Hotel of the Week: Legendary luxury in St. Pete

Where did you stay?

The Don CeSar, pronounced “say-CZAR,” is a landmark, a legend, the lap of luxury of Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, located in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is one of the most famous hotels in Florida, for a few reasons: it is historic, it is bright pink, and it is gorgeous. Simply walking around this hotel, soaking in the crown mouldings and the brass fixtures and the glamor, is fun.  And the location can’t be beat, right there on the beach. Can we discuss those beachfront sunsets? First let’s discuss the hotel itself.


What’s the crowd like?

Soutwest Florida is a big party destination, but the crowd at The Don CeSar is pleasantly polite. This is a very low-key scene, friendly and relaxed. There’s usually a newlywed couple wandering around after their wedding, and there will be a few families with kids. And there’s always a smattering of rich people lounging by the pool, drinking piña coladas while wearing tons of jewelry, who have no intention of getting in the water.

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How are the guestrooms?

The Don CeSar was built in “the Gatsby era” of 1928, when hotel rooms were beautifully decorated yet a little small, but the standard rooms here still have plenty of space to move and breathe. Beds are plump and posh, with delightful sheets.

Rooms face either the pool/beach, or the surrounding neighborhood on the other side of the building. The neighborhood views are quite nice, with islands and canals and bridges, but of course the ocean views are stunning, especially from higher floors. Since the windows don’t open, if visiting “in season” when the weather is cooler, splurge on a balcony suite. Open those balcony doors and let that ocean breeze swirl around the room, and imagine Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch as the wind blows her skirt around, purring “Isn’t it delicious?” The dramatic effect is best achieved while wearing a kimono or kaftan or other similar fluttering garment, so pack accordingly.


How is the spa?

The spa is for serious vacationers and affluent local residents, who come to the Don CeSar for tune-ups. Although the best part of the spa is the balcony, on the beachfront corner of the 5th floor, which has unobstructed views of the ocean. It is perfect for a post-treatment cup of tea.

Speaking of drinks…

The hotel has a multiple bars and restaurants, both inside and by the pool. Maritana is one of the most-esteemed fine dining establishments in Florida—one of only four restaurants in the city with a 4 Diamond rating—serving coastal Mediterranean cuisine in a very fancy setting. There are also casual eats in the cafes and the beachfront bar. (To eat out of the hotel, everything requires driving.) Tucked away on the ground floor with its own door to the street, Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor attracts people who literally walk up to the hotel just for ice cream. 

How is that beach?

The beach in St. Petersburg has a wide, luxurious stretch of soft sand, and warm water with gentle waves. And those sunsets! The sunsets are epic. The beach is why people come to Florida, but the beach sunsets are why people come to the Gulf Coast. Clear or cloudy skies, it is always gorgeous.

Fun fact: Sunday afternoons are fun and see-and-be-seen cruisy at the nearby gay beach, at Sunset Beach. Speedos are encouraged.

Speaking of the gays…

St. Petersburg has a gay scene that is typical of a smaller, suburban city. Enigma is the main club in town; Lucky Star has cheap drinks. Both are located in St. Petersburg’s very cute downtown, where there are lots of hipster shops and farm-to-table restaurants, so that is worth an afternoon of strolling. As a bonus, St. Petersburg has the largest pride festival in all of Florida! Imagine going to Pride, and then unwinding in your glamorous, giant pink palace?

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