Ranging from the unbelievably exotic to the quintessentially American, with an equally diverse price range, the following accommodations do more than merely accommodate.
These 17 weird and wacky hotels across the USA entertain, excite and possibly frighten when you stay:
1. Wigwam Village, Holbrook, Arizona
Vintage kitsch doesn’t get any better.
The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, is part of the Wigwam Motel chain scattered across the West and Southwest. Dating to 1950 and located off Historic Route 66, this particular motel is authentic mid-century Americana.
Classic cars adorn the parking lot and neon signs in retro fonts greet nostalgic road trippers, while the 15 “wigwams” (technically more like teepees) feature typical motel comforts including hot showers and cable TV.
2. Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood, Idaho
For a prairie getaway with flair, visitors need not look further than the “largest beagle in the world.”
“This is the only place one can sleep with 26 dogs and still get a good night’s rest,” says Dog Bark Park Inn owner Frances Conklin. Many people have been in the doghouse, but few can say that they’ve actually slept in one. Then again, the Dog Bark Park Inn, while undoubtedly shaped like a dog – albeit a dog nine meters high – is no kennel.
Endearing dog-themed designs indoors – like the 26 carved dogs or dog-shaped cookies – create a comfortable and quaint atmosphere, belying the staggeringly large (for a beagle, that is) and vaguely Trojan exterior.
3. Beckham Creek Cave Lodge, Parthenon, Arkansas
And you thought that only the Flintstones could pull off this kind of lifestyle.
Beckham Creek Cave Lodge in the Arkansas Ozarks welcomes visitors to its renovated cave bedrooms.
The cavernous ceilings, walls of rock and a natural waterfall in the center of the main room let you feel close to nature without being uncomfortable, while guaranteeing stunning acoustics for movies on TV. The hotel is structured more like a house – hence “lodge” – with a kitchen, main room, five full bedrooms (with their own baths) and a recreation room.
4. The Liberty Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
To the Norwegians who are proud of their country’s plush, first-world prisons, we raise Boston’s Liberty Hotel, a luxury property formerly known as the Charles Street Jail, whose onetime inmates include Malcolm X and disgraced Boston mayor James Curley.
The Liberty Hotel’s restaurants and bars sport cheeky names like Clink (where you can dine inside “vestiges of original jail cells”) and Alibi (a cocktail bar in what used to be the jail’s drunk tank). The Liberty Hotel is no tacky themed establishment living on its past fame. Sure, it has a past, but the past is not “who we are now,” according to Sean Reardon, director of sales and marketing.
“We are a luxury hotel in the heart of Boston, and while there is a reference to the past throughout the structure, it is tasteful and serves as a mere reference to our past as opposed to the focal point of a visit,” says Reardon.
It’s really the services that makes the place shine, with amenities like complimentary overnight shoeshine, bicycles, a running concierge (we assume that’s some sort of fitness guru) and en suite bars.
5. Winvian, Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
The Winvian is not so much one hotel as a collection of 18 unique cottages (and a suite). Some cottages limit their curiosities to architectural idiosyncrasies. Others are more hands-on.
The “Beaver Lodge” has been designed to resemble a beaver’s lodge and the “Golf” cottage, while ordinary from the outside, has uneven, carpeted green floors comprising a miniature golf course inside.
The 1920s-style “Artist” cottage includes a studio stocked with canvases and paints, inviting guests to explore their artistic sides. In the “Helicopter” cottage you share space with a restored Sikorsky Coast Guard helicopter.
“We hear regularly from our guests that they feel Winvian is their home-away-from-home,” says Heather Smith, managing director of Winvian, “but with better service.”
6. Aurora Express Bed & Breakfast, Fairbanks, Alaska
For many travelers, trains mean nostalgia. At one time, sleeping in a train car might have been a necessity. Today, at Aurora Express Bed & Breakfast in Fairbanks, Alaska, it’s a luxury.
While it may seem irrational to pay for admittance into a carriage that doesn’t move, a peek at the interiors might reverse this train of thought. With fancy names such as “Bordello” and “Gold Mine,” which reference Alaskan history, the carriages have been beautifully refurbished, but remain original enough to invoke authenticity.
