The 11 Best Retro Motels in the USA

Go for the full retro experience by hiring a VW campervan
Go for the full retro experience by hiring a VW campervan | Courtesy of Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa / Expedia
Photo of Molly Codyre
17 July 2020

There’s something quite romantic about the great American road trip – especially when you’re behind the wheel of a retro RV. And where better to stay than a quintessentially American motel? Kitsch, nostalgic, even futuristic – we round up some of the best motels on offer.

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, Calistoga, California

Motel, Inn, Spa Hotel
4.2/5 (528 Reviews)
Courtesy of Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa / Expedia
The idyllic Calistoga Motor Lodge, in the heart of the Napa Valley, feels more like a spa retreat than a small-town motel. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the middle of wine country, either, so you can be sipping award-winning vintages during the day and luxuriating in a full-body wrap in the evening. The decor takes its inspiration from great road trips, and car-weary travelers can stretch their legs with traditional games such as cornhole and bocce ball.
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Skyview Los Alamos, Santa Ynez, California

4.6/5 (240 Reviews)
Courtesy of Skyview Los Alamos / Expedia
This luxury motel offers far more than your standard drive-in digs. It has a boutique rural lodge vibe, and the enormous onsite restaurant and bar come complete with star-shaped light fittings and a menu of Californian food with a rustic lilt (think cheese boards and local produce). Fire pits are dotted around the grounds and the entire lodge has magical views over the wineries and Santa Ynez below. During the day, swap your four wheels for two and explore the area on a free bike.
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Casa Morada, Islamorada, Florida

4.8/5 (167 Reviews)
Courtesy of Casa Morada / Expedia
Route 1 is probably one of the most famous highways in the world, stretching from the Florida Keys, where you’ll find Casa Morada, all the way to Canada. Make the most of the coastal location using the hotel’s complimentary paddleboards and kayaks. The motel has 16 airy suites, so you’ll feel like you’re hiding away on your own private island.
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Thunderbird Inn, Savannah, Georgia

Motel, Inn
Courtesy of Thunderbird Inn / Expedia
The Thunderbird Inn is about as kitsch as motels get. Built in 1964, the building, listed on the Historic Register, has hosted many notable guests over the years, including the Jackson Five when they were on the precipice of fame. Little extras such as hot popcorn and lemonade on arrival, and MoonPie cakes in lieu of pillow chocolates, set a welcoming scene and make this a memorable stay. An ecofriendly focus – including solar-powered electricity – lets you sleep soundly knowing you’re doing minimal damage to the environment.
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The Red Caboose Motel, Ronks, Pennsylvania

4/5 (832 Reviews)
Courtesy of The Red Caboose Motel / Expedia
The caboose is the manned railroad car at the end of a freight train, and the rooms at The Red Caboose are each housed in their own one. It’s hard to believe that a train could be transformed into something so comfortable and snug, but these cabooses pull it off with ease. There’s even a Honeymoon Caboose featuring a whirlpool bath. For those after a more traditional structure, there are a few farmhouse rooms on offer, too.
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Austin Motel, Texas

4.4/5 (249 Reviews)
Austin Motel has the best swimming pool in town
Austin Motel has the best swimming pool in town | Courtesy of Austin Motel
Kooky ’70s rooms, an enormous kidney-shaped pool and a funky restaurant set the mood at this Texan pit-stop. In-house restaurant Joann’s Fine Foods is inspired by Californian diners and the locals’ love of Mexican food, serving up dishes such as home-made tamales with green chorizo and adobe pulled pork enchiladas, all in an airy hacienda-style space – the perfect place to refuel after a day on the road.
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Anvil Hotel, Jackson, Wyoming

Anvil Hotel
Courtesy of Anvil Hotel / Expedia
Designed by Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack, this motel feels like a New York City iteration of a rural stop-off. Thanks to custom furnishings – including metal beds and hand-crafted benches – bath products from Co Bigelow and locally sourced mini-bar snacks, this is as much a destination as it is a convenient roadside bolthole. The in-house trattoria would rival many big-city restaurants with its hearty Italian menu of dishes such as ricotta cavatelli and confit rabbit. And with the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park nearby, you couldn’t ask for a more magnificent setting.
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  • Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco, California

    Boutique Hotel
    4.1/5 (972 Reviews)
    Phoenix Hotel
    Courtesy of Phoenix Hotel / Expedia
    A true rock’n’roll legend, the Phoenix has seen its fair share of famous faces: David Bowie, Neil Young and Kurt Cobain have all holed up here over the years, partly thanks to the homely vibe, and partly because it’s close to all the city’s best music venues. Rooms today are modern-chic, with pops of color and retro touches such as vintage cherry-red rotary telephones. An enormous pool takes centre stage with rock music playing all day, making it the perfect hangout to cool off with a few cocktails and make some new friends.
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    The Jupiter, Portland, Oregon

    Boutique Hotel
    Courtesy of The Jupiter /
    Playing up to the trendy and music-focused attitude of Portland, the Jupiter is an edgy motel in the heart of this vibrant city. Two drinking and dining options – one of which doubles as a music venue – are great entry points into Portland’s thriving nightlife where you’ll find some of America’s coolest bands (make sure you check out a gig or two while in town). Rooms are modern and have tongue-in-cheek decor like John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe murals, or Spider-Man hiding in a corner.
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    Unscripted Durham, North Carolina

    4.2/5 (559 Reviews)
    Courtesy of Unscripted Durham / Expedia
    There’s hardly a better way to beat driving fatigue than by parking up by the pool at Unscripted Durham, with a cocktail and a panko-crumbed chicken burger, as a DJ spins tunes. The motel dates back to 1960, when it began its life as the Jack Tar Hotel. The 74 rooms and suites are bright and airy, with geometric wallpaper, mid-century furnishings, a specially curated selection of art and Jonathan Adler bath amenities.
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    Holiday Music Motel, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

    4.6/5 (754 Reviews)
    Courtesy of Holiday Music Motel / Expedia
    The name isn’t in vain here – the Holiday Music Motel really does have music running through its veins. It puts on frequent live music shows, collaborative songwriting retreats and a radio station that plays music created within the walls of the hotel. Built in 1952, it was renovated in 2008 using environmentally friendly building materials and techniques. There’s a complimentary breakfast to set you up for the day – and if you’re not hitting the road straight away, then head to the harbour where you’ll find some great eateries for lunch.
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    These recommendations were updated on July 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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