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The Best Vintage-Motels-Turned-Boutique-Hotels In The Country


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Motels proliferated as the road trip became a part of American life in the 1920s. The word “motel” is literally a portmanteau of motor and hotel that originates from the Milestone Mo-Tel built in 1925. But by the 1940s, they already had a thoroughly seedy rep — which has only grown over the years. Now, scary news stories and entertainment tropes have led most people to think motels are where you go to have an affair (No-Tell-Motel), pay for sex (Rooms-By-The-Hour-Motel), or get murdered (Bates Motel).

However, a recent interest in turning classic motels into boutique hotels is rehabilitating the image of these maligned accommodations of the past. Young moteliers with an eye for style are acquiring mid-century gems and reimagining them for trendy travelers. And, by and large, these owners are putting a lot of effort into crafting communal spaces to facilitate socializing — from all-night debauched pool parties to cozy fireside chats with a cocktail and a s’more. This makes them cozier than typical boutique properties, which can be too-cool-for-school at times.

Read on to discover some of the most unique stays in the country. There’s something for everyone.

Coachman Hotel (Lake Tahoe, California)

Formerly a 1960 motor lodge built to accommodate the tourism boom caused by the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, the Coachman Hotel was given a multi-million-dollar renovation before it opened in 2016. Set in pristine beauty at the base of Heavenly Mountain, it’s ideal for people looking to spend the day on the slopes and the night enjoying the property’s custom poured hot tub, which is open year-round to guests. The vibe is a hip take on the alpine aesthetic — with rooms that are simple, clean, and modern, while also being functional. Every room entrance has rubber flooring to provide space for towels, swimsuits, skis, and boards to rest without dripping onto carpeting. Thoughtful, no? Common areas feature custom wood furniture and retro couches accented with fur pillows, Woolrich throws, and crackle glass chandeliers.

The entire property is designed to keep guests happy and relaxed all day, and little touches like high-end linens, Apple TVs, a Stumptown coffee bar, outdoor firepits with nightly fireside s’more service, and a huge poolside lawn for games and grilling do just that. The 42-room property also has a wonderful lobby bar that serves local wines and craft beers for people looking for another opportunity to enjoy a communal activity.

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no alarms, no service, no emails, no worries.

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Native Hotel (Malibu, California)

Built in 1947 as the beloved Malibu Riviera Hotel, this 13-bungalow hotel is the epitome of California cool and a popular getaway for celebs in the 50s and 60s. If you are a Bob Dylan fan, ask to stay in Room 13, where he wrote Blood on the Tracks. Today, Native Hotel still retains its mid-century shell, but the rooms have been restored and decorated to speak to modern guests who delight in custom art, high-quality mattresses with sumptuous linens, and Dutch doors that reveal private terraces with hammocks for relaxing in the gorgeous Malibu weather.

Perched along the Pacific Coast Highway and steps from famed beaches like Zuma and Point Dume, the hotel invites you to go on long walks or catch some waves yourself. And you don’t need to go far to grab a bite to eat because Chef Ludo Lefebvre has a 1947 Airstream trailer set up to serve locally-roasted coffee and specialty waffles

Austin Motel (Austin, Texas)

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In continuous operation since its construction in 1938, Austin Motel has been an icon on South Congress Avenue. And the 41-room motel owes a lot of its fame to its massive phallic neon sign, which for the past 80 years has caused people to refer to it simply as “the penis motel.” After the fine people of Liz Lambert’s Bunkhouse Group took over the property and pushed it into a place of pop art and 1950s nostalgia, it reopened a year ago. Now, it is known for its excellent photo potential and amazing pool parties. But, yes, the sign is still there.

The vibe here is definitely more adult than family, as evidenced by things like the alcohol for sale in the lobby, the gift shop items featuring cock-inspired motifs, the wallpaper with people getting busy on it, and the wall hooks, which are literally shaped like willies. It totally is not pornographic, so there’s no reason it should scare off people with kids, but a look at the guests hanging by the pool and in the chic lobby implies it’s doing just that.

