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14 Strange and Unusual Hotels You’ll Want to Go Out of Your Way to Visit

Updated: Jan. 06, 2023

Most people pick a vacation destination and then search for a place to stay. Here are some places that may inspire you to turn that thinking around and find fun things to do while staying in one of these unique rooms. Unlike popular theme rooms that are designed to look like intriguing locales, these hotels offer the real deal.

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Kathleen Nyberg

Anderson School, Bothell, Washington

The Anderson School, a junior high built in 1931, is an art deco building on five acres 15 miles northeast of Seattle. Here, classrooms have become hotel rooms, the woodshop has become a pub, and the pool has been transformed into the North Shore Lagoon, a Polynesian paradise complete with poolside dining. The Anderson School Brewery is housed in the former woodshop and the old cafeteria now boasts farm-to-table dining. At this School Theater, you can eat and drink while watching a movie, with service to your seat. Bothell is known as a craft beer destination and is part of the Seattle metropolitan area. Here are the hotels with the most comfortable beds in the world.

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Aurora Express

Aurora Express Bed & Breakfast, Fairbanks, Alaska

The Aurora-Express Bed & Breakfast offers a number of train cars that have been restored to various periods in history. The train cars reside on 700 feet of railroad track overlooking Fairbanks and the Tanana Valley. The interiors vary: One has been converted into four suites; another has been converted to its original use as a sleeper car. A two-bedroom suite was previously a hospital car in World War II, and the caboose has been restored to serve as a private suite-car. The latest addition to the property is the Diner Car, an 85-foot long car that seats 24. You can enjoy breakfast there, sometimes with entertainment (Blockbuster still exists in Alaska, so you might as well take advantage of that while you’re there). Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city, offers many outdoor activities as well as shopping and the opportunity to see the northern lights.

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Mallory Jane Photography

Beckham Creek Cave Lodge, Parthenon, Arkansas

Beckham Creek Cave Lodge is luxury cave dwelling. You read that right: The 6,000 square feet of living space offers four bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom. With a full kitchen, multiple couches and chairs as well as a 75-inch TV, there is ample space to gather and there are even areas to go to have some alone time; showers and furniture are neatly tucked into cave walls. The cave is set into the side of the mountain, providing a view of both the mountains and the valley below. Only minutes from the Buffalo River, nature and outdoor adventures are just a short distance away.

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Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers a choice of rooms in either an authentic railcar or an adjoining building. Terminal Station, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as the hub for the vacation complex and is also home to an 1880 Chattanooga Choo Choo train engine, the only one of its kind in the city. With two music venues, a comedy venue, an award-winning restaurant and an upcoming exhibit that will feature a rotating collection of guitars, there is much to do without leaving the hotel grounds. While check-in is in the station, the rooms are in an adjacent building and in 48 railcars on the property. Chattanooga offers outdoor activities, as well as museums, restaurants, and a variety of art and music venues. These are the things you’ll never see in hotels again.

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Dog Bark Park Inn

Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood, Idaho

The Dog Bark Park Inn is run by a husband/wife artist team who specialize in folk-art dog carvings. Affectionately known as Sweet Willy, the structure is reminiscent of the roadside architecture of the early days of road travel. Toby, a 12-foot tall beagle stands loyally at attention at Willy’s side. The three-story beagle-shaped bed and breakfast has two floors of living space and sleeps four. The second floor features a queen bed with 26 dogs carved into the headboard. Up in Willy’s muzzle is a loft with two fold-out futons. As would be expected, well-behaved dogs are welcome, when arranged in advance. The area is rich in outdoor activities; the Lewis & Clark Trail is nearby.

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Featherbed Railroad

Featherbed Railroad Caboose Bed and Breakfast, Upper Lake, California

The Featherbed Railroad sits on the shore of Clear Lake in Northern California. Guests stay in one of nine vintage cabooses overlooking a private boat launch and pier. Each caboose is decorated with a different theme, such as the Orient Express, Casablanca or the Wild Wild West. The rooms are each furnished with a queen size bed and second story cupola; most also have a Jacuzzi tub. Breakfast is served in the nearby 100-year old Main Station. There are a number of outdoor activities, as well as wineries and museums nearby. For those with an interest (or an aversion) to the paranormal, you should know there have also been reports of a ghost sighting in one caboose.