7. The Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court, Bisbee, Arizona
You can live out “Mad Men” fantasies in this slickly imagined time capsule of a hotel – or rather, “trailer court.”
The Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court’s collection of 11 restored mid-century travel trailers come with 1950s decor – vintage accessories and furnishings like martini glasses, diner-style booths and record players. But the Shady Dell goes beyond decor. Even the entertainment doesn’t break character. Vintage radios play nothing but “era-appropriate radio programs,” the magazines are all several decades old and the “televisions only broadcast in two colors.”
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the 1950s, minus the chain-smoking (smoking is forbidden inside the trailers) and racism, the Shady Dell Vintage Trailer’s romanticized, politically correct version of the past can be the perfect realization of a dream.
“Our trailers harken to a time where people socialized not through the computer but with a cocktail in hand,” say owners Jennifer and Justin Luria.
8. McMenamins Kennedy School, Portland, Oregon
A pub and a former elementary school. It’s an unlikely relationship, but at the McMenamins Kennedy School in Portland, Oregon, it works fabulously as a hotel.
At the Kennedy School, sleeping in class is encouraged – the 35 guestrooms are former classrooms, retaining props like desks and chalkboards. The school auditorium is now a movie theater and the school cafeteria (now a restaurant) actually serves palatable food. Perhaps the best change that the pub-school alliance has wrought, however, is that the girl’s room is now a brewery, and guests can sip locally brewed beer in the Detention Bar.
9. Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast, Farmington, New Mexico
Perhaps it’s the caveman roots of homo sapiens, perhaps it has to do with our love of the blanket forts of our childhoods – but it seems America just can’t get enough of cave lodgings.
While a cave sounds like a questionable place to stay the night, much less pay to stay the night, Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast in New Mexico is not about masochism or asceticism, or even being cheap.
Guests reside in a carpeted, fully furnished room 21 meters below the surface, dug into a cliff face of 65 million-year-old sandstone. There’s a TV, there’s a DVD player and there’s a selection of movies, but for once guests might find themselves more fascinated with the walls, which are a “geologist’s dream,” with a “360-degree view of cross-bedding, petrified and carbonized wood and plant fragments,” according to the hotel.
While reaching the cave (there is only one, with bedding for four) requires a short hike, these “difficulties” also mean maximum privacy, unless you count the ring-tailed cats that are said to occasionally visit.
10. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California
The Madonna Inn is has no single draw or final trump card. It has 110. Each of the 110 rooms in the Madonna Inn (named after the original proprietor, not the singer) is dramatically decorated according to certain themes or motifs.
Or several; the Madonna Inn has no scruples about mixing styles or clashing patterns.
The result is a zany explosion for the eyes, starting with a (relatively) demure faux-Swiss Alps exterior and quickly reaching the heights of the outlandish with designer urinals, flooring that looks like it could easily induce fits of epilepsy, en-suite rock showers, whacked-out color schemes and way too many waterfalls.
Not all of the rooms are wild. Many of the other rooms content themselves with exciting wallpapers and lurid murals. With such dizzying decor, plus the other amenities – pool, spa, clothing boutiques, bakery – you might be overwhelmed, but never bored.
11. Turpentine Creek, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Turpentine Creek is more zoo than hotel. As a refuge for rescued “big cats,” Turpentine Creek’s real guests of honor are the tigers, lions, leopards, cougars and the odd bear that make their home here.
Naturally, stays revolve around the cats – with the daily highlights being events such as habitat tours, big cats education sessions and feeding time.
Not that humans have anything to complain about. Guests are lodged in tasteful safari-themed rooms adjacent to the zoo section, and treated to the sound of “animals caroling throughout the evening and night,” according to vice president Scott Smith.
There are five lodges, two suites and a tree house bungalow. Assuming you’re a big cat aficionado, there’s another reason to come.
“When you visit the refuge and stay at our lodging, all proceeds from your visit help the animals,” says Smith.
12. The Peabody, Memphis, Tennessee
A duck in a duck pond is nothing special. A duck in your bedroom is unwelcome. But the mallards that parade through the lobby of The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, are no lowly trespassers.
