Choose an era over the past century and get ready to do some Arizona time travel. From a 1920s mining-town hospital to a 1940s-era desert elementary school and a 1970s urban-planning experiment, Arizona is rich with accommodations that are unique to their time periods and locales.
During my 20-plus years of traveling around Arizona, I have checked out a number of the state’s exceptional stays. I also have dined and taken in the sights at other iconic hotels. Still others of the state’s unique accommodations I know from the U.S. Forest Service’s Rooms with a View listings, as well as from the state’s tourism website. From these varied experiences and resources, I have compiled a list of incredibly unique places to stay in Arizona. Here are my top picks.
1. Sonoran Desert Inn And Conference Center, Ajo
1940s Grade School
For a step back into the days of school playgrounds and chalkboards -- but with a cool “Southwestern industrial” twist -- head to the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center in the southern Arizona town of Ajo.
The inn beautifully repurposes Ajo’s 1940s-era elementary school into a complex that features a pretty courtyard surrounded by a row of modern guestrooms.
The guest rooms once served as classrooms and have floor-to-ceiling windows and caged light fixtures that are sure to take you back to grade school days. Appointed with comfortable furniture and creative touches, the rooms look out onto the former playground that today is bursting with desert landscaping, a vegetable garden, and local artworks. For more to do in Ajo, check out my article on How To Spend A Perfect Day In Quaint Ajo, Arizona.
Pro Tip: Although the inn does not have a restaurant, it offers frozen meals of locally made Mexican cuisine, ready to pop into the microwave.
2. Big Springs Cabins, Grand Canyon North Rim
Kaibab Plateau Cabins
For cabin rentals in iconic Arizona locations ranging from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Red Rocks of Sedona, check out the U.S. Forest Service’s Rooms with a View program. The website features nearly 20 cabins, many of them historic, that are located in five National Forests in Arizona. The cabins feature a variety of settings and amenities -- some more rustic than others.
The Big Springs Cabin site is notable not just for its location about an hour from the North Rim of the Canyon, but also for its lush setting. “If you are looking for flowing water and lush greenery in Arizona, look no further,” says the Kaibab National Forest’s description of Big Springs. “The most abundant water source on the Kaibab Plateau runs down a limestone cliff and pools near the Big Springs Cabins.”
Pro Tip: The Big Springs Cabins are located about a half-hour from the Rainbow Rim Trail, a winding 18-mile-long hiking and mountain biking trail that offers stunning views from five scenic overlooks along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
3. Grand Hotel, Jerome
1920s Hospital Stay
Back in the day when the central-Arizona town of Jerome was known as a billion-dollar copper camp and the “Wickedest Town in the West,” the era’s leading mining company built a new hospital high atop the mountain that overlooks the town and the Verde Valley spread below it.
Mining didn’t last in Jerome, however, and neither did the hospital. Built in the 1920s, the hospital closed in 1950 and was left vacant for decades before it changed hands in the 1990s. The new owner went on to renovate the imposing old hospital building into a luxurious hotel known as the Jerome Grand Hotel. For more information on a visit to Jerome, see this article on a Phoenix Day Trip: Jerome, The Vertical City.
Pro Tip: Along with its historic ambiance, unbeatable location, and grand guestrooms, the hotel is also known for its excellent Asylum Restaurant, where guests can take in stellar views while they dine.
4. Portal Bunkhouse, Portal
1930s CCC Bunkhouse
For a Rooms with a View option located in the opposite end of the state, the Portal Bunkhouse sits in the southeastern-Arizona Coronado National Forest, near the small unincorporated town of Portal.
Built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the bunkhouse is listed on the Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the finest remaining examples of river-cobble masonry construction from that era.
Pro Tip: The Portal Bunkhouse is near the entrance to Cave Creek Canyon, an area with soaring cliffs, caves, and pinnacles that is described as Arizona’s Secret Grand Canyon.
5. Shash Dine EcoRetreat, Page
Billed as a spot where visitors can simplify their lives and reconnect with nature, the Shash Dine EcoRetreat is situated in the midst of the vast Navajo Nation south of Page.
Accommodations range from bell tents to fully restored covered sheepherder wagons to hogans, the traditional dwellings of the Navajos. The eco-retreat is termed as a “glamping B and B,” and breakfast is available. The retreat’s website links to Airbnb, where bookings for the various accommodation choices can be made.
Pro Tip: Shash Dine is just 10 minutes south of the Horseshoe Bend overlook, where visitors can take in the famous elbow-shaped curve in the Colorado River. Want to go? See How To Visit Arizona’s Gorgeous Horseshoe Bend.
Note that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, locations on the Navajo Nation are subject to temporary restrictions and closures.
6. La Posada Inn, Winslow
Vintage Railroad Hotel
The 1930s-era hotel is among the last of the grand Harvey House creations still operating as a railroad hotel. Because an Amtrak station is located at the hotel site, guests can ride cross-country and conveniently stop in Winslow for a deluxe stay at La Posada. For more railroad hotel options, see my story on 9 Grand Railroad Hotels in North America And Why You Should Visit.
Pro Tip: For a creative take on Southwestern cuisine classics, head to La Posada’s excellent Turquoise Room restaurant. The dining room is a popular stop for travelers along Interstate 40 in eastern Arizona, so reservations are recommended.
7. Wigwam Motel, Holbrook
A step back in time to those cross-country family road trips of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s awaits at the Wigwam Motel, a complex of structures designed to resemble a circle of wigwams. The motel is a classic feature of historic Route 66 in the eastern Arizona town of Holbrook.
Built in 1950, the Wigwam Village is a vestige of Western Americana. “Many people remember the road trip adventures they took as children in the backseats of the family car along Route 66,” says the motel’s website. “The nostalgia of yesteryear’s adventures brings them back and gives them a piece of Western U.S. culture they remember from their youth.”
Adding to the mid-century atmosphere are the vintage cars that are parked beside many of the wigwam units.
Pro Tip: Holbrook is just a 20-minute drive from Petrified Forest National Park. For more on things to do there, check out my tips on How To Spend A Day At Petrified Forest National Park.
8. Arcosanti Sky Suite, Mayer
1970s Arcology Prototype Suite
Back in 1970, the Cosanti Foundation began building Arcosanti, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, about 70 miles north of Phoenix. The town was envisioned as an experiment in living frugally, with a limited environmental footprint. Integrating the design of architecture with respect to ecology, the experiment was termed arcology.
Today, Arcosanti offers tours as well as a variety of accommodations including greenhouse guest rooms, camping, and suites. For panoramic views of the desert and an outdoor patio overlooking the amphitheater, consider the Sky Suite, which can be booked on Airbnb.
Pro Tip: Arcosanti makes a great stop on a road trip from Phoenix to Sedona. For tips on other spots along the way, see my story on the Classic Arizona Road Trip: Phoenix To Sedona.