Boutique hotels, despite an impulse to define them, hinge just as much on what they aren’t: They are not mainstream, found at every highway exit from Boston to Newport, Oregon. The historical, and somewhat dated, perception is that boutiques are small and design-focused accommodations, and must not exceed 100 rooms. The best of today’s new breed of boutique, however, tend to fall somewhere in between. They can be parts of chains, and they can have 300+ rooms; they just have to feel special.
If you’re like us, notable vacations center around discovery — about a place, its people, ourselves. A good hotel embodies that ethos, and centers around a simple, but potent belief: you travel to experience something singular, something new. A good hotel is unique to its setting; it tells a singular story of the city or the town you’ve come to see, whether that’s through locally sourced art, historical buildings or a destination steakhouse. But, most importantly, a good hotel makes the unfamiliar feel friendly. And that starts with a quiet, comfortable place to rest your head.
Los Angeles, CA: Opened January 2014 in the heart of L.A.’s Koreatown, The Line is the brainchild of the Sydell Group, the same team behind boutique hotel and hostel chains the NoMad and Freehand. It has understated décor, concrete walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and toiletries by Baxter of California. The Line is also home to a series of hip, new restaurants by chef Roy Choi, including Pot and Commissary. From $229.
Palm Springs, CA: L’Horizon nestles into a restored 1952 property built by legendary desert architect William Francis Cody. The rooms (25 in total) operate as independent bungalows on a 2.5-acre property a few miles from central Palm Springs; situated around a communal infinity pool, each is outfitted with an eclectic array of mid-century furniture, Le Labo toiletries and Dean & DeLuca minibar snacks. From $485.
San Francisco, CA: Just a few minutes by foot from the Great American Music Hall in Tenderloin, San Francisco, the Phoenix Hotel is a storied favorite among modern-day rock royalty, including members of Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Killers. Though once a sordid motor motel, the space retains its unpolished charm, while still offering a few key amenities: oversized rooms, a poolside patio and free parking. From $169.
Venice Beach, CA: Photographers Glen Luchford and Doug Bruce, who, following decades of neglect, re-opened The Rose Hotel in Venice, California, seem to champion character over embellishment. The minimal-chic interior of the hotel features soft colors and wood furnishings, while some rooms use shared bathrooms to keep prices low. But if “no-frills” is a turnoff, Venice beach, just a stone’s throw away, should reel you back in. From $180.
Carbondale, CO: As its name suggests, Carbondale’s first boutique hotel doubles as distillery, specializing in vodka, ginger limoncello and coffee liqueur, which can all be savored via the rooms’ minibars. You’ll also find touchscreen-operated fireplaces and balconies overlooking one of Colorado’s tallest peaks, Mount Sopris. From $249.
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Lewes, DE: Since it was founded back in 1995, in Milton, Delaware, Dogfish Head Brewery has become one of the most widely recognized names in craft brewing. Its beer-inspired hotel in Lewes, a 20-minute drive from the brewery, is a shining example of beer tourism’s spirit: modest, modern, fun. Rooms feature Woolrich blankets and Malin + Goetz toiletries, not to mention a deliciously stocked minibar. From $189.
Miami, FL: With locations in New York City and Los Angeles, The Standard’s outpost near Miami Beach separates itself as “a spa with guest rooms.” Located on Belle Island, the hotel’s “hydrotherapy playground” is home to aa Turkish-style hamam, Roman waterfall hot tub, Finnish sauna and a full schedule of yoga classes. For those who prefer privacy, rooms feature private terraces with outdoor tubs. From $206.
Chicago, IL: Founded in 1893, the present-day Chicago Athletic Association pays homage to its past life as private men’s club; it was closed in 2007 then re-opened as a hotel. The Venetian Gothic architecture, designed Henry Ives Cobb and refreshed by design firm Roman and Williams, is old-world without feeling dated, probably thanks to its airy floor-to-ceiling windows and rooftop restaurant, Cindy’s, that offers panoramic views of Millennium Park. From $209.
New Orleans, LA: Blocks from NOLA’s French Quarter, the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery repurposes a 19th-century warehouse that, once upon a time, provisioned the Port of New Orleans with goods such as rope and tobacco. Today, the rooms’ exposed brick walls feature art made by local students from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, while the lobby store, The Chandlery, sells goods by regional artisans and collectives, including Tchoup Industries, Red Arrow Workshop and Sweet Olive Soapworks. From $127.
Boston, MA: XV Beacon became one of Boston’s first boutique hotels when it opened back in the late ’90s. Set in charming Beacon Hill, each of its 63 rooms feature a gas fireplace and a rainforest shower, with a mix of marble and mocha-colored furnishings. Next door, guests can find one of Boston’s best steaks, cooked by the chefs at Mooo. From $495.
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The Press Hotel
Portland, ME:Portland’s first lifestyle boutique hotel opened in 2015, giving a second life to the former home of the Portland Press Herald. The interior, designed by Stonehill & Taylor, is laden with memorabilia to honor the previous tenant — a wall of floating typewriters, typewriter key-styled bar coasters. For consistency, each of the rooms, 110 in total, is modeled after writers’ offices of the ’20s. From $149.
Detroit, MI: Opened by Designtripper blogger, Meghan McEwan, the cozy, two-room Honor & Folly inn is set in the spiritual center of Corktown, Detroit — not just the city’s oldest neighborhood, but a place Bon Appétitcalls “a destination for the city’s hungry creative class.” Downstairs you have Slows BarBq, Sugar House bar and Astro Coffee. From $215.
