Unusual hotels around the U.S.

Ever wanted to stay in a treehouse? How about in a wigwam, a light house, or even 30 feet underwater? At hotels around the United States, you can indulge these wacky fantasies and more. From yurts to train cars, here are some of the most unique places to stay around the country.

Kokopelli’s Cave Bed and Breakfast – Farmington, New Mexico
Located in the cliffs of New Mexico, near Mesa Verde National Monument, Kokopelli’s Cave B&B is just what it sounds like – a hotel dug out of the rock, where guests sleep in a carved out cave 70 feet underground. It’s perfect as a home base for hikers who want to explore the surrounding area, or for couples looking for a luxurious, relaxing retreat.

Jules Undersea Lodge – Key Largo, Florida
Dive enthusiasts who stay at the Jules Undersea Lodge won’t have to go far to don their scuba suits. Actually, they’ll need to scuba dive just to get to the Lodge, which is located 30 feet below the sea. The Lodge still functions as an underwater research station and welcomes guests for overnight stays, but the claustrophobic may want to look elsewhere for accommodations.

Treebones Resort – Big Sur, California
Staying in a yurt, a kind of permanent tent structure, isn’t exactly roughing it at Treebones Resort. The yurts here feature hardwood floors and French doors, and restrooms and a large swimming pool are just a few steps away. The yurts overlook the Pacific Ocean and the resort offers several tours and activities.

Out’n’About Treehouses Treesort – Takilma, Oregon
Never had a treehouse as a kid? Here’s your chance to make up for lost time, spending the night in a souped up treehouse in the Oregon woods. The treehouses don’t have TV, phone, or air conditioning, but they do have comfortable queen beds, and some have kitchenettes and bathrooms. The treehouses are accessed by stairs, swinging bridges and zip lines and the resort offers a variety of active adventures for guests.

Dog Bark Park Inn – Cottonwood, Idaho
If you’ve ever dreamed of sleeping inside a two-story wooden beagle (because really, who hasn’t?), head to the Dog Bark Park Inn in north central Idaho. Billing itself as the “world’s largest beagle” the Dog Bark Park Inn may not be a destination unto itself – other than typical outdoor activities, there’s not much to lure you to Cottonwood, Idaho – but if a road trip brings you through the area, this will make for a memorable place to stay.

Aurora Express Bed and Breakfast – Fairbanks, Alaska
Sleeping on a train is nothing new. Sleeping in a retired rail car turned into a hotel is a little more unusual. Each train car on the Aurora Express Bed and Breakfast holds one to four hotel rooms, featuring lavish bedding and gilded decor reminiscent of the golden age of train travel. A dining car serves breakfast daily. The hotel is only open in summer months.

McMenamin’s Kennedy School – Portland, Oregon
For the ultimate trip down memory lane, head to Portland, Oregon and book a room at the Kennedy School, a hotel built out of a former elementary school. Many of the original furnishings remain and nearly every room plays on the educational theme. Sip a brewed on-site beer at the Detention Bar, party to live music in the gym, or tour the brewery housed in the former girls’ bathroom. Even the guest rooms get in on the fun theme. They are housed in converted classrooms and many still have their original desks and chalkboards.

Chicago bed and breakfasts offer a hotel alternative

When I travel outside of the US, I often try to stay at bed and breakfasts. I love the personal attention I get at a b&b. I like the inside tips I get from the owners, who are usually more than happy to sit and chat over a glass of wine and offer recommendations on where to go and what to see in their city. I prefer staying in one of a city’s neighborhoods, rather than downtown, so I can imagine what life would be like if I actually lived there. And I like feeling as though the owners really care that I am there, rather than that I am just one of the many faceless guests at a hotel. These b&bs tend to be simply decorated, with modern furnishings. They’re relaxed, informal places where I can just as easily make friends with fellow travelers as I can keep to myself and enjoy my privacy.

Unfortunately, it seems that in the states, b&bs are envisioned as places overtaken by calico and creaky antique furniture, where “wine and cheese” hour strikes fear in the heart at the thought of awkward, enforced socialization and boring conversation with the far too perky elderly innkeepers. And that may certainly be the case at many bed and breakfasts around the world. But fear not, if you’re planning a trip to Chicago there are several stylish, accommodating options for fun, relaxing b&b stays around the city. Here are just a few.

Ray’s Bucktown B&B
Ray’s garners stellar reviews on TripAdvisor and is perfectly located for anyone seeking to experience some of Chicago’s trendy nightlife. Ray’s is right in the heart of Bucktown, a young ‘hood full of bars, restaurants, and boutiques that is just over 10 minutes from downtown on the El. The b&b offers 10 rooms, most of which have pillow-top mattresses, TVs with DVD and TIVO, free wi-fi, and phones with free local and long-distance calls. Some rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and rooms in the “Annex” have access to a shared kitchen. There is a free cooked-to-order breakfast daily, free parking, free use of the house’s Mac computers, and a steam room and sauna. Rates are on par with most other Chicago hotels and range from $119-$199 a night, but taxes are only 11.9% (downtown hotel tax is $14.9%).

House 5836
House 5836, in the northern neighborhood of Andersonville, boasts “hip urban rooms” for $99-$179 dollars per night. The rooms are simpler, with just a bed and bathroom in most, but the house offers wi-fi throughout and the common living room has a plasma TV. A free continental breakfast is served daily and you can book in-room spa treatments. The house is located just off the Red Line, about 30 minutes north of downtown, in an area known for its excellent ethnic restaurants.

