North America

The Chicest Motels in America

There’s nothing more American than a road trip, and almost as nostalgic as the idea of taking to the open highway is making a pit stop at one of the retro motor lodges that line the country’s major thoroughfares. But . . . not all those accommodations are so retro anymore. Hoteliers and design companies are reimagining these rundown structures as chic boutique hotels that are destination-worthy in and of themselves. From beachfront lodges in Malibu to woodsy escapes in upstate New York, these repurposed motels eschew kitsch for modern design and amenities, giving weary travelers so much more than just a place to rest their heads.

Austin Motel

Photo: Courtesy of Austin Motel

No stranger to hip hospitality, Austin hotelier Liz Lambert and her outfit, Bunkhouse Group, remodeled a ’30s South Congress motel inspired by three specific periods. Inspired by what Lambert refers to as “the curviness” of the decades, rooms pop with deliberate ’50s color schemes like candy-orange vinyl-tufted beds alongside ’80s vintage silk-screen prints, cherry-red push phones, and Eric Trine’s Wall Willy robe hooks (because why not?). The kidney-shaped pool flecked with red and white umbrellas begs for synchronized swimming, canned rosé, and retro punches. A cheeky retail lobby concept stocks tees, water wings, and Fiele Fragrances. 1220 S. Congress Ave., Austin, Texas;

Anvil Hotel

Photo: Courtesy of Anvil Hotel

A slice of the Big Apple resides in downtown Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The designers at Brooklyn-based Studio Tack transformed the 49 rooms of a downtown ’50s ski hotel with two-tone white-and-navy walls, handmade rugs, brass fixtures, iron bed frames, and custom Woolrich blankets. The lobby’s unfussy Western interior doubles as a café (with Snake River Roasting Co. coffee) and a hip general store by cool-kid label Westerlind Outdoor. For meals, the communal-vibed, wood-meets-subway-tiles Italian restaurant, Glorietta Trattoria serves wood-fired cooking. And, in good form, cocktails are shaken and slung by New York’s Proprietors LLC. 215 N. Cache St., Jackson, Wyoming;

Brentwood Hotel

Photo: Read McKendree/ Courtesy of Brentwood Hotel

On the backstretch of a famed racetrack where the horse Seabiscuit was discovered, the 12-room Brentwood Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York, feels traditionally Americana—albeit with an authentic L-shaped equestrian bent. Its owners, the aforementioned creative group Studio Tack, insisted on classic details: Jaclo brass fixtures, antique kilim rugs, high-gloss plywood floors, and vintage bucolic oil paintings. Custom pine beds (by the woodworker David Cummings) are topped with hand-dyed Brooklyn-based Sharktooth blankets. Meanwhile, glossy black bathrooms feature rain showers, chamfered mirrors, and toiletries from C.O. Bigelow. 15 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, New York;

Amigo Motor Lodge

Photo: Courtesy of Amigo Motor Lodge

In Salida, Colorado (population: 5,049), where outdoor adventure reigns, the 17-room Amigo Lodge is fittingly marked by a tall red-and-white tepee. Inspired by Liz Lambert’s hotels, the owners, a husband-and-wife duo, refashioned the design to convey a simple, minimalist modern feel. Rooms are all different—a smattering of mountain chic coupled with Southwestern desert hues and Citizenry’s hand-woven Oaxacan pillows. Cheery white-subway-tiled bathrooms are stocked with Malin and Goetz toiletries. An old carport turned airy sunroom and stocked with leafy plants is outfitted in a red-orange hue that would make Herman Miller jealous. Come summer, it’s all about the breezy courtyard and canary yellow Preway fireplace. 7350 W US Highway 50, Salida, Colorado;

Nobu Ryokan

Photo: Barbara Kraft

Formerly the dated Casa Malibu Inn, Malibu’s Nobu Ryokan looks more like a Japanese retreat than a roadside motel since its 2017 renovation, and that’s the point. Once you step inside, you’ll completely forget the Pacific Coast Highway is mere feet away. Its 16 secluded rooms are the height of luxury, with Italian bedding by Anichini, teak soaking tubs, Mauro Spino bath products, indoor-outdoor fireplaces, and limestone showers. In the Garden Rooms, you’ll get your own private green space; in the second-floor ocean rooms, the views of the coastline are unparalleled. And if you’re craving room service, the kitchen at Nobu’s restaurant next door will deliver. 22752 CA-1, Malibu, CA;

The Skyview

Photo: Courtesy of The Skyview


The Skyview has sat right off Highway 101 since the 1950s, but it’s the property’s luxurious update (not just its convenience) that’s been drawing visitors since its reopening early this year. The new owners gutted the place, trading in midcentury modernism for more fitting rustic elements—like hardwood floors, white wood paneled walls, marble-clad bathrooms with hand-painted tile and farm sinks, leather club chairs, and cowhide rugs—in the 33 rooms. On the motel’s five acres overlooking Santa Barbara wine country, there are fire pits, private outdoor showers, a fleet of electric bikes and mountain bikes for exploring the former frontier town, and a working vineyard that sources the house wine. One thing that’s stayed the same? The retro “motel” sign standing tall over the refurbished pool. 9150 US-101, Los Alamos, CA;

