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The word motel, which derives from morphing  the words motor and hotel, probably conjures a cheap, roadside stopover these days. But in the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of charming mom and pop motels sprouted up around the country, coinciding with the development of the interstate highway system. As the decades passed, though, many of these properties went belly up or fell into disrepair. Now, hoteliers are seeing the potential in reviving some of the down-but-not-out properties for a retro-obsessed hipster crowd, thereby bringing boutique chic to the motel landscape. Here’s a look at some of the coolest of the bunch.

ALSO: The best of Joshua Tree and the High Desert

Photo courtesy of the Ace Hotel

Ace Hotel and Swim Club: Palm Springs, CA
Palm Springs is all about retro chic, so it’s no surprise that the folks at Ace Hotel decided to dust off a neglected Westward Ho (complete with a Denny’s), give it some love and open afresh. The rooms at Ace Hotel & Swim Club sport a desert decor, with bedspreads made from tent canvas and bathrobes that any Bedouin would be proud to don. Oh, and that Denny’s? It’s now King’s Highway, serving Middle Eastern cuisine with a California twist.

Photo courtesy of the Austin Motel and Nick Simonite

Austin Motel: Austin, TX The Austin Motel has  been operating since 1938, but its current design, by legendary Austin hotelier Liz Lambert, reads mid-century groovy. Check out those orange vinyl tufted beds. In the Pool Suites, dig the coin-operated Magic Fingers vibrating bed. More titillating enjoyment is on hand at the ’50s-style outdoor pool, which hosts “Richard Simmons-style” water aerobics classes and synchronized swimming shows.

Photo courtesy of Sound View Greenpoint

Sound View Greenport: Long Island, NY
A lot of motels sit roadside, but others reside  beachfront. Sound View, on the North Fork of Long Island, hearkens back to the golden era of beachside motels. Sit on your private balcony and gaze out over Greenport’s private beach, or enjoy a room filled with nautical undertones that nod to the town’s fishing and boating history. The nostalgia of a classic motel hasn’t faded: Kitchenettes and tiled bathrooms flash back to the past. More American retro is available at The Halyard, the on-site restaurant run by a James Beard Award-winning chef.

Photo courtesy of Pioneertown

Pioneertown Motel: Yucca Valley, CA
The Pioneertown Motel sits on the western outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park. It  was originally built in 1946 by one Roy Rogers (Hi, Ho, Silver!) in order to house movie stars who were desert bound to shoot Westerns. More than 70 years later, it still feels like you should be wearing chaps and cowboy boots as you walk onto what looks like the set of an old Hollywood oater. Still, the motel’s 19 rooms are designed with an updated, albeit simple modernity to appeal to modern cowboys and cowgirls.

Photo courtesy of Unscripted Hotel

Unscripted Hotel: Durham, NC Unscripted Hotel in North Carolina’s Research Triangle adds a new chapter to what was once the Jack Tar Motor Lodge. The rooms recall that motel’s 1960s heyday, blending the decade’s pop design with modern functionality and unexpected details, like custom murals with psychedelic patterns. Socialize at the rooftop pool bar, or wander down to The Studio, a playful take on the classic mid-century rec room. There’s more on tap at Pour Taproom, a pay-by-the-ounce craft beer and wine bar, and at allday, which is part coffee bar, part meet-up spot.

Photo courtesy of the Farmer’s Daughter

The Farmer’s Daughter: Los Angeles, CA
When The Farmer’s Daughter opened near the Original Farmers Market during the 1960s, it was a popular lodging spot for starry-eyed ingenues coming to town seeking fame and fortune. However, by the 1980s, it had become somewhat of a no-tell motel. As the neighborhood’s fortunes turned in the 1990s, so did those of The Farmer’s Daughter. The aging ingenue underwent her most recent facelift in 2016. Rooms feature one-of-a-kind installation boxes showing various interpretations of the “farmer’s daughter” lifestyle. Other handmade artwork pops up throughout the hotel and the boutique features a variety of curated clothing and accessories made by local designers.

Photo courtesy of Calistoga Motel

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa: Calistoga, CA
Calistoga is known for its mineral-filled mud and springs. Why not take a bath in it at the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa? Enveloped by the Mayacamas Mountains, this vibrant, yet laid-back property is a classic 1940s roadside motel reimagined with a road-tripping theme. Each room is outfitted with a camper banquette and splashes from a mid-century color palette. Explore the secluded, whimsical spa, modeled after a classic bathhouse. Anchored by geothermal mineral water-fed pools, the spa puts a quirky spin on mineral baths and therapies from around the world.

Photo courtesy of the Jupiter Hotel

The Jupiter: Portland, OR
A neon road sign welcomes all callers to The Jupiter in Portland’s Burnside neighborhood. The 1960s motor lodge maintains its original exterior, but a recent update has brought a bit of Portlandia inside. As you enter your room, a personalized message appears on the chalkboard door. Rooms are simple….and those earplugs by the bed are there for a reason. Still, for those who like to be in the center of the action, the neighborhood is filled with hipster hangouts, and trendy live music joint Doug Fir is motel-adjacent.

Photo courtesy of the Downtown Clifton

The Downtown Clifton Hotel: Tucson, AZ
A funky blend of Mexican, Native American and Northern European influences, Tucson deserves a hotel worthy of its arty and eclectic vibe. Enter the Downtown Clifton Hotel, a true mid-century gem featuring guestrooms outfitted with vintage furniture. This seductive and budget-friendly charmer sits a short walk from the city’s vibrant and compact downtown and boasts Instagrammable murals, a low-key hangout area and discounts to the coolest bars and eateries around town.

Tagged: California, Destinations, L.A.

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One thought on “These are the 9 coolest motels in America”

  1. My wife and I are planning on going on a cross country road trip and we wanted to scope out places to stay. I really like the motels on this list. I know we are driving through Austin and I have always wanted to see a synchronized swimming show.

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