Discover Clearwater’s Historic Gem, the Very Beautiful Belleview Inn
Known as the White Queen of the Gulf, the Belleview Inn has been welcoming discerning guests for well over 100 years and is today lovelier than ever thanks to a multi-million dollar complete restoration.
The Belleview Inn is the oldest surviving grand hotel on the gulf coast and is adjacent to Florida’s very first golf course. Entering the hotel, you’ll be swept back in time to the gilded age of luxury-living amidst Tiffany windows, grand staircases, sparkling chandeliers, opulent furnishings, and attentive service. The inn’s Queen Anne gables and elegant white porches glisten in the sun just a short distance from the touristy buzz of Clearwater Beach. A stay at the Belleview Inn is an indulgent treat for fans of history and travelers looking for a bit of coastal elegance close to gulf beaches.
History of the Belleview Inn
The inn is welcoming guests again after being lovingly restored to its turn of the century elegance by a multi-year rejuvenation and restoration. Developers, JMC Communities, purchased the property and stepped in to save the iconic property from the wrecking balls. While they could not save the entire structure, which was at one time the largest wooden hotel in the world, they did save the original building and restored it as the gracious 35 room inn it is today.
The Belleview inn was originally built in 1897 by railroad tycoon, Henry Plant, to attract wealthy northerners to visit the gulf coast via his many rail lines and steamships. In all, Henry Plant built an empire to include railroads, steamships and 8 grand hotels along the gulf coast from Tampa to Ft. Myers. Mr. Plant was a true visionary and is considered to be largely responsible for the settlement and development of central and gulf-coast Florida. Soon the stately inn was welcoming Presidents, statesmen, sports celebrities, movie stars and high society families to experience the charms of southern Florida living. In addition to its bayfront setting, innovative sporting facilities included a bicycle stadium with 8 miles of crushed-shell riding trails, two Donald Ross-designed 18 hole golf courses, and an Olympic size swimming pool, where in 1937, Mr. (Fred) Rogers learned to swim at age 8. The Belleview Inn is the only surviving grand hotel on the gulf coast still welcoming guests today, and the chance to stay at this distinctive property should not be missed.
Staying At The Inn
We enjoyed a 2-night stay at the Belleview Inn in early November and found the hotel to be elegant but not stuffy, historic but not dated, beautifully furnished and thoughtfully designed. Our rooms were generous in size with very comfortable beds and furnishings, and every needed amenity. A Continental Breakfast of muffins, juice and fruit arrived at our door each morning in a charming picnic basket and coffee makers were supplied in the room. There was also a non-stocked refrigerator, so next time we come we’ll no doubt bring some refreshments along with us. There is a small cafe in the lobby with a limited menu and pre-packaged snack choices. You should be aware that there is no bar or restaurant at the inn, but just opposite the entrance is the exclusive Belleair Country Club where you can dine and charge meals and drinks to your room at the inn.
Without a doubt, the history tour of the inn led by resident historian, Joey Vars, was the highlight of our stay! Joey brought the past glory of the hotel to life as he related fascinating facts and uproarious tales about happenings at the inn. Through his narration, we met railroad magnate Henry Plant, his son Morton, and femme fatale – Maisie, Morton’s third flirtatious wife! As we strolled the halls, 120 years of Belleview history was revealed, from visits by Marilyn Monroe, Joe Dimaggio and Babe Ruth, 5 Presidents, and even a King. Joey introduced us to the wonderful works of art done by local artist Christopher Stills which depict life at the inn in years gone by. We learned about the structure of the building itself, decades of expansion and new ownership, and ultimately its decline and recent restoration and current management by the exclusive Opal Collection Hotels – fascinating all. The history room just off the lobby is a treasure trove of artifacts and has an interesting movie about the inn for viewing. Daily History Tours are conducted at the inn at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm and Joey has so many stories to share that no two tours are the same!
Relaxing at the expansive and elegant swimming pool is a treat, and for those wanting more exercise, there is a workout room and complimentary bicycles are available to go exploring. For a longer ride, the Pinellas Trail is accessible nearby. For a special activity, book a round of golf at the private Belleair Country Club on one of their two oceanfront Donald Ross-designed courses. Tee times can be requested through the inn two weeks in advance of your stay.
Each evening at the golden hour, gather in the lobby for a champagne toast as the sun sets over the gulf. On Saturday nights enjoy live entertainment in the lobby from 5 to 9:00 pm, including a performance of the inn’s very own waltz, composed for the inn when it had a grand ballroom for dancing. Nibble on meats and cheeses as you enjoy a cocktail in Morton’s Reading Room. Several times a year the inn hosts gala wine dinners in the Tiffany Room, catered by the chefs at the inn’s sister property, The Sandpearl Resort.
Often considered to be the top beach in America, the powdery white sands of Clearwater Beach are just 5 miles away across the causeway bridge. The inn’s sister property, The Sandpearl Resort, is located right on the beach and offers guests of the inn free valet parking and use of beach chairs, towels and umbrella. Clearwater beach offers miles of nonstop beach fun from boating excursions, aquariums, dolphin adventures, and water sports galore. We set sail at sunset aboard Starlite’s Calypso Queen dinner cruise and had a great time.
To go exploring without the worry of driving and parking, we recommend the hop on and off Jolley Trolley, which runs all day and late into the evening every day of the week. For just $5 per adult ($2.50 for seniors) per day, you can explore gulf coast towns from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs at your leisure – what a deal!
Art lovers should not miss the chance to see the world-class art museums in nearby St. Petersburg. From whimsical glass works by Dale Chihuly; to the surreal art of Salvador Dali, to art from America’s West at The James, to period collections at the Fine Arts Museum, plus lively street-art murals, St. Petersburg has it all.
Restaurants, bistros, bars and snack shacks abound! You will have no trouble finding one to suit your tastes. We had a delicious dinner at Ceasar’s At The Beach with a casual atmosphere and exceptional Italian cuisine. For those wanting more for breakfast than the continental presentation at the inn, you can walk across the drive to the Belleair Country Club. BUT, for an incredible breakfast experience, we urge you to try the incomparable Wildflower Cafe.
This is a breakfast nirvana type of place with Mimosa’s and imaginative menu selections galore – all homemade. It’s located just a few hundred yards away from the inn’s entrance road on Harrison St and is well worth seeking out. I tried the Mile High Bourbon Pecan French Toast – delish!
So the next time you’re looking for a sophisticated getaway along Florida’s gulf coast, think no further than the elegant Belleview Inn. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for the gilded age leisure life near Clearwater Beach.