Your groups can dine and tour where presidents and celebrities stay

Maybe you’re accustomed to booking your groups into comfortable, clean, moderate-priced hotels, but occasionally wouldn’t you like to give them a taste of a really top property? A historic hotel where presidents and movie stars have stayed over the years? Well, you can. And you don’t have to sleep at the property – perhaps just have a meal there.

Many hotels with room rates of $500 a night and up may offer dining-only opportunities if your group is well-behaved, interested in the hotel’s rich history, and dressed appropriately.  In fact, sometimes they might even have a staff member take your group through the property, weaving the history through the walk-around.

Here are a few properties I’ve enjoyed through the years for lunch or afternoon tea (both of which are less expensive than dinner):

Hotel Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite Park

Just enjoying the room with its 34-foot-high pillars, floor-to-ceiling windows, chandeliers, linens and china is reason enough. Add a giant stone fireplace, massive hand-stenciled beams, rich tapestries and stained glass and the view completes the experience. Open for lunch daily except Sunday (when they offer a late brunch instead). If you opt for dinner, note the stipulated dress code.

Plaza Hotel, New York City

If you ever read children’s books from the Eloise series, you may remember the little girl who lived at the Plaza, overlooking Central Park. The Palm Court with its stained glass ceiling is the place to be for afternoon tea. It has been the setting for many movies such as The Way We Were, Scent of a Woman, The Great Gatsby and episodes of TV shows The Sopranos and Seinfeld. A designated National Historic Landmark.

Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada

Now a Fairmont hotel, this lovely property in the Rockies was built in 1887/88 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. One of Canada’s grand railway hotels, it is built in Scottish Baronial style and is known for its spectacular setting in Banff National Park and near thermal springs.

Hotel Del Coronado, near San Diego

Popularly known as “The Del,” this luxury beachfront hotel lies in the town of Coronado, just across the bay from San Diego.  It opened in 1888 as the world’s largest resort hotel, all wood in Victorian style and the first hotel to feature electric lighting throughout. Its guest list reads like a “who’s who,” from Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth and Oprah Winfrey to Madonna, Rudolph Valentino and Clark Gable, not to mention U.S. presidents. It made a name for itself during wartime by replacing its lawns with victory gardens.

San Francisco Sheraton Palace

Originally built in 1875, it was the largest, most luxurious and costly hotel in the world. After the 1906 earthquake, it took 44 months to rebuild it into the Beaux Arts gem it is today. Presidents Taft, Harding, Wilson, Roosevelt and Clinton as well as John D. Rockefeller, J.P.Morgan and Oscar Wilde made it their headquarters when in town. Its Garden Court is still “the” place to be.

Singapore Raffles

This is the home of the “Long Bar,” where the cocktail Singapore Sling was invented. The bar was frequently patronized by the literati including Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham. Today the arcade houses upscale shops such as Louis Vuitton and Tiffany as well as the Raffles Hotel Museum.

Meurice Hotel, Paris

My all-out favorite Paris hotel because I was once “stranded” there for three days courtesy of Air France when they lost my luggage. I slept in the hotel’s cozy white bathrobes and I enjoyed Paris daily in my one-and-only black wool traveling suit that my mother always insisted every woman should have in her wardrobe. I later was told I could have enjoyed their renowned restaurant gratis also but nobody told me until checkout.

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