The Drifter (New Orleans, Louisiana)

The Drifter aims to be where the Beat Generation meets the Big Easy — a nod to millennials who have nostalgia for a period of time they never experienced. This 20-key 2017 remodel definitely riffs on the style of the original 1956 property and the wild nature of beatniks. It’s hip and playful, and definitely not somewhere you stay when you are on a business trip because every night is a poolside party until the wee hours. Plus, there are often immersive art and live music shows.

Designer Nicola Cota opted to keep the motel’s OG awning and terrazzo floors in the lobby, as well as to restore the neon sign and the last surviving pane of glass with the property’s address. With an added disco ball and a Luis Barragán-inspired wall near the pool, the vibe is pure tropical paradise.

The Astro Motel (Santa Rosa, California)

Super hip Santa Rosa makes the perfect backdrop for The Astro, a 1963 classic motor lodge ambitiously refashioned as a 34-room urban lodging in 2017. It boasts a verdant edible garden, which should come as no surprise as the makeover was launched by Chef Liza Hinman of the local restaurant The Spinster Sisters. Also included among the amenities is a fleet of Shinola bicycles that are ideal for a day spent cruising the winding roads and trails of wine country. One of the big selling points of the revamped motel is its original mid-century furnishings and fixtures, which the founders spent a considerable amount of time gathering from across the country. If you fall in love with an item on tour stay, you’re in luck because the interiors are all for sale. In time, there will even be a vintage furniture store on site.

Even before the 2018 opening of the newly remodeled hotel, the Astro was serving its neighbors by hosting refugees from the region’s wildfires. After it opened, it reserved one-third of the rooms for FEMA-eligible survivors.

Phoenix Hotel (San Francisco, California)

As with, the Astro Motel, the Phoenix Hotel was given a facelift by Texan Liz Lambert of Bunkhouse Group, so the vibe is very similar. It’s all about a bold color scheme, cheeky décor, and a fantastic pool and patio for partying. Designed as a Caravan Motor Lodge in 1956, the property cemented itself as a home away from home for traveling bands, as it’s location in the Tenderloin placed it conveniently close to the Great American Music Hall, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, and tons of iconic small venues. As such, a lot of the décor is music-themed.

Rumor has it that Neil Young lived at the property while recording Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s seminal Déjà Vu. Kurt Cobain had a note on Phoenix stationary in his pocket when he died. Pearl Jam, The Killers, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are all somewhere in the great guest registry of years gone by. More than any other lodgings on this list, the Phoenix is a rock n roll legend, in addition to being trendy.

Amigo Motor Lodge (Salida, Colorado)

Philip Sterling and wife Kaitlyn Canfield spent part of their first date talking about a mutual dream to own a renovated 1950s motel, and as their relationship grew and deepened so did that dream, eventually manifesting in Salida, where the Monarch Motor Lodge (named for Monarch Pass, a high-mountain pass about a half hour from the motel) captured their imagination. The 16-room motel has been given a chic remodel that leans toward large unadorned spaces and the combining of different textures. So you get one room with a wall of floor-to-ceiling shingles while another features a pegboard wall with a vintage 48-star American flag in it. Common areas sport hand-woven textiles, animal hide rugs, and leather Palermo chairs juxtaposed with beautifully arranged cacti.

The outside of the property has been revamped as well. Those who are interested can choose to stay in one of the motel’s restored Airstream trailers or camper vans. And the property’s teepee, sunroom, and hot tub are always options for relaxing at the Amigo Motor Lodge.

Pioneertown Motel (Pioneertown, California)

Hollywood legends including Roy Rogers, Russel Hayden, Gene Autry, and Dick Curtis established the Pioneertown community and filled I with the facades of 19th century western towns as a way to film their movies without having to travel. The Pioneertown Motel served as a getaway for the Los Angeles glitterati in 1946 when it was built, and owners and brothers Matt and Mike French acquired it in 2014 and spent two years designing and restoring the property into a chic motel capable of rivaling trendy alternatives in neighboring Palm Springs. It’s clearly working because the area recently drew crowds from Coachella, who drove from Indio looking for a party and found it in a three-day jamboree called the Speakeasy.

