Your kid's future alma mater isn't cookie-cutter, so why should your college tour accommodations be?
Sure, you can stay in some boilerplate roadside franchise, but if you're used to traveling in style, really delving into the most welcoming aspects of these college towns, stay in these one-of-a-kind hotels, inns and B&B's.
Yale, New Haven, CT: Study at Yale
A pair of mammoth brass eyeglasses sits at the entrance to this sleek New Haven, CT boutique hotel, a play on its academic influence, neighbor and namesake, Yale University. Street-level windows entice sidewalk amblers to peek into the sleek lobby-cum-study with its tidy hardwood floors, contemporary area rugs, leather and plush seating in blues, creams and grays and stacked geometric bookshelves brimming with art and architecture books.
Digs: "Study-sleek" suites sport light woods, luxe bedding with "rumpled-look" duvet, heather teals and earth-browns with colorful pinstriped carpeting. Ergonomic chairs are tucked beneath a working desk equipped with a mesh pencil cup chock full of wood pencils. Cute blue and white seersucker robes hang in gleaming white subway tile baths -- with grey-veined marble floors.
Eats: In-house Heirloom does brisk business morning, noon and night with fresh farm-to-table menu. Venture out for a truly tasty unique experience a few blocks away to Miya's Sushi, 68 Howe St., which claims to be the only "sustainable sushi restaurant in the US." Brilliant and quirky chef/owner Bun Lai, reins over this hole-in-the-wall destination restaurant. With concoctions like "Kiss A Smiling Pig," Bun says "We don't want trendy. We want accessible, world-class food while making fun of haute cuisine." Lines form out the door and down the block, so come early.
MIT/Harvard, Cambridge, MA: Kendall Hotel at Engine 7 Firehouse
Adjacent to the MIT campus, the 77-room Queen-Anne style Kendall Hotel @ Engine 7 Firehouse used to be a turn-of-the-century fire station. Repurposed as a luxurious Historic Hotel of America, nostalgic artifacts remain: a lifelike Dalmatian statue at the front door, a fire-truck door cocktail table, brigade buckets behind the small reception desk and framed collections of embroidered firehouse patches from all over the country adorn hallway walls. Old trunks, American crafts from the Victorian Age, Oriental rugs, broken-in wingback chairs and an ample number of knickknacks coalesce into a comfortable, laid-back, offbeat tableau, where MIT parents and professors, Google employees (an office is right across the street) and other high-tech industry workers, firemen and families congregate.
Digs: Each of the 77 rooms are quirky, luxurious and unique, though for the most authentic stay, ask for a room in the original firehouse dorm where brave firefighters once slept. Four-poster beds are get-a-running-start high, as is the bedding; small treats await repeat guests.
Eats: Have a bowl of "5-Alarm" chili downstairs at Black Sheep Restaurant.
Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Boston, MA: Liberty Hotel
Built in 1851 out of rough-hewn Quincy granite blocks, the former "progressive" Charles Street Jail is now a Swanky-with-a-capital-S hotel (a member of both American Express Fine Hotels and Starwood Luxury Connection) and the trendsetting celebrity home-away-from-home. If you want to get your college-bound student excited about Boston, this is where to start. An escalator ride takes you from street level to a soaring rotunda lobby encircled by upper-level catwalks and rooms where prisoners were once housed in tiny cells.
Digs: Modern, minimalist, rooms in shades of tan, cream, ecru and off-white, are nevertheless bright, comfy and geared toward the plugged in traveler with a nice personalized touch. Your name beams from your in-room phone screen, and bedside lamps feature outlets so you don't have to crawl on hands and knees or move tables to plug in your laptop. Beds are, of course, luxurious, plump and accessorized with sweater-patchwork blankets, popular in the mid 1850s.
Eats: Raise a glass in Clink or Alibi -- the former "drunk tank" -- featuring irreverent Hollywood star "wanted" posters on stone walls, lively with see and be seen-sters every evening. Restaurant Scampo's open copper kitchen, sleek décor and novel dishes have made it a city hotspot. Try a sampling from the Mozzarella Bar (eggplant and chewy-gooey cheese sprinkled with honey or king crab, buffalo mozzarella and avocado are particularly satisfying combos, $18 and $24), crowd-favorite lobster pizza or any delectable homemade pasta.
