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Perhaps our favorite portmanteau in the world (motel is derived from combining the words motor + hotel), motels also have a special place in our hearts as drivers (no pun intended!) of no-frills travel, midcentury kitsch and the undeniable romance of the open road. Some of these vintage lodgings have withstood the test of time and are still surviving and thriving while others have remade themselves into hip lodgings that offer a wink and a nod to the era from which they came. If you’re on the hunt for the cheap, the cheerful or a combination of the two, check out these retro cool motel lodgings.

RELATED: 5 incredible mid-century modern hotels

 

Photo courtesy of the Ohio House Motel

Photo courtesy of the Ohio House Motel

Ohio House Motel: Chicago, IL

Motels tend to be a rarity in cities where super tall buildings stand cheek by jowl and hotels are designed to favor business travelers. That’s why the Ohio House Motel, which opened in 1960 and has lost virtually none of its original charm, is such a rare gem. Designed by Shayman and Salk with retro diamond shapes in both the facade and signage, Ohio House was scheduled for demolition in 2001, but remarkably has hung on. Until recently, its best feature was the sound of bacon sizzling on the griddle at its onsite diner, but no complaints from us that hip chicken shack Leghorn replaced it.

Photo courtesy of Jason Heidemann

Photo courtesy of Jason Heidemann

Big Texan Motel: Amarillo, TX

Nevermind mid-century charm, the Big Texan is the Great American West brought to theatrical life and also happens to be the only Route 66 icon on this list. It’s an absolute gem. The 54 rooms are a riot of Lone Star kitsch including saloon doors that lead to each bathroom, animal pelts in guest rooms and a facade that resembles an old shoot ’em up Wild West town. And get this—the swimming pool is shaped like Texas! But the motel is just a small part of a larger complex which includes a sprawling steakhouse (featured on Conan), brewery and gift shop. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better.

Photo courtesy of Becks Motor Lodge

Photo courtesy of Beck’s Motor Lodge

Beck’s Motor Lodge: San Francisco, CA

It may be a coincidence that Beck’s rhymes with sex and indeed it’s no secret that even until recently, this mid-century accommodation in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood was a magnet for gay men. But it’s also an SF rarity—a clean, comfy and (relatively) affordable accommodation in a busy part of the city that also happens to be a lodging desert. Opened in 1958 by Bill and Francis Beck, the motel is historic but by no means slouchy. Rooms are cozy, comfortable and somewhat mod, parking is free and the ample sundeck is enviable. BONUS: Beck’s is still family owned and operated!

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Springs Ranch

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Springs Ranch

Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel, Las Vegas, NV

More than just accommodations, Bonnie Springs Ranch Motel is a kitschy, old-timey Wild West vacation destination in its own right and we wouldn’t have it any other way. A combination lodging, restaurant and theme park that also happens to sit smack in the middle of eye-popping Red Rock Canyon National Park about 23 miles west of the city, Bonnie Springs offers all kinds of family-friendly vacation bells and whistles, including an ersatz Old Town, a zoo, horseback riding, rock climbing and pony rides. Book a themed jacuzzi room for those cold desert nights and wakeup to a horseback breakfast ride.

Austin Motel

Austin Motel | Photo by Jackie Lee Young

Austin Motel: Austin, TX

That tall, slender and phallic (if you ask us) sign you’ve probably seen in countless blogs, brochures and advertisements for the city of Austin belongs to the winsome Austin Motel, which originally opened in 1938 (gasp!) and has remained an oasis of affordability in a neighborhood that long ago surrendered to gentrification and hipster hangouts. The 41 rooms here are totally unique and the swimming pool is surely the grooviest in town. Hip hotel group Bunkhouse (Hotel San Jose, El Cosmico, Hotel Havana) took over management of the property in 2016, but we trust they’ll keep its vintage vibe intact.

RELATED: When you join Orbitz Rewards you’ll feel like you’re paying retro prices

Photo courtesy of the StarLux

Photo courtesy of the StarLux

StarLux: Wildwood, NJ

Decades before the Jersey shoreline was associated with an octet of “macaroni rascals” (as “Jersey Shore” was called in Japan), it was a longtime weekend escape for working families. Dozens of motor lodges populated a trio of beach towns collectively known as the Wildwoods and although many went belly up as air travel to Florida became cheaper, the good times linger on and no lodging in the area has capitalized on its mid-century heyday better than the StarLux. An architectural wonder of glass and boomerang shapes, StarLux delivers its guest straight back to the Atomic Age (no bomb shelter required).

Photo courtesy of the Red Caboose Motel

Photo courtesy of the Red Caboose Motel

Red Caboose Motel: Ronks, PA

Few travelers often find themselves in Ronks, a teensy farming community 60 miles west of Philly with a population of less than 400 people, but a stay at its Red Caboose Motel will surely cement the town forever in a visitor’s memory. Made up of a collection of 38 conjoined vintage rail cars painted in different colors, the motel opened in 1970 and today caters to all types with cabooses outfitted to accommodate families, singles, couples, etc. A history of the motel is available at the gift shop and don’t miss a meal at Casey Jones’ Restaurant, an eatery located inside an actual dining car.

Photo courtesy of Holiday Music Motel

Photo courtesy of Holiday Music Motel

Holiday Music Motel, Sturgeon Bay, WI

We can hardly believe this place exists and in upper Wisconsin of all places, but nevertheless the Holiday Music Motel is a legit live music venue, songwriter’s retreat, radio station (broadcasting only the music created within its four walls) and motel wrapped into one. Built in the ’50s (of course) and fully renovated in 2008, the motel still retains its mid-century furnishings but updated with paintings and glass fixtures donated by local artists. But don’t be too surprised by its location: Sturgeon Bay is the county seat of Door County, a Midwest mecca for outdoor enthusiasts during the warm summer months.

Photo courtesy of the Beverly Laurel

Photo courtesy of the Beverly Laurel

Beverly Laurel Motor Inn: Los Angeles, CA

No surprise that a sprawling megalopolis built on the lure of the automobile is home to hundreds of motels. We could name name dozens, but our favorite is the Beverly Laurel Motor Lodge, a hotel so steeped in mid-century touches that you half expect to see Don and Betty Draper lounging poolside. Ivy covers the sides of the building while the rest of the joint is bathed in blue and yellow candy stripes. Onsite diner Swingers is straight out of the Atomic Age although menu items like the ahi tuna salad (which we ate while writing this!) reflect the refined taste of its 21st century clientele.

Photo courtesy of the Thunderbird Inn

Photo courtesy of the Thunderbird Inn

Thunderbird Inn: Savannah, GA

The glowing tower of neon awesomeness that stands guard over this 42-room retro lodging lured us in like zombies to a plate of human flesh. Originally constructed in 1964 and opened with the promise of drive-in parking and “refrigerated” rooms, the Thunderbird Inn modernized more than a decade ago and a 2016 nip/tuck has further made it palatable to 21st century travelers seeking mid-century kitsch. Solar panels, Krispy Kreme donuts and hot popcorn upon arrival mix with vintage touches like tricked out retro decor. One thing that hasn’t changed: wallet-friendly prices.

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Tagged: California, Hotels, Las Vegas, Midwest

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.

One thought on “10 retro motels that ooze vintage charm”

  1. Vintage hotels are the first attraction. You will be never denied to stay due to the beauty of the motels. I would highly recommend the Castle in the Sand on 37th Street. It was built around 1960 and is still owned by the same family. The Wonderful hotel with lots of amenities like oceanfront pool, oceanfront bar/cafe, beach waitress service, and great accommodation.

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