The 19-room property is part of the new old west — as highlighted by the design — which is heavy on simple modernity with western flourishes. Enjoy the work of local artists, from paintings to hand-crafted furnishings. Spend nights by the outdoor fire enjoying the company of other guests under a canopy of stars that are visible thanks to the lack of light pollution.

Vagabond Motel (Miami, Florida)

The Vagabond Motel is a classic piece of Miami architecture. Situated on Biscayne Boulevard, it was designed in 1953 by Robert Swartburg — who went heavy on what was then the MiMo style. Though the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, it was vacant for years until it received a complete overhaul in 2015. Among the restoration projects was the repair of a signature mermaid and dolphin pool, which now serves as the perfect photo op for guests. In addition, rooms have been redone to restore the kitsch-edged retro verve that made the area so hip in the mid-century. Of course, there is a big focus on the pool, with its open-air cabana bar, which is perfect for drinking and dancing the night away.

People like to say that Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack were regular guests at the motel, but sadly the Biscayne Times crushed those fables in 2012. Apparently, celebs were more likely to hang at the Vagabonds’ Club in downtown, not at this family motor lodge. But that doesn’t mean guest can’t pretend when they step back in time via this classic property.

Jupiter Hotel (Portland, Oregon)

We have mentioned The Jupiter Hotel a few times recently, as we also have with the Standard Hotels in Los Angeles. Part of the reason is that they are these awesome accommodations that also serve as great places to party. When it comes to boutique hotels heavy on design, aimed at young people, and crafted around a party experience, the Jupiter was ahead of the pack. Originally built as a standard motor lodge in the 1960s, it was renovated and re-opened as one of the coolest hotels in the country in 2004. The 81-rooms in the two-story building are grouped around the former parking lot, which has been transformed into a marvelous courtyard. Inside, guests groove on local art, mid-century furnishings, and chalkboard doors.

Plus, the property includes the Doug Fir Lounge, an esteemed music venue, as well as a hair salon and tattoo parlor. Note: if you aren’t down to party all night, the hotel understands and will put you up on the quiet side of the property.

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The Verb Hotel (Boston, Massachusetts)

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In 1959, the Fenway Motor Hotel opened its doors. The two-story testament to 50s modernist ideals was a charmer that fell into disuse. And, given its proximity to Fenway Park, the assumption that it would be remodeled as another Red Sox extravaganza is a natural one. However, The Verb chose instead to celebrate the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood’s music, media, and arts scenes, and in doing so it achieved a cool the OG property never had. The 93-room lodgings have something for everyone. Architecture buffs will love the mid-century skeleton and the job Elkus Manfredi Architects did. Music aficionados will swoon over all the old issues of the Boston Phoenix that decorate the space. People who just want a comfy bed and some nice sheets will get those too.

If you are looking for good eats without having to travel, on-site restaurant Hojoko is seriously yum. It’s a modernist take on an izakaya, with a million disparate pop culture references, from Sanrio to surfing iconography, that all seem to work together. And the menu is also an East meets West of bizarre overstuffed sushi rolls and drinks served in giant plastic guitars.

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Today I jumped on stuff with @justin_clancy 😎

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Ace Hotel & Swim Club (Palm Springs, California)

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Ace delicat

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When the beautiful minds behind the Ace chain of hotels came across the property that would become the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, it was a neglected former Westward Ho Motor Lodge with a Denny’s. Now, it’s a 179-room hotel, resort, and spa. But if anyone could take a vintage gem and make it current without falling victim to a worshipful recreation or modernist homogenization, it’s the Ace people — who chose to celebrate the desert landscape in what some call Sahara-circa-1950s. Think magazine racks overflowing with vintage National Geographics, walls covered in tent canvas, and flourishes that feel straight out of army surplus. They call it organic and bohemian. Both are true. The result is a space that is chic without being intimidating. Instead, the vice is truly fun and natural.

When you venture out of your room, you can enjoy two large pools, a vintage photo booth, and communal fireplaces. On weekends, there is a DJ scene at the pool and every night, the Amigo Room bar has something going on, from crafting to bingo to karaoke. And, there are often big parties for events like Pride, White Party, and Coachella.

