It’s an essential element of any holiday of course, but rarely does the spot where we plan to sleep entirely determine where we go.
That’s not the case with these 15 wacky hotels, lodges and B&Bs. America’s quirkiest, most eccentric accommodations, they are all destinations in their own right.
Dog Bark Park Inn – Cottonwood, Idaho
In three words… Creative eccentricity unleashed
What’s the story? After 24 years as a building contractor Dennis Sullivan fancied a new challenge. So he started hand-carving wood with a knife. He discovered he’d been harbouring a bit of talent, and quickly progressed to using saws and chainsaws.
By 1985, the lifetime dog lover was mixing two of his big passions and carving canines full-time. In the early 90s he took things to what was then, for him, an extreme, fashioning a 12-foot tall beagle named Toby.
Having won plaudits for his majestic mutt at home, Sullivan took Toby on the road (or vice versa, we’re not quite sure), where he proved a huge hit at arts and crafts shows.
At one of those shows in 1995, Sullivan met and fell in love with Frances Conklin. A romantic and incredibly prolific creative partnership was born. To date, they estimate they’ve created more than 35,000 dog carvings together!
It seems apt that their biggest is another giant beagle. At 35-foot tall, Sweet Willy is an eye-catching B&B in the finest traditions of bizarre American roadside curiosities.
If heading along Highway 95 to Moscow (Moscow, Idaho that is), you’d be barking mad not to drop by (much like a dog with its favourite bone, we couldn’t leave that pun alone).
How big is it? There’s a queen-size bedroom in Sweet Willy’s body, and two twin foldout futons in its head (loft-style). Needles to say, there’s a strong canine theme running throughout, including several of the married couple’s smaller creations. Dogs are welcome.
How much is it to stay? $98 (about £64) per night based on two sharing – includes breakfast.
Jules Undersea Lodge – Key Largo, Florida
In three words… Underwater time capsule
What’s the story? In the mid-1980s two leading aquanauts – that’s underwater scientists/explorers to you and I – decided to turn their retired submarine research lab into the world’s first underwater hotel.
Inadvertently, (we’re sure this wasn’t part of the plan), they’d setup a 1980s time capsule. In the hotel’s near 30-year submerged life, the décor hasn’t changed once (the pics say it all).
During its scientific days the lodge sat off the coast of Puerto Rico. These days it’s parked at the bottom of the equally salubrious Emerald Lagoon in Key Largo.
The scuba dive-friendly waters of the tropical mangrove are home to angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, and snappers.
Diving isn’t just an optional activity here. It’s a prerequisite for any visit. In what must be one of the most technical checking-in processes in the world, visitors must dive 21 feet below the lagoon’s surface to enter the lodge.
Though guests may feel a certain sense of detachment from the outside world, they aren’t left to fend for themselves – a control centre connected by umbilical cord delivers and monitors fresh air, power, water and communications 24/7.
How big is it? The lodge is configured into three compartments. A 10-by-20-foot wet room sits in the middle, flanked by a living chamber on either side.
The wet room contains an open mini swimming pool-like entrance (the pressurised atmosphere prevents water from the opening flooding the entire lodge), a shower cubicle and a toilet.
One living chamber is divided into two-eight-by-10-foot bedrooms. Each has a double bed and a single pull down berth, refrigerator, sink, intercom, telephone, and a built-in “entertainment centre” with a VCR/DVD and stereo sound system.
The other eight-by-20-foot serves as a common room with WiFi, a microwave, a kitchen sink, a TV (with VCR and DVD), stereo and couches. Each room has a huge (by submarine standards anyway) 42-inch window. Each bedroom has space for two, though the lodge can accommodate up to six.
How much is it to stay? $800 (about £523) per night based on two sharing – includes pizza delivery from Tower of Pizza (yes, you did read that right), breakfast and as many scuba dive tanks as you can breath your way through.
Vision Quest Ranch B&B – Salinas, California
In three words… Serengeti SoCal-style
What’s the story? In 1985, Charlie Sammut was working as a cop. With one eye on getting back in touch with his interest in animals (he’d gone to college planning to become a vet), and the other on getting some extra dough, he bought a local kennels.
