© Arizona Biltmore

5 Historic Hotels of the West

Iconic celebrity escapes in Arizona, Colorado, and California

BYSusan Lanier-Graham
What do Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe, Oprah Winfrey, and Brad Pitt have in common? They’ve all stayed in some of the most historic hotels in the Western United States, built during the country’s glory days of leisure travel. Today, discover history and architecture with modern amenities.

Arizona Biltmore
Phoenix
 
THEN
Arizona Biltmore, designed by architect Albert Chase McArthur with Frank Lloyd Wright’s collaboration, opened in 1929. The “Jewel of the Desert” is constructed with pre-cast blocks made from desert sand that was found at the construction site. 
 
Celebrities spent Hollywood’s golden years at the Arizona Biltmore, a resort once owned by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. Marilyn Monroe loved The Catalina Pool, Irving Berlin ironically penned White Christmas here, and a bartender created the famed tequila sunrise cocktail for a guest at the resort. Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned at the Biltmore, and presidents from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush have been its guests.
 
NOW
The Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria resort and AAA Four Diamond property, now is modern and stylish, yet it still retains its original Gatsby-era feel. There is a sense of history around every corner. 
 
Guests can experience an elegant afternoon tea, enjoy a spa treatment, and sample classic dishes at Wright’s at the Biltmore. Nights are perfect for relaxing by the fire pits. There are eight swimming pools, offering options from thrilling waters slides to a secluded adults-only pool.
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
The Mystery Room is a Prohibition-era speakeasy that once had a light to warn partiers of approaching federal agents.
 

The Beverly Hills Hotel
Beverly Hills
 
THEN 
In 1912, developer Burton Green built the Mission Revival-style Beverly Hills Hotel on 12 acres “halfway between Los Angeles and the sea.” The city of Beverly Hills came a few years later, followed by movie stars. The hotel added bungalows in 1915 to offer more privacy. Gloria Swanson, Lauren Bacall, and Marlene Dietrich called the bungalows home for extended periods. 
 
By the 1950s, the hotel was popular with celebrities and dignitaries. British royalty visited. Movies were filmed onsite. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the Rat Pack partied in the Polo Lounge. Elizabeth Taylor spent six of her eight honeymoons in Bungalow 5, Frank Sinatra frequented Bungalow 22, and Marilyn Monroe loved the seclusion of Bungalow 1.
 
NOW
The Beverly Hills Hotel, a member of the Dorchester Collection and a AAA Five Diamond property, is still favored by the rich and famous.
 
A lunch in the Polo Lounge is sure to offer up celeb sightings. The décor today blends Art Deco with '40s-style Hollywood glamour, and the 23 bungalows are undergoing major remodeling to ensure they respect the past while offering modern amenities.
 
The iconic pool is perfect for those who desire privacy, as cameras aren’t allowed in the pool area.
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Robert Kennedy’s children were in Bungalow 3 when they found out about their father’s assassination.
 
 
Hotel del Coronado
Coronado Island/San Diego
 
THEN
Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story dreamed of a seaside resort in California that would be “the talk of the Western world.” Their vision became reality in 1888, with the opening of Hotel del Coronado. The all-wooden structure was built from a half dozen different woods and was a technological marvel. It had its own artificial ice machine, electrical generator, and steam-powered hydraulic elevator. It cost $1 million to build the resort, and room rates started at $2.50 per night. The Crown Room was an architectural wonder, with a wooden ceiling spanning 160 by 60 feet without any supporting pillars. The hotel had 400 rooms and an astounding (for the time) 71 bathtubs and toilets. 

It has been the backdrop for dozens of movies. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz developed their “Ricky and Lucy” personas here, and Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like It Hot was filmed here.
 
NOW
Hotel del Coronado is still majestic, sitting proudly on Coronado Island across the bridge from San Diego. Rooms in the historic Victorian building have been beautifully updated with modern amenities and contemporary design. The newest and most luxurious accommodations are in the adjacent Beach Village. 
 
