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

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Full-service spa
Concierge services
Multilingual staff
Smoke-free property

Skyview Los Alamos, Santa Ynez, California

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Outdoor pool
Restaurant
In-room accessibility
Express check-out
Concierge services
24-hour front desk
Multilingual staff
Bar/lounge
Smoke-free property

Casa Morada, Islamorada, Florida

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Outdoor pool
Beach towels
Concierge services
Dry cleaning/laundry service
Terrace
Bar/lounge

Thunderbird Inn, Savannah, Georgia

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Concierge services
24-hour front desk
Smoke-free property

The Red Caboose Motel, Ronks, Pennsylvania

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Breakfast available (surcharge)
Restaurant

Austin Motel, Texas

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Outdoor pool
Breakfast available (surcharge)
Concierge services
24-hour front desk
Smoke-free property

Anvil Hotel, Jackson, Wyoming

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.
Everything you need to know

At a Glance

Free WiFi
Restaurant
Concierge services
24-hour front desk
Dry cleaning/laundry service
Multilingual staff
Bar/lounge
Smoke-free property

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  • Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco, California

    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.
    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    Outdoor pool
    Restaurant
    In-room accessibility
    Wheelchair accessible (may have limitations)
    Concierge services
    24-hour front desk
    Dry cleaning/laundry service
    Bar/lounge
    Smoke-free property

    The Jupiter, Portland, Oregon

    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.
    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    Breakfast available (surcharge)
    Restaurant
    Conference space
    Concierge services
    24-hour front desk
    Dry cleaning/laundry service
    Multilingual staff
    Terrace
    Bar/lounge

    Unscripted Durham, North Carolina

    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.
    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    Outdoor pool
    Breakfast available (surcharge)
    In-room accessibility
    Concierge services
    24-hour front desk
    Fitness facilities
    Dry cleaning/laundry service
    Multilingual staff
    Smoke-free property

    Holiday Music Motel, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

    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.
    Everything you need to know

    At a Glance

    Free WiFi
    Express check-out
    Smoke-free property
    These recommendations were updated on July 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.