New York University, New York, NY: Washington Square Hotel
In the 1930s several luxury hotels ringed Washington Square Park, but only one prevailed. Celebrating its 110th anniversary, whimsical Washington Square Hotel, the only privately owned hotel in New York City, was elevated from Beat-Era flophouse to bohemian-luxe under the creative stewardship of Rita and Dan Paul who purchased the place in 1973 and transformed it, mural-by-mural, room-by-room, into artsy "Icon" status. Now in her 80s, Rita, an artist, still hand paints and fires each mural tile herself. Currently in the hands of daughter Judy Paul and her husband Marc Garett, the hotel has been updated. The reception area, with its Hollywood-in-the-'30s-glam wall paintings, black and white floor and dark wrought iron staircase, evokes a more wistful age. Once a hangout for Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Barbara Streisand and, in 1918 when it was known as the Earl Hotel, Ernest Hemingway, the Washington Square Hotel now hosts guests who are less budget-conscious with higher aesthetic standards. (In the mid '00s, guest Bo Diddley strummed his guitar for a lucky few in the lobby before heading out to a BB King's gig).
Digs; Rooms sport deep bedding, a crisp mauve and earth-tone color pallet and gleaming white tile bathrooms; requisite amenities for a luxury boutique hotel.
Bowdoin, Brunswick, ME: Inn at Brunswick Station
New and gaining fans by the day, the only boutique lodging in Brunswick, ME is minimalist-Adirondack-chic. Done in Bowdoin colors -- black and white -- with some tree-trunk hues thrown in, you'll be warmly welcomed in this modern-Colonial hotel in the coldest of U.S. states. In-house Tavern serves good food and drink. Brunswick "Station" refers to the Amtrak station just steps from the Inn's door where trains are expected to stop beginning next year; making the Bowdoin to Boston (or New York) rail commute a most anticipated convenience for students and parents.
Digs: Rooms are immaculate, upscale linens crisp and white, sleek bathrooms sport double sinks and you can log on to the internet completely free.
Cornell University, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY: Juniper Hill Inn
Owned by Bruce Digenti and David Kuranda, this 1920s Federal Colonial mansion right on the main road about 10 miles outside of Ithaca, with high ceilings, interior French doors, glass built-in cabinets jammed with pearlescent glass and china and every inch of wall space graced with confetti-brush-stroked impressionist paintings, Juniper Hill brings opulence back to "Roaring '20s" décor.
Digs: Each of the four rooms (one a king suite with separate queen sleeping porch) is lavishly done in period antiques. Think tassels, brocade, gilded frames and draperies and of course winsome Impressionist paintings (priced for sale $1,000- $10,000). The Mary Cassett Suite consists of a king room and three-season queen sleeping porch ($275-$315); perfect for two friendly couples or parents traveling with college-bound kids (ages 12 and up only).
Eats: You can avail yourself of Bruce's baked delights -- M&M cookies or ambrosial brownies for example -- upon arrival, and there are always chips and drinks available for the midnight snacker. Bruce carries a hot pot of coffee up to your room first thing in the morning, but the piece de resistance is his spectacular three-course candle-lit gourmet breakfast, which could include cranberry poached pear, banana-bread trifle and breakfast risotto.
Lehigh University, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA: Sayre Mansion Inn and Hotel Bethlehem
This 1850 Gothic Revival stone mansion-turned-inn (in 1993) was Chef Emil Lagasse's choice of lodging while opening his two restaurants at the nearby Sands Casino. The parlors and dining room -- where a cooked-to-order hot breakfast is served every morning -- are elegantly majestic, with unusual architectural details such as whitewashed filigreed iron moldings and period paw-foot chairs, brass candlestick sconces and cozy fireplaces.
