Motels for the Modern Era
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23 Iconic and Unique Motels Across America

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Motels for the Modern Era
©TripAdvisor

Motels for the Modern Era

Let us ponder the humble motel. Unlike its sister accommodation, the hotel, the motel feels somehow more American — maybe due to its relative affordability, maybe because so many were dotted along that most American and nostalgic of roads: Route 66. Whatever the reason, just five or six years ago, many were lamenting the end of the motel, with people writing "In Defense Of" articles or heralding the motel's "twilight" years. But while the number of motels might have dropped in the last few decades, the humble motor lodge is not down, and it's definitely not out. In fact, judging by the number of accommodations in this list that have been revamped in the last five years alone, it appears the motel is experiencing something of a resurgence. From mid-coastal Maine to the California deserts, here are the American motels keeping the nostalgia alive. (Looking for affordable accommodations on the road? Check out our review of Best Budget Hotel Chains.) 

Pioneertown Motel
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Pioneertown Motel

Pioneertown, California
According to legend, Gene Autry played poker until sunrise in the Pioneertown Motel's room 9. He also — along with the likes of Roy Rogers, Russell Hayden, and others — helped fund the desert campus the motel sits on. Pioneertown's website notes that "more than 50 films and several television shows were filmed there, most notably 'The Cisco Kid' and 'The Gene Autry Show.'" The motel itself, built in 1946, has new owners that bought the place a few years back and have since added native plant groves and spaces for "passing time with friends," and also incorporated the wares of local artists and designers into its 19 rooms. Amenities include Wi-Fi and a 24-hour lounge. Rates for the pet-friendly rooms are around $200-$300 per night.

Thunderbird Inn
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Thunderbird Inn

Savannah, Georgia
Fewer than five years ago, the Thunderbird's 46 guest rooms were revamped in a retro-chic style, but with modern comforts like pillow-topped mattresses and 43-inch flat-screen TVs. You'll also find surprising touches here, like lemonade and popcorn available upon arrival, MoonPies on your pillow, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast. And for those who love a good anecdote with their overnight accommodations, this motel — added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 — once hosted a "fledgling" Jackson Five, with photo evidence to prove it. Nightly room rates start at around $70.

Wagon Wheel Motel
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Wagon Wheel Motel

Cuba, Missouri
With about as much hipster charm as you'd expect from a small Midwestern town — translation, none — the Wagon Wheel has stayed refreshingly unpretentious. Instead, this octogenarian hotel with the cool neon sign and stone construction has adhered to its quaint Route 66 origins and been awarded a spot on the National Registry of Historic Places. Visitors gather in Connie's Shoppe for unique, locally made gifts and other items, plus hot morning coffee and evening glasses of wine. Nightly room rates range from around $60 to $125.

Lincolnville Motel
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Lincolnville Motel

Lincolnville, Maine
With the liberal use of white paint, 100% cotton sheets, and the introduction of lots of fun amenities, owner Alice Amory reinvented the 1950s-era Lincolnville in 2015. Guests here can enjoy mid-coastal Maine's freshwater beaches and numerous recreational opportunities. And, at the end of the day, come back to this motel's 4 acres and its swimming pool, lawn games, a coffee and tea room, library room, and decks with ocean views. In-room they'll find record players and books to keep them entertained (but note: no TVs or phones). Nightly rates start at $120.

Calistoga Motor Lodge
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Calistoga Motor Lodge

Calistoga, California
This motel's tagline is "Do Napa Differently," and it touts the "mineral pools, whimsical spa, and lawn games" that await travelers after a long day of wine tasting. Formerly the Sunburst Motel, built in the 1940s, Calistoga was renovated just a few years ago and, in addition to majorly freshening up the motel's aesthetics, it's now known for its plethora of activities, which include everything from group hikes, cinema nights, and spa happy hours to bocce ball, cornhole, and board games. Its 50 rooms start at about $200 nightly.  

Amigo Motor Lodge
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Amigo Motor Lodge

Salida, Colorado
Philip and Kaitlyn Sterling bought the Amigo, a 1950s-era roadside motel, in 2016, and have been pouring "blood, sweat and tears" into it ever since. They've updated the rooms in a chic, retro-yet-modern decor, and added four Airstream rentals on the site. Located in the laid-back mountain town of Salida, the Amigo features limited breakfast offerings, Tuft and Needle king-size mattresses, and is pet-friendly. Rates start at around $90 per night.

