I first became obsessed with pink hotels at the age of eight. That year, two things happened. The first is that I read a 1959 children’s book by Carol Ryrie Brink, The Pink Motel. It’s the story of a Wisconsin family that inherits a Florida inn—pink, of course—filled with eccentric, magical, and occasionally criminal guests. I loved it. Then, that same spring, we made our first visit to a real-life version: the Don CeSar, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Of course, the Don CeSar (rooms from $280) is on a much larger scale—it’s not known as the Pink Palace for nothing. An imposing Deco pile, the Don CeSar is fabulous and fancy and suggests Palm Beach Story–style screwball shenanigans. It was my first experience of a fancy hotel, and I was enchanted: by the fresh juice, the pink beach umbrellas, the lobby ashtrays in which the sand was magically debossed with the shape of a scallop shell. (It was the ’80s.) Somehow, the two things coalesced for me, and between those two places, one real and one imagined, an idea was firmly planted in my child’s brain: The best hotels are pink hotels.
As a grown-up, I still secretly feel this way. While I’ve enjoyed stays in hotels of all hues, there’s something about pink that suggests effervescent glamour and just a dash of silliness. A pink hotel, by its very nature, does not take itself too seriously. And as a result, neither do you.
Of course, the color pink is still enjoying its long millennial moment, in which a certain light shade has come to signal a new breed of half-ironic, youthful female empowerment. Pink was originally a color for boys—a diluted version of the masculine red—and became feminine only in the late 19th century. Because it’s such a universally flattering hue, it has lent itself to very different guises: suggestive in portraits of Lady Hamilton, but sweet on a child of the same era. In the 20th century, pink signaled vulgar girlishness in Mamie Eisenhower, Barbara Cartland, and Jayne Mansfield, but sophistication when co-opted by Schiaparelli, Babe Paley, and Jackie Kennedy.
Architecturally, pink has been used since before London’s rosy, highly Instagrammable Sketch restaurant was a glimmer in designer India Mahdavi’s eye. Jaipur’s Pink City and the adobes of the American Southwest take their coloration from their regions’ native pink stone. But as a decorative choice, pink has always been a surprisingly popular— if bold—choice. In the 18th century, all things pink were the rage in elite circles—a trend started in part by King Louis XV’s influential mistress, Madame de Pompadour—and houses were no exception. From Buenos Aires’s Casa Rosada to Moscow’s Ostankino Palace to Macao, aristocrats around the world were eager to show their bona fides by choosing a striking color that was then the sole domain of the rich.
Some of these luxe connotations must surely have survived into the 20th century, when pink hotels started to proliferate. Honolulu’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel (rooms from $385), known famously as Big Pink; the Don CeSar; the Beverly Hills Hotel (rooms from $600); the Hamilton Princess (rooms from $540), in Bermuda; and the Broadmoor (rooms from $325), in Colorado Springs, were all built within a few decades. Part of the reason is clear: Like a sunset or the interior of a seashell, a pink hotel simply looks stunning when combined with blue ocean, white beaches, and green palm trees. And all these flesh-colored pleasure palaces lying around like bathing beauties? Not-so-subliminally sexy.
But never louche! Because the joy of a pink hotel is that it can be both innocent and alluring. Like vacation itself, it means different things to different guests, all of them good. To arrive at a pink hotel is to immediately enter a champagne-fizzy universe where boring old white and stodgy old brick somehow put on summer mufti.
When I looked at a wish list I’d recently made of hotels I wanted to visit, I noticed several of them—the majestic, mountainside Mirador in Chihuahua, Mexico (rooms from $185) and the venerable Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town (rooms from $435)—had something in common: they were unapologetically pink. Just looking at photos of them made me happy, and I know the moment I pull up in front of one of them, I’ll be leaving real life and entering a dream. But there’s one place I have to revisit first: the Don CeSar, where it’s never winter and you never, ever grow up.