America’s love affair with the open road may have begun with the 1926 construction of Route 66, which connected small towns between Chicago and Los Angeles. But the Great American Road Trip owes more to the Interstate Highway Act of the 1950s, which connected even more cities and led to a new type of hotel catering to cross-country adventurers — the motor lodge, with its low-slung design, eye-catching neon signs and uniquely shaped swimming pools. Now, with nostalgia for Googie architecture, offbeat attractions and roadside inns back in vogue, get a taste of simpler times where retro design touches abound at these 10 motor lodges on that next coast-to-coast drive.
If you’re seeking a former Rat Pack favorite hangout turned hip boutique hotel in Miami’s MiMo district, look no further than The Vagabond. Designed by architect Robert Swartburg (the Miami Beach Convention Center is another of his creations) and opened as a motel and restaurant lounge in 1953, Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jr. were said to be frequent visitors. A property-wide restoration in 2014 breathed new life to the property, but The Vagabond’s most recent refresh was last year, when its neon sign, balconies and courtyards (with delta wing accents) and retro-luxe guest rooms were all lovingly refreshed. With its mermaid tile mosaic, restored from the original, the swimming pool is a central hub to post up with a cold drink from The Pool Bar. The hotel’s Mr. Mandolin restaurant serves casual Mediterranean dishes, but the neighborhood is packed are great places to eat out — as well as more fantastic architecture to ogle.
Nearest Roadside Attractions: The tomato farm shed turned World’s Smallest Post Office in Ochopee (78 miles east of Miami along Highway 41) and 1960s-era juice stand turned historic landmark and slice of “Old Florida,” the Big Orange in Melbourne (178 miles north along I-95).
New Orleans, Louisiana
With a name inspired by the Beat Generation, The Drifter promises guests a “free-spirited blast of nostalgia with an eye-opening taste of the now” in Mid-City, New Orleans, thanks to its pool parties and “toptional” sunbathers. Creatively directed and operated by boutique hotel developer Sandstone, this 1950s roadside motel has been a NOLA hotspot since it reopened in 2017. The property’s “old-school” motel sign on Tulane Avenue pays homage to its mid-century roots, but inside, the 20 guest rooms feature Oaxacan tile work and beds made up with luxe Frette linens. Lined with retro lounge chairs, tables and umbrellas, the hotel’s central pool courtyard and swim club is where locals and travelers alike come to cool off during those long, hot NOLA summers and attend parties, performances and pop-ups beside the disco ball-topped stage.
Nearest Roadside Attraction: Constructed in 1981 for the World’s Fair, the tiny two-bed and one-and-a-half-bath Fisherman’s Castle sits on Irish Bayou on the edge of New Orleans East.
With its scene-stealing neon sign, this roadside motel has been a landmark along Savannah’s Atlantic Heritage Coast since it opened in 1964. Today, the two-story classic champions eco-initiatives with solar panels and an EV charging station. It’s pet-friendly and extends Southern hospitality touches for new arrivals with bags of hot popcorn, complimentary moon pies and RC Cola in rooms and Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee for breakfast. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and winner of a preservation award for its classic roadside motel renovations in the Savannah Landmark Historic District, the hotel also has a page on Accidently Wes Anderson. Its 42 retro-decorated rooms range from single kings and queens to a king suite complete with a vintage typewriter while former guests include a pre-frame Jackson Five — look for the framed group photograph on the second floor.
Nearest Roadside Attraction: Not roadside per se, but 1950s-era attractions are included in the collection of sideshow oddities at The Graveface Museum in Savannah’s Historic District.
If disco balls and shag rugs top your list of motel must-haves then pull over for a night at The Dive Motel in East Nashville. Previously occupied by a rundown Key Motel motor inn, the husband and wife team behind design-driven petite hotel group Urban Cowboy revitalized the mid-50s era building into something out of a Wes Anderson film. Less glitzy “new Nashville” than old school Music City, original elements of the former motel and found objects are incorporated throughout the motel, pool and swim club, and dive bar — including wood panels, vintage vinyl wallpaper and a 1969 velvet Playboy centerfold. Each uniquely designed and decorated, 23 rooms and suites all have one thing in common: a “Party Switch” connected to a disco ball and radio station that will play sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll or sleep themed tunes, depending on your mood. And if travel plans aren’t taking you near Nashville this summer, shop some Dive Motel merch online instead.
Nearest Roadside Attraction: Ellie the Pink Elephant is a well loved local landmark and popular tourist photo stop in Cookeville around 80 miles west of the city.