A year later, he was compelled to adopt his first “exotic” animal – an illegally held cougar he’d found while on duty. In his own words, this was when his hobby got “way out of hand”.
Fast-forward almost two decades, and Sammut is the guardian of more than 100 exotic creatures, ranging from spiders to African elephants.
The kennels are long gone. Today he has a ranch. Vision Quest is part animal sanctuary, part captive breeding programme, and part acting school. Sammut trains many of his charges for film and television appearances.
A large section of the Salinas Valley ranch is given over to elephant, cheetah and giraffe enclosures. Within them are visitor bungalows, which the animals are far from shy about visiting.
How big is it? There are eight African tent-style bungalows. Each has canvas walls, a wooden veranda and a wooden roof. Inside the décor sticks close to the African safari theme, though things are perhaps a bit more comfortable and chic than they would be on a roving camp on the Serengeti.
How much is it to stay? $290 (approximately £189) per night based on two sharing – includes a continental delivered to your bungalow by elephant. Each afternoon, guests have the chance to shadow the ranch’s trainers as they see to their animals.
Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast – near Mesa Verde National Monument, New Mexico
In three words… Casa Fred Flintstone
What’s the story? The year was 1980 (what was it about that decade that made so many people build such quirky places? We digress…) and New Mexico resident geologist Bruce Black was in the market for a new office.
He decided that a 280-foot high sandstone cliff face – formed by the La Plata River over several millennia – would make a great location for it. Not on top, you understand, but inside the cliff itself.
Over the next 16 years he and his son, Bruce Black Junior, blasted, drilled and carved a massive cave 70 feet beneath the surface, adding ventilation, electrical connection and a chimney.
At the end they realised their creation could be a nice place to live, rather than just workspace. A year later, and they were successfully hiring it out as a B&B.
Be advised: getting to the cave and accessing it, is as much of an adventure as sleeping in it.
How big is it? In all, there’s around 1,650 square foot of open-plan subterranean space (it’s not the most private of spaces). The harshness of the jagged rock walls is softened somewhat by the lush carpeting throughout.
There’s one double bedroom, a kitchen, lounge with sofas, a cascading waterfall-style shower, a flagstone hot tub all around a large central sandstone pillar. There are also two fenced balconies overlooking the La Plata River valley and the wider Four Corners region.
To the west you can see Shiprock and the Chuska mountains on the Navajo Indian reservation in northwest New Mexico. To the west and northwest you see the Carrizo Mountains in northeastern Arizona. To the northwest you can see the Ute Mountains and to the North is the snow capped La Plata and San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Be sure to bring books and DVDs, as the TV only gets two local stations.
How much is it to stay? $260 (about £170) per night – includes breakfast.
Earthship Biotecture, Phoenix Earthship – Taos, New Mexico
In three words… Treehugger’s desert retreat
What’s the story? For more than 35 years, architect Michael E. Reynolds has been a man on an environmental mission. Desperate to slow down and ultimately reverse the negative impact humans have had on the Earth, Reynolds has dedicated his career to designing, building and advocating sustainable homes.
Earthships are the culmination of his life’s work. Each is constructed from recycled materials, employs thermal dynamics to moderate temperature, draws power from solar and wind energy and recycles harvested rain and snow water.
At his HQ in Taos, New Mexico (an hour-and-a-half drive from Santa Fe), Reynolds has constructed several Earthships, each an evolution in his sustainable living philosophy. Of the six available to rent today, the Phoenix is undoubtedly the most handsome.
How big is it? The Phoenix Earthship has three king bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, living and dining room, “jungle” greenhouse, fish pond, fireplace, WiFi and TV with Netflix.
How much is it to stay? $340 (about £222) per night based on six sharing. Good news if you end up falling in love with the place – it’s for sale at $1.5 million (a mere £981,868).
Pod Up North – Sumach Lake, Wisconsin
In three words… Unidentified grounded object
What’s the story? Head into the woods beside Sumach Lake near Woodruff and you’re sure of a big surprise. A retro flying saucer shaped surprise to be more precise.
