We all know that lodging can make a break or vacation, but staying somewhere unique - a tipi, say, or a giant bird's nest, or even spending the night underwater - can turn a humdrum holiday into an unforgettable trip.
America's entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds, and that includes one-of-a-kind lodging you won't find anywhere else. For those wishing to forgo hotel chains, consider taking a break at these places, which range from cozy, country bed and breakfasts to something more akin to an aquarium.
Get cozy in the Great Outdoors
America's only "Human Nest" for rent is at Treebones Resort (treebonesresort.com), a glamping hot spot in Big Sur, California. Built for two by eco-artist Jason Flynn, the Nest overlooks the Pacific and gets booked up several months in advance. Call the design "twigecture", and if you don't mind sacrificing some privacy, the nest offers a one-of-a-kind view as you sleep in a tree under the stars (it doesn't rain much in Big Sur). "Although the nest is completely open to the elements, with no amenities besides an outdoor mattress, and a spectacular ocean view, it is our most popular accommodation," says manager Megan Handy, the daughter of owners John and Corinne Handy. "It is a very unique experience. We have 'nesters' who come back year after year."
Treebones also provides swish yurts, but if you prefer a more rustic experience, visit Falls Brook Yurts (fallsbrookyurts.com) in Minerva, New York, hidden in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Trail stretching all the way to Georgia. Yurting is great for lovers of the outdoors on a budget who don't want to invest in or haul all that camping gear. Inside the fully furnished yurt you'll find a working kitchenette, tables, chairs, a sofa and bunk beds for six. The outhouse latrine is just 15 steps from the front door. There's no running water at the yurt; you can either carry bottled water on the 20-minute hike from the road where you parked, or use the buckets provided at the yurt to bring water up from the nearby brook, though be sure to boil the water first before bathing or drinking it. (I showered outside in full view - there's no one for miles around - by dousing myself in liters of Poland Spring.)
Have your pizza delivered underwater
What started out as an underwater research station eventually inspired Jules Undersea Lodge (jul.com) in Key Largo, Florida, one of the world's few operating underwater hotels. Dive down 21 feet below the surface and stay in one of three 20-foot underwater chambers where you can sleep, eat, and watch whatever swims by your window. Diving experience is a plus, although beginners can take a brief introductory course provided by the lodge before enjoying their accommodations. Forget bellhops! Your luggage is brought to you in a watertight container. If you're feeling peckish in your capsule, order a pizza - also protected by a container from meeting a watery end. Founder and owner Ian Koblick, who is president of the Marine Resources Development Foundation, says the neighbours are often as curious about the guests as the other way around. "What can the fish see, that's what I say?" Koblick jokes. "There are manatees in the lagoon, and fish coming and going. It's a unique experience and the closest you'll ever come to living in another world other than going into outer space."
Step back in time
Route 66 stretches over more than 2,400 miles of scenic highway between Chicago and Los Angeles, and one of the quirkiest stops en route has to be a place where you can sleep in a Native American-inspired tipi. Wigwam Village Motel (galerie-kokopelli.com/wigwam) in Holbrook, Arizona, is a time capsule. Home to 15 one- and two-bedroom wigwams or tipis, the motel is on the USA National Registrar of Historic Places. Opened in the 1950s, it has a mid-century appeal with vintage cars parked on the property, including an old Studebaker that once belonged to the owner. Each wigwam is 21 feet wide at the base, 28 feet high, and contains handmade hickory furniture, beds, a sink, a toilet, and a shower. There is also a small collection of Native American artefacts and Route 66 memorabilia.
Love animals? So do your hosts
About 115 miles north of the Big Apple is the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (woodstocksanctuary.org) near legendary Woodstock, where the hippie movement came of age in 1969. Opened in 2012, the sanctuary's new guesthouse, a renovated 19th-century farmhouse, has four bedrooms, a common kitchen and living area, and 23 acres of rescued goats, chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, sheep and a donkey named Diane. Volunteer on the farm by shovelling poop or cleaning coops and receive a discount on your stay (we are repeat visitors and volunteers!). Says co-founder and director Jenny Brown: "People love being able to see all the activity at the sanctuary from the windows and front porch. It truly creates a feeling of tranquility to be able to watch the rescued animals and at the same time enjoy a healthy, vegan, organic breakfast." Revenue from the guesthouse goes directly to care for over 300 animals.
Dog Bark Park Inn (dogbarkparkinn.com) on Highway 95 in Cottonwood, Idaho, is the creation of chainsaw artist Dennis Sullivan and his wife Frances Conklin. Together, they built America's biggest beagle, known fondly as "Sweet Willy", a two-bedroom bed and breakfast open between April and October. Sleeping in the dog house is a great way to unplug: Sweet Willy has no phone or television. But you get to enjoy a tasty breakfast that includes eggs, bagels, pastries, yogurt, cheese, and the family's secret granola recipe. For souvenirs, check out the gift shop where you can buy portable versions of Sweet Willy and friends.
Taos, New Mexico - known for its Native American culture, skiing, and thriving arts scene - is where Richard Spera decided to build his hen house. Years later, his cluster of casitas known as Casa Gallina (casagallina.net) offers visitors to the American Southwest a fantastic view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the personal comforts of home and a true artisan experience. The casitas - decorated by local artists - have kitchens, living and dining areas. Behind the casitas are Spera's "girls," a couple dozen hens who appreciate any restaurant scraps you want to throw their way. As a bonus, Spera, a former restaurant manager from New York City, likes to treat his guests to tapas, cookies, and tortes.