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.
LOW-KEY HIDEAWAY MOTEL AND RV
The sign posted above the pathway to Pat and Cindy Bonish's Hideaway Tiki Bar (part of their Low-Key Hideaway Motel and RV resort) says it all: "Welcome to the Institute of Low-Key Living." It's no joke—after nearly four years spent crisscrossing the U.S. in their RV, collecting ideas about how they'd run a place if they ever stopped traveling, the Bonishes have the art of unwinding down to a science. The first element? Make it an adults-only escape. Number two: Keep it casual. When the couple took over operations of the property—one of their old haunts—a little over two years ago, they raised the comfort level (600-thread-count sheets) without going haute. The five shabby-chic rooms are decorated with hunks of driftwood and furniture from thrift shops and antique stores, and some beds have headboards fashioned from old doors; each room also has a kitchenette and private bath. The couple also kept the four RV spots (with full hookups) on-site—a nod to their own epic road trips. Rule number three: Make the most of what you have. There's no beach on the property, but a half-mile kayak ride will get you to a private island; restaurants are a short ride away on the motel's free bikes; and the sunsets at the waterfront tiki bar are spectacular. So what if they don't serve food? You can order delivery from the local pizza joint right to your barstool. Low-key? Yes, but also delightfully unpretentious and decidedly Old-Florida. 12050 SR 24, Cedar Key, lowkeyhideaway.com, free Wi-Fi, from $65, breakfast not included.
MANGO STREET INN
With years of experience running restaurants in both Virginia and Belize, Tree and Dan Andre were more than qualified to handle the "breakfast" part of the B&B they dreamed of opening one day in an old-fashioned Florida-coast town like Fort Myers Beach. They were less prepared to deal with the state of the property they bought on that town's tropical-sounding Mango Street in 2008. "We didn't realize it was a crack house," Tree says. She can laugh about it now; after months of gutting and renovation, the couple's welcoming inn is the type of place where guests gather around a fire pit in the courtyard and drink wine at night or sit together under the pergola for Dan's Cajun-inflected breakfasts (say, shrimp jambalaya cakes with fried egg and chipotle tomato sauce on top; less-spicy options are also available). The six suites—four one-bedrooms, two with two bedrooms—all have private bathrooms, full kitchens, and homey furniture the couple has amassed (or made) over the years: patchwork quilts, ceramic-tile-topped coffee tables, wooden animal carvings. Well-behaved pets are allowed, and may find friends in Cookie the dog and Thomas and Hector the cats. Said guest Jim Palmer of Minnesota: "Where else can you show up for breakfast barefoot, with your dog, and be served a gourmet meal?" The beach is a mere 199 steps away, and the inn provides a wagon for guests to haul beach chairs, umbrellas, and coolers. 126 Mango St., Fort Myers Beach, mangostreetinn.com, free Wi-Fi, from $145 in high season, breakfast included.
NAPLES COURTYARD INN
Staying on Naples' busy Tamiami Trail has its advantages: easy access to restaurants, shops (the chi-chi waterfront Village on Venetian Bay shopping center), art galleries, and even the Naples Zoo. The trade-off? Mostly cookie-cutter chain lodging that might as well be anywhere. Except, that is, for the Naples Courtyard Inn, a 76-room family-run spot with a distinct sense of community. Nora LaPorta's in-laws bought the place six years ago and revamped just about everything, giving the rooms a crisp new look and adding botanical-themed artwork, granite vanities, mini-fridges, and microwaves. LaPorta acts as hotel manager and de facto social coordinator; don't be surprised if she swings by to let you know about an impromptu mixer in the thatched-roof chickee hut by the pool. Or just show up there in the afternoons, when guests gather for fresh iced tea and conversation after a day at the city's 10 miles of sandy beaches, just a 5-minute drive away. 2630 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, naplescourtyardinn.com, free Wi-Fi, from $99 in high season, breakfast included.
THE PENINSULA INN & SPA
Leave it to a (former) professional jazz musician to cobble together a distinctive inn with just the right balance of polish and improvisation. Its refined, romantic features—the on-site spa, two restaurants, and spacious veranda—make The Peninsula a favorite site for small weddings and family reunions. But there's also a funkier side to this landmark building, which Alexandra Kingzett and her husband Jim bought in 1999 when it was a boarded-up shell. To start, it has a colorful history, having served as a hospital, a nursing home, and another hotel at different points in the past. (The original extra-large elevator was designed to fit gurneys.) Some say there's even a resident ghost, Isabelle, a former inhabitant after whom one of the inn's restaurants is named. The five suites and six guest rooms are themed around British colonial outposts—Bombay, Katmandu, Casablanca—and decorated with furniture hand-carved in Indonesia. And, of course, there's music: A blues bands plays in the courtyard Tuesday nights, Wednesdays bring a jazz-piano ensemble, and Alexandra herself has been known to put on occasional performances at the piano in the bar. You can even get in on the action yourself, at the open mic night held every other Thursday. 2937 Beach Blvd., Gulfport, innspa.net, free Wi-Fi, weekend rates from $119 in high season, breakfast included.