America’s Most Famous Hotels

America’s Most Famous Hotels

BY Matt Meltzer | October 7, 2021

The definition of fame changed over the past decade or so. Whereas once being famous meant reaching the top of your field in sports, arts, business, or politics, now it can mean giving makeup tips on a cell phone video and waiting for the likes to roll in. For people, anyway. Since hotels can’t make TikToks they need something more to achieve everlasting fame: history; celebrities; maybe a ghost walking around. And throughout America, some hotels have that in abundance. Here are the most famous hotels in America, and why some define fame even 100 years after opening.

The Plaza – New York, N.Y.

New York City – The intersection of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Photo via Shutterstock.

The Big Apple isn’t exactly lacking for iconic places to stay, with names like the Waldorf-Astoria, Essex House, and Ritz-Carlton popping up in everything from TV backdrops to classic films. But no NYC hotel is as recognizable as the venerable Plaza, where Kevin McAllister once asked Donald Trump for directions, and Roger Thornhill took up residence before getting kidnapped in “North by Northwest.” It’s still as grand as ever, complete with a food hall from noted chef Todd English, and fully renovated rooms from just over a decade ago. No address in the city has more cache than the Plaza, and if you can afford the price tag it’s like staying in your own New York fairy tale.

Fontainebleau – Miami Beach, Fla.

Miami Beach – The beautiful pool area of Florida’s historic art deco Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. Photo via Shutterstock.

If you’re on vacation in Miami and didn’t snap a picture from the famous Fontainebleau, were you ever really in Miami? The glam pool deck that was once only visible via a famous Collins Ave. mural has been a celebrity hangout since the days of the Rat Pack, and even made an appearance in the 1983 cult classic “Scarface.” If Tony Montana and Frank Sinatra don’t make your hotel a legend, the hottest club in Miami will. And with LIV, the Fontainebleau immediately became the “it” spot for a whole new generation of celebrities. Add in new restaurants from Michael Mina and Scott Conant, and you’ve got fame inside and out.

Chateau Marmont – Los Angeles

Los Angeles – The historic Chateau Marmont hotel on the famous Sunset Strip, which opened in 1929 and has welcomed many legendary celebrity guests and has been the site of several movies. Photo via Shutterstock.

With a major tip of the cap the Liz Taylor’s Honeymoon hideaway at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Chateau Marmont is the home of Hollywood legends. Before cell phones forced celebs into seclusion, it was the place to catch your favorite movie stars enjoying a drink or six.  Lindsay Lohan allegedly ran up a half-million dollar bill here too, which if you’ve ever stopped in for a cocktail actually doesn’t seem that hard. John Bonham once drove a motorcycle through the lobby. Jim Morrison might have jumped off the roof. John Belushi tragically OD’d inside. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Stay in one of the trademark bungalows, and use your imagination for the rest.

Grand Hotel – Mackinac Island, Mich.

Mackinac Island, Michigan – Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. The hotel was built in 1887 and designated as a State Historical Building. Photo via Shutterstock.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is a window into America’s gilded age grandeur. Its covered porch – the longest in the world – has stood as a symbol of summertime leisure for decades, and the place has been a vacation getaway for everyone from Mark Twain to Kid Rock. It gained its big screen fame in the 1980 hit “Somewhere in Time,” a Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymore film about a man traveling back in time for a second chance at true love. It only seems appropriate in a hotel that, despite a major renovation and sparkling new pool deck this year, still feels like a trip back to a bygone era.

Hotel del Coronado – San Diego, Calif.

Coronado, California – The courtyard and main building of the Hotel del Coronado. This historic beachfront hotel, built in 1888, was formerly the largest resort hotel in the world. Photo via Shutterstock.

The unmistakable white turrets and red roof of “The Del” are as much a part of the American leisure-time landscape as Disneyworld and the Vegas strip. The San Diego icon dates back to 1888, and its proximity to Hollywood has made it a favorite weekend escape for stars from Charlie Chaplin to Madonna. The sprawling resort is the kind of place you can check in and never want to leave, which may have been what inspired its most famous guest to still haunt the place 100 years later. Despite being the backdrop for “Some Like it Hot,” The Del still gained its greatest fame as home of “The Beautiful Stranger,” the ghost of Kate Morgan who checked-in in 1892 and reportedly still roams the halls.

The Stanley Hotel – Estes Park, Colo.

Estes Park, Colorado – The historic Stanley Hotel is at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The hotel was made famous by its role in the 1980 horror film The Shining. Photo via Shutterstock.

While a lot of hotels on this list boast centuries of history, scores of movie sets, and hundreds of celebrity guests, The Stanley really only has one claim to fame. But when you’ve got a creepy hallway of twin little girls, a bar manned by a ghost, and a hedge maze ideal for homicidal rampages, what else do you need? The Stanley — the hotel which inspired the infamous Overlook Inn from Stephen King’s “The Shining” — actually had none of those until it built a maze in 2015. But it still draws visitors the world over, nearly all of which bang on their bathroom doors yelling, “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” Interestingly, the famous Jack Nicholson movie was filmed at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, so while The Stanley might be the real-life Overlook, it looks nothing like what you might imagine.

The Bellagio – Las Vegas, Nev.

Las Vegas – Musical fountains at Bellagio Hotel & Casino on August 14, 2012 in Las Vegas. The Bellagio opened October 15, 1998, it was the most expensive hotel ever built at US$1.6 bn. Photo via Shutterstock.

In a city filled with famous sights, standing out as the most famous is tough. But while visions of the Great Pyramid, Eiffel tower, New York Skyline, and exploding volcano all dot the Vegas strip, the dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio are the only sight that is uniquely Vegas. The iconic aquatic performance might be enough to put the Bellagio a cut above, but what really drove it into the stratosphere of fame was its place as the backdrop for “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Oceans Thirteen.” Remember, though, these are movies, friends. And in real-life, ripping the place off is a terrible idea, even if you have assembled a global team of criminal geniuses. 

The Watergate Hotel – Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. – The Watergate Complex in Foggy Bottom. The complex became well known in the wake of the Watergate Scandal which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Photo via Shutterstock.

Imagine if the 1972 Democratic National Committee headquarters had been at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel instead. Would “flower” be the moniker to tag controversies with a whole wiki page tracking all the dust-ups? Who knows, but the Watergate is the only hotel in America that has actually become part of the language, as any scandal since 1974 now ends its name with “gate.” Though it’s known the world over for its role in the 1972 break-in that ultimately cost Richard Nixon his job, the Watergate is a fine luxury property set right on the banks of the Potomac. It reopened in 2016 as a five-star hotel complete with an entire room devoted to the scandal, and lets you stay in a piece of American history.

 The Drake – Chicago, Il.

Chicago – The Drake Hotel illuminated in morning fog with skyline in background. Photo via Shutterstock.

The Windy City is another place choc full of famous hotels, but none combine celebrity, film, and ghosts like The Drake. The spot has hosted Oprah Winfrey, Princess Diana, and even Roger Ebert’s wedding. Before then, it was a sort of local epicenter for Chicago politics and media, where the often-corrupt politicians and the reporters who hounded them drank side by side. It’s also appeared in films like ”Risky Business” and “Mission: Impossible.” But even if you’re not a fan of Tom Cruise movies, you can appreciate The Drake’s haunted legacy, as guests still report seeing the mysterious “Lady in Red” over 100 years after she went missing.