There's no substitute for a grand old hotel, preferably one that predates the Great Depression, appoints its public rooms with senatorial gravitas, and keeps a fleet of comfortable chairs on its veranda. This list is far from comprehensive (for a longer list of likely suspects, there's Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org), but these are places we've checked out in the last few years.
Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park: Where once stood a Miwok village in Yosemite Valley, the Ahwahnee's stacked boulders and heavy beams serve park visitors who carry fat wallets and plan well ahead. (Reservations for the 99 hotel rooms and 24 cottages disappear fast.) For a glimpse of its grand public rooms, reserve a meal or just walk through. Info: (801) 559-4884, http://www.yosemitepark.com/Accommodations_TheAhwahnee.aspx.
Benbow Inn, Garberville, Calif.: Set in the middle of redwood country at the edge of the Eel River, this 1926 hotel ($99-$605 a night) might be a bit younger and smaller than others on this list, but as its Tudor design and dignified lobby signal, it aims high, with a fancy tea service, an upscale restaurant, a nine-hole golf course next door and a decanter of sherry in every bedroom. It's a tempting stop on your drive to Oregon. Info: (800) 355-3301, http://www.benbowinn.com.
Hay-Adams, Washington, D.C. Opened in 1928, it stands across Lafayette Square from the White House with 245 rooms and suites. It closed over the summer for elevator improvement and roof enhancements but is expected to reopen this month. Info: (800) 853-6807, http://www.hayadams.com.
Hotel del Coronado, Coronado, Calif.: The grande dame of all California lodgings. Built in 1888; fronted by a long, wide beach; topped by red Victorian turrets; celebrated by Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot," the Del abides. Its 679 guestrooms, 78 cottages and villas don't come cheap, and if you need more space, forget the main building and head for the newer Ocean Towers and California Cabanas. Rates start about $335 a night. Info: (800) 468-3533, http://www.hoteldel.com.
Langham Huntington, Pasadena: Built in 1906 and essentially rebuilt in 1991, this dowager hotel stands on 23 acres of manicured grounds. If my August stay is a fair indication, it has slipped since its days (1991-2007) as a Ritz-Carlton (and celebrated chef Michael Voltaggio has left, with the Dining Room to reopen as the Royce on Oct. 22 under chef David Feau), but it's more affordable now (as little as $209 a night), the old painted bridge and pool are still fun, the afternoon tea and public rooms are a treat, the 380 rooms are stately, the spa is next door. Info: (626) 568-3900, http://www.pasadena.langhamhotels.com.
Mission Inn, Riverside: Begun as a 12-room adobe boarding house in 1876, this institution morphed into a Mission-style wonderland as it grew from 1902 to 1931. Even when it isn't dolled up for Christmas, the courtyards, fountains, tilework and three restaurants make this 239-room resort a marvel. Rates begin at $169, less with an AAA or AARP membership. Info: (951) 784-0300, http://www.missioninn.com.
Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.: The mother of all park lodges, built in a rustic style of logs and shingles in 1904. Massive fireplace in a jaw-dropping lobby. The oldest guest rooms can be tiny and some share a toilet, but newer wings have more spacious units. Typically open early May through mid-October. Rates from $96 to $502 a night. Info: (866) 439-7375; http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
The Peabody, Memphis, Tenn.: It's best known for the promenade of ducks between the lobby fountain and the elevator (at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily), but even when the ducks are in their upstairs penthouse, the Peabody lobby feels like the center of Southern civilization. The Italian Renaissance building went up in 1925, and rates for the 464 rooms start about $260 a night. It's a short walk to the live music of Beale Street, a short drive to Graceland and the widely admired National Civil Rights Museum. Info: (901) 529-4000, http://www.peabodymemphis.com.
The Sagamore, Bolton Landing, N.Y.: They don't get any grander, and in summer you can't beat the locale — its own 70-acre island. (It closes in winter.) Opened in 1883 and thrice rebuilt in the next 50 years, this 381-room family-friendly retreat has had many ups and downs. It's been in upgrade mode lately and now sports indoor and outdoor pools, with an 18-hole miniature golf course coming. Summer rates from $269 to $959 a night, with deep discounts in spring and fall. Info: (800) 358-3585, http://www.thesagamore.com.
Westin St. Francis, San Francisco: With its unassailable location on Union Square, snazzy public spaces, Michael Mina restaurant (and the signature 1907 grandfather clock in the Powell Street lobby), the St. Francis commands attention and is a favorite of high-powered conventions and conferences. It first went up in 1904 (then much of it came down in the 1906 earthquake and fire) and has had many expansions and face-lifts. The oldest part includes 653 rooms and suites; the modern tower, 601 more units. Rates begin at $289 in high season and drop to as low as $199 when occupancy falls. Info: (800) 937-8461; http://www.westinstfrancis.com.