Offbeat Sleeps: California's Quirkiest Theme Hotels

Spanish flair, English grandeur or Swiss charm – and all in California.

Japan is famous for its quirky hotels – think Hello Kitty rooms or tiny, coffin-sized sleeping capsules – but dig deep and California can run it close. Here’s our pick of the most offbeat places to lay your head in the Golden State.

Madonna Inn
Flickr CC-BY Rian Castilo
The Madonna Inn has been a landmark destination on California’s central coast for years, a winning mix of Swiss chalet façade and whimsical, unique guest rooms. Choose to stay surrounded by Spanish charm, 50s kitsch or English stately grandeur, among many, many others. For fun, there’s a spa, pool, fitness suite and trail riding, and the hotel is located in the heart of California’s celebrated wine country.
Wigwam Motel
Flickr CC-BY Passion Leica
The Wigwam Motel on iconic Route 66 is one of only three remaining Wigwam motels in the US, and for those wanting a retro experience (rather than an especially luxurious one) it’s pretty much unbeatable. The motel was built in 1949, just as long distance motoring took off in the States, and the cone-shaped dwellings represent a quirky slice of historic Americana.
Point Arena Lighthouse
Gary Weathers via Getty Images
You don’t sleep in the Point Arena Lighthouse itself, the tallest on the West Coast, but instead in one of three Assistant Keeper’s cottages next door. All come complete with roaring log fires and incredible views of the Pacific coast, and free roaming on the property’s 23 acres of grounds. You do get unlimited access to the lighthouse museum and the tower itself, though with 140 stairs to climb you might only complete the latter once or twice during your trip. The panoramic land- and sea-scape vista available from the top is well worth the effort, though.
The Charlie
It’s believed that the grounds of what is now The Charlie in West Hollywood were once home to cottages belonging to Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson. Today, 14 old English style bungalows, set among flowers, vines and even a wishing well, create a peaceful, Hollywood-flavoured respite in the middle of the bustling city.
Santa Barbara Auto Camp
Flickr CC-BY leyla.a
Recreate the romance of the open road by staying in one of five tastefully modernised Slipstream caravans, at Santa Barbara Auto Camp, right in the heart of Santa Barbara. The iconic silver Slipstreams date from the 1950s, 60s and 70s and each comes complete with two beach cruiser bicycles, so you can explore the American Riviera – think luxury shopping, fine dining and excellent surfing – in leisurely style.
Hotel Figueroa
Flickr CC-BY Sam Howzit
Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles is a relaxed and stylish oasis which oozes 1920s charm. The old building retains much of its original Spanish Mediterranean architecture, and every room offers bold colours and striking patterns. It really could be the set of a Humphrey Bogart movie, albeit one replete with all modern amenities. The hotel is currently undergoing further restoration but will reopen for summer 2016.
Post Ranch Inn
Holger Leue via Getty Images
This once-in-a-lifetime stay isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny. The Post Ranch Inn offers private hiking trails and cliff-side pools, all of which afford incredible panoramic views of Big Sur’s stunning mountain and ocean landscapes. The accommodation is every bit as spectacular. The luxurious treehouse on stilts-style rooms are ocean facing and give the impression of teetering on the very edge of a great continent, which is of course exactly what they are.
Castle Wood Cottages
Romantic hideaways at Big Bear Lake in Southern California, Castle Wood Cottages are kitsch, clichéd and a whole lot of fun. Choose to spend the night in the Egyptian themed Anthony and Cleopatra room, or among the oak panels and seafaring paraphernalia of the Captain’s Quarters, among many others. The rooms are set in lush woodland, next to a tumbling stream.
Dockside Boat & Bed
If you’ve ever wanted to lounge around on board a luxury private yacht but have neither the maritime skills or sea legs for a sailing adventure, Dockside Boat & Bed may just be for you. You’ll fall asleep with the gentle lapping of waves in your ears and the smell of sea in your nostrils, but safely tethered to private moorings in scenic Rainbow Harbour, a stone’s throw from the attractions of downtown Long Beach.
Venice Beach Eco Cottages
The unique Venice Beach Eco Cottages sit right in the heart of Venice Beach, within easy reach of the area’s shops and restaurants and of course the famous stretch of fine yellow sand. They’re quirky, cosy and artfully eccentric – much like the bohemian Venice Beach neighbourhood itself. The Papa Hemingway cottage, for instance, features coloured glass, fishing baskets and a bathroom floor made from recycled wine corks.