By Matt Meltzer
Unless your name happens to be Arthur Fonzarelli (in which case, that’s crazy!), it’s hard to define the word “cool”. And even harder to apply the label to hotels, when “cool” could mean historic, or trendy, or that the place is actually a decommissioned Coast Guard helicopter with a full-service bar… in your room!
But since we’re not above doing hard work, we tried to figure out just how each state would define cool, and then applied that spirit to their hotels. In the end, we came up with what we think is each state’s coolest, most emblematic hotel. Or we were wildly off. You decide.
Credit: Battle House
The Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa — Mobile, AL
With a badass name like The Battle House, you’d assume this place was some sort nullof Confederate headquarters during the Civil War. Turns out that while the historic hotel was indeed open during the war, it got the name from its founder, a guy named James Battle. Mildly disappointing, indeed, but it doesn’t make this spot — where Stephen Douglas stayed when Lincoln whipped him in the election of 1858 — any less awesome; the interior will make you feel like you’ve time-traveled back 150 years.
Credit: Ultima Thule Lodge
Ultima Thule Lodge — Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, AK
It’s Alaska, so you know we’re not gonna tell you about some swanky joint in Anchorage with a killer brunch buffet. No, we’re gonna tell you about this luxury lodge that’s 100 miles from the nearest road, and only accessible by private plane. Here you’ll sit in the middle of the largest swath of protected land on the planet; you’ll hike, fish, and boat while your hosts spend the day cooking an epic meal that you’ll eat in a dining room full of oversized chairs, before retreating to your private, hillside cabin.
Credit: Shady Dell
Shady Dell Vintage Trailer Court — Bisbee, AZ
A lot of hotels will claim to “transport you back to another time,” but as soon as you flip on the TV and “Real Housewives” comes on, you become painfully aware it’s still 2014. Not so at this vintage trailer park, where not only have they adorned every trailer in perfect 1950s kitsch, but the radios only play music from that era, the TVs are black and white, and there’s nothing to read but words printed on old newspaper rife with cigarette ads. But don’t let the ads fool you; the only 21st century advent at Shady Dell is a strict non-smoking policy.
Beckham Creek Cave Lodge — Parthenon, AR
Don’t try to sound all “back-to-nature” when you tell friends you’re unleashing your inner caveman by staying in this lodge built into a real cave in the Ozarks. The place is actually a full-on house complete with Jacuzzi, five master bedrooms, satellite TV, and, oh yeah, a heliport. That’s one big cave. Obviously, Beckham Creek’s a popular spot for weddings, events, and celebrities who don’t want anyone to know they’re in Arkansas.
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The Queen Mary — Long Beach, CA
We’re not really sure what else to say about this other than IT’S THE QUEEN MARY. As in, the most famous cruise ship ever that didn’t crash into an iceberg. Yeah, THAT Queen Mary. And while this trans-Atlantic luxury liner from a bygone era now makes its permanent home in the LBC, it’s also a 346-room luxury hotel complete with a spa, shopping, and first-rate gym.
Credit: Facebook user The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel — Estes Park, CO
Colorado’s got plenty of luxurious mountain resorts, but there’s only one so awesome it inspired Stephen King to write 200,000 words about it. This spot (named for the same guy who founded Stanley Steamer) is the hotel from “The Shining,” and while you might not run into a bartender who tells you to kill your family, there are enough rumored ghost stories in this place to make it a bona fide haunted landmark.
Winvian — Litchfield Hills, CT
Try not to get the theme from “Airwolf” stuck in your head (because it will, GOD it will) when you check into this 118-acre resort in rural Connecticut, because of all their 18 themed cottages, the one you’re 100% going to stay in is the fully restored 1968 Sea King Pelican HH3F helicopter. If somehow that’s not your thing, there’s also a log cabin, a treehouse, a greenhouse, and even something called the “secret society”.
