Motels are so cool. They usually have retro signs, a rad pool in the courtyard, and are located near highlights and must-sees throughout the USA. Over the last decade many of these old-school 1950’s motels have been refurbished, extra “cool-ified” and even sustainably updated for those traveling nomads that like a hint of retro to go with their morning coffee. As an architectural buff myself, and one who prefers to travel on the cheap, here are my top five must-stays.
This motel was on my list for quite some time before I finally stayed here. The exterior may be in muted colors but the design is nothing short of stunning and just ten minutes from the San Diego Airport in Point Loma. The motel features a restaurant that looks straight out of Pulp Fiction. Yes, there is a pool in the middle of the courtyard. And the thread count sheets match the high-end taste of the A-list traveler but the prices are reasonable at 250-380.00 USD a night depending on the season and supply. Know before you go– their cafe is so cool– but don’t neglect nearby coffee shops and local haunts.
The Vagabond was originally a motel and restaurant lounge in 1953. Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack spent many a night performing their croony hits there. It was designed by prominent architect Robert Swartburg, Restored from soup to nuts, it maintains its architectural bones but with an updated flair. The Vagabond Hotel is located on Biscayne Blvd and near to everything that you will want to do and see in Miami. It is listed on the National Register Of Historic Places.
Mid Century Modern flair with a twist of Jetsons thrown in. The Orbit In celebrates Midcentury Modernism and its architects. Orbitini happy hour, salt water pools with misters, bikes to rent, and all the expectations of Corian, stainless steel, mid-century furniture, and the quietest area on Arenas. Know before you go. Each room is named after a famous Palm Springs architect. Opt for the Frey Lounge room if you can get it. It has an outdoor shower and peek-a-boo views of the Ship. A famous Albert Frey house nestled above in the Palm Springs mountains.
A beachside motor lodge refurbished with modern furniture, traditional accents and beachy chic accessories. The property is absolutely kid-friendly, and dog friendly too. Seaside activities, including kayak rentals. There is an onsite restaurant and indoor and outdoor pools. Four buildings feature 30 rooms, some with Cove views.
Tulane Avenue has a retro motel that was built in 1956 and reimagined in 2017. The bones and integrity of the building are fully intact, and the retro sign is restored. But what the low-rise motel evokes is altogether different. And it represents the recent cultural shift in America. Anything goes and all are welcome, in this paradise an ethnic melting pot pours itself sweetly over a bouillabaisse of New Orleans drifter and hipster travel culture. Art and culture are weaved throughout the building and exteriors. And mixed tastes from Japanese beer, to Colombian coffee, shift the flavors and cultural appreciation so that the creative types can stay and feel extra at home. There is a pool, and Swim Club that offers locals a year-round membership. Fuchsia walls challenge concrete muted ones, and a tropical paradise courtyard transports you from the city.
Since COVID-19 changed the game of travel, motels are not only cheaper, but they are road trip friendly too. And most of them are mom-and-pop owned, with the love and kind of hospitality one would normally only get from a Bed and Breakfast. So check the above ones out and be sure to look at motel options when booking your next hotel stay.