We all know that lodging can make a break or vacation, but staying somewhere truly 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.
The USA's entrepreneurial spirit knows no bounds, and it's frequently expressed in 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, a glamping hot spot in Big Sur, California. Built for two by eco-artist Jayson Fann, the Nest overlooks the Pacific and gets booked up several months in advance. 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. '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.' Its popularity inspired the Handys to commission Fann to add a second 'twigitecture' structure to the property, the Twig Hut, which is two stories tall. At both the Human Nest and the Twig Hut, you must bring your own sleeping bags and pillows. The resort also recommends a back-up tent in case of rain.
If you prefer an even more rural but slightly less primitive experience, visit Falls Brook Yurts in Minerva, New York, hidden in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. 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 in or drinking it).
Find a piece of Middle Earth in Middle Tennessee
Forget pitching a tent or renting a cabin: in Tennessee, those looking for a connection to nature can now book ‘hobbit huts’ nestled in the hills just off the famed Natchez Trace Parkway. Located on the grounds of Forest Gully Farms, these three tiny houses – called Gully huts – must be booked as a set. The red and yellow huts are sleeping cabins; the green hut is a tiny kitchen. The cozy compound can sleep up to 8 people. Owners Jon and Mandy Giffin conceived the project as a way to allow visitors to experience their 15-acre ‘food forest’ – a collection of fruit- or nut-bearing trees, shrubs and perennials that are not traditionally farmed and therefore sustainable – in a way that was both ‘visually unobtrusive and sustainably minded,’ says Mandy Giffin.
Have your pizza delivered underwater
Swim on down to Jules' Undersea Lodge 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. Experience in scuba diving is a plus, although beginner divers can take a brief introductory diving and safety course provided by the lodge before enjoying their accommodations. Forget bellhops! Your luggage is brought to you via a watertight container. Once inside your cozy capsule, if you're feeling peckish, order a pizza – also delivered in a watertight container. Founder and owner Ian Koblick, who is also president of the Marine Resources Development Foundation, says the marine life are often just as curious about the hotel 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 in Holbrook, Arizona, is a time capsule. Home to 15 one- and two-bedroom wigwams or tipis, the motel is on the USA National Register 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 as well as a sink, toilet and shower. There is also a small collection of Native American artifacts and Route 66 memorabilia.
Another place and time can be explored at Hillside Homestead in Suttons Bay, Michigan. If you've ever wondered what your grandparents' childhoods were really like, this is the place to find out. In this restored 1910 farm house, all the furniture and appliances date from 1910 or earlier. Proprietress Susan Odom, who previously worked as a historical interpreter at Greenfield Village, is committed to running her B&B the old-fashioned way, with coffee made on a cast-iron, wood-burning stove and using recipes from Victorian cookbooks for her farm dinners, which are open to the public as well as guests (make a reservation). Food served is always local, and often hyper-local: Odom raises her own pigs and chickens, and the farm is located in a working orchard.
Love animals? So do your hosts
Dog Bark Park Inn on Highway 95 in Cottonwood, Idaho, is the creation of chainsaw artist Dennis Sullivan and his wife, Frances Conklin. This decidedly unique hotel qualifies as America's biggest beagle, known fondly as 'Sweet Willy.' The two bedrooms inside can be reserved 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 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.
This article was originally published in 2014 and updated in December 2017.