Operating since 1938 and a beloved part of Austin’s history, this motel is a step back in time at one of the most iconic hideouts on South Congress. Bunkhouse Hotels renovated its 41 rooms in their signature style, with custom vinyl tufted beds, boldly designed wallpaper, classic push-button phones, and vintage music posters, but stayed true to the building’s mid-century roots preserving the original neon sign and kidney shaped pool. Order a Mermaid Mojito or Lemonade Lounger from The Pool Bar and mingle with fellow motel guests and Austin locals at the adults-only seasonal Neon Night Swims. There’s a Bodega in the lobby for snacks, drinks and souvenirs, plus the Bat Bridge, shops and nightlife venues along South Congress all within a walking proximity.
Nearest Roadside Attraction: Located 15 miles east of Austin in Cedar Creek, Miss Pearl the Giant Squirrel is the walnut-clutching mascot of the Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Route 66 cut a diagonal path across Oklahoma with its capital, Oklahoma City, a central point. Located along a downtown stretch of this famed highway, you’ll find the Classen Inn. Its Googie architecture dates back to 1963 but the hotel was restored to its original glory in 2020 — only with a “more is more” maximalist design aesthetic — and colorful (read: chartreuse and bright pink) mid-century finishes added as part of the $2 million makeover. Expect vintage kitschy touches across its 17 rooms — bamboo print wallpaper, Frigidaire minifridges and custom artwork by local illustrator Okie Dust. The restored vintage sign, lobby lounge and swinging flamingo chairs on the first-floor patio are popular photo op spots. Stock up on local beers and snacks from the Superette and borrow bikes to explore downtown.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Motel Safari in Tucumari has been a Mother Road icon of Americana for more than six decades. The quintessential Route 66 town — the largest city between Amarillo and Albuquerque — is home to some of the historic highway’s best neon in New Mexico. Rooms and suites at the Safari have been modernized with unpretentious period decor — park up outside and meet fellow travelers around the patio fire pits. Centrally located to shops, restaurants and attractions, a couple of Instagram-worthy spots within walking distance include the Tee Pee Curios gift shop with its wigwam storefront and La Cita Mexican restaurant with its giant sombrero hat.
Route 66 runs directly through Flagstaff and one of its classic roadside haunts, the Americana Motor Hotel, will reopen in July after a retro-futuristic themed top-to-bottom remodel. Whether passing through this high country mountain town to visit the Grand Canyon, ancient pueblos of Wupatki, or day trip to another of northern Arizona’s outdoor destinations, a stay here promises “dive-in” movies in the heated pool, loaner telescopes for stargazing tourists (Flagstaff was recognized as the world’s First International Dark Sky City in 2001), plus diner classics like burgers, fries and ice cream from walk-up concept Far Out Food. If vibrant interior design details are your jam (geometric carpets, disco balls), then you’ll love the rooms.
Nearest Roadside Attractions: The quirky WigWam Motel and its museum along Route 66 in nearby Holbrooke is worth a stop. The ax-wielding Lumberjack Muffler Men outside the Skydome Arena on the NAU campus had a brief cameo in “Easy Rider.”
The Egyptian Motor Hotel was a mainstay on Grand Avenue in the downtown Phoenix arts district from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s but reopened to rave reviews in January following a multiyear renovation. Its restored vintage sign makes a simple promise: Food, Booze, Shows and Rooms. So, expect stellar dishes from onsite restaurant Chilte (the first brick-and-mortar of its locally famous namesake food truck) and nightly live entertainment, including drag shows and local bands at its 250-seat entertainment venue Egyptian LIVE and DTPHX’s newest outdoor cocktail bar (try the PB&J shot), which also features fire pits and adult games. The V-shape motel has 48 rooms with retro refrigerators and mid-mod furnishings — some also have acoustic guitars for your strumming pleasure. After checking in, cool off from the desert heat in the splash pool before challenging travel partners to a game of giant Jenga.
San Francisco, California
Opened in 1956 as the Caravan Lodge, this Tenderloin district motor retreat became a go-to for touring bands after being rebranded the Phoenix in 1987 — mainly because its car park could accommodate their buses. Everyone from David Bowie, Debbie Harry and Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers stayed — and partied — there. Hospitality group Bunkhouse took over in 2018, kept the original 1950s architecture and remained faithful to the hotel’s rock n roll history, updating the rooms and suites with vintage concert posters and neon lights. The landmarked swimming pool (one of only two in the country) serves as a snapshot-ready focal point and social hub of the palm-fringed courtyard, while an impressive collection of 7,000 used LPs line the walls of Chambers Eat + Drink, the hotel’s adjacent lounge and restaurant, which caters to a lively brunch crowd on weekends but also serves as a moody midweek drinking den.
Nearest Roadside Attraction: The 20-foot Bell Plastics mascot, Big Mike the Muffler Man, over the Bay Bridge in Hayward was first installed at the Morris Car Wash back in the 1960s.
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