There are certain indie institutions that we treasure as ad hoc community centers -- independent bookstores, record stores, coffee shops -- admiring their drive to beat back the economic forces of homogenization, even as they slip away in many communities. But what about hotels? Over the past 10 years, mega-brands have consolidated America's hotel inventory more than ever, yet at the same time, there has been a resurgence of local travel that has favored a growing niche market of high-quality independent, non-corporate properties. These places lack big publicity machines and thrive on the kind of word of mouth that the Internet has unleashed (for better or for worse). While the bland goliaths attract business travelers with rewards programs, the little guys can offer character, romance, personality and deep discounts, particularly during downtimes.
There's a singular vision and a collaborative labor of love behind a great indie hotel. Since there's no home office controlling things, these places feel organic -- an extension of the community and landscape that you wanted to visit in the first place. We chose 14 around the country, ranging from a two-room Zen garden inn in a Hawaiian valley to an avant-garde 90-room museum hotel. Each is firmly rooted in the culture of its location and imbued with the aesthetic sensibilities and hospitality of the creative souls who brought them to life.