I won’t beat around the bush here…The Don CeSar hotel is hands down THE place to stay in St. Pete Beach. I’ll go so far as to say this is probably the best place to stay on the entire gulf coast of Florida. Maybe the whole state! Ok you get the picture…I liked it. I’ll be honest…I felt pretty good about this pick before I arrived (hello, have you seen the pictures??), but even several months after I stayed here I was surprised by how much I kept thinking about it and comparing every other place I’ve stayed since to this one.
This isn’t exactly a “sleeper” hotel or a hidden gem. It’s pretty famous. Built in the 1920s, this place is straight up Gatsby (the Fitzgeralds have actually stayed here) and is on the national register of historic places. But it’s undergone a HUGE renovation in recent years so in addition to its vintage charm it’s on par with other modern luxury-ish resorts.
I stayed at the Don CeSar for three nights (after spending the first two nights at the nearby (and very subpar) Postcard Inn. And I couldn’t have been more impressed. Do you ever walk into a place and sigh and relax your shoulders a bit and think “yes…this is my kind of place.”? No? Just me?? Well anyways, that was my first impression.
Immediately after we checked in and walked through the lobby, my cousin and I both turned to each other and said it reminded us of the hotel from the Tower of Terror ride at Disney World BEFORE it got struck by lightning. Which might sound like a weird comparison, but if you’re a Disney person you’ll get it. It’s swanky and has a very strong period appeal.
The Don CeSar is located in the southern/middle part of St Pete Beach. St Pete Beach is actually a barrier island off St Petersburg which is in the Tampa Bay area. The Don Cesar is the southernmost resort on the island and everything to the south of it is residential so it’s much quieter than pretty much every other resort or hotel on the island.
My favorite thing is how close it is to Pass-a-Grille (the southernmost neighborhood on the island). Pass-a-Grille is where people “in the know” go because it has such a different vibe than St Pete Beach. Read all about Pass-a-Grille (one of the cutest little beach towns in Florida!) here.
It’s also in the zone for Freebee (a free electric car service that operates in a lot of areas of south Florida). Download the Freebee app and you can request a ride (just like Uber or Lyft). You’ll get picked up in a large golf cart and zipped wherever you want to go FOR FREE (it’s subsidized by the city but you should tip your driver!). When we were there, there were two cars operating in the area and they did pick ups and drop offs from the southern end of the island (Pass-a-Grille) up to Dolphin Village (Publix, CVS, Chick Fil-a, etc.). It was waaay more reliable than Uber or Lyft and a lot more fun too (not to mention free). So if you’re staying at the Don CeSar, you’re basically right in the middle of their service area which to me, is a huge perk.
I didn’t really have any expectations (other than knowing that everything had been recently renovated), but I was still super impressed by the room. We were in a standard room (nothing special) and it honestly seemed about 50% larger than most hotel rooms. There was just so much space that it felt like we could’ve squeezed a few more people in! The bathroom actually seemed on the smaller side, but it was laid out very well and all of the finishings felt really high end.
The decor was pretty cute. It definitely felt Floridian but not over the top and keeping with the upscale vibe of the resort.
Like I mentioned above, this is the last resort as you go south on the island so the beach tends to be quite a bit less crowded than pretty much everywhere else on St Pete Beach. It’s really only people staying at the resort and walkers.
There were plenty of chairs, umbrellas, and sun loungers/cabanas set up every day and it seemed like it was easier to get a spot on the beach than at the pool.
Just like everywhere in the St Pete and Clearwater area, the beaches are white sand and the water is pretty turquoise and clear. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the shelling was too.
Besides an early morning and afternoon walk, we pretty much spent the entire time at the pool. It’s one large pool area with two different pools. No slides or anything but very family friendly. There’s a counter where you can get your towels (they had stuff like sunscreen there too) and then it’s all first come first serve.
The pool bar (with new rooftop lounge!) had just opened when we were there and it was HOPPING. The poolside service (food and drinks starting at 11AM) was REALLY good. Like, no half hearted attempts of asking you if you wanted anything once and then disappearing. The pool crew was seriously amazing. Like anywhere, when you’re ordering food poolside always plan on it taking 30 minutes or so to arrive. Drinks were super fast though.
