Depending on whether you lived on the East Coast or West Coast in the Mid-Century boom years after World War II, you had a different favorite vacation destination. California-dreamers living in towns like Palm Springs jetted down to Acapulco to rub shoulders with the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor. If you lived in New York, then Havana was your vacation destination of choice. Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and, of course, Frank Sinatra loved it, too. They were partying and gambling late into the night at places like the legendary Tropicana.
Living in Chicago, Midwesterners got the best of both worlds. Havana didn't seem too far away, and a flight to Acapulco was only a few hours further. For the rising middle class in their fashionable homes filled with stylish mid-century design, saving up for a trip to one of the hottest destinations was well worth the wait. While these towns have fallen out of fashion for today's travelers, looking back, we can see why they were the best. So put on your sparkling Star Wall pendant, pack your bags, and let’s go!
Sunny Days in Acapulco
America's favorite beaches in the 1950s were not the sunny shores of Florida, but the dazzling sands of Mexico. European royals and Hollywood A-listers made it famous, and Americans followed in droves in the postwar years. The idyllic beach towns along the Acapulco coast boasted incredible cliffs and breathtaking sunsets. And the warm and welcoming locals played mariachi music in traditional costumes in markets and plazas all night long.
No trip to Acapulco was complete without a visit to the stunning cliffs of La Quebrada. The legendary cliff divers performed incredible feats of daring and bravado, fearlessly flinging themselves 135ft from the cliff-edge into the churning Pacific Ocean below. We would even argue that it is La Quebrada, not Elvis, who was the star of the 1963 box-office hit, Fun in Acapulco. While Elvis' character, Mike, eventually dives the cliffs (and wins the heart of Ursula Andress), Elvis, himself, never made it there. A stunt double performed the death-defying feat, but Elvis always gets the girl!
Steamy Nights in Havana
Americans also flocked to Havana in the 1940s and 50s. The legendary Tropicana cabaret officially opened for New Year's Eve, 1939, and the appeal of the glitz, glamour, and Cuban sensuality exploded over the next twenty years. Bolstered in part by American mobsters like Meyer Lansky, the casinos and clubs of Havana hosted celebrities, musicians, athletes, and politicians until the moment the music just-as-suddenly stopped on New Year's Eve, 1959.
Havana was the place to go for steamy music and dancing. Men were sophisticated, and women were glamorous. We would definitely have worn all our diamonds!
The beaches outside of town provided plenty of space to see and be seen. In the casinos, the entertainment was famous for being over-the-top and exotic, and Americans stepped right up and let loose. There was a sense of freedom and extravagance in Havana that continues, in some ways, in Miami and Las Vegas, but really nothing compares to the original!