. But the magic really comes alive amid the red-roofed turrets and gorgeous woodwork in the 1888 Victorian Building (even if the walls can be a little thin). The hotel sits along a glorious stretch of beach where you can watch graceful sailboats and massive warships enter and leave San Diego's busy harbor; 800/582-2595 or hoteldel.com.

Roche Harbor Seaside Village, San Juan Island, WA
What started in 1886 as a hotel next to a smoke-belching lime quarry has evolved into a charming resort and marina with lovely sunset views. Rooms in the 118-year-old Hotel de Haro literally creak with history. (Most have baths down the hall.) Other lodging possibilities range from rustic cottages once occupied by quarry workers to the premium McMillin Suites, with vistas of the harbor and Victorian gardens. For activity, try harvesting oysters at low tide or catching shrimp from the docks; 800/451-8910 or rocheharbor.com.

Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI
The Grand truly does provide a style of romantic summer resort experience that literally no longer exists anywhere else. Since 1887, it has presided as queen of a Victorian resort island where cars are banned and little seems to have changed over the past century except the clothing. Like any grande dame, she's aware of her status (nonguests pay $10 for admission to the public spaces). But just one look at that vast, columned expanse of porch overlooking Lake Huron will transport you to a kinder, gentler time; 800/334-7263 or grandhotel.com.

San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara, CA
In this woodsy retreat overlooking the Pacific Ocean from the hills above Santa Barbara, you feel like a privileged resident of an exclusive cottage community. Your name even hangs in front of your room. The Ranch has welcomed guests since 1893, becoming a celebrity hangout when movie star Ronald Colman bought it in 1935. The Kennedy Suite (where Jacqueline and John F. honeymooned) has the best ocean views. You'll want to hit the exercise room near the pool before enjoying Ranch-grown organic vegetables and local seafood in the Stonehouse Restaurant; 800/368-6788 or sanysidroranch.com.

Honorable mention:
Just a 10-minute drive away, on Butterfly Beach, you'll find the lovely grounds and charming Spanish Colonial architecture of the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore. Another old movie-star favorite, also known as the Biltmore, it dates back to the mid-1920s; 805/565-8299 or fourseasons.com/santabarbara.

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