12 Hotels That Practically Double as Museums: The James Chicago

The James Chicago (Photos courtesy of each hotel.)

Artwork in hotels generally comes standard with the territory — just like the robes and slippers. At most hotels, though, the art is just that — standard. But some go above and beyond, curating remarkable and unique collections, and showcasing some remarkable artifacts.

These 12 U.S. hotels boast collections so impressive they could double as museums. Trust us, you’ll want to earmark an afternoon during your trip just for roaming their halls and grounds, admiring the art or reveling in the history.

Here’s where to go to check in, and then check out some incredible collections.

The Hilton Chicago

hotels: Hilton Chicago

History buffs, you’d be interested to know that this hotel has hosted every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. Guests at the Hilton Chicago can swing by the “historic corridor” and get schooled by the resident “artifacts associate” who can also discuss the hotel’s presidential history. For extra credit, mosey into the Hilton’s Normadie Lounge, which was built in 1945 with pieces of the French cruise liner that was used by the U.S. Army during World War II. The ship caught on fire in 1942 and its parts were auctioned off. The hotel (at the time known as the Stevens Hotel) was one of the buyers, and has incorporated pieces of the French ship into its lounge’s chandeliers, chairs, woodwork, and bar.

The ART Hotel in Denver

hotels: The Art Hotel in Denver

For its first trick, this arty Denver hotel will dazzle you with a light display as soon as you pull into the porte-cochère. Some 22,000 white LED nodes twinkle in an ever-changing light display, hinting you’ve arrived somewhere special. In all, the ART hotel has 40 major art installations decorating it. Among them are river rocks that artist Mary Ehrin tailored with metallic leather so they look like giant nuggets of gold, a nod to the state’s gold rush. Plus, 200 or so lithographs and prints are in the guest rooms. You can easily make art the theme of your vacation here. After you wander the hotel’s halls, move next door to the Denver Art Museum, which has more than 70,000 pieces of art.

The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia

hotels: Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee

This lakeside resort is the ideal setting for quintessential family vacations, complete with s’mores roasting on the fire pits at night and jet skis zipping through the lake during the summer. Continuing in the spirit of family fun, you can partake in a scavenger hunt on the hotel’s grounds. After lightning struck a pine tree on property, the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee commissioned an artist to turn the wood into beautiful sculptures. The artist was inspired by local wildlife, and the tree carvings include owls, red tail hawks, a heron, squirrels, rabbits, turtles, a raccoon, a largemouth bass, and, of course, the signature Ritz-Carlton lion head. Families are often seen exploring the resort trying to find them all. When you’re done, play a round of horseshoes or retire to a hammock.

Salishan Resort & Spa in Gleneden Beach, Oregon

hotels: Salishan Resort

This sylvan oasis tucked away along the central Oregon Coast has so much great art, the resort curated an art guide so guests can give themselves a self-guided tour and admire the collection. Among the pieces that feel right at home at Salishan Resort & Spa are elaborate teakwood carvings and sand castings by Oregon artists. But a standout piece is a whale sculpture made from driftwood found on a beach in Oregon. The artist behind it is Mark Sponenburgh, who worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II as a so-called “Monument Man” to recover art stolen by the Nazis, including a Michelangelo statue. Sponenburgh, who died in 2012, had also taught at Oregon State University.

Windsor Court in New Orleans

hotels: Windsor Court

First order of business: Download the hotel’s app. It includes a complementary audio tour that darn near transports guests to Windsor Castle, and shows off the hotel’s opulent collection of paintings, sculpture, and tapestries. The Windsor Court’s impressive European art and antiques collection is valued at about $8 million, and is rich with British artwork depicting royalty. Among the original works on display in the hotel are those by English painters Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.

W South Beach in Miami

hotels: W South Beach

Modern art lovers, prepare to be astonished by the $40 million art collection at this beach-side hotel that was curated by famed art collector and real estate tycoon Aby Rosen. A highlight of the W South Beach’s collection is pop art from Andy Warhol, including pieces featuring basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Howdy Doody. Also hanging in the hotel is one of Warhol’s famed oxidation paintings. The late-1970s experimental paintings are colloquially referred to as “piss paintings” because urine on the canvas caused the metallic paint to change colors. Guests here can enjoy legendary pieces from other artists, as well, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel. The concierge team at the hotel leads morning art tours.

The Spectator Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina

hotels: The Spectator

The 1920s-inspired hotel, which exudes both Southern charm and the buzz of the Jazz era, will wow you as soon as you walk in and see the meticulously hand-painted floral wallpaper in the lobby. This hotel also showcases vintage taxidermy created by native Charlestonian and taxidermist Becca Barnett. Slip inside the Speakeasy-style bar and you’ll be greeted by both a large, white taxidermied peacock, named Daisy Buchanan (a nod to “The Great Gatsby”), and one of the South’s best bartenders, Allen Lancaster. Actually, call him a cocktail artisan. His cocktails — Rosé the Riveter and The Beet Goes On, for example — are as inventive as their names suggest.

21c Museum Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky

hotels: 21c Museum Hotel

Art is the star amenity in this boutique hotel that reserves 7,000 square feet for exhibit space. While the exhibits rotate, the museum keeps a monogamous relationship with 21st century art. (A-ha, that’s where the 21c name comes from.) Bidding for your attention just outside the hotel are two intertwined lampposts, nicknamed “lamppost lovers” and created by Dutch artist Pieke Bergmans. “Our Western world became a world where everything has to fit in and function,” Bergmans has said. “We all benefit from this development in an enormous way, but a world like a machine leaves little room for wondering and poetry.” Some other eye-catching pieces in the hotel include a bright blue penguin sculpture and an ice branch chandelier made by a designer who worked with Swarovski crystals. The hotel’s museum is free and open to the public daily. Guided docent tours are also available.

The James in Chicago

hotels: The James Chicago

A nod to the creative neighborhood it calls home, The James Chicago features a mix of artwork from local and international artists who range from up-and-coming to well-known. The hotel’s commitment to art echoes throughout its space. A partnership with Monique Meloche Gallery presents a rotation of work throughout the hotel’s meeting spaces. The hotel also commissioned Chicago-based artist Stephen Eichhorn for a public art project, installing a botany collage that’s bursting with color and texture and can be spotted on the east-facing sidewalk by The Patio at The James.

The Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Hilton Waikiki in Hawaii

hotels: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach

Island hopping in Hawaii? If you’re on Oahu, you’ll want to gaze at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort’s (pictured) famed rainbow mosaic that was built with 31,000 tiles. It was the “world’s tallest mosaic” when it debuted in 1968 and has been the backdrop of movies and TV shows. In 2013, the rainbow mural got an upgrade, including new LED lighting so it can be viewed at night. For an interactive blend of art and history, visitors can attend the Waikiki Starlight Luau on the hotel’s rooftop garden. A highlight includes acrobatic fire dancers. A sister property, Hawaii Island’s Hilton Waikoloa Village, boasts a mile-long Museum Walkway with more than 1,800 pieces from Asian, Western, and Oceanic cultures. The collection is valued at $15 million.

The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans

hotels: Old No. 77

Need a muse to stir your creativity? Booking a room at The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans should do just the trick. Art is at the heart of this hotel, which has three artist loft suites that have each been decorated with original works of art from New Orleans artists. The artists — Saegan Swanson, Tish Douzart, and Leroy Miranda, Jr. — have personally curated each suite with their artwork.

 

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Brittany Anas

Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.