Related: 20 Summer Vacation Spots Where Pets Are Welcome

Big Texan Motel
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Big Texan Motel

Amarillo, Texas
Do you like a 72-ounce cut of beef with your hotel digs? You can get one at the Big Texan, which is adjacent to the restaurant of the same name (for the record, you can get a much smaller steak, too). Opened in 1960 on Route 66, the around-$80-per-night Big Texan and its surroundings look like an Old West town's Main Street, but it offers the comforts of modern-day, with queen-size or larger beds, HBO, and Jacuzzi tubs. In the summer, there's even a Texas-shaped swimming pool you can cool off in.

Sunset Motel
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Sunset Motel

Brevard, North Carolina
A motel of the same name in a different city about 1,500 miles away, this North Carolina 1950s spot is another example of mid-20th century roadside digs that haven't gotten out of hand with hipster touches. TripAdvisor reviews have earned it the site's coveted Certificate of Excellence, citing the "friendly and informative staff," cleanliness, and location. Thoughtful details include two porch chairs outside each room, a "fun lobby full of vinyl records," and, of course, the red and gold neon sign.

The Blue Swallow Motel
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The Blue Swallow Motel

Tucumcari, New Mexico
Built along historic Route 66, the Blue Swallow has been acting as a temporary home to travelers for more than 80 years. The rooms' decor is simple yet classic and clean — the decorative chenille bedspreads are a highlight — and each room has an adjacent carport. The real star of this motel is its original neon sign, lit up in vibrant blue, green, and red. The motel is now on its third owners — Kevin & Nancy Mueller, whom reviewers often mention for their hospitality — and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Rates start at around $75 to $85 per night, depending on the season.

Anvil Hotel
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Anvil Hotel

Jackson, Wyoming
Looking for a storied and unique yet incredibly chic spot from which to explore Yellowstone National Park? Housed in former blacksmith's shop, the 49 rooms of the Anvil have been reimagined with a "mountain-rustic vibe" — think brass fixtures, plenty of wainscoting, wool blankets, and iron bed frames. The motel is close to just about everything that Jackson's downtown has to offer, but if you just don't feel like getting out, head to the on-site Glorietta's for elevated Italian fare and a creative cocktail menu. Rates range from around $90 to $120 per night.

Wigwam Motel
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Wigwam Motel

Holbrook, Arizona
If you're traveling with little ones, they'll probably delight in sleeping in a wigwam just like Lightning McQueen did at the Cozy Cone. The Wigwam opened in 1950 along Route 66 and is still operated by the same family that started it. Each wigwam features a full bath, cable TV, and heat and AC. Pets can stay for $20 per night, and rates range from $79-$86.

Beck's Motor Lodge
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Beck's Motor Lodge

San Francisco
Located in the city's Castro neighborhood, Beck's has been around since the late 1950s and has seen its surroundings transform from a working-class Irish area into one of the most well-known LGBTQ neighborhoods in the world. It's run by the granddaughter of its original owners, and in addition to recently renovated guest rooms, features include free Wi-Fi and parking, a private sundeck, and a rooftop beehive colony (the motel is part of a local movement to combat the honeybee colony collapse). Rates start at around $200 per night.

Harbor Hotel
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Harbor Hotel

Provincetown, Massachusetts
The former, run-down Cape Inn underwent a major renovation around 2011 and was reintroduced as the Harbor, complete with 100+ refreshed guest rooms and a few suites. With views of Cape Cod Bay, an outdoor heated pool, onsite lounge and restaurant, patio with fire pits, Cabana Bar, and seated dune area, as well as board, card, and yard games, you might never want to leave. But picturesque, vibrant, and LGBTQ-friendly Provincetown beckons, so make sure to set aside some exploring time, too. Nightly rates start at about $130.

Related: 12 Small Towns Known for Being LGBTQ-Friendly

The Motor Lodge
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The Motor Lodge

Prescott, Arizona
This little motel in the Southwest with the straightforward name has been around longer than most. It began as summer cabins around 1910, morphing into a motor lodge sometime in the mid-20th century. Today, all 12 of its guest rooms give a different vibe — although decidedly retro in all cases — without being overly hipster in aesthetic. Some have private porches, and a few have gas fireplaces for an extra dose of cozy, and amenities include outdoor fire pits, loaner bikes (to ride nearby to "The Square" and Whiskey Row), and more. Rates start at around $130 per night.

Palm Springs Rendezvous
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Palm Springs Rendezvous

Palm Springs, California
With a mere 10 rooms encircling a center-court pool, hot tub, and fire pit, the Rendezvous is small on footprint but offers delivers on atmosphere and charm. Not to mention history, considering it hosted the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake, Gloria Swanson, and Hugh O’Brien dating back to its 1930s origin (when it was named the Mira Loma). Its $130ish-and-up nightly rates include breakfast, and guests can also enjoy the motel's massage studio, plus free Wi-Fi and parking.  