Credit: Hotel du Pont
Hotel du Pont — Wilmington, DE
If you ever want to go see where your credit card bill comes from (you know, ‘cause practically every credit card company is based here), this historic spot in the heart of downtown Wilmington is the place to stay. The 1913 gilded-age beauty was originally outfitted with hand-carved woodwork, Italian tile mosaic floors, and classic oil paintings. That opulence was recently restored thanks to a $40 million renovation that also included the 1,250-seat DuPont Theatre inside, where you can catch a Broadway show.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Credit: Willard InterContinental
The Willard — Washington, DC
The Smithsonian is only about two blocks away, and the lobby of DC’s oldest and grandest luxury hotel feels like an extension of it. With Renaissance-style ceilings, 335 rooms, and an overwhelming feeling of governmental opulence, this place has been in the city since the 1850s and puts up one of the most famous Christmas trees in America not on the White House lawn.
Credit: Jules’ Undersea Lodge
Jules’ Undersea Lodge — Key Largo, FL
In a state where the highest point may well be an offramp at Yeehaw Junction, exceptional views are hard to come by. Which is why your best bet isn’t up, but down. As in 30 feet below the surface of the water inside America’s only underwater hotel. The two-bedroom, one-bath hotel lets you literally sleep with the fishes (and dolphins!), not to mention dive all day without ever having to surface.
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The Cloister at Sea Island — Sea Island, GA
Typically the only thing exciting about the drive between Jacksonville and Savannah is the thrill of cheap gas when you cross the state line. That is unless you’re headed to Sea Island, a barrier island near Brunswick where this Mediterranean palace stands surrounded by three golf courses, a five-mile public beach, and spacious ocean villas.
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Travaasa Hana Resort — Hana, HI
This resort on the remote eastern tip of Maui proves that life can be about the journey and the destination. If you opt not to fly into Hana’s microscopic airport, the Hana Highway is a 52-mile, two-lane road that winds over 59 bridges through the Hawaiian rainforest before arriving at Travaasa, a 70-room compound on a hill overlooking Kaihalulu Bay. While each cottage comes with a whirlpool spa, the place is a throwback — so don’t expect TV or air conditioning.
Credit: Dog Bark Park Inn
Dog Bark Park Inn — Cottonwood, ID
When you heard you’d be sleeping inside the world’s tallest beagle in the wilderness of Idaho, you probably thought you’d have to go all Hoth Han Solo and stuff your friends into the belly of a giant snoopy to stay warm, didn’t you? Nope. No eviscerating required here, as this beagle is actually a 27-foot-high B&B with only one bedroom, and the main attraction at an entire park filled with dog-themed artwork.
The Drake Hotel — Chicago, IL
If you’ve ever seen vintage footage of a party in Chicago during the roaring ’20s, it was probably filmed at this stone monster on the north end of Michigan Avenue, where every celebrity of the era was known to carouse. In 1954, when Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, they carved their initials in the hotel bar.
Historic Union Station — Indianapolis, IN
Sleeping in airports is kinda cool. Sleeping in train stations? That’s pretty much for backpackers and guys who also sleep in front of libraries. Unless that train station is the Historic Union Station in Indy, which’s been converted into a 273-room luxury hotel complete with rooms housed in sleeper cars that’re still on the tracks. Decommissioned tracks, we hope.
The Blackhawk Hotel — Cedar Falls, IA
Not to be confused with the Hotel Blackhawk (which, apparently, also exists) in Davenport, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Hawkeye state has been open since the 1850s. In addition to historic rooms with exposed brick walls and antique furnishings, they’ll also offer private cottages and modernized “mod” motor inn behind the property. Also, there’s a lobby martini lounge called the Stuffed Olive.