Old Chicago Inn
Cubs fans coming to Chicago for a game won’t find a more convenient place to stay than the Old Chicago Inn. Located in the heart of the Lakeview neighborhood, the Inn is just a few blocks from Wrigley Field and about 20 minutes from downtown Chicago. Rooms feature pillow-top mattresses, free wi-fi, exposed brick walls, and hardwood floors. Some have en-suite bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy free street parking, continental breakfast daily, complimentary dinner at nearby Trader Todd’s restaurant, and a free local gym membership during their stay. Rates range from $100-$210 per night.

Villa Toscana
Villa Toscana earns mixed reviews, but at $99-$159 a night, it might be worth taking a chance on. Located smack dab in the middle of trendy Boystown (a part of the north side’s Lakeview hood), it’s the perfect spot to crash after a wild day at the annual Pride Parade or Market Days (the Midwest’s largest street fest) celebrations, which both take place right out the front door along Halsted Street. If you’re more interested in tamer activities, you can hit the boutique shops and restaurants of Lakeview or ride the El train 25 minutes or so into downtown. Each of the seven rooms in the historic 19th century building is decorated in a different style, from the chic and sleek British Colonial to the colorful Moroccan, and offers private en-suite bathrooms and free wi-fi. A continental breakfast is served daily.

Sipping tea with a goal: a free night’s B&B stay

Remember when you’d cut out UPC codes from your favorite cereal boxes and mail them in for gadgets and gizmos?

Stash Tea is reviving that tradition, and the prizes have improved in the last few decades–you get a free night at a B&B.

What you need to do: cut out UPC codes from three boxes of Stash Tea and mail them in with a form plus $3.95 (check or money order). (Or else, spend $10 or more on Stash’s online store, plus $3.95.) You’ll get Stash’s Guide to Bed & Breakfast Inns, which includes a certificate for a free night at one of the 600 B&Bs in the US and Canada listed.

Unfortunately, a minimum two-night stay is required, and some B&Bs limit you to weekday or low-season stays. Fortunately, the offer is valid through June 2011.

Budget Vacations from Seattle: Puget Sound and San Juan Islands

A short boat ride from Seattle but worlds away in pace and atmosphere, the Puget Sound and San Juan islands appeal to bikers, kayakers, artists, and those simply seeking a romantic long weekend. Two-lane roads wind through cedar rain forests and farmers’ fields, and much of the islands has a decidedly rural feel. An abundance of state parks means there’s plenty of picnicking and camping options for the budget-oriented.

A handful of larger islands are visitor favorites: Whidbey, Bainbridge, Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez islands are all popular with tourists, and a couple have bustling towns to add energy to the mix. Several, particularly the islands closest to Seattle, make for great day trips.The Sights

A large part of island fun is getting there on a Washington State Ferry. The major islands listed above have regular ferry service, and the north end of Whidbey Island is also accessible by road.

On San Juan Island, Friday Harbor is a busy summertime destination, with a picturesque harbor crammed with sailboats, and a walkable town filled with art galleries and pretty views. 2009 is Friday Harbor’s centennial, so celebrations will abound this summer. Take a self-guided walking tour (print out a guide here) for an inexpensive historical tour.

To reach San Juan Island by ferry, you’ll need to drive about 90 minutes north of Seattle to Anacortes. From there, it’s a one-hour ferry ride to the island.

Whidbey Island, one of the archipelago’s largest, holds the rushing waters of Deception Pass at its northern tip. The dramatic Deception Pass Bridge links the island to the mainland via Pass Island, a small rocky outcropping. Here, swift tides make the rushing water appear deceiving like a river, which is what gave the pass its name. There are sidewalks on the bridge, so be sure to park your car and take some photos. Nearby, Deception Pass State Park has campsites, a lake with a swimming area, and a beach filled with driftwood.

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan cluster, and is arguably the archipelago’s artsiest. A driving or biking tour is the best way to see the island and its artisan’s galleries. Mt. Constitution perches at one end, and it take around 15 minutes to drive to the summit (it takes considerably longer to bike to the top…). Lake Moran State Park (of which Mt. Constitution is a part of) attracts campers and other recreationists; paddle-boating in Lake Moran is a fun, splashy family activity.

What to Eat

Dining options run from rustic to five-star. However, the islands’ agricultural communities support several farmers’ markets, and these are the best places to eat your veggies. If you’re on a budget, consider an al fresco meal put together from farmers’ market purchases and artisan bread from a local bakery (on Whidbey, try Nibbles Specialty Bakery, and on Orcas stop by Roses Bakery & Cafe). Make sure your food is marked with the ‘Island Certified Local’ logo.

Where to Stay

Sleeping on the islands is all about bed & breakfasts. In general, the best place to search for accommodation is on the various islands’ bed & breakfast associations’ websites. Click here for the San Juan islands site, and here for Puget Sound.

Camping is your best budget option, and there are plenty of options. Just don’t forget your rain fly.

New B&B deals offer savings around the world

The bed and breakfast community will probably put a hit out on me soon, if the comments from my last article are any indication. But, I’ll take my life into my hands and cover the latest news from BedandBreakfast.com anyway.

Under the new “Tanks for Traveling” program, BedandBreakfast.com members will be able to save some cash on their travels this year. I’m not crazy about the name of the program, but it probably resonates with the cutesy B&Bers.

B&Bs in around 40 states – not to mention the Caribbean, Canada, Italy, France and (wow!) Croatia – have found north of 150 ways to help their guests save on travel this year. The Vine Street Inn (California), for example, is kicking in a $100 gift certificate to any guest who arrives by train or bus … and they’ll pick you up at the station! Tudor Rose, in Colorado, is only asking for $1 for the third night when you pay for two, and Sabal Palm House in Lake Worth, FL is willing to give you the third night free – as long as you bring a bag of non-perishable food items for personal care products for the local pantry.

So, there are plenty of ways to save some money in these shitty challenging economic times.

Please, B&B people, have I repaid my debt?!