A century ago, like clockwork, wealthy families would flee to their summer homes after Memorial Day and hunker down until Labor Day to escape the city heat. Most of their lavish residences dotted America’s coasts, in towns like St. Augustine, Fla., Newport, R.I., and Galveston, Texas.
Now, many of their former mansions are hotels where – for a night or two – you can live like a king or queen, peeking out of the former bedrooms or strolling down the road for a postcard-perfect view of a sparkling coastline flush with sailboats and rimmed by a gorgeous beach.
Here are the best spots.
1. Castle Hill Inn, Newport, R.I.
The Castle Hill Inn dates back to 1875, when the mansion was commissioned by Harvard biologist Alexander Agassiz, some of whose original Japanese and Chinese art, rugs and furnishings remain. There are nine rooms in the original mansion, plus 24 additional accommodations on the 40-acre property. The private Harbor House residencies is where actress Grace Kelly stayed while filming “High Society”; the staircase to the beach was built just for her. Breakfast and afternoon tea are included with all stays, and artisanal cocktails are served under a custom Sperry sailcloth. There are clambakes on select Tuesdays this summer.
Rates: starting at $649 this summer
2. Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Ga.
A former hunting retreat for millionaires during the late 1800s, Jekyll Island Club Hotel is on one of the Peach State’s Sea Islands, off the coast of Brunswick Crane Cottage, built by an heir to the Crane plumbing empire in 1917, now houses 13 rooms and suites, with meals served al fresco in the courtyard. Cherokee Cottage, built in Italian Renaissance style for surgeon George F. Shrady in 1904, boasts 10 guest rooms and a suite.
Rates: from $209-$499 through Aug. 16 (plus $76-$96 per person per day for meal plan)
3. The Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, Ipswich, Mass.
The 2,100-acre Crane Estate was once the summertime compound of Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane Jr. The original farmhouse on the property -- what the Crane family lived in while the property's mansion was being built -- is now The Inn at Castle Hill, overlooking a carefully conserved beach that includes Crane Beach and Crane Wildlife Refuge. Most of the 10 rooms where guests can stay offer panoramic views of salt marshes, dunes or the stunning Atlantic shoreline. Breakfast folds in food from the farm next door, and bicycles are available for guests. Visitors are also invited to tour the Great House on Castle Hill, the Crane’s 59-room Stuart-style mansion.
Rates: from $235-$515
4. Wentworth Mansion, Charleston, S.C.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Wentworth Mansion – a Second Empire beauty within Charleston’s historic district that was built for a wealthy cotton merchant in 1886 – evolved into a hotel. Its 21 rooms and suites feature amenities like sleigh beds, Italian crystal chandeliers and marble mantels that date back a century or more, while it also boasts modern comforts like whirlpool tubs. Southern-style breakfast and afternoon lemonade are served daily, and there is a 1,000-square-foot spa in what once were its stables.
Rates: from $369 per night weekdays through Aug. 28
5. The Vanderbilt Grace, Newport, R.I.
This 33-room hotel once was a Vanderbilt mansion – built in 1909 by family heir Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt – and it’s packed with posh perks. Unwind during the day in its spa or pools, and dine at night in the Muse, where you’ll find chef Jonathan Cartwright in the kitchen (he cut his chops at The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine). Retire to a room done up in chic beach décor: think white walls and linens accented with a cheery orange hue.
Rates: from $287-$1,760 per night
6. The Captain Lord Mansion, Kennebunkport, Maine
The Captain Lord Mansion’s owner – merchant and shipbuilder Nathaniel Lord – died just a year after construction on this lavish three-story home was completed in 1814. The property stayed in the family until the 1970s, and it was lovingly restored into a hotel 36 years ago. The staff can arrange the perfect lobster-roll picnic or a lobster-boat cruise (complete with culinary tips and a lobster dinner at Mabel’s Lobster Claw). There is a spa on the site, and the rooms feature fireplaces, vases of fresh flowers, high-quality linens and marble baths with heated floors.
Rates: from $289 per night
7. The Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos, Los Alamos, Calif.
Just outside of Santa Barbara, near dozens of Santa Ynez Valley wineries, The Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos detours from the Victorian era with themed suites such as a ’50s diner and a sheik’s tent. Cozy up to the fireplace or relax in the hot tub (each suite has its own). Amenities at this 1864 mansion include a daily hot breakfast served in-suite and a bottle of local wine upon arrival. Still hungry? Tack on extras like cupcakes, mimosas in the morning or a cheese platter – perfect to accompany a bottle picked up on a winery visit.
Rates: from $245 per night
8. Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club, Cape Cod, Mass.
During the late 1880s, banking czar Samuel Nickerson would shepherd his family to the Nickerson Mansion, part of what is now the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club. The mansion, known then as Fieldstone Hall, welcomed President Grover Cleveland among its guests before it perished in a fire and was quickly rebuilt. Arrivals to the 429-acre resort in Brewster are greeted with Italian marble fireplaces and wooden busts of Shakespearean characters. Golfers will want to check out the Nicklaus Design course. While the private beach and two restaurants are tempting, you can rent a bicycle if wanderlust calls and tour Nickerson State Park or Cape Cod Bike Trail.
Rates: from $595 per night (for a room in the mansion)
9. Mermaid & Dolphin, Galveston, Texas
Galveston’s coastline was a respite from the heat for the Lone Star State’s governors during the summer months in the mid-1800s. What is now the Mermaid & Dolphin, a luxury bed-and-breakfast, was a governor’s summer mansion in 1886. Though it’s located 10 blocks from the Seawall Beaches, there is a lot to do under one roof: Guests can dine in the inn’s ballroom, indulge in a spa treatment (or use in-room whirlpools) and relax with a book in tropical-themed gardens.
Rates: from $149 per night this summer