Across the street from the famous Alamo is an old hotel that in some ways is just as important to American history as the Alamo -- and you can still check in. It has beautiful, cool-blue tiles and handsome cream-colored Corinthian columns in the atrium. The Menger Hotel is where former Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt stayed while assembling his Rough Riders to fight the Spanish in Cuba. Roosevelt trained his troops on a makeshift parade ground that's now Roosevelt Park.
Roosevelt was selected as William McKinley's running mate in the 1900 election, and a year later became president when McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in Buffalo, N.Y., and the rich-boy bureaucrat who remade himself into a tough-talking, risk-taking warrior-politician while staying at the Menger was on his way to having his face memorialized on Mount Rushmore with Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson.
Mission Inn, Riverside, Calif.
The Mission Inn, the amazing citadel of the Inland Empire with its Spanish-Moroccan-Asian mix, has drawn more than a century of Republican politicians. You'll find a copy of the chapel in Assisi, Italy; a huge Buddha where Raquel Welch once cavorted; and staircases and walkways that seem to be geometrically improbable.
Frank Miller, the colorful founder, used to greet the train from the East Coast in full Franciscan monk's garb and lead the procession of guests back to the hotel. Roosevelt was the first president to stay the night, in 1903. Two of the country's most interesting presidential artifacts are on display.
First is a massive carved wood chair with sturdy legs and bowed armrests that Miller had built for a visit by President William Howard Taft. Though generations of hotel visitors have taken their turn to be seated -- sometimes three at a time -- in the seat built for the 300-plus-pound Taft, there are reports that the chief executive himself declined to use a chair so obviously designed to accommodate his girth.
The second spot is the hotel's bar, which in the late 1940s was a meeting and reception room -- the least expensive to rent in the place. It's where Richard Nixon, from nearby Whittier, married his girlfriend, Pat Ryan. The room was later converted into the Presidential Lounge, with portraits of the presidents who have visited over the years hung on the outside (note they are all Republicans, with the exception of John F. Kennedy). You can now have a cocktail in the room where the Nixons tied the knot.
Other presidential sleep spots
Some other notable hotels around the country have presidential ties. The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix is where Sen. John McCain gave his 2008 concession speech. It has hosted several presidents. The Brown Palace is the Denver hangout for every president since Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 -- with the exception of Calvin Coolidge and Barack Obama.
More than two dozen presidents have stayed at The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., a popular cool mountain getaway from Washington's summer. But its greatest mark was a secret underground nuclear bunker created to serve as the secret gathering place for the U.S. government in event of atomic war. You can stay at the hotel and tour the bunker.
The turreted Windsor Hotel in Americus, Ga., was the unofficial headquarters of the White House during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who came from the tiny nearby town of Plains. Now affiliated with Best Western, it's across the street from the headquarters of the Carter-founded Habitat for Humanity headquarters.
The Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles has been a Democratic Party favorite for decades. Robert F. Kennedy often barked orders from his hotel room bathtub to underlings working on his brother John's convention campaign in Los Angeles in 1960. The hotel is where Lyndon Johnson decided to give up his powerful job as Senate Majority Leader to run with Kennedy as vice president.
One of the best photos of a president is of the taciturn Calvin Coolidge wearing a full Indian headdress while on tour in the Western United States. You can still sample part of "Cool Cal's" vacation destinations at the State Game Lodge, the 1927 "summer White House" in Custer State Park, S.D. It's famous as a jumping-off point to see bison. Dwight Eisenhower also stayed there in 1953.
Waldorf Astoria, New York City: Every U.S. president since Franklin Roosevelt has stayed at the Park Avenue palace. The train lines into Grand Central Terminal run underneath the street and presidents at one time could disembark from a secure special platform adjacent to the hotel.
Carlyle Hotel, New York City: John F. Kennedy's favorite haunt in Manhattan, it's where he met Marilyn Monroe after she sang her infamous "Happy birthday, Mr. President" tune at Madison Square Garden. On Monday nights, Woody Allen still plays with a Dixieland jazz band at the hotel.
Before Barack Obama put Hawaii on the presidential vacation map, George H.W. Bush was fond of the Grand Wailea on the sunny southwest coast of Maui. The Best Western Gettysburg Inn was the former operations center when President Dwight Eisenhower stayed at his nearby farm while president.
For all hotels, note that prices rise sharply during peak periods, particularly in Washington and San Francisco. Book as far in advance as you can. Rates are often lower on the weekend than during weekdays.