The American B&B is the latest incarnation of what used to be called tourist homes. Supplanted by motels, these rather low-class accommodations provided a way for travelers to save a little money and for people with a spare room to make a little money. Today's Bed & Breakfasts, however, can range from simple and inexpensive to unusual and extremely luxurious, with prices to match. There are still plenty of B&Bs that charge $35 a night, but a fancy place in a popular area can go for as much as $100.
A decade ago, there were no American B&Bs; now there are said to be about 10,000, with the heaviest concentration on the East and West Coasts. In the Northeast, where hotels are expensive, a B&B may be a bargain; not so in the South, where some of the most luxurious B&Bs are located. People who live on plantations, following the lead of the owners of Britain's stately homes, are renting out rooms as a way to meet expenses and hang on to family properties.
The most useful guidebook for finding a B&B near where you want to go is Frommer's Bed & Breakfast, North America, by Hal Gieseking (Simon and Schuster, $8.95), which lists reservation services for groups of B&Bs. Bed & Breakfast, American-Style, by Norman Simpson (Berkshire Traveller Series, Harper & Row. $10.95) describes a few highly recommended places in great detail. Bed & Breakfasts, Inns and Guesthouses, by Pamela Lanier (John Muir Publications, $12.95), lists thousands of accommodations with one or two sentences of description.