Digs: Eclectic antiques in each of the 22 rooms and pillow-top, high thread count bedding. The Robert Sayre Suite is particularly fetching, with a bedroom in baronial blacks, burgundy and gold and an amazing second sitting room that features a gold-leafed domed ceiling and marble fireplace.
Eats: Far from monotonous, breakfast is a big hit with parents and their Lehigh students (or students-to-be) who appreciate a warm and hearty morning meal in stately surroundings.
For those who prefer a full-service hotel with beaucoup history, try the formidable 1922 Hotel Bethlehem, built for Bethlehem Steel tycoons and lately renovated back to tycoon standards. Just how historic is Historic Bethlehem? Well, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world is right across the street from the hotel, which you can see through dramatic floor-to-ceiling palladium windows in the grand lobby. The Moravian Bookstore was established in 1745 and has been in business ever since. If you enjoy quaint, brick paved streets and an eclectic assortment of shops and restaurants, you'll want to be ensconced in this vibrant part of town.
Digs: Rooms befit the "new mogul" and those who just want to feel like one; traditional elegance with all the modern amenities.
University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Temple, Philadelphia, PA: Palomar: A Kimpton Hotel
A preponderance of Porkpie hats might be your first clue that the Palomar, in the former 1929 Art Deco Architects Building (which housed office space for Frank Lloyd Wright among other prominent designers), is a hipster favorite. But this ultra cool, whimsically designed boutique is popular with a wide range of style-loving guests. The Kimpton Hotel Group knows just how to do quirky-put-a-smile-on-your-face right. Placement of campy knickknacks throughout public areas is elevated to High Art; velvet cocoa-colored couches in the lobby front a gas fireplace, walls shimmer with iridescent mosaic tiles and a glass-topped dining table holds complementary coffee and tea in the morning and "happy hour" wine and can't-have-just-one-handful-truffle-oil popcorn (also free for guests) each evening between 5 and 6.
Digs: Fastidiously designed rooms feature beds that engulf you in downy bliss (topped by a cylindrical pillow in the shape of an architect's blueprint canister), rich colors, flat screen TVs and white leather desk chairs.
Amherst College, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA: Lord Jeff Inn
Once upon a time, Amherst College needed a place to house parents and visiting faculty. In 1926, the college built the Lord Jeff Inn right next to campus to fulfill that need. Though many people assume that the Lord Jeff goes back to the 1700s, it was built only 85 years ago to look like an old New England Inn. After a recent $16-million restoration, the newly LEED-certified inn features a grass and flora (literally "green") rooftop to keep rooms cool and a very contemporary restaurant, 30Boltwood, that has been winning raves for its innovative cuisine and fine wine selection.
Digs: Out with the stuffy, in with the bright; rooms are decked out in Early American blues and crisp whites, Federalist furniture and luxurious bedding. Some suites, done in sage greens, feature a switch-on gas fireplace. Glass showers, white subway tile and black and white mosaic floor in each bathroom are vast improvements on the original.
Williams College, Williamstown, MA: Guest House at Field Farm
Let's say you'd like to stay in an iconic property that represents a certain moment in recent time, a property like Philip Johnson's Glass House, for example, but with fewer windows. Luckily, the Guest House at Field Farm, a Bauhaus style home built in 1948 to house the contemporary artwork of lumber mogul Lawrence Bloedel -- who turned down Frank Lloyd Wright as architect because, against the great architect's wishes, Bloedel preferred to buy and construct his own furniture -- offers five retro-modern guest rooms in a spectacular field and mountain-foothills setting. The spacious living room contains an enviable collection of '50s furniture. Set your wine glass down on a Noguchi table. Swerve around in an Eames chair. Peruse the Wolf Kahn paintings. The whole place is a triumph of Danish design wonders right down to the cork flooring.
Digs: Rooms are full of every modernist's objects of desire. In the North Room, bedding is big and comfy; white set off by vibrantly colored accent pillows. A small sitting area in front of a little fireplace is rimmed with hand-made butterfly tiles, and Frette towels and European toiletries in the grey-tiled bathroom stay true to '50s design. In the morning, throw back the curtains on two walls to reveal staggering meadow and mountain views.