Also, if you know me you’re not at all surprised to find out that the pink and white striped towels were my favorite part ; )
We ate at Society Table (the casual-ish) restaurant once for breakfast and once for dinner. Breakfast took absolutely forever so we only did it once. Dinner was a little mixed. The food was actually really good, the service was okay, but the restaurant atmosphere seemed a little awkward. First of all, one of my pet peeves is walking into a restaurant that’s completely empty and them not wanting to seat you because you don’t have a reservation : ) Okaaaay, so we made a reservation for 45 minutes later and went to the pool bar to hang out. When we came back for our reservation, they seated us right away and there still wasn’t anyone in the restaurant. Whatever. We were seated inside where there were only a few other tables of people and everyone else was outside on the patio. It felt like that episode of Gilmore Girls where Jason makes dinner reservations for him and Lorelai in the private room at the Japanese restaurant haha you know what I’m talking about???
I will say that this visit was in April 2021 when travel had just started booming again so I feel like most of our dining woes (it wasn’t just at the resort) had a lot to do with COVID and the “new normal.”
We grabbed breakfast every morning at Uncle Andy’s which is the ice cream shop/coffee shop/general store in the lower level of the resort. They had pastries, pre-made breakfast sandwiches that they would heat up and an assortment of cereal, snacks, etc as well as a full coffee bar.
And then we ordered lunch and drinks poolside every day. Everything we had was really good and between the two of us, we managed to work our way through pretty much all of the food and cocktail options over four days.
What I loved about staying at the Don CeSar:
To sum it all up, I pretty much loved everything, but specifically…
This place is stylish and swanky while still being pretty lowkey. It has a really strong brand and it sticks to it when it comes to the details (the music in the lobby is A+, the pool towels are PINK, etc.). It’s nice but not stuffy and had a good mix of families, couples, older and younger, etc.
It’s a NICEEEEE resort, but I wouldn’t call it high end luxury. It’s not in the same ballpark as (most) Four Seasons, St Regis, or Ritz Carlton properties, but it’s also not in the same price tier. The way this hotel operates is actually what I prefer. Sometimes you just want to grab your own towel from the pool attendant and set up camp and you don’t need them to find you a spot and spread your towel out/hover over you.
It’s a fairly self-contained resort. It’s not enormous, but it actually has everything you would need or want on property. One casual restaurant (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), one signature restaurant, the poolbar, a spa, multiple shops, and a grab and go/coffee shop/ice cream parlor.
It’s within walking distance to Pass-a-Grille which I LOVED. It’s where we ended up going to dinner pretty much every night. We walked there and back on the beach one night and it’s about a mile. It’s also in the service area for Freebees (download the app for free rides!) which is the only way I want to travel now.
The Only Downside
Honestly, there’s not much of a downside, but my biggest complaint about the Don CeSar is that it’s in St Pete Beach ; ) I really did not love St Pete Beach at all. The first place we stayed (the Postcard Inn) was in the middle of the island and it was an insane spring break party scene (locals told us that area is party central all year long). And the main strip just seemed like the rundown part of any mid-sized town. Cell phone stores and 7 Elevens mixed in with tacky beach shops and the occasional restaurant. I will say…it gets progressively nicer the farther south you get on the island and the Don CeSar feels like it’s in it’s own little bubble. And you’ve got Pass-a-Grille right there. But it’s still just a tiny little beach town. It’s nice to get out and go to restaurants in the area even when you’re staying at a nice resort, and St Pete Beach is a little lacking in that area.
There’s not much within walking distance of the resort (it’s a good mile walk down to Pass-a-Grille), and overall there isn’t a great place anywhere on the island to hang out in the evenings besides bars and restaurants which are scattered around. There’s no central gathering place.
We didn’t have a car so we were a little limited, but if you do have a car, it’s a pretty quick drive to downtown St Petersburg (on the mainland) and there is a LOT going on there.
Pricing & Booking
Rooms start around $250/night during certain times of the year. There’s a $38 (+tax) per night resort fee (standard at most resorts these days) that covers things like wifi, bottled water in the room, beach chair and umbrella setup, paddleboard rentals, exercise classes, etc. There’s also a fee for parking ($24/day for self park and $31/day for valet).
Our stay during the beginning of April (high spring break season) was about $350/night with all fees and taxes included.
You can book directly with the Don CeSar here.