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Grand Canyon Caverns Suite

The Grand Canyon Caverns Suite, Peach Springs, Arizona

The Grand Canyon Cavern’s Underground Cave Suite calls itself “The largest, deepest, darkest, oldest, quietest motel room in the world.” This suite is truly for the adventurous. It is the largest dry cave in America, 220 feet below ground. Water is hand carried to the suite by staff and a staff member is available at the top level of the elevator to assist you during your stay. A single room built into the cavern, the suite is furnished with two double beds, a pull out queen sofa, table and chairs, a bathroom, a library of books and magazines dating back to the late 1800s, a working record player with records, and several lights. Check in and out is typically at the close and start of the times of the daily-guided tours. (The room is open, so there is little to no privacy during tour hours.) Aside from a number of cavern tours, there is also a private theater in the caverns and many above-ground outdoor activities as well. Here are the under-the-radar hotels you need to know about.

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Kathleen Nyberg

Kennedy School, Portland, Oregon

The Kennedy School in Northeast Portland opened as an elementary school in 1915 and has since been turned into a hotel with 57 guestrooms, (some of which still have the original chalkboards and cloakrooms). Also on site are restaurants and bars in the former cafeteria, boiler room, and classrooms (one cleverly called the Detention Bar), a movie theater, pool, and gift shop. In what used to be the little girls’ room, the Concordia Brewery is decorated with both the artwork of school girls and others that feature the history of brewing. Portland of course has an abundance of cultural and outdoor activities to choose from.

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Kokopelli’s Cave

Kokopelli’s Cave, Farmington, New Mexico

The 1700 square foot Kokopelli’s Cave is built into the sandstone cliffs overlooking the La Plata River Valley. It is accessible only by walking a sloping path and steps cut into the sandstone, so pack light! The cave entrance is southwest facing, providing a view of sunsets over four states. Besides the expected bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living and dining areas, the cave also has a replica North American kiva. Several National Park sites are in the area, including the Aztec Ruins National Monument, as well as casinos and a golf course. The town is also home to the Connie Mack World Series.

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Kathleen Nyberg

Old St. Francis School, Bend, Oregon

The Old St. Francis School dates back to 1936 when it was a Catholic schoolhouse. Today the facility’s décor reflects its original character in its halls and lodging located in what were the school’s classrooms. It offers a number of eating and drinking options, including a brewpub, theater bar, and the Broom Closet, a coffee house in the morning and cocktail and blues bar from afternoon to night. Befitting its history, stained glass and tile art can be found throughout the buildings. A unique feature is the soaking pool, which has an open ceiling and is open to both guests and the public. Bend is known for its outdoor pursuits and the town also offers shopping. These are the beachfront hotels you can actually afford.

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The Queen Mary

The Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

If you want to experience sleeping on a cruise ship without getting seasick, then a stay on the Queen Mary is for you. The ocean liner is a step back in time with staterooms featuring much of the original artwork and style. Build in the 1930s, the Queen Mary was the pride of the Cunard line. With the outbreak of WWII, she was converted to a warship and was retrofitted to her original splendor at the conclusion of the war. Retired in 1967, the ship found her home in Southern California, where she has remained to this day. Like more modern cruise ships, the Queen Mary has multiple dining options, shows, excursions and other amenities, but also offers various tours. (You may even spot a ghost!) The town of Long Beach offers arts and culture, an aquarium and sea excursions, and is about an hour from major south California attractions.

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Red Caboose Motel

Red Caboose Motel, Ronks, Pennsylvania

At the Red Caboose Motel in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can sleep in your own caboose. Open since 1970, the motel started with 19 surplus cabooses sold by the PA Railroad and has grown to include 38 cabooses, a baggage car, and a mail car, all decorated to match famous American railroads. There are nine floor plans to choose from, sleeping from two to six. The site is electric car friendly; you can charge your car at your caboose free of charge. Also on site are a movie theater, arcade, petting zoo, gift shop, and Amish buggy rides. The motel overlooks the Strasburg Rail Road and you can watch trains go by as you eat in the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you are a true train aficionado, right next door is the National Toy Train Museum and around the corner are the Choo Choo Barn and Strasburg Train Shop. In the heart of Amish country, there are many craft and antique shops as well as working farms to visit.

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Winvian Farm

Winvian Farm, Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

At Winvian Farm, you have a selection of interesting accommodations to choose from. The Treehouse is a two-story structure 35 feet above ground with a king-sized bed, gas fireplace, steam shower, and Jacuzzi on the first floor and a wood-burning fireplace and full bar upstairs. In the Helicopter, a Coast Guard chopper turned cottage, you can have cocktails in the cockpit, watch a film in the fuselage and sleep just outside the helicopter, which is housed in a red barn-like structure. Alternatively, you can stay in any of the other 16 cottages, such as the Library or the Beaver Lodge, or you can choose to stay in the Hadley Suite on the top floor of the original 1775 house. The property is situated on 113 acres of woodlands and meadows and boasts a spa, organic gardens and fine dining at its farm-to-table restaurant. The property adjoins miles of trails and Bantam Lake, Connecticut’s largest, is nearby. Next, check out the secrets hotels won’t tell you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest