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8 of the Most Unusual Hotels in America

By Marissa Kozma
Read time: 5 minutes

From caverns deep underground to former cell blocks, there are many places across America where you’d never expect to find overnight accommodations. Many are landmark properties with a storied past, and the hoteliers behind them have opted to highlight their quirky, grandiose, or industrial characters through inspiring décor, unique amenities, and other thoughtful touches. These eight U.S. hotels are highly unusual, but very much worth booking if you’re searching for a one-of-a-kind overnight experience. 

East Brother Light Station – Richmond, California

B&B occupying historic Victorian building at East Brother Light Station in Richmond, California
Credit: ZUMA Press Inc/ Alamy Stock Photo

The East Brother Light Station bed-and-breakfast is one of the few hotels in the world housed within a former lighthouse. Built in 1873, the restored Victorian B&B is perched atop a small island in the strait between the San Francisco and San Pablo bays. Adventurous guests will have to brave a 10-minute boat ride across the water and climb a 12-foot ladder to reach the property. The complex was home to a staffed lighthouse from 1873 until the 1960s. After the lighthouse was automated, the Coast Guard was set to tear down the structure, but local preservationists stepped in and turned it into a B&B, which opened in 1980 with five bedrooms. Guests will receive a tour of the grounds, hors d’oeuvres, wine, a multicourse dinner, and breakfast with their stay.  

Shack Up Inn – Clarksdale, Mississippi

Exterior of Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, Mississippi
Credit: BHammond/ Alamy Stock Photo

Would you spend upwards of $100 a night to stay in a shack? Deep in the Mississippi Delta, guests have the opportunity to imbibe at the world’s oldest “bed and beer” and sleep in their very own rustic room outfitted with a corrugated tin roof and homespun furniture. Luckily, guests can enjoy modern amenities such as air conditioning and indoor plumbing, too. These former cotton sharecropper shacks were abandoned after mechanical cotton pickers were introduced in the 1940s, but the inn’s owners bought them and turned them into these unique accommodations in 1998. They have since hosted famous guests such as Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. “The Ritz we ain’t” may be its motto, but the Shack Up Inn promises a memorable stay nonetheless. 

Jules Undersea Lodge – Key Largo, Florida

Beach huts at entrance to Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida
Credit: Richard Ellis/ Alamy Stock Photo

You’ll have to be scuba-certified to stay at this unique accommodation in the Florida Keys. Jules Undersea Lodge is the only hotel in the world that requires guests to make the dive into the lagoon to reach rooms, which are located 30 feet under the surface. Your room will include a window of the watery abyss and ocean-inspired décor. Even better, you can get pizza delivered to your underwater abode and watch TV, as there is electricity inside the capsule. And if you aren’t yet scuba-certified, the property offers an instructor-led course on site for an additional cost. 

Liberty Hotel – Boston, Massachusetts

Exterior of Liberty Hotel occupying former jailhouse in Boston, Massachusetts
Credit: Michael Dwyer/ Alamy Stock Photo

You won’t get locked in your room from the outside at the Liberty Hotel in Boston, but that wasn’t always the case. Built in 1851, the historic Charles Street Jail on Beacon Hill once housed some of Boston’s most notorious criminals, but it is now a four-star hotel boasting playful nods to the building’s past. These include jail bar doors at the on-site restaurant Clink, keys to the cells framed on display, and ball and chain accents throughout the property. 

Beckham Creek Cave Lodge – Parthenon, Arkansas

Bed under cave ceiling at Beckham Creek Cave Lodge in Parthenon, Arkansas
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Mallory.Gallery

In the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas, nature lovers will find one-of-a-kind accommodations at the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge. Eight guests can fit comfortably inside the 5,800-square-foot house nestled within a bluff overlooking the valley. Each room within the lodge has stalactites overhead, and the exposed rock walls complement the minimalist interior décor. Best of all, guests will have the property’s 256 acres all to themselves. Perhaps one of the perks of being so isolated is that you’ll be able to drift to sleep in total darkness here with no noise to disturb you.

Hotel Grinnell – Grinnell, Iowa

Guest room at Hotel Grinnell in Grinnell, Iowa
Photo credit: Image courtesy of Kruger Images – Jim Kruger

The bell won’t wake you up if you fall asleep at your desk — or rather, bed. This former junior high school constructed in 1921 is now a 45-room, schoolhouse-inspired hotel in Iowa, complete with a gymnasium-turned-ballroom featuring the original basketball court floor for events, a cafeteria converted into bunks, and locker rooms that now house the hotel’s bar and restaurant, aptly named Periodic Table. Rooms include chalkboards, bench seating, and other nods to academia. The school officially closed in the 1970s, but class is still in session — at least for hotel guests.  

Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast – Farmington, New Mexico

View inside cave suite at Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast in Farmington, New Mexico
Credit: Image courtesy of Bruce Black/ Kokopelli’s Cave Bed & Breakfast 

Carved into a 60 million-year-old sandstone cliff face, Kokopelli’s B&B is another accommodation you’ll need to see in person to believe. Here, guests can watch the sun dip on the horizon and appreciate unparalleled views of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in the Four Corners region. There is no elevator to reach your room, so it’s not recommended for those with limited mobility, but guests can appreciate rustic touches including a replica Native American kiva (circular communal space), a waterfall shower with a rock wall, and Southwest-inspired décor throughout. 

Red Caboose Motel – Ronks, Pennsylvania

Exterior sign lit at night at Red Caboose Motel in Ronks, Pennsylvania
Credit: Jon Arnold Images Ltd/ Alamy Stock Photo

In 1969, the Pennsylvania Railroad put a total of 19 surplus cabooses — each weighing 25 tons — up for auction, and local businessman Donald M. Denlinger was the lucky bidder. Denlinger chose to convert the cars into hotel rooms, and the Red Caboose Motel was born in Lancaster County on Mother’s Day 1970. In the decades since, it has expanded to include 38 cars and has hosted countless travelers in search of a one-of-a-kind accommodation. 

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