Hearing the call of the open road? The great American road trip may be your next great vacation. Whether you want to cruise the rural highways of New England or roam the sun-baked backroads of California, you’ll find destination-worthy motor lodges with awesome retro appeal along the way. Here are 14 favorites that will far, far exceed your expectations of what a roadside stay can be.
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Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, Calistoga, California
Vintage vibes, vino, and a big dose of joie de vivre team up at Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, a darling boutique hotel in Napa Valley. Its design inspiration from 1950s-70s Americana — think marigold and navy color schemes, stripe and chevron patterns, streamlined furnishings — translates beautifully in the here and now, an Instagram-pretty style where just about every nook and cranny is a mini photo op. CML’s Silverado Trail location, within walking or biking distance from downtown Calistoga, is another major plus. After a day of tasting-room and vineyard visits, soak in one of the lodge’s hot spring mineral pools.
Starlite Motel, Kerhonkson, New York
Located in the peaceful Catskills, about a two-hour drive from NYC, Starlite Motel is a quirky little retreat in an area packed with wineries, hiking trails, nature preserves, stone-cliff waterfalls, and rolling farmland. The motor lodge’s 1960s vintage is apparent from the basic layout, breeze-block walls, and gloriously retro neon side beaming over Route 209, but the new owners have lovingly restored the property with impeccably stylish interiors and boutique-like details. Instead of a hallway vending machine, there’s a weekend food truck selling vegan food. Instead of a pot of old coffee in the office, there’s Brazilian pour over in the room — along with fresh flowers, buffalo-check wool blankets, natural toiletries, and sweet pink-and-black tiling in the bathrooms.
Beck’s Motor Lodge, San Francisco, California
When Beck’s first opened its doors in 1958, its room rates were five dollars a night. A few decades, management teams, and upgrades later, and the hotel still celebrates its mid-century style with bright colors and quirky signage rising over Market Street. And true to its motor lodge origins, Beck’s offers free parking — a rarity in compact San Francisco. Modern-day travelers continue to flock to this independent hotel for its friendly and hard-to-beat Castro location.
Drift Oceanside Inn, Camden, Maine
The stretch of Coastal Route 1 heading north from Camden is peppered with old-timey cottage rentals, charming B&Bs, and simple little motels pointed towards island-dotted Penobscot Bay. It’s a lovely drive, for many travelers made year after year on their way to Acadia. Drift Oceanside (operated as the family-run Beloin’s on the Maine Coast for 80 years before switching hands in 2018) is typical of the non-chain, delightfully throwback lodgings in this neck of the woods.
The inn is quite literally perched atop a ledge over the shore, giving roadtrippers the simple pleasures of the Mid-coast: gently crashing waves, lobster boats on the bay, fishing eagles on the rocky coast, and songbirds in the mossy woods. We recommend a sundown picnic on the private beach before watching the moon rise over the water.
Motel Safari, Tucumcari, New Mexico
A funky camel-topped road sign, patterned breeze blocks, pink flamingos, and atomic-era boomerang designs: The Motel Safari is the mother ship of Mother Road kitsch. Starting with a brief stint as a Best Western, the 1959 motel has kept its peak 60s vibes perfectly intact. The rooms even contain furnishings custom-built on-site during the hotel’s late-50s construction. As for that camel at the top of the sign, it pays homage to the 22 Tunis-imported camels used in Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s 1850s expeditions to survey and build a wagon road across the rugged southwest wilderness. The pathfinder’s charted course, now known as Beale Wagon Road Historic Trail, was eventually followed by Santa Fe Railway, I-40, and Route 66.
Cuyama Buckhorn, New Cuyama, California
Only in California could a motor lodge be as cool as Cuyama Buckhorn. Originally built in 1952 by the same architect behind the Flamingo in Las Vegas, this roadside motel has been reborn as a high-desert retreat. New Cuyama (population: 500) is a historic ranching outpost at the far edge of Santa Barbara County, two hours from L.A. Nods to local cowboy culture — cattle brand designs from local ranches, cowhide rugs, and buckhorn chandeliers — adorn the restored mid-century framework.
The outdoor space gives the interior design a run for its money, with views of wildflower-covered hills and rugged Caliente mountains all around. There’s a heated pool with fountains and a large hot tub, plus a barrel sauna with mountain views — both perfect relaxation spots after a day of hiking and mountain biking in nearby Los Padres National Forest. Have a cocktail at the open-air bar, relax by the fire pits, try your hand at bocce ball on the pro-level court, and watch the sunset from an Adirondack chair by the vintage outdoor fireplace.
Shady Villa Hotel, Salado, Texas
The oldest continuously-operating hotel in Texas, Shady Villa predates the American motor lodge heyday. Actually, it predates the automobile entirely and goes all the way back to another sort of road trip: The original 1861 building was a stagecoach stop for cattle drivers on their way up to Kansas. Nineteenth-century figures Sam Houston and Jesse James were once guests. Additions and new construction came along in the 1940s and 50s, transforming the historic place into a small-town destination resort. Another big revamp came along in 2018, but nostalgia still runs the show, from Saltillo tiling on the floors to the chicken-fried steak on the menu.
