It may seem a strange moment, here on the brink of the Driverless Revolution, to single out roadside motels, those neon-and-chrome bastions of a bygone age. But they’re not just for road-tripping anymore — and thanks to their historical roots, they’ve got character and charm to spare. Here are 15 refurbished, reinvented exemplars of this singularly American** mode of hospitality.
*North America, that is.
**Like we said.
Catskills, New York — A campier (in both senses), more minimalist take on the revamped-motel model, the Graham & Co. demonstrates that the “Park Slope to Catskills” migration is far from finished. This is Instagram Rustic, if you will: start with some vintage furniture, snag some Tivoli radios, throw in a free bike rental, spark a bonfire, and watch the Zipcars roll in.
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Miami, Florida — This Biscayne Boulevard fixture sat derelict for years, but thankfully it’s back and absolutely better than ever. The public spaces have a gratifying, Jetsons-esque feel, all sculptural geometry and overhanging roof lines, while much of the original detailing (mermaid and dolphin mosaics, terrazzo and wood flooring) got some VIP restoration treatment. Take it all in over a Vagabond Collins at the pool bar. Better make it two.
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Los Angeles, California — The Sixties are alive and well within these walls, once home to the Thunderbird Motel: think bleach-white interiors with wacky sofas, shag carpet on the floor and ceiling, and blue-green AstroTurf around the obligatory pool. And this being the Sunset Strip, you won’t lack for reasons to groove; with nightlife this vibrant (and and 24/7 restaurant), you might not even need the bed. They are orthopedic mattresses, though…
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Comfort, Texas — Okay, so technically this used to be a bowling alley (established in 1860!), but we couldn’t resist. You won’t be able to, either, if you make the trek to this Census Designated Place: spacious, weathered digs with pops of colorful modern furniture and a Hill Country guide more than willing to show you around. When you’re tuckered out, they’ll help you build a fire in the courtyard or brew you up something strong in the Social Hall. Texas hospitality, y’all!
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Vancouver, British Columbia — There’s an argument to be made that the West Coast aesthetic transcends national borders, and that British Columbia has more in common with California than it does the rest of the Great White North. Case in point: the Burrard, a modernist motor inn that’s been putting the Palm Springs in Vancouver since 1956. Bucket chairs, white-frame shades, a spot-on ten-speed logo — this place gets it right. Grab a pick-me-up at on-site Container Coffee, then hit the town, on four wheels or two.
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Portland, Oregon — You don’t come here looking for $22 hotel-bar cocktails, that’s for sure. And good riddance — who needs those at Doug Fir Lounge, Jupiter’s attached live music venue, fixture of the Portland scene? Whimsically restyled from its Sixties motor-lodge roots, this place epitomizes the city’s deeply casual, effortlessly chill vibe. Grab a Tecate (and a high-and-tight haircut?) over drinks and conversation with neighborhood artists, craftsfolk, and designers.
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Austin, Texas — Despite the throngs, Austin still manages to keep it consistently weird — thanks in no small part to establishments like this. Probably because it’s existed in one form (motor inn) or another (renovated in the cowboy-Zen idiom) since the Thirties. If nothing else, come for the top-notch iced coffee and sandwiches at Jo’s across the parking lot. Sling an acoustic along and see if you qualify for the 10% traveling musician’s discount while you’re at it.
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Palm Springs, California — For more proof that this boutique hotel brand can’t really do wrong, we present their metamorphic take on a Palm Springs roadside motel. The repurposed diner is particularly appealing, as are the high-desert dive bar and the wealth of recycled materials and fixtures. It all adds up to a refreshing spin on old-school motel kitsch, well worth the windows-down trip east from LA on the 10.
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Desert Hot Springs, California — It does, eternally, and just minutes from the Ace. As the town name suggests, this ten-room, adults-only retreat centers around the geothermal springs. Good thing, too, because for all the mid-century modernist appeal, this motel is enjoying a healthy second act as a private, restorative resort. It gets better: Joshua Tree is right next door.
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Boston, Massachusetts — A motel? In the shadow of Fenway Park? Fear not: this isn’t just another exercise in Red Sox nostalgia. No, this is nostalgia of another stripe — the Verb’s wall art pays tribute to the Boston Phoenix, the alternative weekly rag that’s earned insider status in Boston’s music scene. Match that with a sunny, Mondrian-esque approach to color and you’ve got a motel whose design has only improved with age.
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Catskills, New York — Catskills lodging has apparently come quite some way from its summer-cabin roots. The folks behind the Roxbury have utterly transformed this once low-profile motel, staging a flamboyant maximalist fantasy with endless theatrical detailing. If the land of Oz (complete with yellow brick road) doesn’t suffice, try their retro-futuristic space capsule, or the punny “Archaeologist’s Digs!”
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San Diego, California — This redeemed motel — rooms start well south of a hundred bucks a night — perfectly balances vintage-kitsch with contemporary-sleek. The “dive-in theater” pretty much exemplifies the vibe: bustling poolside glamour, cocktails galore, and proven crowd-pleasers on the projector screen.
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Boise, Idaho — It’s right there in the name: this former Travelodge now sports charmingly mod accents everywhere you look, a reverent snapshot of warm, mid-century ambience. And though Boise has a ways to go before it starts topping any lists, the Modern Bar has generated its fair share of buzz among the martini crowd in the city’s up-and-coming Linen District.
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Dallas, Texas — Dallas is a driver’s town through and through, which perfectly suits this vintage 1946 throwback. Blessed with a killer hillside view of the downtown skyline, the Belmont emanates swank and hip in equal measures thanks to a contemporary revamp. The locals seem to dig it, judging by their presence at the bar. Sidle up and try a sidecar.
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Scottsdale, Arizona — Just quintessential in every respect; this roadhouse jewel trades in the kind of Frank Lloyd Wright–style cred that most retro-chic hoteliers would kill for. Though Hotel Valley Ho now features terrazzo-tiled bathrooms and elevated American classics at Zuzu restaurant, there’s no hiding its motorphile heart. Wash the dust of the road off in the sky-blue pool, still going strong after all these years.
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