Brooklyn, NY: Like much of the stores, offices and residential buildings along the Williamsburg waterfront, the 70-room Wythe Hotel is an exercise in up-cycling. It makes its home inside a refurbished factory, while the rooms feature custom beds, constructed from reclaimed ceiling pine. Reservations include access to the hotel’s movie screening room and access to the nearby Brooklyn Athletic Club. From $395.
Mt. Tremper, NY: For a hamlet town just north of 1,000 inhabitants, Mount Tremper, in New York’s Catskill Park, has a lot of character. Travelers there will find a Zen monastery, a French bistro (La Dutchesse Anne) and the world’s largest kaleidoscope. The 11-room Foxfire Mountain House, housed in a 100-year-old inn, refurbished with Moroccan tiles and sun-bleached bed frames, caters to the modern creative class looking to explore the Catskills on a cozy weekend in the country. From $175.
Montauk, NY: Built in the late ’60s, the Surf Lodge boasts an “organic kind of chic” with outdoor light fixtures from Haiti and waterfront views of Fort Pond. Calm as it is, however, the hotel’s summer concert series alone is worth finding your way to the tip of Long Island. Past performers include Patti Smith, Willie Nelson and Gary Clark Jr. From $279.
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The NoMad Hotel
New York, NY: Housed in a beaux-arts building in Midtown Manhattan’s recently-deemed-hip Flatiron District, the NoMad Hotel delivers on Parisian chic (the rooms were designed by French architect Jacques Garcia), with large king-sized beds, leather headboards and clawfoot bathtubs. To boot, the hotel’s restaurant is led by Daniel Humm, the world-renowned chef of Eleven Madison Park. From $295.
Portland, OR: With locations from New Orleans to Panama, the Ace brand has, for many, come to represent a new breed of luxury boutique hotels. Headquartered in Portland, the city’s own outpost is perhaps the best representation of what Ace does best: settle in a place, and provide a launching pad to best explore it. The hotel, in the former Clyde Hotel building downtown, is a two-minute stroll from Powell’s Books, and also provides loaner bikes. From $125.
Providence, RI: The Dean is Providence’s response to the budding hotels of New York and Los Angeles, with an eclectic mix of vintage furniture and local artwork throughout. By day, guests can sip on locally roasted coffee from the lobby expresso bar, while making plans to visit the hotel’s German-inspired beer hall, trendy cocktail bar and the city’s first, and only, karaoke lounge. From $161.
Charleston, SC: Tucked into a calm corner of Charleston’s Ansonborough neighborhood, Zero George blends Southern hospitality with a taste of modern-day luxe. Made up of five refurbished homes around a central, gated courtyard, the hotels offers guests a wine-and-cheese happy hour, while cooking classes are hosted by the chef. From $359.
Austin, TX: Austin’s rise as a hip, new culture capital is largely thanks to the restaurant and shop openings in South Congress, sometimes referred to by locals as simply “SoCo.” Here is where the South Congress Hotel makes its home. The rooms feature hardwood floors, minimalist decor and Aesop toiletries; but the real reason to come is for the bar and restaurant offerings, including Café No Sé, Central Standard and 12-seat omakase sushi restaurant named Otoko. From $269.
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San Antonio, TX: Hotel Emma, San Antonio’s latest buzzed-about opening, repurposes a 19th-century brewhouse in the Pearl District. Designed by Roman and Williams from NYC, the hotel’s rooms feature claw-foot tubs, hand-painted tiles and an in-room pantry of provisions, while a high-ceiling, communal library houses the 3,700-volume personal collection of Sherry Kafka Wagner, a San Antonio writer and local icon. From $275.
Park City, UT:Park City‘s Washington School House Hotel, set in a former 19th-century schoolhouse built with quarried limestone, is an icon to residents and recurring visitors alike. With just 12 rooms, features include marble tubs and reclaimed wood (from a barn) floors — an idyllic setting in which to savor some après-ski cocktails. From $380.
Charlottesville, VA: The Graduate chain of boutique hotels targets college towns across the country — Ann Arbor, Oxford, Athens — places often devoid of swanky overnights. From a design perspective, the Graduate Charlottesville, across the street from the University of Virginia, is at the top of the heap, with a mix of vintage mid-century furnishings, plaid carpets and eclectic artwork that’s so tacky it might just work. From $135.
Seattle, WA: Minutes from Pike Place Market, Seattle’s The Palladian Hotel is owned and operated by Kimpton, the largest chain of boutique hotels across the globe. The 97-room hotel combines touches of old-world ambiance (old leather couches, vintage brass light fixtures) with modern comfort, colorful textiles and views of Seattle’s artsy neighborhood Belltown near the waterfront. From $285.
Washington, D.C.: Named after the late Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, The Graham sits in one of Washington’s most historic, picturesque neighborhoods, Georgetown. With easy access to the capital’s many landmarks, the Graham boasts two worthy destinations in its own right, including the Alex, a small-plate restaurant, and the Observatory, an open-air lounge overlooking the banks of the Potomac River and Georgetown’s cobblestone streets. From $279.
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Criteria for Inclusion: Our picks reflect the hotels designed to build travelers’ experiences in a particular destination, whether it be a quirky town in the Catskills or a budding, young city on the verge of greatness. As such, we’ve chosen to omit all-inclusive resorts, where the experience of staying is centered around the hotel itself. Though cities like New York, Los Angeles and Charleston boast many boutique hotels, all worthy of inclusion here, we’ve done our best to focus on the country as a whole.
Did we miss something? Have a suggestion for a hotel we should visit? Send us a note at: email@example.com.
Jack Seemer is the deputy editor at Gear Patrol. Since joining the publication in 2014, he has reported on a wide range of subjects, including menswear, smart home technology, cookware and craft beer.
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