Skyline Lodge, Highlands, North Carolina
When a Frank Lloyd Wright student drafted Skyline Lodge in the late 1920s, it was the classic motor court design that typified the era. Rounds of renovations later in the 20th century picked and prodded at the original structure, but a 2020 restoration helmed by Indigo Road Hospitality Group carefully safeguarded the building’s architectural pedigree while transforming it into a trendy haven in one of North Carolina’s most loved mountain towns. Though the surrounding Blue Ridge scenery is the star of the show, the boutique inn adds perks like heated bathroom tiles, custom bedding by a heritage Charleston brand, fly fishing and rock climbing outings, and free s’mores at the nightly campfire on the stone terrace.
Hero Beach Club, Montauk, New York
When you think of a motor lodge, you think simple spot off a busy interstate, catering to weary travelers on their way to somewhere else. In that sense, Hero Beach Club in end-of-the-world Montauk doesn’t quite fit: It’s the destination, not the stopover. For decades, it was Oceanside Hotel, a run-of-the-mill 1950s motel on Montauk Highway whose one noteworthy feature was its truly knockout piece of beachfront real estate. New owners entered the scene in 2016 and gave the place a high-style makeover, with beachy-boho decor in earthy tones and natural materials (seagrass rugs, mid-century rattan chairs, and rough stone sinks). The updated look is clean and fresh and appealing to a hipster clientele, but it doesn’t distract from the sublimity of the wide, neighborless beach and pounding waves just past the dunes.
Amigo Motor Lodge, Salida, Colorado
High-elevation hiking, hot springs, and hometown breweries await travelers who make the journey to Salida, 2.5 hours south of Denver. The Rocky Mountain town is the main outpost in Chaffee County, where the state’s largest concentration of “14ers” shoot more than 14,000 feet in elevation. An old motor lodge-turned-boutique stay on Highway 50, Amigo offers hipster digs with Southwestern soul. Vintage gas station signs, fluffy blanket-topped butterfly chairs, and Victrola record players pop up around the property, whose accommodations range from motel rooms to Airstreams from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The yard features a giant teepee, a hot tub, and hammocks for post-hike relaxation.
The Brentwood and Spa City Motor Lodge, Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs hotels tend to fall in a handful of buckets: chains, large casino/conference properties, historic B&Bs, and grand old dames rooted in Saratoga’s Victorian past. In recent years, new openings have brought breath-of-fresh-air options to the table. In 2016, a former motor lodge by the Saratoga Race Track was reborn as Brentwood Hotel, an exquisite 12-room boutique with serious design chops. And the 2021 opening of Spa City Motor Lodge, once a 60s-era motel, introduced a fun and budget-friendly stay right on the main street of Saratoga Springs’ charming downtown. Spa City is the first property by Bluebird by Lark, a hotel brand in the process of opening reimagined roadside motels and beach and mountain lodges throughout the Northeast.
High Country Motor Lodge, Flagstaff, Arizona
Route 66-ers have no shortage of time-warp places to pull over for the night. High Country Motor Lodge, a mile from historic downtown Flagstaff and directly off the famous highway, is the newcomer of the bunch (opening January 2022). A one-time Howard Johnson, the property has been given a total overhaul for the modern (and social media) age, with outdoor movies, lawn games, Arizona’s first and only Nordic spa, and rustic-modern rooms (including the appealingly named “cosmic cottages” with personal fire pits).
The Briarcliff, Great Barrington, Massachusetts
A modernized mid-century motel tucked into the Berkshires, the dog-friendly Briarcliff offers a simple, well-priced stay with cozy throwback vibes. The long line of ground-floor drive-up rooms is right off Route 7, but it’s backed by trees and set far enough back for quiet seclusion. The storybook towns of Great Barrington and Stockbridge are under a 10-minute drive in either direction, and the hiking trails of Monument Mountain Reservation are right across the road. On-site, there’s a pellet stove in the lobby and picnic tables and a fire pit in the yard, where guests can chat with the owner, hang out with her resident pups, or let their own dogs romp off-leash.
Del Marcos Hotel, Palm Springs, California
The 1947 Del Marcos Hotel is the first standalone work by William F. Cody, the now-legendary Palm Springs architect whose portfolio includes Frank Sinatra’s Rancho Mirage. 75 years after its construction, the 17-room property (one block from downtown) remains a shrine to desert modernism, with a boldly angular roofline and low-rise construction made of native stone, redwood, and glass surrounding a saltwater pool. Inside, nearly every detail is period-perfect, from the saucer light pendants and Smeg appliances to the avocado green walls and mod orange-cushioned tulip chairs.