Planning to hit the open road for a fun drive into the unknown? Take a road trip with a twist this year by bunking down in one of these excellent roadside motels along the way. Our editors have hand-picked a string of reinvented American classics, many of them reborn as boutique hotels in recent years (so you can overnight in style), then added an equal measure of traditional motels, ranging from the unusual to the iconic. Choose any one of them for your roadside rest, and you might find yourself hard-pressed to say which was more memorable, the journey or the destination. Nightly rates are easy on the pockets, too, starting at just $43/night.
1. Aqua Hotel and Lounge
Before driving out to the Florida Keys, park your car at this refurbished 1950s motel in the heart of Miami's South Beach. Remodeled to boutique standards in 2000, the two-story hotel's 45 rooms boast a budget-chic aesthetic (think cement floors, Ikea furniture, and a prevailing minimalist vibe) and doors that back onto the hotel's octagonal pool and happening patio scene. Additional perks like a small cocktail bar and close proximity to both the beach and Ocean Drive make the Aqua particularly appealing to hipsters traveling on a shoestring. Rates from $105/night.
2. Caliente Tropics Motor Lodge
This vintage 1960s motorlodge is a tiki-lover’s dream come true and a slice of roadside Americana right in the heart of Palm Springs, California. Built in 1964, the Caliente Tropics has an illustrious past, hosting guests like Elvis, Nancy Sinatra, and the Rat Pack, not to mention the first Miss Hawaiian Tropic Contest and the third-largest pool in Palm Springs. Today all 90 rooms are renovated, each one very clean and decorated in fun, tasteful tiki themes, with luxury mattress sets, high-quality linens, new ceiling fans, desktop data-ports, Wi-Fi, and voicemail. A cocktail lounge and Mexican restaurant are on site. Rates start at $43/night.
3. While much of Napa (and neighboring Sonoma) has gone upscale in recent years, the old-fashioned El Bonita Motel, in the central Napa town of St. Helena, has refused to follow suit. Dating from 1941, this hospitable motel is an excellent choice for families, travelers with pets, and those simply road-tripping through wine country on a budget. The basic but comfortable rooms come with microwave, fridge, and coffemaker, and are scattered over 2.5 acres of beautifully manicured grounds equipped with a pool and hot tub. Most appealing of all, however, may be the prices, which are practically unheard of in these posh parts. Rates start at $94/night.
4. Farmer's Daughter Hotel
Expect a farmhouse vibe and country hospitality at this revamped motel located right across from the Farmer's Market and the new Grove entertainment complex. More than just your standard budget hotel, this property actually has a pool, free parking, wireless Internet access, and room service, which, combined, make these quirky digs a great bargain for the price. Decked out in county-chic from head to toe, for a look and feel that’s downright adorable, the hotel’s 66 guestrooms showcase beds with lattice-worked headboards, plaid-and-gingham curtains, and rustic country furniture. Despite the farm-like atmosphere, modern amenities are also available, including high-speed Internet access; cable TV; DVD and MP3 players; mini-fridge; in-room safe; coffee-maker; and more. Rates start at $175/night.
5. Hotel San Jose
Rest up for a road trip through Texas Hill Country at this 1930s motor court turned hip boutique hotel on trendy South Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. Located across the street from the legendary Continental Club, the hotel often plays host to touring musicians, some of whom play in the hotel’s inner courtyard during weekly Rock ’n’ Reel events (music followed by a movie screening). The overall design is a conspiracy of Mexican, Japanese, and Texan influences: Spanish tile roofs, gardens landscaped with a mix of bamboo and native vegetation, and minimally furnished rooms accented with cowhide rugs and pine beds. With amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room manicures/pedicures, bike rentals, a small swimming pool, and a comprehensive music and video library, leaving this hipster haven and heading back to the open road may require some effort. Standard rooms start at $160/night on weeknights and $175 on weekends.
6. Jupiter Hotel
If the roads take you to the Pacific Northwest, make sure you stay at Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon. This refurbished roadside spot in the city's happening Lower Burnside neighborhood is self-touted as a “cultural boutique hotel" and is the sort of swanked-up 1960s hotel that young travelers love because it’s super cool and won’t break the bank. Set on two floors that back on to an open courtyard with fire pit and bamboo trees, the 80 rooms come with chalkboard doors (good for scrawling notes), and high-tech amenities like Wi-Fi and DVD-players. Rates from $59/night if you check in after midnight.
7. Kate's Lazy Meadow Motel
For jaded New Yorkers in dire need of a bucolic escape, we recommend hitting the road upstate to Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel in Mount Tremper, near Woodstock in the Catskills. This kitschy-cool, mid-century motor lodge co-owned by B-52’s rocker Kate Pierson comprises eight rooms tricked out with retro décor and design themes ranging from “wacky UFO” to “river-tubing gnome.” Bathrooms boast hotel toiletries snatched by Kate while on tour with the band. Stay in one of the Duplex De-Lux Kitchen Suites (rooms 7 and 8), which feature balconies, spiral staircases leading to loft bedrooms, "Leave-it-to-Beaver" kitchens, and a shared front porch. Then turn up the jets on the 20-person, saltwater Jacuzzi (complete with underwater light show). If you need even more space to party like a rock star, book the motel’s satellite property, the Lazy Cabin, a three-bedroom “love shack” only five miles from the center of Woodstock. Rates start at $155/night on weeknights and $180/night on weekends (with a two-night minimum).
8. Ohio House Motel
Get your kicks at the starting point of historic Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles before it was decommissioned in 1985. Located just north of the Chicago River in the trendy River North neighborhood, home to the largest concentration of art galleries outside of Manhattan, the 50-room Ohio House Motel stands out precisely because it hasn’t been subject to the the über-hip makeover that transformed the rest of this downtown Chicago neighborhood. Though the rooms and amenities are strictly no-frills (free cable TV!), this classic mid-century motor lodge can’t be beat for the location, nostalgia factor, and rock-bottom prices (a rarity in the Windy City). Rates start at $100/night.
What looks like a fairly ordinary (albeit attractive) adobe-clad motel is actually a surprisingly plush little boutique inn with rooms and suites decorated on par with many of Santa Fe's pricier properties. You save money here because the Old Santa Fe Inn is relatively small and lacks a restaurant, pool, or other facilities found at some larger hotels, but the rooms are delightful and spotless, done up with top-notch bedding and rustic yet refined Southwestern furnishings; many have working fireplaces, hot tubs, and balconies.
The location is another plus: It’s located in the funky Guadalupe District, an up-and-coming neighborhood full of galleries, design shops, and offbeat restaurants just a 10-minute walk from Santa Fe's historic Plaza. The continental breakfast here is unusually good, completely with a do-it-yourself breakfast burrito station. Rates start at $150/night.
10. WigWam Motel
For the ultimate in kitsch on Route 66, we recommend camping out in one of the 15 concrete (indeed, you won't find buffalo skins here) teepees at the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. This relic from the Mother Road's glory days is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers utterly unique accommodations around a parking lot dotted with vintage cars that add to the time-warp effect. While the rooms are decidedly basic (and its beds somewhat lumpy), this slice of Americana is worth sleeping in for bragging rights alone as you make your way to iconic Route 66 attractions like the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert. Rates from $48/night.
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