Foot of the Mountain Motel
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Foot of the Mountain Motel

Boulder, Colorado
Bumping up against the foothills of Boulder Canyon, Foot of the Mountain opened in 1934 and, though renovated in 2014, retains much of its original charm. Constructed of hewn-pine logs punctuated with pops of red, this motel offers 18 rooms and two suites to those exploring all Boulder has to offer, from the bustling shopping and dining on Pearl Street Mall to hiking, climbing, biking, and plenty more to do outdoors. Amenities include free breakfast, a lending library, outdoor fire pit, and more. The motel is pet-friendly, and rates range from about $100 to $300 nightly, depending on room and season. 

Kate's Lazy Meadow
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Kate's Lazy Meadow

Mount Tremper, New York
It's not every unique and iconic motel that can claim a legit rock star as its proprietor. In this case, the eponymous Kate is none other than Kate Pierson of The B-52s, who perhaps not surprisingly promises that "inside the (Lazy Meadow's) cozy, rustic cabins you'll find mind-blowing mid-century modern/space age/rocket-your-socks-off decor." You'll also get Catskills mountain views, a selection of rare and vintage DVD and VHS films, a "Japanese style hot plunge under the stars in summer," and dog-friendly accommodations. Suites start at $109/$135 for weeknights/weekends and go up to nearly $300 per night in the high season of May through October. 

Austin Motel
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Austin Motel

Austin, Texas
Located in the Lone Star State's beloved, hip capital city neighborhood of South Congress, the Austin Motel is close to tons of stuff to do, including dining, nightlife, the bat bridge, the State Capitol, and more. Or just hang close to the motel if you need a bit of downtime — there's a pool, lido deck, bodega, and more. With 41 colorful retro-styled guest rooms and suites, this dog-friendly (for a fee) motel charges about $325 and up per night.

Caliente Tropics Resort
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Caliente Tropics Resort

Palm Springs, California
Given its embrace of mid-century modern architecture and design, it should come as no surprise that Palm Springs racks up a second location on this list. And for those who like their motels with a side of ultra-cool pop culture history, the Caliente Tropics Resort has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and other Rat Packers. New owners took over in 2015, and this resort — with Polynesian-themed, tiki-infused charm — now offers tastefully decorated but not overly kitschy decor, along with a pool and spa, onsite restaurant and bar, and more. Rates start at a very reasonable $108 per night.

Related: 20 Rat Pack Haunts You Can Still Visit in Las Vegas and Beyond

Sunset Motel
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Sunset Motel

Moriarty, New Mexico
Another motel that shares a history with Route 66, the Sunset opened in 1959 and is still owned and operated by members of the original Pogue family. Though largely unassuming, it has just enough fun, vintage design touches to feel special without feeling overly precious. Guests love that the rooms, which start at around $60 per night, are quiet, comfortable, and clean. Amenities include a colorful outdoor courtyard, limited breakfast offerings, and the owners' friendly front office cat, Libby.  

Hotel Palms
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Hotel Palms

Atlantic Beach, Florida
"Uncluttered" is how the owners of this near-beachside motor court lodge explain its design. Its minimalist details include concrete floors and reclaimed wood headboards, and featured amenities include a beer and wine lounge, private courtyard with outdoor fireplace, patio seating, and free beach cruiser and foam board rentals, among other things. The 11-guest room motel was opened in 1947, and accommodations range from around $120-$150 per night.

The Drifter
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The Drifter

New Orleans
Built in 1956 and "reimagined" in 2017 as "an exercise in modernized nostalgia," The Drifter maintains its intensely mid-century modern aesthetic while incorporating "local art, hip cuisine, and specialty coffee." So, yeah, it's decidedly hipster and, for the extroverts among us, it hosts fun events like the Disco Ball Variety Show, a '90s Karaoke Pajama Party, Yoga & Mimosa Sundays, and plenty more. But there's also nothing saying you can't just grab a drink at the espresso bar, chill out by the swimming pool, and block out the world. Rates start at around $109 per night. 

El Rey Court
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El Rey Court

Santa Fe, New Mexico
The El Rey was built in 1936 along the original Route 66 and has seen many "additions, renovations, upgrades, and changes" through the years. Most recent was a 2018 renovation that renovated the 86 rooms, added the motel's La Reina bar, and incorporated new areas for guests to discover and explore on its 5-acre grounds. The hotel features adobe construction and a "swim club" with a poolside bar. Rates start at about $100.