The Pros + Cons of Historical Vacation Rentals

Staying in an older vacation rental can be a real adventure. And we know, because we’ve lived in a few of them during our year-long trip across the United States. A historical home can bring you closer to a city’s traditional downtown area, or to real residents. It can even help you feel like you’re a local.

But historical homes have, well…histories. The same thing that makes them fascinating can sometimes make them a challenge, from creaky hardwood floors to funky interior designs.

You can hedge your bets by going with a professional rental agency, which will ensure your house is stocked with the basic necessities, meets your standards, and above all, that it actually exists.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, we stayed in an authentic adobe home we found from a local rental agency. Like most of the older places we’ve rented, it felt a lot like staying at grandma’s house — if grandma was a college history professor with a passion for collecting Native American artifacts. A variety of peppers were ripening in the garden, the New Mexico History Museum was only a few blocks away, and we could reach downtown Santa Fe in a matter of minutes.

The largest (by far) rental we stayed in, located in historic Beverly, Massachusetts (see video, above), turned out to be the most personal. The owners, direct descendants of one of New England’s founding families, greeted us warmly and told us about the special memories they had made there. But with a private library, a kitchen with servant’s quarters, seven bedrooms, and a tennis court, it felt like spending the night at the museum.

The cozy vacation rental we checked into in Carmel, California, only a short walk to the beach, was nestled in a cluster of cottages identified only by a sign stating “No Worries.” Turns out homes in this neighborhood have never used house numbers. But Carmel is quirky, like that. We figured that if we could find the funky yellow 1920s bungalow, we belonged there — and we did.

Did the rental have it all? No, but it had everything we needed. We were steps away from downtown Carmel’s coffee shops, fine dining, and exceptional take-out options. And the area’s signature attraction, the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, wasn’t much farther by car. Our three kids didn’t complain, because they felt as if they were staying with a relative.

Not every seaside historical rental is that rustic. The one we stayed at in Ocean City, Maryland had just been renovated, to the point where the 20th-century home looked like a space station inside. I’m not kidding; the TVs, air conditioner, and sound system were controlled by a wall-mounted iPad 3 which we are still trying to figure out how to work. But darn if it didn’t look good. And the house was in the middle of everything, directly on the boardwalk. We couldn’t have gotten any closer to the action.

Another nautical-themed — and historical — vacation rental happened in Rockland, Maine. Our villa was so close to the sea you could stand on the  front porch and see boats in the bay. And you know what that means, don’t you? Lobster in all its forms, from lobster rolls to seafood salad to lobster bisque. Mainers are proud of their seafood, and rightfully so.

And our most recent vintage rental, in Saugatuck, Michigan, was just around the corner from the galleries, churches, restaurants, and artisan food shops around town. Still, the kitchen begged to be used, and it was. We cooked up something called Saugatuck Breakfast Squares, which resemble quiche made with fresh local veggies, and served with sourdough toast.

If your goal is to stay away from chain hotels and fast-food restaurants when you travel, a stay in an historical rental is just what you’ll want. It may even be more than you want.

Christopher Elliott writes the “Insider” column for National Geographic Traveler and is traveling across America with his family and blogging about it on Away is Home. The project is sponsored in part by the Vacation Rental Managers Association.


  1. James Hopes
    Aspen, Colorado
    May 23, 2014, 11:47 pm

    It’s been quite a fascinating read about to stay in such a aura of vintage home, the similar point of view I also believes that spending few days through it gives you different excitement, my last visit to Aspen is quite remarkable to share, lovely aspen colorado rentals, offers vintage type of houses with scenic beauty throughout the environment, you may visit and have a look on this features from here-

  2. Troy Resch
    New Haven, CT
    September 12, 2013, 3:25 pm

    The Landmark Trust USA, a non-profit, has a number of historic properties available for rental, including Rudyard Kipling’s house in Dummerston, VT. We’ve stayed at their Dutton Farm House (unbelievable views across apple orchards to Mount Monadnock) and the Amos Brown House. These were wonderful “living history” experiences, like a portal back in time. See for more info.

  3. Martin Chang
    San Felipe, Mexico
    June 29, 2013, 2:47 pm

    This is an nuanced view of vacation rental homes. As professional San Felipe rental homes management company in Baja California, Mexico, we thought we’d pay tribute to our local culture by offering historic properties. What we found is that the newer properties were more popular but after reading your article, I am wondering whether we should simply highlight the history behind the older properties to make them more attractive.

  4. Lilia Rhodes
    September 8, 2012, 12:20 pm

    I like your reviews on the different historical vacation rentals. It made me more want to go back to my old life and house which is far from the noise and hassle of city life. I love the laid-back atmosphere historical houses offer. It calms my mind and helps me meditate. I also like to commend you for not being bias and one-sided in your post. Glad that I have read your post since it made me feel like I’m back to my old, happy home.

  5. Nikole Fairview - ExploringLifesMysteries.Com
    Washington, DC
    August 26, 2012, 10:11 pm

    This is an interesting perspective that you have. I wouldn’t have thought to live in a historic home until I read this and I also like how you decided to look at both the bad and the good. The creaky floors and other quirks would probably irritate me after a while and I would not feel like I was on vacation really after a day or two, so I don’t think it’s for me, but I enjoyed reading your reviews and think that these types of vacations would be great for others in my life.