The Peabody ducks are part of a time-honored tradition that dates to a night in 1932, a night of “too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey,” according to the account on the website.
The avian pageant waddles through the hotel twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., “in a red carpet ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance,” says Kelly B. Earnest, the director of public relations.
Much of the charm comes from the incongruity of the tableau. The Peabody is no wetlands hovel where such fowl visits are common. It’s a perfectly respectable Forbes Four-Star establishment that lacks nothing in the way of grandeur.
“We think of ourselves as an historic luxury hotel steeped in tradition and genteel Southern charm,” says Earnest.
And indeed, no one can fault The Peabody for any lack of gentility. The ducks, after all, are not unattended, but quite appropriately escorted by a “Duckmaster.”
13. The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California
The Queen Mary is a decommissioned luxury cruise ship that had its heyday in the 1930s – think art nouveau, the filthy rich and the scenes of opulence from “Titanic.” During World War II, the Queen Mary transported more than 750,000 military personnel, including Winston Churchill. Today the Queen Mary is open to all as hotel, museum and dining destination.
The ship also supposedly benefits (or suffers, depending on how superstitious you are) from a severe infestation of ghosts. Some of the most commonly reported spooks include a lone dancing lady in a fancy white evening gown and a little girl holding a teddy bear. Guests need not necessarily be afraid – not all the ghosts are unfriendly. Some, apparently, even look like Kevin Spacey.
There are a variety of package deals for nights aboard.
14. Heceta Head Lighthouse, Yachats, Oregon
In a chalk-white building that dates to 1893, on a verdant coast populated with puffins, cormorants and whales, the Heceta Head Lighthouse is indisputably lovely; small wonder that the lighthouse is one of the most photographed on the Pacific coast.
The breakfast is as lovely as the bedrooms – the website promises “a decadent seven-course breakfast” – but epicurean feasts in pretty cottages by the sea, while perhaps scarce, aren’t particularly unusual. The real draw of Heceta Head Lighthouse is, obviously, the light. It shines from a 17-meter-high tower, has a reach of 34 kilometers and is “rated as the strongest light on the Oregon coast.”
15. Out’n’About Treehouses Treesort, Takilma, Oregon
The tree house guestrooms at Out’n’About Treehouses Treesort are nothing like the crude, leaky places you hid your comic books or took refuge in whenever you threatened to “run away.”
These tree houses are family-sized abodes with bathrooms, kitchenettes and proper beds. Every tree house in this miniature village is unique. There are 18 designs to choose from.
“Treezebo” is about six stories off the ground. “Yurtree” is a yurt in a tree with a skylight. Some of the tree houses are accessible only via swinging bridges and a network of zip lines.
“I have the biggest concentration of tree houses in the world,” proprietor and developer Michael Garnier has said. “Nowhere are there as many tree houses in one locale.”
16. Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida
A parrot fish – the least of the many wonders you might see at Jules’ Undersea Lodge. Ever wanted to sleep with the fishes? In Key Largo, Florida, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a death threat. It can be an invitation.
The two rooms at Jules’ Undersea Lodge, 6.4 meters underwater, are only accessible via scuba diving.
If the prospect seems somewhat intimidating, the “perfect safety record,” 24-hour staff and co-developer Ian Koblick’s assurance of “independent support systems as well as redundant backup systems” on the website might assuage anxieties.
More importantly, there won’t be time to worry, not while dining like Captain Nemo and crew with the variegated underwater wildlife of the tropical Emerald Lagoon outside the (airtight) windows.
Although we wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone who can’t swim, diving novices need not fear: the hotel also offers scuba diving lessons.
17. El Cosmico, Marfa, Texas
This 21-acre nomadic hotel and campground aims to provide its guests with “temporary liberation from the built world.”
El Cosmico is in the remote West Texas desert town of Marfa, at an altitude of 4,800 feet, and offers accommodation in the form of renovated vintage trailers, safari and scout tents, Sioux-style tepees, a Mongolian yurt and tent campsites.
While you won’t find an onsite bar or restaurant here, the property does offers various communal spaces for guests including a hammock grove, an outdoor kitchen and dining area, an outdoor stage and a reading room. There are also wood-fired hot tubs available for rent as well as bikes.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.