1. The Reach Key West
There are many different ways to experience Key West; it’s safe to say most Floridians already have their favorite. And while new resorts seem to be going up all the time at the southernmost tourist destination, it’s always worth checking in on places that have reinvented themselves.
So it is with this recently remodeled resort that boasts Key West’s only private, natural-sand beach. A pier extends out into the water from the resort beach, and the hotel’s pool sits just on the other side of the sand for anybody who prefers a freshwater dip. The hotel, part of Curio Collection by Hilton, also offers dining and drinks at the Four Marlins. Longtime Key West visitors might remember The Sands, a popular restaurant in the ’70s and ’80s. The hotel sits on the old Sands site, so there’s something of a culinary tradition here.
The Four Marlins gets its name from a famous photo that hangs near the entrance of Ernest Hemingway on a fishing excursion with, yup, four marlins. (Sorry, South Florida baseball fans, the place is not named for Jeff Conine, Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield and Josh Beckett.) The restaurant’s meant as a modern homage to 1930s tropical fishing lodges, and the menu’s as heavy on local seafood as you might hope. (Maybe wash it down with a key lime martini.)
When you want to get out on the water, Barefoot Billy’s can sort you out. Located in the resort, the boat tours and watersports company rents jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards and other ocean toys, as well as scooters and bicycles for land excursions. Boating excursions include a snorkeling and dolphin-watching tour, and a sunset harbor cruise.
And of course, if you want to actually leave the resort, we hear Key West is OK. Something about a couple of bars here and there.
2. The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club
In May of this year the Watkins family, which has run this Gulf Coast resort since 1946, hands over the keys to a new ownership group. It will be interesting to see what the future holds; for now, this remains a classic spot for vacationers who love golf – or who just want to live the good life on Florida’s west coast.
The main attraction is surely the championship golf course. Redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 2016, the par-71 course offers challenges for golfers at all levels. It’s got some history as well – Nicklaus first visited in 1951, an 11-year-old on a family vacation, shooting 37 over nine holes and coming within a shot of shooting par. (The scorecard from that day is now on display in the Jack Nicklaus Museum.)
Not that non-golfers lack for things to do. Seven miles of beach, on-site bars and restaurants including fine dining, ocean-overlooking HB’s Restaurant and the more laid-back Sunset Beach Bar & Grill. There’s a full-service spa, a tennis center with pro shop and tennis pros, daily yoga and a fitness center. And of course, nothing’s ever too far away in Naples, whether you want to shop 5th Avenue or get out into the Ten Thousand Islands backcountry.
Change is coming to this venerable destination, but for now it offers a mixture of modernity and Old Florida charm in a part of Florida that has seen so much change but still retains some small-town virtues. naplesbeachhotel.com
3. Casa Monica Resort and Spa
Sure, any conversation about historic Old Florida is bound to get around to St Augustine eventually. And if you want to see Florida’s great historic town with more than a hint of luxury, Casa Monica is the way to go.
Built in 1888, the resort sits in the middle of St Augustine’s historic district and is perfect for the walking tours that are the best way to see the compact, characterful place. But first you’ll have to tear yourself away from your lodgings, which might not prove so easy. The ornate resort, built in the Moorish and Spanish Baroque Revival styles, has had an interesting history. Remarkably, before a thorough restoration in the late 1990s, it was even used for a number of years as the county courthouse.
You won’t encounter judges’ chambers here today though. Instead you’ll find good food and drink at Costa Brava. In keeping with the décor and architecture, the resort’s restaurant offers Spanish-style tapas and Mediterranean dining in opulent surroundings. And the Cobalt Lounge, also redolent of that ornate Mediterranean look, offers so much style and sometimes, live jazz that you’d half expect to see Humphrey Bogart propping up one corner of the bar, one eye out for a troublesome dame.
The resort has its own spa, as you’d expect, but perhaps less expected is the in-house art gallery. The resort’s not on the water, but guests have private access at nearby Ponte Vedra Beach.
And just outside the resort’s doors lies one of Florida’s most charmingly historic places. Casa Monica offers modern luxury but it’s surrounded by, and part of, historic St Augustine. marriott.com