1874 Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast — Cottonwood Falls, KS
Kansas isn’t known as a state flush with tourist attractions, aside from maybe Dorothy’s house, but the Stonehouse B&B definitely qualifies. It doesn’t get more authentic than spending a night smack in the middle of the state’s famous wheat fields, and in a house that looks like it was transported from somewhere in the Irish countryside to the middle of a prairie (by tornado?). It’s also just a few miles from Tallgrass National Park and some excellent fishing on the Cottonwood River.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Wigwam Village Inn #2 — Cave City, KY
The oldest of this wigwam hotel chain dates back to 1937 (there are two more in California and Arizona) and offers guests the chance to sleep in, well, a wigwam (or are they teepees?), complete with original wicker and cane furnishings. Although, be warned, the teepees (or are they wigwams?) also have bathrooms with running water and power, in case you’d prefer a super-authentic wigwam experience. But they’re also in-authentically non-smoking, which you’ll probably be grateful for.
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Jazz Quarters — New Orleans, LA
While picking the coolest hotel in New Orleans is kinda like picking the hottest girl at Ultra, this French Quarter spot nestled behind Palmettos has eight separate cottages all themed after different jazz legends, like Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick, and Trombone Shorty. If you’re not in the mood to use the in-cottage kitchen, a gratis full breakfast is served daily in their dining room, and you can relax afterward in their sunny courtyard, a surprisingly quiet patio in the middle of the bustling French Quarter.
Asticou Inn — Northeast Harbour, ME
This grand old New England hotel sits at the base of Eliot Mountain right outside of Maine’s best-known natural attraction, Acadia National Park, and boats a spacious 31-room main lodge, turn-of-the-century charm, and seaside cottages where, presumably, Angela Lansbury would hide while trying to solve the murder.
Credit: Inn at Perry Cabin
Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond — St. Michaels, MD
Instantly recognizable from its role in “Wedding Crashers,“ this Victorian manor house (which originally dates back to the 19th century) is a tranquil waterfront resort on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where you can actually boat up to the hotel. And yes, docking space is free for guests (as is the helipad). In addition to crashing weddings — of which they host many, as you can imagine — guests can also enjoy the spa or fireside drinks in the pub.
The Liberty Hotel — Boston, MA
A mere 24 years ago, if you said you were spending a night at 215 Charles Street, it meant someone was gonna have to bail you out in the morning. The former Charles Street Jail, which opened in the 1850s (and closed in 1990), was completely overhauled into a luxe, 298-room granite masterpiece, complete with 19 rooms that are actually IN a former cell block. It also maintains five bars and restaurants, including Alibi, which’s situated in what used to be the overnight holding area for folks who had a few too many.
Credit: Facebook user GrandHotel
Grand Hotel — Mackinac Island, MI
Despite the fact that poor Detroit is the punchline to everyone’s favorite “miserable city” joke, Michigan as a state is beautiful. In summer, anyway. Which is why this 386-room mega resort where no two rooms are the same is only open from May to October. Accessible by ferry on an island where the preferred mode of transport is horse-drawn carriage (in fact, cars are prohibited), Grand Hotel offers five-course meals served on the world’s largest front porch.
Northern Rail Traincar Inn — Two Harbors, MN
Maybe going to a hotel a half hour from Duluth isn’t the BEST idea in the winter, but when summertime rolls around, so does your chance to live like a hobo! This hotel near Lake Superior has 17 rooms built in renovated boxcars, each with a different theme like Victorian or Bear. Best part, you don’t have to sleep on a bail of hay and nobody’s going to push you out halfway between DC and Chicago.
Credit: Shack Up Inn
The Shack up Inn — Clarksdale, MS
If you really want to experience what life was like for guys like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, you gotta live like they lived. Here, you can stay in a two-room shack that was once occupied by poor, rural plantation workers in the early 20th century. Retrofitted with only the basics like heat and running water, rooms are decorated with retro signs and pictures of musicians. You can also grab a beer at the hotel juke joint, or take a blues guitar lesson in the lobby.
Credit: Garth Woodside Mansion
Garth Woodside Mansion — Hannibal, MO
So, you take the house that’s pretty much the model for every haunted house movie exterior in history, and then put it on a remote 36 acres in a place called HANNIBAL? That is pure horror genius, and undoubtedly why this Victorian-era mansion is routinely rated the best B&B in Missouri. It’s got eight rooms and three cottages, all done up in antique furniture for that true Merchant Ivory feel. A welcome contrast to the Wes Craven-feeling exterior.
