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Here’s another topic requested by my friend Kevin: a primer on Bed & Breakfasts, and my recommendations based on past experience.

Until I met my husband, I had never stayed at a Bed & Breakfast. Now, we stay in them whenever possible. The experience is really much more pleasant than an impersonal hotel chain, and I like the idea of spending money at a place owned by people, not a corporation.

Bed & Breakfasts, or B&Bs, vary in size. We’ve stayed in one that only had three guest rooms, and we’ve stayed in some that had more than 10 guest rooms. Usually, B&Bs are large, old houses or mansions that have bedrooms to spare, or rooms that can be converted into bedrooms. Sometimes the house is remodeled so that each room has its own en suite bathroom, but occasionally you will have a situation where the bathroom is across or down the hall from your room. But you won’t have to share a bathroom with any other guests, so don’t worry about that. (In some places, you can pay a lower rate if you share a bathroom, but private baths are always available.)

As the name implies, B&Bs provide both a room for you to sleep in and breakfast the next morning. And a B&B breakfast is not your typical hotel chain “continental breakfast buffet” with a few cold cereals, congealed oatmeal, and the same stupid waffle iron that every hotel in America uses. Those things are a waste of everyone’s time. No, at a B&B, you get an actual home-cooked breakfast. It’s generally made by one of the proprietors (who are almost always a husband-and-wife team), but at a couple of the larger inns, there have been kitchen staff.

In Savannah, Georgia, I had shrimp and grits for the first time as a Sunday B&B breakfast. No shrimp and grits has ever lived up to that first experience. We’ve had blueberry pancakes, Belgian waffles, French toast, eggs Benedict…you name it. They take their breakfast seriously.

Most B&Bs also have some sort of afternoon or evening reception where they serve complimentary wine and cheese, and sometimes there are cookies before bedtime! One way in which a B&B differs from a hotel is the mingling among guests. During the evening reception and the morning breakfast, you will invariably meet the other guests and chat with them. B&Bs tend to be patronized by couples, or sometimes a couple of couples traveling together. The age range of B&B guests varies, but they do tend to skew a little older. We don’t generally see too many 20-somethings on our travels. (Although, in Savannah we did meet one young lesbian couple who were also Wiccans. They were definitely the most interesting people we’ve met at a B&B.)

Another difference between hotels and B&Bs is the fact that you don’t really need to lock your room at a B&B. The rooms do lock, if you so desire, but it’s generally not necessary, especially at the smaller B&Bs. The main door to the B&B is generally unlocked until a certain time of night (usually 10 or 11 p.m.) after which point you either use a key or a security code to gain access. You have complete freedom of movement–it’s not like you need to be “home” before the proprietors turn-in for the night.

As I mentioned before, most B&B owners are couples, and they are often retired from whatever their first careers were. They usually live on-site, either in the main house or in a separate domicile on the property. Other than check-in, breakfast, and the evening reception, you don’t really interact with them much. (That said, we stayed at a B&B in Hawaii over Christmas a couple years ago, and Christmas morning we had breakfast at their family dining table. It was too rainy to eat in the courtyard where we usually breakfasted. The resident children had already opened their Christmas presents, but they were running around, playing with all their new toys. That’s the only time we’ve really had that kind of “family” experience.)

Below is a list of all the B&Bs we’ve stayed in over the years. I would recommend any of these establishments with no hesitation. I would stay in each of them again given the opportunity. I believe I found most of these by perusing bedandbreakfast.com.

Savannah, Georgia: Azalea Inn

Azalea Inn, Savannah

Azalea Inn, Savannah

We stayed in the Gentleman’s Parlor on the first floor. It’s an Asian-themed room. The B&B is well situated for exploring downtown Savannah by foot. If I remember correctly, we didn’t use our car the entire time we were there.

Asheville, North Carolina: North Lodge on Oakland

North Lodge on Oakland

North Lodge on Oakland

This B&B has a very “country” feel to it. We stayed in the Magnolia Room. North Lodge is close to Biltmore House and downtown Asheville. If you’re in Asheville and have never been to Biltmore, I highly recommend it. At Christmastime they do special decorations and outdoor lights. It’s fantastic.

Amarillo, Texas: Parkview House
Don’t let their 1995-style website scare you away; this B&B is charming. When my husband and I drove across the country from North Carolina to California, we stayed one night at this location, but I can’t remember which room we were in. Upon opening the door when we arrived, the first thing the owner said was, “Can I get you a glass of wine?” My kind of place! Also, if you do find yourself in Amarillo, be sure to eat dinner at the Big Texan steak house. You will not regret it.

Pacific Grove, California: Gosby House

Gosby House, Pacific Grove.

Gosby House, Pacific Grove.

Gosby House is one of the larger inn-style B&Bs we’ve stayed in. We were driving from Los Angeles up to Sonoma and Napa and spent one night in Pacific Grove, just outside of Monterey. Be aware: if you expect to get cookies, don’t go out for a late dinner. The other guests scarf them up fast! We stayed in the Judge Langford room.

Geyserville, California: Geyserville Inn
We stayed here while touring Sonoma County wineries. It’s bigger than a typical B&B (41 rooms), but they still have a friendly demeanor and a delicious breakfast. Because of the large size of the inn, breakfast is actually served in an adjacent restaurant. It’s included in the price of your room, but it’s not as homey as a more typical B&B.

St. Helena, California: Shady Oaks Country Inn

Brooke's Room, Shady Oaks Inn

Brooke’s Room, Shady Oaks Inn

We stayed here, in Brooke’s Room, when we continued our wine tour through Napa Valley. When you stay at a B&B in wine country, chances are the other guests will also be there for wine country, so you can talk about wine at breakfast and get tips on which wineries the others liked. B&Bs in wine country also generally have tasting passes for some area wineries.

Kauai, Hawaii: Strawberry Guava Bed & Breakfast

Strawberry Guava breakfast

Strawberry Guava breakfast

Strawberry Guava doesn’t have its own website, but we took a chance with them when they were one of the few places that still had availability when we planned to spend Christmas in Hawaii. It worked out well. The owners are wonderful people, and the breakfasts prepared by Traci are a bounty of Hawaiian fruits. The B&B is really secluded–you will feel a bit like you are in the jungle–but access to everything on Kauai is easy (with a car–I cannot stress this enough: don’t go to Kauai without renting a car).

Orange, Virginia: Mayhurst Inn

Mayhurst Inn

Mayhurst Inn

This was our most recent B&B stay, when we visited Virginia wine country. Mayhurst is about 35-45 minutes from Monticello and downtown Charlottesville, but it’s well situated for many of the Virginia wineries. We stayed in the Piedmont Suite, which is on the third (top) floor of the house. That turned out to be a good thing, because the floors are very creaky. If you are on one of the lower floors, I imagine you would hear everyone’s comings and goings.

One final note: most, if not all, B&Bs also host weddings. So if you’re looking for a charming venue for your nuptials, be sure to check out B&Bs in your area. And I hope you’ll consider staying at a B&B for your next trip!