The Don Cesar in St. Pete Beach Has Remained a Florida Icon for Nearly a Century
As you’re crossing over the grand Sunshine Skyway Bridge into St. Pete, look west toward the Gulf of Mexico. There you get your first glimpse of the historic Don CeSar hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1928.
Back then, “The Don” hosted guests like Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Indeed, the Don CeSar is no stranger to celebrities. Generations of Hollywood elite have flocked to meet the “Pink Lady” – and some have fallen in love. Robert Altman leaned on the seaside locale for his 1980 ensemble comedy “Health,” while Sergio Leone similarly capitalized on its rich history for his masterpiece, 1984’s “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Following in the footsteps of those greats was Florida’s own prodigal son Tom Petty. In 1985, the late Gainesville rocker scaled the rooftop of the picturesque hotel for a promotional gig ahead of his sixth studio album, “Southern Accents.” Naturally, the occasion drew fans, press, and even helicopters. It was Florida’s own Let It Be moment – and it lasted 45 minutes.
Today, “The Don” is a hangout for everyone from locals spending the day to out-of-towners spending the week, from young couples to families to retirees.
There is a long list of amenities and activities to fill your time. Guests have 24-hour access to the fitness center, and yoga classes are held on the beach at 9 a.m. daily. Paddleboards and kayaks are available for rent from 9 a.m. to noon, which may not seem like a large time frame, but when the afternoon wind picks up you’ll be glad you’re relaxing under an umbrella with a fruity frozen drink in hand.
If you’d rather spend the entire time at the pool or on the beach, we can’t blame you. Each room is given three chaise lounges and an umbrella, so you can work on your tan or snooze in the shade.
As for meals, there are several food options available on-site. Sea Porch Café is a casual spot right next to the pool, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We recommend any of their seafood, from the poke bowl to the lobster roll. If you’re missing the Hispanic flair from South Florida, they have a Cubano sandwich for lunch and dinner and Cuban bread French toast for breakfast.
The Rowe Bar, equipped with couches and fire pits, is the perfect place to watch those famous West Coast Florida sunsets.
For lunch, you can order food and drinks from the pool bar or flag down the waiters roaming the beach. If you eat on the beach, do so at your own risk; the seagulls are relentless. The Maritana Grille and The Lobby Bar are currently under renovation and are expected to be completed later this fall.
For dessert, Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor is a must. While the jazz music being played throughout the ground floor brings you back to the days when F. Scott Fitzgerald was roaming the halls, Uncle Andy’s jumps ahead a few decades to the ’50s.
Slip further into relaxation mode at The Don’s Spa Oceana, which offers such an array of treatments that it requires a 22-page spa menu. Massages, facials, wraps, hair treatments, manicures, pedicures – Spa Oceana is your one stop shop to relax and rejuvenate.
If you get cabin fever (difficult given the grandeur of the property) venture into St. Petersburg, home to The Salvador Dalí Museum. The Dalí holds the largest collection of the artist’s paintings outside of Spain. Join one of the free tours to gain a more in depth knowledge of both the painter’s life and artwork. Feeding off of Dalí’s lifelong curiosity with technology, they have an exhibit entitled, “Visual Magic: Dalí’s Masterworks in Augmented Reality” that brings eight of his masterworks – meaning exceeding five feet in height or width and painted over a period of at least one year – to life in one room.
Not far from the museum is Central Avenue, packed with retail and home décor shops, restaurants, coffee houses, and bars. It oozes a hipster, bohemian vibe. One store, appropriately named Brutique, is half-boutique, half-brewery, selling everything from candles to clothes to craft beer. And Zazoo’d isn’t your average home décor shop. It has a chaotic antique-store vibe, though the items themselves are far from antiques: Serving platters, coasters, bar carts, glasses and recipe books, it has every kitchen necessity you never knew you needed.
Though it’s less than a four-hour drive, St. Pete and The Don CeSar are a refreshing respite from the bustle of Miami. After a few days on the white sand of the pink lady, you’ll come back better prepared to take on US 1.
Michael Roffman contributed to this article