BEST BEACH HOTELS
Secret Hotels of Florida's Gulf Coast
We searched 800 miles of coastline to bring you the best hotel deals on Florida's Gulf Coast. Soak up the sun—and the savings—at one of these 10 charming hideaways.
Quiet, sand dune-sheltered shorelines, busy spring break towns, offbeat fishing villages, and sunsets like you won't see anywhere else in the state: Florida's Gulf Coast has them all. It also has plenty of soulless, high-rise, time-share condos and bland chain hotels. So we hit the road to dig up better options—homey, intimate hotels and B&Bs that reflect the particular character of their towns (and their owners). The result? This greatest-hits list of 10 unforgettable Florida-coast stays—all with rooms for $155 or less, even in high season.
CAPE SAN BLAS INN
Set on a remote spit of land between St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the seven-room Cape San Blas Inn feels like a true getaway. Maybe more away than some people would like; with 15 miles between the hotel and the nearest town, Port St. Joe, there's very little shopping or dining nearby, nor much entertainment beyond nature's offerings. But those are grand: Bobcats, bears, bald eagles and manatees can all be spotted in the area—perhaps even from the inn's hot tub, perched at the end of the private dock that juts into the bay. A broad, white-sand beach is all of 500 feet in the opposite direction, and an even more spectacular one is just three miles up the road in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, a 2,516-acre preserve whose large dunes (up to 40 feet) and crystal-clear water make it a fixture on nationwide top-ten beach lists. Guests are well equipped for exploring the area, with free access to three canoes, a kayak, beach chairs and bicycles—perfect for cruising along the cape's smooth bike paths and working off the inn's hearty breakfasts (homemade apple fritters, stuffed French toast, eggs benedict, and fresh-squeezed orange juice are all menu regulars). Most of the guest rooms have private porches or patios, and all have mini-fridges and Sleep Number beds—best enjoyed in one of the upstairs rooms, which are notably quieter than the ground floor options. 4950 Cape San Blas Rd, Port St. Joe, capesanblasinn.com, free Wi-Fi, from $150, breakfast included.
COOMBS HOUSE INN
There's a postcard-perfect quality to the Coombs House Inn, which is spread across three pristinely restored Victorian buildings in the heart of Apalachicola. It's appeal isn't all that surprising when you consider that its owner, interior designer Lynn Wilson, has worked on big-name hotels all over the world (Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, Taj), counting both Donald Trump and the King of Morocco among her clients. With its sunny yellow paint, dark-green shutters, and crisp white trim, the inn has come a long way from the tumbledown relic Wilson first spotted on a visit to Apalachicola with her husband in the late 1970s. "When I saw it, I said, 'I'm going to fix it up; I'm going to show people that this little town is wonderful and spectacular and just needs some TLC,'" Wilson recalls. Fortunately, all the TLC that Wilson poured into renovating the historic property (it was built by an area lumber baron in 1905) and furnishing it with four-poster beds and antique oil paintings is more than matched by the efforts paid to pampering guests. There's a daily tea-and-cookies service from 3pm-5pm, wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays in the parlor, and each of the 23 rooms is stocked with robes, complimentary bottled water, and Starbucks coffee—and about a third of them even have whirlpool tubs. As for the town itself? It's finally having its moment in the sun, after years of being known only for its excellent local oysters: This year, Sports Illustrated magazine featured Apalachicola and the nearby St. George Island in its swimsuit issue, and the models and crew made their temporary home—where else?—at Coombs House Inn. 80 Sixth St., Apalachicola, coombshouseinn.com, free Wi-Fi, from $129 in high season, breakfast included.
FRENCHY'S OASIS MOTEL
Where the Jetsons might vacation, only without the robots. This Clearwater Beach motel opened in late 2010, but it feels straight out of the '60s with its wash of citrus colors and Mad Men-inspired design. The Mad Man behind it? Owner Michael "Frenchy" Preston, a native of Quebec and a longtime Clearwater restaurateur who, for years, owned property next door to the formerly run-down motel. Attracted by the period design—it's a classic motor lodge with a courtyard pool—he decided to fix it up and make his first foray into lodging. Now, the façade glows in shades of lemon and orange, while the 15 guest rooms sport sunburst clocks, wave-shaped mirrors, and old-school tourist postcards enlarged into canvas prints. Most of the units have kitchens and dinettes, and 12 come with private balconies or patio areas. All guests have access to the poolside barbecue grill, the DVD lending library in the lounge, and the no-coins-required on-site laundry room, plus one more priceless perk: discounts at any of Frenchy's four local restaurants. 423 East Shore Dr., Clearwater Beach, frenchysoasismotel.com, free Wi-Fi, from $129 in high season, breakfast not included.
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