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Triple Creek Ranch — Darby, MT
When you hear the worlds “all-inclusive resort”, you typically think of pounding way-too-many sugary drinks on the beach and eating from endless buffet tables. Or, if you’re at this all-inclusive resort, ranked among the best in the world, you’ll find fly fishing, horseback riding, archery, cattle drives, golf, rafting, skiing, and sipping fine wine at a gourmet restaurant by the side of a mountain. You know, ‘cause it’s Montana.
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Hotel Deco XV — Omaha, NE
Though the words “modern luxury” and “Nebraska” aren’t exactly synonymous, this 89-room, ultra-mod hotel is next to the Old Market section of town and pretty much accounts for all of Omaha’s art-deco architecture. Maybe? It’s one of only two AAA four diamond properties in the entire state, and in addition to having Omaha’s best bourbon bar in the lobby, hotel staff will also drive you to the Huskers game in one of their Mercedes sedans, if that’s how you roll.
Credit: Wentworth by the Sea
The Wentworth by the Sea — New Castle, NH
Did you know this gilded age white gem is where they signed the treaty to end the Russo-Japanese war in 1905? Did you even know there was a Russo-Japanese war? Bet you knew it was used as a set in “In Dreams,” aka Robert Downey Jr’s last movie before rehab. Well, whether it’s helping end wars or movie stars’ sobriety, this 161-room seaside castle is the most historic hotel in New Hampshire; plus it’s on an island with an aesthetic as impressive as its history.
Credit: Atlantic Inn
Atlantis Inn — Ocean City, NJ
This is the coolest hotel in Jersey for one simple reason: You can sit on the rooftop sun-deck of this 1890s Victorian mansion after spending the night in your individually decorated suite complete with period furniture and antiques, and look out at… THE JERSEY SHORE. Because nothing will snap you out of that Jane Austen trance faster than six dudes in an Iroc blasting techno music and screaming “JERSEYYYYYYYY” at the people on the wood-framed balcony below you.
Kokopelli’s Cave — Farmington, NM
Any chump can lie on the Four Corners and Instagram himself laying in, OMG, four states at once. But watching the sunset over all four states while sitting on a balcony overlooking the La Plata river valley 300 feet below? The only way you’re doing that is at this B&B. It’s only got one bedroom but that one bedroom allows you to sleep in complete luxury (and shower under a waterfall) IN A CAVE.
Credit: Library Hotel
Library Hotel — New York, NY
This list is of the coolest, not the grandest. So please try and keep your head from exploding because the Plaza, or the Waldorf, or the Essex House isn’t here. But this place is themed around the Dewey Decimal system (!!),something that takes a lot more thought than crystal chandeliers. Each floor is centered on a different category of the system, with each room containing a collection of books that explain some aspect of said category. So you can learn while you’re on vacation! Or read nothing and just walk outside to see New York City. Either way, if you like books and/or watching front desk clerks slyly flirt with bashful bookworm guests, this could be your favorite hotel in the world.
Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Hotel — Las Vegas, NV
In the city that basically invented the over-the-top mega hotel, being the coolest isn’t easy. But Steve Wynn has done it with his double-towered Wynn and Encore. Not only does it offer panoramic views from nearly every room, and boasts 5-star ratings in every single category (from restaurant to rooms to service), but he somehow also managed to fit an 18-hole golf course just off the strip.
WATCH: The ceilings and carpets of the Wynn Las Vegas.
Credit: Grove Park Inn
The Omni Grove Park Inn — Asheville, NC
While the main reason you’d probably hit this 101-year old resort in the hills around Asheville is for its legendary golf courses, we won’t tell anyone if the real reason you’re going is to relax in a subterranean spa. It’s not often you get to lounge in a whirlpool surrounded by nothing but rock, and even rarer that you can take an elevator that’s built inside an old chimney. Is that even safe?
