One of the best ways to beat the heat in the summer is heading to the water—whether that means an ocean, lake, river, or canal. But why rent a house near the water when you can actually stay on the water? There are all sorts of floating accommodations across the United States. Some are permanently docked in marina neighborhoods, like those in Seattle and Sausalito. Other cruise freely in popular houseboating destinations like Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and Lake Havasu. You’ll find houseboats floating in places you may not expect, such as a private lake in Virginia or a glampsite on the Mississippi River.
In most of the better-known houseboat destinations, local companies rent out fleets of multiperson boats. But some of the best we’ve seen are these quirky, charming vessels listed on Airbnb and Vrbo. And since you’re renting the entire place, one of these 9 charming houseboat rentals might just be a perfect solution to your summer socially distanced vacation needs.
1. “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat dream
- Book Now: From $1,000 per night, vrbo.com
- Seattle, Washington
It’s hard to believe that this designer home floats. Indeed, the three-bedroom, three-bath space looks more like a house than a boat from the outside. But you can swim off the back deck or moor your dinghy as you could on any houseboat. With huge windows throughout the place, a dining room that converts into a dance floor or yoga studio, a hot tub, and all the water toys imaginable, the three-day minimum stay might not be long enough.
2. Unique, romantic, motorless floating island
- Book Now: From $230 per night, vrbo.com
- Georgetown, Maine
Moored in Robinhood Cove, the Tessie Ann is exactly the kind of New England maritime experience you may have dreamed of. Onshore, the town is full of saltbox houses in shades of weathered blue and gray. The brick red Tessie Ann’s single bedroom is located in the bow of the boat and has windows on five of the six sides. The dinette area converts into a sleeping area if you’re bringing more than two people. There’s also a bathroom and small, fully equipped galley—or kitchen—and a barbecue on deck, as well as a 15-foot skiff so you can get to and from shore.
3. Shasta Marina’s Sumerset houseboat
- Book Now: From $845 per night, vrbo.com
- Lakehead, California
Lake Shasta is one of the most popular places in the country for houseboat vacations and here, it’s all about the party. The massive Sumerset is the perfect place for a family vacation or reunion, sleeping up to 20 people with six bedrooms, a convertible dining area, and two convertible sofa beds. The common area makes efficient use of space with a booth-style dining table that has a countertop on either side. But if you’re staying on a houseboat, you want to be outside. The Sumerset’s full-length top deck has four seating areas, including a large wet bar, a barbecue, a hot tub, and, yes, a slide. It’s also one of the few boats on this list that you can drive out of the marina and cruise around on.
4. Ziggy Stardust surf house
- Book Now: From $1,500 per night, airbnb.com
- Queens, New York
Possibly the most striking houseboat on this list is the navy blue one docked in the Jamaica Bay area of Rockaway Beach (also pictured at top). The two-story stunner has been a labor of love for its owners, who have deftly mixed driftwood accents with white walls, bold textiles, contemporary design furniture, and pops of color everywhere. It sleeps 12 in four bedrooms and seven beds. Relax with a book in one of the twin indoor hammocks or kick back on the top deck. There are also picnic tables, benches, and other seating on an attached float.
5. Lux tugboat on private lake
- Book Now: From $395 per night, vrbo.com
- Charlottesville, Virginia
The interior of this red tugboat has all the elegance of a boutique inn, with exposed beam ceilings, old-fashioned lighting fixtures, and plenty of plush throw pillows. The main floor features a bedroom, bathroom, and fully equipped kitchen. The pilot house, or the upper level of the boat, is a cushioned sitting area surrounded by windows and perfect for reading or stargazing; it also converts into a bed. The boat is docked at the edge of a private lake inside a 142-acre forest, so there’s an outdoor area, a beach, and kayaks, which you can use to paddle to the lake’s island, and a firepit area crowned with twinkle lights.
6. A pirate’s life for me
- Book Now: From $208 per night, airbnb.com
- Charleston, South Carolina
This lovely little houseboat with a vaulted ceiling in the main cabin has been completely rebuilt using reclaimed materials. With one bedroom and a daybed in the living room, a kitchen, and a full-size bathroom, it packs a lot into a small space without feeling too cozy. The marina is about two miles from the heart of the historic district and there are plenty of closer restaurants too. But you’ll want to make time to sit on the deck and watch for dolphins—they visit often.
7. Historic ferryboat in Sausalito
- Book Now: From $411 per night, airbnb.com
- Sausalito, California
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Sausalito is well known for its houseboat communities. But the SS City of Seattle isn’t just any houseboat in the marina; the bright yellow ferryboat from 1888 is the oldest surviving ferryboat on the West Coast. It features three bedrooms and two baths, as well as dining and lounge areas with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a remodeled kitchen with a Wolf six-burner range stove. There are also three kayaks and three paddleboards to use to explore the quiet marina.
9. Harbor Breeze: floating glamping tent at Glamping St. Louis
- Book Now: From $153 per night, vrbo.com
- Grafton, Illinois
Can’t decide between glamping and a houseboat vacation? You don’t have to with this floating glamping tent on the Mississippi River. The canvas tent features a king-size bed. Camp cots for kids are also available on request. There’s a deck and umbrella, as well as a mini refrigerator and coffee maker. It’s even air-conditioned in the summer. Guests have access to the facilities at the marina (which is more of a glampground), which include bathrooms, showers, and an outdoor kitchen area.
This article was originally published on June 11, 2020; it was updated on February 19, 2021, with current information.