A type of vacation rental that fuses local charms with historic architecture, personalized interiors with a dash of luxury – it must be the guest house. From the fishing towns of Cape Cod to the Colonial districts of the Carolinas, the snow-mantled Rockies to the wave-splashed West Coast, there are all sorts of these alluring getaways available in the United States. But what are they all about?

Stand-out features of guest houses

There are a few things that really help guest houses offer out-of-the-ordinary service. Whether you're checking into an old lodge in a National Historic District or venturing to a lonely cabin in Appalachia, the features listed below are likely to be part of the package…

Local owners who are always happy to help

One of the greatest features of guest house stays all over the globe is that they promise to put you in contact with happy-to-help locals. That means you'll get in-the-know tips on the best eateries and bars, the finest beaches, the most beautiful state parks – the list goes on.

Unique designs and architecture

The world of guest houses is a wonderful one for architecture buffs. Look one way and you could be sighing with nostalgia at a quaint 17th-century cottage ringed by picket fences and white-painted porches. Look another and it could be a grand Victorian mansion with Neo-Classical columns and fire-warmed living spaces laden with original features.

A tailored and personal experience

Because guest houses tend to have fewer rooms than resort hotels, it's much easier for proprietors to craft a stay that's made-to-measure. That could mean private tours of nearby history sights. It could mean romantic bottles of bubbly waiting for honeymooners. It could mean a home-cooked breakfast made with farmer's market veggies and farm-to-table meat cuts.

The various types of guest houses

Guest houses cover a whole range of accommodation types. There are homey B&Bs that offer sumptuous suites in historic or boutique settings. There are rural lodges that promise to put you in the midst of nature. And there are beachfront escapes and mountain getaways in between.

A classic bed and breakfast

Perhaps the most popular type of guest house of all is the bed and breakfast. These do exactly what they advertise – offer a bed and a morning meal. Of course, it's usually a little more luxurious than that. B&Bs pride themselves on cooking up hearty smorgasbords of local foods, they can pack in luxurious features like hot tubs, and have creative artworks on the walls.

Lodges in the country

If you're looking for an adventure to the countryside but don't want to go it alone, a rural guest house could be what you're after. Converted barns, repurposed farmhouses, working wineries – the settings for these sorts of stays are often truly eclectic.

Your place by the beach or in the mountains

There's a wide array of guest houses in salt-washed ocean resorts all over the country. From the buzzy boardwalk of Myrtle Beach, where B&Bs sit along the Grand Strand, to the surf towns of California, they're available in adventure spots and classic sunbathing places. Then there are the mountains, which offer alpine-style lodges under ski resorts or cabin hotels close to long-distance hiking trails like the Pacific Crest.

How to score bargains with guest house rentals

The good news for budget-conscious travelers is that guest house stays tend to be great value for money. Not only do you often get that all-important morning meal thrown into the package, but there's also plenty to be saved by heading away from the most popular parts of a destination. And you can cut costs even further by following the tips below…

Choose the right time of the year

Seasonal changes are responsible for most of the peaks and troughs in the prices of guest houses – just the same as with most other types of vacation accommodation. That means you'll need to be aware of prime times in your chosen destination. You could skip the summer in Maine, for example, and head to New England for a spring trip, when the weather tends to be balmy, but rates are less. Or, you could choose a ski lodge in late winter, when the snow coverage might not be perfect, but you'll pay a fraction of the price.

Booking early for hot spots

There are some bona fide B&B hotspots that are always in high demand with travelers – think Colonial Williamsburg, handsome Savannah, the fishing towns of Cape Cod, and Asheville, NC, to name just a few. If you've got your heart set on any of the above, it always pays to book early, before all the best bargains sell out.