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The Hotel Donaldson — Fargo, ND
We’re talking about the coolest hotel in North Dakota. Which is kinda like talking about the smartest person in Florida. So you gotta adjust your standards. And while most lodging in North Dakota involves some kind of number in the name, this artsy, historic downtown spot has a rooftop hot tub for those chilly winter nights, a rooftop bar and martini lounge, art-inspired rooms, and a restaurant that serves all locally raised food.
Credit: 21c Museum Hotel
21c Museum Hotel — Cincinnati, OH
High culture in the Queen City didn’t end when Dr. Fever went off the air in 1982. Oh no, a stay at this downtown hotel provides not only easy access to the Aronoff Center for the Arts across the street, but also to the rotating exhibits at the hotel’s in-house art museum. And that’s not even the extent of the artsy flavor. Nope, housed in a 100-year-old building (formerly the Metropole Hotel on National Register of Historic Places) with a rooftop cocktail terrace, 21c’s guest rooms are all decked out with contemporary art as well.
Credit: The Skirvin
The Skirvin Hilton — Oklahoma City, OK
If you’re awakened in the middle of the night in this historic, 225-room hotel in downtown OKC by a strange, naked woman in your room, you’re either, a) Kevin Durant, or b) meeting the Skirvin’s resident ghost Effie, who was a maid and mistress to the original owner. Legend has it that after knocking her up, he forced her to live on the top floor (even after having the baby), which drove her crazy enough to jump — baby in arms — out the window. Male guests have reportedly been rumored to see this strange, naked vision, as well as hear whispers of sexual propositions and perpetual crying. Also, there’s a sweet indoor pool and live jazz in the piano bar.
Heceta Head Lighthouse — Yachats, OR
Living in a lighthouse seems like it’d be the coolest thing ever, until you realize your house is 10 feet wide and your best friends are a flock of seagulls — and not the band! But for a night? That’d be amazing. At HHL, located on a cliff overlooking the Oregon coast, you can enjoy the soothing sounds of the Pacific Ocean as you live like a lighthouse keeper in one of their turn-of-the-20th-century furnished cottages. Just be sure to avoid the rotating light, it’s described by some as the “strongest in Oregon”.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant — Ronks, PA
You know when your friends dare you to do something really stupid like moon a cop? Or draft Maurice Jones Drew? Or bid $100 on 19 old train cars being auctioned on eBay? Well that’s kinda what happened to Don Denlinger in 1969 (minus the eBay) when he won those train cars, moved them to Amish country, and completely refurbished them to open this motel. It’s now 38 sleeper cars strong with a dining car said to serve some of the best food in Eastern Pennsylvania (for what that’s worth). There’s even an on-site petting zoo.
Credit: The Chanler
The Chanler at Cliff Walk — Newport, RI
Devastated to learn that the Pewterschmidt Estate is completely made up, we went with this historic mansion instead — the only hotel located among the mansions on Newport’s famous Cliff Walk. Built in 1873, atop Newport’s majestic cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, the home actually did some time as a historical museum, and its collection of antiques is used in the décor of the 20 period-themed rooms.
Credit: Facebook user PalmettoBluff
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff — Bluffton, SC
While there’s no shortage of historic hotels in Charleston, nothing captures the essence of the Palmetto State better than this spot in Bluffton, which feels like a quaint village tucked into the lowland. Here you can enjoy a day of golf, tennis, cycling, kayaking through swampy marshlands, or hiking through oaks covered with Spanish moss before retreating to your cottage. The centerpiece is the main house, which has the look of a colonial plantation despite being relatively new. You can, however, still see charred remains of the original Wilson house on the property.
Credit: Custer Resorts
Sylvan Lake Lodge — East Custer, SD
It’s pretty cool that in the middle of South Dakota you can find a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed lakefront lodge. But unless you’re seriously into architecture, the bigger draw is probably waking up to a buffalo in your front yard. You can also hop in your car and, within an hour, get to Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, or Crazy Horse. The monument, not the strip club.