Pod Up North is a Futuro House – a UFO-style home designed by Finish Architect Matti Suuronen. A vision of the future, delivered all the way from 1968, it’s a kitsch dwelling very much of this world.
There are thought to be 16 in the country (96 in the world), and this is the only one available to rent in the U.S.
How big is it? At around 11 foot high and 26 feet across, the “house” does a good job of recreating the kind of cramped conditions real astronauts experience in space.
Squeezed inside is a small bedroom with one bed, a kitchenette, bathroom and living space with a central fireplace. Though small, the bed can fit two people – as long as they’re willing to snuggle.
How much is it to stay? $85 (approx £55) per night. Three-night and seven-night minimum stays apply at different times of the year.
Kennedy School – Portland, Oregon
In three words… Extracurricular activities encouraged
What’s the story? For 60 years The Kennedy School taught the elementary kids of the Portland’s fringe Northeast neighbourhood the three Rs. Then in 1975, declining enrolment and disrepair forced its closure.
The classrooms and halls lay silent for 22 years until brother restaurateurs and brewers Mike and Brian McMenamin won the rights to convert the building into a hotel.
As with their other quirky conversations, the McMenamins were careful to maintain much of the building’s original character and features. Many of the classrooms-turned-guestrooms here have their original chalkboard and cloakroom.
How big is it? There are 57 guestrooms. For the full Kennedy experience, request one of the old classrooms in the main school building.
The scholastic hotel has a restaurant, five bars, a cinema, soaking pool and even its own brewery (housed in what was the girls’ restroom).
How much is it to stay? King room is $160 (£104) per night, and a queen is $150 (£98) per night (both prices based on double occupancy) – includes complimentary use of the soaking pool and free admission to the cinema.
Rolling Huts – Methow Valley, Washington
In three words… Back to basics
What’s the story? This stretch of the Methow Valley used to be an RV camp. When the current owners took over in the mid-2000s they felt this beautiful spot was too special to simply be a parking space for hulking great mobile homes.
That decision left them with a conundrum. They still needed space to host friends and family. But at the same time they didn’t want any development to spoil their beautiful meadow.
They called in renowned Seattle-based architect Tom Kundig and asked him to come with something low-tech and low-impact.
Kundig gave them a “herd” of six steel and wood boxes. Their raw and minimalist look enabling them to blend sympathetically with the valley, regardless of the season.
Each hut looks towards the mountains and away from other huts. And because they are all raised above the ground, they don’t feel like an interruption to the natural flow of the land.
The darling of the architectural community in 2009, his design won a slew of prestigious domestic awards.
How big is it? The six identical huts have 200 square feet of inside space and 240 square feet of covered outdoor deck space. Each has a small refrigerator, microwave, fireplace and Wi-Fi.
The “sleeping platform” (mats are provided but guests are expected to bring sleeping bags) has space for two people, while the furniture in the living area can be reconfigured to sleep two more. Each hut has an adjacent portable toilet. Full bathrooms and showers are housed in the centrally located barn a short distance away.
How much is it to stay? $155 (£101) per night based on two sharing.
Wigwam Village Inn #2 – Cave City, Kentucky
In three words… Nomadic native knock off
What’s the story? It’s said Frank A. Redford developed his deep fascination for Native American culture during a childhood visit to a Sioux reservation in Dakota.
In 1933, after several years travelling and collecting indigenous relics, he was in dire need of space to house an extensive hoard. So he built himself a large teepee-shaped building in his native Horse Cave, Kentucky.
His teepee received a lot of attention, attention that he was keen to cash in on. A year later, Redford added a group of teepee-shaped cabins, all in the hope of enticing some of America’s growing legion of road-going travellers to stay the night.
He called the place Wigwam Village – a strong distaste for the word teepee seemingly outdoing any conscionable obligation to cultural accuracy (wigwam is often inaccurately interchanged with teepee).
His novelty lodgings were a great success, so in 1937 he patented his replica teepee design, closed the Wigwam Village and opened another larger version in Cave City, near Mammoth Cave national park. Wigwam Village Inn #2 is that very place.