Sparrows Lodge

Photo: Jaime Kowal Photography

1950s architecture is commonplace in Palm Springs, and yet Sparrows Lodge stands out because of its departure from the norm. Formerly known as Castle’s Red Barn (it was built by actor Don Castle and opened in 1952; it also went through stints as Catalina Palms and El Rancho Lodge), the property has ditched its midcentury roots in favor of a more rustic look. The renovation was centered around the original barn, which now houses a bar and lounge; the poolside and garden rooms feature exposed redwood beams and custom redwood beds, enameled horse troughs as bathtubs, Swiss Army blankets, and leather butterfly chairs. 1330 E. Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA;

The Drifter Hotel

Photo: Nicole Franzen for Design Hotels

Tucked into New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, close to the French Quarter, the Drifter—which was renovated in 2017—pays homage to its midcentury motel roots (check the old-school “motel” sign in front of the stereotypical two-story strip building) while celebrating the kind of eccentricity that typifies the Big Easy. Inside each of the 20 simple rooms, you’ll find concrete walls and Oaxacan tilework, 1950s-style electric fans, Frette linens, and Aesop toiletries. And the lobby’s resortlike vibe—thanks to an Instagram-ready pink-and-green tropical wall mural—extends outside to the pool, where on-site food trucks serve up Cuban, Haitian, and Mexican dishes while a disco ball spins. 3522 Tulane Ave, New Orleans, LA;

The Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Photo: Aubrie Pick

In its past life, the Sunburst Calistoga was a classic 1940s roadside hotel. Reborn in 2017 as the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, the property is an ode to the American road trip. The 55 rooms were inspired by Airstream camper vans, with retro prints, bold colors, and minimalist design (each one is outfitted with a camper banquette, too). Outside, there’s a distinct summer camp vibe, thanks to a rotating schedule of activities like group hikes, alfresco cinema night, and spa happy hour, as well as games like bocce ball, Hula-Hoop, cornhole, and traditional board games. And the three geothermal pools, which are fed by Calistoga’s underground hot springs, are the perfect way to recover after a day in the car. 1880 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga, CA;

Sound View

Photo: Read McKendree

This waterfront motel on the North Fork has been welcoming guests since 1953, but a renovation in the summer of 2017 by Studio Tack (on behalf of owners Filament Hospitality) has breathed new life into the property, which stretches along a quarter mile of private beach. The 55 rooms and suites are light and airy, with untreated cedar walls, chunky textiles, and nautical blue accents, with local amenities like Malin & Goetz toiletries and complimentary Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies in the updated kitchenettes. At the Halyard, featuring unparalleled views on the Long Island Sound, guests can dine on local fare. 58775 Route 48, Greenport, NY;

The Phoenix Hotel

Photo: Nick Simonite


Liz Lambert hasn’t limited her designs to Austin; last year, she oversaw a remodel of the Caravan Motor Lodge cum Phoenix Hotel, which dates all the way back to 1956. The Tenderloin district property hadn’t been updated since 1987, and its rock-and-roll roots are what influenced Lambert: The lobby, with its wood paneling and Shinola record player, looks like an old recording studio, while vintage rock concert posters decorate each of the 44 rooms, which nod to the past with bold red, blue, and yellow accents. Untouched was the property’s heated pool (one of only two landmarked swimming pools), which features a Pop Art installation by Francis Forlenza on the bottom. 601 Eddy St, San Francisco, CA;

Native Hotel

Photo: Courtesy of Native

Another PCH pit stop, the Native Hotel was built back in 1947 and known as the Malibu Riviera Motel (James Dean and Marilyn Monroe were among its guests). After being revamped by L.A. design firm Folklor in 2017, it’s once again drawing Hollywood’s elite. The 13 bungalow-style rooms come standard with Casper mattresses, handmade furniture, vintage ice chests housing the minibar, antique hand-dyed Turkish rugs, and private decks that offer sweeping views of Zuma Beach and Point Dume. In a fun homage to road-trip culture, L.A. chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Coffee & Waffles pop-up serves up breakfast from a converted Airstream in the car park. 28920 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA;

The Astro Motel

Photo: Enrique Rivas Chavez

California has no shortage of renovated roadside hotels, but the Astro Motel has bounced back from a seedy history to become one of the state’s most ambitious remodels—in the wake of the 2017 wine country, its opening was actually pushed up from January 2018 to house displaced Santa Rosa residents. Chef Liza Hinman of Sonoma County restaurant the Spinster Sisters led the remodel, turning the 1960s motor lodge into a midcentury-modern motel that specifically caters to cyclists (the only American cyclist to win the Giro d’Italia, Andrew Hampsten, invested in the property). Rent one of the property’s own Shinola bikes, join bike tours to nearby wineries, and take advantage of on-site repairs. 323 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa, CA;

Scribner’s Catskill Lodge

Photo: Read McKendree

Just two hours from Manhattan, Scribner’s Catskill Lodge is perfectly situated as a bucolic summer escape from the city and a cozy home base for winter adventures on Hunter Mountain. It opened in 1966 as a motor lodge; today, it’s thoroughly Brooklyn-ified courtesy of a gut renovation spearheaded by Studio Tack (yes, the same group behind the Anvil and Brentwood Hotels) in 2016. The 38 rooms are tasteful yet understated, with dark wood floors, vintage rugs and custom furniture in muted earth tones, and terra-cotta tiling in the bathrooms, while the 20 acres of rolling hills look like a more modern setting for Dirty Dancing. 13 Scribner Hollow Rd, Hunter, NY;