Credit: Chattanooga Choo Choo
Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel — Chattanooga, TN
Fortunately, you will NOT be hearing the Chattanooga Choo Choo if you stay in the coolest of Tennessee hotels; the Chattanooga Terminal Station actually hasn’t been a station since 1971. Fully converted to a hotel by 1974, guests can stay in old sleeper cars, eat under the elegant dome in the main dining room, or enjoy dinner accompanied by singing waiters and waitresses in the old baggage room at the Station House.
Credit: Settler’s Crossing
Settler’s Crossing Bed & Breakfast — Fredricksburg, TX
Kinda like that one episode of “Twilight Zone” where the guy leaves his wagon train, walks over a dune, and finds himself in 1962 New Mexico, so too will you leave your SUV and find yourself smack in the middle of another era, namely, the 19th century. The seven private houses at this Texas B&B date back to 1790 and are decorated with actual antiques from that period in order to give you the full pioneer experience. But with A/C and cable.
Amangiri — Canyon Point, UT
Because being stuck in the middle of a completely untouched desert canyon is pretty awesome (until you realize you’re stuck in a desert canyon), this resort 15 minutes down a winding road from the nearest town offers hike in/out access to some of the best canyon trails in the world. And when you’re done hiking, enjoy a massage, relax by the pool, or just kick back in your suite overlooking the desert valley.
Credit: Facebook user Twin Farms
Twin Farms — Barnard, VT
Vermont is kinda like L.A. in that it takes about an hour of driving to get anywhere, and an hour and a half to get to anywhere cool. But since your nightly rate at this resort 90 minutes from Burlington includes airport pickup, who cares? It also includes most of the wines in their 20,000 bottle cellar, gourmet meals, and activities like snowshoeing and skiing. The 20 rooms, suites, and private houses are secluded, individually themed, and all boast impressive art collections.
Primland — Meadows of Dan, VA
Treehouse hotel rooms? Cool, but it’s been done. Golfing, hunting, fishing, ATV rides, swimming, and Frolf? Sounds like summer camp. An in-hotel observatory? Well, that’s one we haven’t heard of before. Nor have we heard of an occasional chance to drive an Audi race car on the Virginia International Speedway. Expect both, though, when you arrive at Primland.
Credit: TreeHouse Point
TreeHouse Point — Fall City, WA
If the Great Northwest is known for one thing, it’s professional football teams that America is slowly growing to hate. But after that, it’s trees. And what better way to put yourself smack in the middle of all those giant evergreens than staying in a hotel that’s all treehouses. This spot, just a few minutes from Snoqualmie Falls, is made up of six luxury treehouses accessible by a series of 18-foot-high treetop bridges and hammocks.
The Greenbrier — White Sulfur Springs, WV
You’re gonna forget every joke you’ve ever made about West Virginia when you arrive at this historic, 710-room resort in the Allegheny Mountains. Dating back to 1778, The Greenbrier has 10 (!!) lobbies, 96 guest houses, nine restaurants, eight bars, a 100,000-square-foot casino, and a golf course that hosts an annual PGA event. Also, you have to try the steak at Prime 44.
Credit: Iron Horse
Iron Horse Hotel — Milwaukee, WI
Leave it to Milwaukee to somehow incorporate baked bean cans into contemporary-chic industrial interior design. But that’s exactly what’s happened at this converted downtown warehouse, where, perhaps better than anywhere in America, they’ve fused the raw, industrial feel of the original building with modern decor. Influenced by input from business travelers and motorcycle enthusiasts (it’s blocks from the Harley Davidson Museum), Iron Horse rocks exposed brick walls, metal piping, and pine beams, along with light fixtures made of motorcycle gears, knives, and, yep, those bean cans.
Amangani — Jackson, WY
While there might be a whole lot of nothing in Wyoming, there are plenty of views. And the best one of Jackson Hole might just be at this luxury property, which is perched over the valley between the Snake River Range and the Grand Tetons, on the edge of the East Gros Ventre Butte. So, not only do you get an ultra-modern suite or guest house, but you also get two mountain ranges and a river that runs through them.
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