Some historical insight from CN Traveler:
"Sometime in the 1970s Penang became justly famous for its beaches, and as a result, a great number of resorts and hotels now clutter its shores. But it was the old city, Georgetown, with its fabulous mix of ethnic and national names, that drew me in. It has all the fragrant foreign density of an Asian city but without the overpowering press that can sometimes have one going back to hide in an air-conditioned room. If the waterfront hotels are mostly in the gruesome international style, in the city one can find, as in very few other places, gorgeous streets of old south Chinese shophouses, distinguished here by those five-foot-wide colonnades ("five-foot ways") that Stamford Raffles ruled should provide shade and shelter from the monsoon, as well as an impressive array of south Indian Muslim buildings (mosques, shrines, domestic structures) and mansions reflecting an energetic and charming eclecticism."
Alas, Penang beaches are no more due to rampant overdevelopment, erosian and pollution. Most tourists don't even stop there any more -- if they want beaches they would probably go to Langkawi. Not surprisingly, CN recommends The Eastern & Oriental Hotel - one of these days we might be able to afford it. For an overview of our most recent hotel stay in Penang, see here.