The Crown Room retains its wood ceiling and chandeliers, and remains an amazing setting for weekly Sunday brunch. Each holiday season, guests can ice skate on a rink on the beach. 
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
The Crown Room’s expansive ceiling is paneled in Oregon sugar pine, and some reports say Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum designed the massive chandeliers. The author spent his winters at the hotel from 1904 to 1910, during which time he wrote four books.
 
 
The Brown Palace Hotel
Denver
 
THEN
The Brown Palace Hotel opened in 1892 in downtown Denver. The triangular Italian Renaissance building, made with Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone, is known for its Grand Atrium. More than 700 cast iron panels frame the levels as you gaze upward, capped off with a massive stained-glass skylight. After a $1.6 million initial cost — an astronomical sum in 1892 — the hotel opened with 400 rooms that rented for $3 to $5 per night.
 
Over the years, celebrities and politicians have frequented the hotel. Dwight Eisenhower used it as his presidential campaign headquarters in 1952, and The Beatles stayed here on their U.S. tour. 

NOW
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa is a AAA Four Diamond property and part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The hotel now blends contemporary style with its Victorian heritage. It serves afternoon tea daily and a decadent champagne brunch on Sundays. 

The spa offers custom treatments and soaks using water from the natural artesian well located 750 feet beneath the hotel. 
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Tunnels under the hotel reportedly once led to a brothel across the street.
 
 
Camelback Inn
Phoenix
 
THEN
Camelback Inn was the dream of a young hotel manager who convinced investors to help him build a resort in the desert outside Phoenix. The hotel opened in 1936 and visitors endured a 12-mile bumpy dirt road from the train station to reach the secluded property. Room rates were $10 – $25 per night.

Early guests included Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Bette Davis. When the owner needed to sell the inn in 1967, frequent guest, J. Willard Marriott, Sr., purchased it and made it the company’s first resort. As the roads and access improved and Phoenix grew up around it, the resort expanded and attracted even more celebrities. Guests have included Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cary Grant, and J.C. Penney.
 
NOW
JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa is a AAA Five-Diamond property on 125 acres at the base of Mummy Mountain. The tranquil resort features wide lawns and private casita rooms. The Spa at Camelback Inn, added in 1989, provides calm indoor spaces and magnificent mountain views. Bronze sculptures by renowned artist Dave McGary dot the resort grounds.
 
The resort continues to welcome celebrities, but it also entices locals who enjoy dining in the restaurants, relaxing at the spa, or sipping cocktails on the patio as the sun dips below the horizon. 
 
WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Camelback Inn is the only Arizona resort with its own chapel. The small adobe structure was built in 1959 to honor John C. Lincoln, one of the property’s original financiers.
SUSAN LANIER-GRAHAM is a Phoenix-based freelance writer who looks for life’s “wow” moments.
© Hotel del Coronado
© Hotel del Coronado
© The Beverly Hills Hotel
© The Beverly Hills Hotel
If You Go
 
Arizona Biltmore
Learn about the history and architecture on a 90-minute guided history tour, offered three times per week through the concierge; 855-689-2878.
 
The Beverly Hills Hotel
The hotel is pet-friendly and offers bone-shaped doggie cookies engraved with the dog’s name, a doggie bed, and doggie bowls; 310-276-2251. 
 
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa
The hotel offers guided tours every Wednesday and Saturday at 3 p.m. It’s $15 per person or complimentary for guests; 303-297-3111.
 
Camelback Inn
Head to the back of the resort, through the authentic Mummy Mountain Western Town, and hike Tyner’s Trail up Mummy Mountain; 480-948-1700.
 
Hotel del Coronado, San Diego
For an intimate retreat, reserve a private beach fire pit during your stay; 1-800-468-3533. 
 
 
Learn More
Book a room or plan a trip to one of these historic hotels by visiting AAA.com or calling your local AAA Travel agent toll-free at 1-888-870-9392.
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