Travel News

Bring Inn the Funk

Locations in this article:  San Luis Obispo, CA Seattle, WA

irisgroomSummer is almost over and it won’t be long before the kids are back in school. But as you are organizing their back-to-school gear, you catch a glimpse of the shell collection they gathered on your family vacation last month and…is that a little bit of nostalgia creeping in?

Well, don’t worry, travel doesn’t have to end when the school year begins. Weekend trips are a great way for families — or just the two of you — to reconnect without overdoing the bonding time — and unlike longer vacations, you probably won’t need to travel to a Disney-style destination with non-stop entertainment.

Instead, try finding a funky inn where the destination is the entertainment. These are places that are…well, unconventional. Some might say cheesy, but it’s that kind of silliness that can give you and the kids the giggles and make your weekend one to remember.

Madonna Inn

In San Luis Obispo, California, the Madonna Inn is known for its offbeat, okay gaudy, themed rooms. The inn first opened in 1958, and is one of the oldest continuously operated themed inns in the country. Consider it old-world American kitsch at its best.

With 109 rooms to choose from, there’s something for everyone. One of our favorites the Caveman room, made entirely out of stones. It even includes a rock waterfall shower and leopard-print furniture. Husbands may grumble over the pink floral Fabulous Fifties (pictured below) and the ornate Fleur-de-lis, but rest assured there is a plaid-and-green Golfers room. Angelic little girls often fall in love with the sweet Sugar & Spice room (think pink…lots and lots of pink). And, er, if you’re wanting to get in touch with your Irish heritage, let’s just say the Irish Hills room (pictured at top) will do the job.

fab50sThe original owner, Alex Madonna, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 85, opened the inn with his wife Phyllis. It was Phyllis who took over the interior design, and the couple worked with artists and designers from around the world to create the eccentric, detailed themed rooms. Room rates start at $160 and go up to about $284 per night. 800-543-9666,

Northern Rail Traincar B&B

You’ve probably tried to draw your kids out of their drooling video game obsession by pulling out your old Lionel train sets. It probably didn’t work. But they may jump up and down at the idea of sleeping in an actual train car. The Train Car Hotel in Two Harbors, Minnesota, is made up of connected rail cars with 18 guest rooms. You can choose from Victorian, Asian and safari-themed rooms.

The Yardmaster condo is also available for short and long-term rent, with a full kitchen, fireplace and lake view. Located on 160 acres of forested land (about 25 minutes outside of Duluth), you have access to Lake Superior, Gooseberry Falls, plus outdoorsy family activities like hiking and snowmobiling (rest assured, there’s WiFi). Room rates are about $100-$150. 877-834-0955,

dogDog Bark Park InnYou already told the kids they’re not ready for a dog. But what if they could sleep in one? In Cottonwood, Idaho, guests get to sleep inside the belly of the beagle. Sweet Willy is a 30-foot tall structure, flanked by his little brother Toby, a 12-foot tall statue. Four guests can sleep inside Sweet Willy, two in a queen-sized bed in main body, two up in his head.DogBarkPark

The muzzle can also fit kids who are under four feet tall (two can sleep in there, lengthwise). By Sweet Willy’s “backside” is a deck and big picture window for gazing out onto the prairie. The dogs were built by husband-and-wife team Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, who specialize in chainsaw art, so check out the studio where they create chainsaw dog carvings that are available in the gift shop. Rates are $88 per night, including breakfast. 208-962-3647,

If you’re actually craving a vacation away from your kids, try escaping to one of these funky for-couples-only hideaways:

The Big Red Barn Getaway on the Puget Sound is a ferry ride away from Seattle, and offers a quirky little spot designed just for two. It’s big, it’s red, and yes, it was once a real working barn. Built in the 1890s, the barn was renovated into a tiny inn by owners Todd and Carol Eskelin. The surrounding area is excellent for hiking and birdwatching (you might actually catch sight of a Bald Eagle,” and nearby Port Townsend is packed with cute antique shops, galleries and restaurants. $139 per night. 360-301-1271,

For the couple with a sense of humor, the Anniversary Inn has four locations in Utah and Idaho. These adults-only inns claim to be “elegant” and “romantic,” but really you need to be able to indulge in serious kitsch to get the most out of your stay. Each over-the-top suite has a theme, like the biker road house with a Harley-Davidson pinball machine and a leather bed. We prefer the rustic Mountain Hideaway (a pair of decorative snowshoes sit on top of the fireplace), and the libido-enhancing Jungle Safari, where your shower is an elephant’s trunk. Get into the romance with cheesecake and sparkling cider upon check in, breakfast in bed, and in-room massages. Rates range from $169 to $289 per night.

By Managing Editor Sarika Chawla for

For more funky hotel destinations, check out Prison Hotels.

And don’t miss the rest of our accommodations hints, tips and ideas in our Hotels category.