Five other wigwam villages were built in the south and southwestern United States by the early 1950s.
How big is it? Wigwam Village Inn has 15 guest room teepees, all arranged in a semi circle around a grassy common area. Made from concrete and steel, each is 14 feet in diameter and 32 feet tall.
They consist of a main room, which contains one or two beds, cable TV and a window mounted air conditioner, and a small bathroom with sink, shower and toilet.
Ten have one double bed and the other five have two double beds. Remarkably, they contain the original (partly refurbished) cane-and-hickory furnishings.
Beside each is a paved pad to accommodate one car.
The main 52-foot-high wigwam originally housed a restaurant. Now it’s a reception and gift shop. The two smaller wigwams – one is positioned either side of the gift shop – serve as public restrooms.
How much is it to stay? Rates are seasonal and vary from $40 to $60 (£26-£32) per night per room (wigwam). Fridays and Saturdays are $10 more than Sunday through Thursday rates.
The Shady Dell – Bisbee, Arizona
In three words… Exquisite 1950s recreation
What’s the story? This sleepy spot in Arizona has been welcoming members of the tow-your-own-hotel-room movement since 1927. But it wasn’t until 1993 when a new owner began a collection of vintage trailers on the site that the Shady Dell of today first began taking shape.
The current owners – Justin and Jen (they’ve had the place since 2007) – are the perfect custodians of this 1940s and 1950s time warp. Avid vintage memorabilia enthusiasts, they’ve had the good fortune of turning their combined passions into their work.
Their meticulous attention to detail is what makes this place. Without all the classic Americana touches, this would be just another dive of a trailer park.
Outside, the cool collection of vintage vehicles, old-school neon signage and gas pumps of a bygone era, all add to the ambience.
Inside, each trailer has a flurry of well-thought out details like a vintage turntable, a selection of vinyl records, a black-and-white TV, blond wood cupboards, percolator coffee machine and carefully arranged retro copies of Life magazine.
Of course, at the expense of all that mid-twentieth century flair are modern day creature comforts. WiFi didn’t exist in the 50s, and accordingly it doesn’t exist here.
Sadly, one of the big attractions of the park, Dot’s Diner, an authentic 1957 eatery transplanted here in the mid ‘90s from its original home in California, closed back in 2011.
How big is it? The park has eight trailers, one bus and one yacht (what Justin and Jen lovingly refer to as “the VIP suite”). There’s a communal toilet and shower block. The following trailers have their own toilet: El Rey, Spartanette, Mansion, Royal Mansion, Airfloat, Tiki Bus, Chris Craft Yacht, Boles Aero. All units sleep two.
How much is it to stay? The park operates seasonally and is generally closed for the summer and winter. Rates range between $95 and $170 (£62-£111) per night.
Beckham Creek Cave Lodge – Parthenon, Arkansas
In three words… Subterranean VIP hideaway
What’s the story? More than just a giant hole in one giant natural wall, Beckham Creek Cave has a seriously epic history.
Way back it was a shelter to Native Americans (Shawnee Nation) in the 1800s, an alleged hideout for Jesse James and his gang, and a bootleggers’ store during 1920s prohibition.
Its recent history is equally storied. In 1984, John Hays, the cave’s tea merchant owner, spent millions converting it into a nuclear bomb shelter (according to lore he was spooked by the TV nuclear holocaust drama The Day After). Thanks to the support of his wife in 1987, Hays was able to relinquish his Cold War fears and sold up.
The next owner turned the place into a nightclub. If the stories are to be believed, the opening night was one heck of a party. Among the 250 attendees were some of Hollywood’s brightest stars of the time – Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Diana Ross. Despite such an auspicious start, lack of profits saw it close within a year.
When you think of the cave’s isolated location – it’s seven miles from the nearest main road and situated within 280 acres of private, undeveloped grounds in the middle of northern Arkansas – you can understand why the nightclub idea didn’t work out.
The cave was converted into a holiday resort in 1989 at a cost of more than $6 million (we can’t help but wonder how much money has been piled into this space over the years!) While there have been a number of ownership changes, its use has remained constant since.
The lodge continues to be popular with people in high places and celebrities, Bill and Hillary Clinton being counted among its many VIP guests (in case you’re wondering how the rich and famous get here, the lodge’s own helicopter pad is a big giveaway).
How big is it? This living and breathing cave – stalactites and stalagmites are constantly forming – is estimated to be 5,650 foot in size. Inside are five bedrooms (four downstairs and one master suite above, which has a jacuzzi). Each bedroom has its own private bathroom.
There’s a top-of-the-range kitchen, games room and cavernous (literally and figuratively) living space with a natural rock waterfall in the centre. Water flows constantly beneath the floor, providing a therapeutic (or highly irritating … depending on your perspective) soundtrack to your stay.
How much is it to stay? The Cave rents as a whole to one group at a time and you pay for only the bedrooms you use (there is a two-night minimum requirement). To hire all five bedrooms it’s $1,150 (£752) for the first night and $925 (£605) for the second night, making a total of $2,075 (£1,358) for the two-night minimum stay.
Treebones Resort – Big Sur, California
In three words… Pacific coast paradise
What’s the story? Having fallen for its “remote, natural and rugged grandeur”, John and Corinne Handy dreamt of owning their own slice of Big Sur.
Then in 1986, they happened across 11 acres of prime cliff-top real estate. Known to locals as “Treebones”, its attractions were immediately obvious: a 180-degree view of the Pacific; surrounded by Los Padres National Forest; only 25 miles north of Hearst Castle; and, except for the lower patch where a 1960s lumber mill stood, the site was entirely undeveloped.
By a stroke of luck, local planning laws were in flux – the already desirable strip was being rezoned for commercial use. In the Handys’ own words, a divine turn of events had placed a special opportunity in their laps.
Any Treebones bed and breakfast would be subject to the same California land trusts, conservation easements and local coastal programmes that had protected Big Sur from rampant development. A lengthy wait for a green light on their plans would ensue. A clever plan was required – and there’d be plenty of time to hatch it.
John, a highly successful toy designer, decided to challenge local environmental architecture college students to come up with some ideas.
They suggested following the lead of indigenous American cultures, which all used round dwellings like igloos, teepees, and wigwams to exist in harmony with their surroundings. Yurts, already popular in Oregon parks, were the natural choice.
In 2004, after two years of construction, they finally opened their glamping resort.
How big is it? There are 16 yurts, five campgrounds, two toilet facilities, and a large lodge (where John and Corinne also live with their kids).
The main lodge, no more than a couple minutes’ walk up a gravel trail from even the farthest yurt, has a large living room with couches, fireplace and tables for dining (complimentary waffle breakfasts are included) and a locally renowned sushi restaurant. There’s also an outdoor deck with a heated pool and a small hot tub.
The restrooms and showers are also at the central lodge – the yurts have no private bathrooms.
All yurts have queen-sized beds, polished wooden floors, a small table and set of chairs, and a vanity sink with hot and cold running water.
How much is it to stay? Rates vary according to time of the week and month of the year. Yurts start at $199 (£130) per night and rise to as much as $329 (£215) per night. Three yurts have room for up to four. The other 13 have a maximum occupancy of two.
Kate’s Lazy Meadow – Mount Tremper, Catskill Mountains, New York
In three words… Love shack baby
What’s the story? Much of B-52’s video for their 1989 smash hit Love Shack, centres around a gloriously psychedelic shack surrounded by woods. Its mind-blowing mid-century modern, rocket-your-socks-off décor clearly made a big impression on founding member and lead singer Kate Pierson (she of the giant ginger beehive).
Over a decade later she was using it as the blueprint for her very own “cabin fever fantasy”. Her renovation of a rundown roadside motel in the Catskills – under the guidance of the same artists who made the original love shack – has resulted in a beautiful shrine to 50s and 60s kitsch.
A dazzling colour palette clashes gloriously inside the nine groovy suites. Think orange sofas cosied up to wood panelled walls … pink refrigerators shoulder-to-shoulder with baby blue kitchen cupboards … and green-and-white striped atomic-age chairs parked on turquoise and white chequerboard floors. And that’s just the start of it.
How big is it? There are nine suites. Six can accommodate two people, while the remaining sleep up to four. All but three have fully functioning kitchens.
How much is it to stay? Rates range from $175 to $300 (£114-£196) per night (Monday to Thursday rates are $25 to $50 cheaper than those for Friday through Sunday).
Madonna Inn – San Luis Obispo, California
In three words… Old-fashioned frivolity
What’s the story? Alex Madonna set up his construction company before he’d finished high school. Two decades later, buoyed by a fortune amassed building bridges and motorways for the state of California, he decided he wanted to build a new toy – a motel.
For its location he picked a large rock outcrop on a bare stretch of land just outside San Luis Obispo, a middle-of-nowhere town on U.S. 101 midway between Los Angles and San Francisco.
There, he and his wife Phyllis built an outrageously outlandish, dizzyingly vulgar and stunningly theatrical 110-room hotel (today’s Madonna Inn replaced an earlier incarnation that had gone up in a blaze in 1966).
Outside, the place is a cacophony of architectural styles – there are flashes of Dallas Ranch, Disney fairytale castle, New England lighthouse, Barbie dollhouse and Swiss-Alpine resort, all somehow worked into one singular narrative.
The same mustn’t be said of the interior. With a clear aversion to uniformity, the Madonnas created 110 absolutely unique rooms. Not even the bedspreads or wastepaper baskets are alike.
All are named and themed. The names “Time of Your Life”, “Daisy Mae”, “Old Fashioned Honeymoon”, “Whispering Hills” and “Barrel of Fun” tell you a lot about this cathedral of fantasy excess.
In an interview with the New York Times in 1982 Mr. Madonna said: “Anybody can build one room and a thousand like it. It’s more economical. Most places try to give you as little as possible. I try to give people a decent place to stay where they receive more than they are entitled to for what they’re paying. I want people to come in with a smile and leave with a smile. It’s fun.”
Some guests stay for a week and change rooms every night. In 1970 one patron decided she wanted to sleep at least one night every room. She finally made it 1977. Many others have done it since.
How big is it? Along with the 110 rooms there is a spa, pool, tennis courts, fitness centre, expo centre, steakhouse, café, bakery and bar.
How much is it to stay? Rates range between $189 and $599 (£123-£392) per night. Most rooms fall within the $209 to $279 bracket.
The ducks at the Peabody Hotel – Memphis, Tennessee
In three words… Cute corny custom
What’s the story? At first glance this downtown Memphis institution would appear very much out of place on a list of offbeat accommodation. That is until you learn about its most famous custom – the marching of its ducks.
Each day at 11am, one drake and four hens waddle across the lobby on a specially laid red carpet to the tune of the “King Cotton March”, making their way from the main elevator to an ornate marble fountain in the centre of the room.
The ducks spend every day leisurely splashing about in the fountain until 5pm, when they are ceremonially marched back out of the lobby to the elevator en route to their overnight residence.
When not on duty, the ducks live in a $200,000 granite-floored coup on the hotel’s roof. While the hotel’s human residents may not consider it the height of luxury, it’s positively penthouse by domesticated avian standards.
That isn’t where the four-star service ends for the ducks. Their daily snack of cracked corn is delivered on a silver platter – literally – by the hotel’s Duckmaster.
The Peabody’s quackers (sorry … couldn’t resist) custom traces back to 1933. Having returned drunk from a weekend hunting trip with his buddy, the general manager of the time decided to release some of his live decoy ducks into the fountain. Needless to say, the drunken prank also happened to be a stroke of marketing genius.
The Peabody Ducks are raised on a local farm. Selected ducks go to the hotel aged one and undergo only one week of training. Each team lives in the hotel for only three months before retiring and returning to the farm to live out the remainder of their days.
How big is it? The hotel has 449 guest rooms and 15 suites. It has a French fine dining restaurant, Italian steakhouse and pastry shop. In honour of its feathered patrons, duck is not found on any of the Peabody’s menus.
How much is it to stay? Prices range from around $220 to $380 (£143-£248) per room per night.
*Room rates correct at time of press
Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…