The Best Motels to Book in California

Enjoy a dip in the outdoor pool at the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa
Enjoy a dip in the outdoor pool at the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa | Courtesy of Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa / Booking.com
Julia Sayers Gokhale

Don’t let the designation of motel fool you into thinking these accommodations aren’t up to par. Especially in California, motels are popular stays for those road tripping through the Golden State. These days, motels can be as nice as any boutique hotel with bespoke decor, sparkling pools and all the retro Cali vibes. We’ve compiled a list of the best motels in California, all bookable with Culture Trip.

1. Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, for classic Cali cool in Calistoga

Motel, Inn, Spa Hotel

A spacious vista room with king bed and leather headboard and sliding door to patio at the Calistoga Motor Lodge
Courtesy of Calistoga Motor Lodge / Expedia

The Calistoga Motor Lodge took the idea of a classic roadside motel and made it better. In the foothills of Napa Valley, the lodge features rooms inspired by campervans with retro light-and-bright decor. When you’re not out exploring Napa’s vineyards, there’s plenty to do on property. Find games such as bocce ball, cornhole and boardgames or take a dip in the mineral pool fed by the natural, geothermal hot springs for which Calistoga is known.

2. Skyview Hotel, for vintage vibes in Los Alamos

Motel

A large contemporary outdoor space at the Skyview Hotel, with a variety of green plants and trees, and black chairs placed around a cosy fire pit.
Courtesy of Skyview Los Alamos / Expedia

The Skyview Los Alamos just screams vintage California road trip. Right off the iconic 101 Freeway, Skyview is a modern boutique hotel located in a 1950s former motel. A multimillion-dollar renovation restored the motel while keeping the midcentury-modern feel. Airy rooms are anything but cookie-cutter, and several have indoor fireplaces or patios overlooking Santa Barbara wine country. On-site restaurant Norman serves California cuisine like chorizo mac ‘n cheese and roasted cauliflower with pistachio pesto.

3. Pioneertown Motel, for the best of the old west in Pioneertown

Motel

A desert themed rustic bedroom at the Pioneertown Motel, with two small cactus plants either side of the bed and a desert print directly above the bed.
Courtesy of Pioneertown Motel / Booking.com

Take an old western and make it cool. At the Pioneertown Motel, you’ll find modern western- and desert-inspired rooms – like those with giant cactuses – in the 1946 hotel. Pioneertown was built as an outpost for movie stars of old westerns. If you book room 9, you can say you stayed in the place where Gene Autry played poker until sunrise. Room 1 is the Canteen, a communal spot where you’ll find books, games and Canyon Coffee.

4. The Rambler Motel, for retro rooms in Chula Vista

Motel

A vibrant, modern bedroom at The Rambler Motel, with a small desk, one chair and two bedside lamps placed in between two individual beds.
Courtesy of The Rambler Motel / Booking.com

The Rambler Motel in Chula Vista can best be described as retro, fun and colorful. There’s a ’70s theme throughout the hotel, with brightly colored walls, California-inspired art and record players. Make sure to get your Instagram shot in front of the large Chill mural at the pool. The motel also includes a retro arcade and complimentary beach cruisers that you can take to nearby attractions.

5. Moonlight Beach Motel, for seaside sounds in Encinitas

Motel

Two stories of modern balconies outside the Moonlight Beach Motel, and a row of palm trees trailing along the buildings wall.
Courtesy of Moonlight Beach Motel / Booking.com

The closest motel to the ocean in Encinitas – and just two blocks from its namesake – the family-owned Moonlight Beach (they’ve run it since 1976) offers several rooms with patios and sea views, the biggest of which is a three-bedroom suite. When you’re ready to hit the beach, you can borrow chairs, umbrellas and sand toys from the front desk. In the evenings, take advantage of the location and walk to the nearby restaurants downtown.

6. Marina Beach Motel, for beach chic in Santa Barbara

Motel

A cosy garden outside the Marina Beach Motel, with flowers, patio, a parasol, outdoor seating and candles.
Courtesy of Marina Beach Motel / Booking.com

Located in the heart of the harbor, wharf and beach district in Santa Barbara, Marina Beach Motel, which has been family-owned and -operated since 1976, is half a block from the ocean, with shopping and dining also nearby. The pet-friendly motel offers free bicycles for exploring and the larger rooms come with kitchenette and patio.

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