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take me back to pretty places 📷 c: @lizajhom

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The Roxbury (Roxbury, New York)

If you are looking for the sleek modern vice that many boutique hotels have, this ain’t that. Owned by Gregory Henderson and Joe Massa, who boast theater backgrounds going back two decades, The Roxbury has been treated like another theatrical production. The result is a visually arresting array of rooms, many of which are themed around films and tv shows from the 19060s and 1970s. Guest can get their Yabba Dabba Doo on in Fred’s Lair, feel like they are sleeping in a Tiffany box in Golightly-a-Go-Go, or think they love someone in The Partridge Nest. Other themed rooms include a Wizard of Oz one, a Mayan temple (with secret passage), a Jetsons room, and a really strange on called Maryann’s Coconut Cream Pie that is literally designed to make you feel like you are in a pie.

A former welfare motel, this property is all about retro maximalism and it takes a certain kind of person to groove on this. But if you are the sort of person who thinks The Madonna Inn is the freaking best, this is for you.

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Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel (Mt Tremper, New York)

Another unabashedly retro destination, Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel was gutted and renovated by Kate Pierson of The B-52s and her partner Monica Coleman, so it has some cool cred on that front. It is a collection of 1950s motel cabins that inspired a pure mid-century atomic makeover. Every suite has a 50s style kitchen with vintage cabinets and colorful appliances. Surfaces are punctuated with tchotchkes. Expect wood paneling and pink bathrooms. These rooms are the lodging equivalent of a green haired girl in a pin-up outfit. The vintage furnishings are legit, but their use is modern and fun as hell. You will be hard pressed to find orange tiki heads, tubing lawn gnome wallpaper, troll statues, plastic butterflies, and cowgirl décor anywhere else. There are also six vintage Airstreams, each decorated by a different artist, and a two-bedroom lodge to rent.

If you don’t take yourself too seriously, chances are you enjoy tacky. And if you grew up with the B-52s, the chance to dance this mess around in a room you know Kate Pierson helped create for your stay is a dream.

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Bye Phoenicia…

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Unscripted Durham (Durham, North Carolina)

This 74-room property started life as a Jack Tar Motor Lodge in the 1960s and now operates as part of the Dream Hotel Group, who have launched it as the first property in their line of Unscripted Hotels. Two years of renovation respected the mid-century roots of the property but heightened them into a truly boutique experience. It’s a total past meets present situation with elements like bright geometric wallpaper in the rooms, graffiti murals, local art, key card holders that look like composition books, wicker egg chairs, and a refurbished Airstream that serves as a bar for events at the rooftop pool. They made sure to keep historical elements like the original tile on the walls of each elevator bay, the elevators themselves, the railings, and the bright turquoise paint. All have been restored to a stunning luster.

The property includes an all day, full-service coffee shop and restaurant, as well as a poolside full-service restaurant and bar, and a bar with sharable plates. Weekends often include a rotating cast of DJs spinning in the studio bar or poolside. And the central location of Unscripted Durham means the walkability is insane.

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Freehand LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Consider The Freehand a bit of a bonus because it isn’t a renovated motel. It’s just a really cool hotel housed in the historic Commercial Exchange building (just check out the 12 story vintage blade sign – the largest in LA), and its one-of-a-kind suites designed by Roman and Williams make for choice digs. The work of Killefer Flammang Architects took the 1920s-era building and transformed it from a beautiful but largely empty space into a hip hotel. It also has a partial hostel vibe. There are 59-rooms that are unlike anything to which backpackers have resigned themselves. If you opt to share, get ready for bunkbeds, but all quarters have their own bathroom with seafoam penny tile and enclosures for privacy. The remaining 167 rooms are totally private. But, the décor is largely the same regardless of whether rooms are shared or private.

If you are looking for a drink, there is a rooftop bar, a lobby bar, and a full-service restaurant. You’ll totally want to explore LA, but the draw of the hotel party scene is pretty damn convenient.

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Back to the @freehandhotels ✨

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