Motels used to be run-down roadside buildings on dusty backroads; places that most people avoided with hopes of finding a nearby chain hotel. Now, motels are making a comeback as more and more of them are getting makeovers. Updated rooms, sprawling pools, and colorful mid-century furniture are attracting road-trippers and travelers alike. Classic motel rooms are undergoing restorations, world-famous designers are meticulously decorating communal spaces, and panoramic views are becoming the norm. All of this while maintaining the charm and character of historic buildings and famous locations.
More road-trippers and adventurous travelers are flocking to funky motels while looking for a unique travel experience. These classic accommodations are incorporating everything from tiki bars to sprawling pools, beachside fire-pits, repurposed vintage trailers, bathhouses, yurts, and roof-top wine tasting. Looking for a world class spa, live music, food trucks, and weekend brunch? Motels have you covered.
The next time you’re looking for a quirky place to stay during a road-trip or a weekend getaway, consider one of these unique and funky motels.
20 The Drifter: New Orleans, Louisiana
Retro motel turned contemporary urban venue, The Drifter is a modern and minimally designed motel in New Orleans. The old-school signage pays homage to the nostalgic history behind this unique concept. The rooms are modern, moderately priced, and suit everyone from the business traveler to the backpacker. The Drifter offers so much more than just a place to lay your head. There is a yearly swim club for those that want more than a weekend here. The pool area transforms into an event space for yoga classes and live music shows. When you aren’t splashing, swimming, or singing, pop-up food trucks offer dishes from around the world.
19 Austin Motel: Austin, Texas
This historic motel is situated in the iconic South Congress neighborhood of Austin, Texas. It sits in the middle of trendy restaurants, cafes, shops, and nightlife. It’s just a short walk to the famous bat bridge where you can see thousands of bats head for the skies each night. The motel claims to have the best pool in town. A 1,100 sq. ft. kidney-shaped swimming pool is open to all guests and can be accessed with daily passes for those that just want to hang out for a few hours. The motel offers events, live music, and a well-stocked bodega in the lobby. The rooms at Austin Motel maintain a colorful retro-vibe and wild wallpaper.
18 Calistoga Motor Lodge: Calistoga, California
Calistoga Motor Lodge was inspired by the Great American Road Trip. This classic roadside motel offers a wide range of amenities and activities. You can gather around the fire-pit, play bocce ball, rent a bicycle, take a dip in the large pool, challenge your friends to a hula hoop contest, play cornhole, and more. Bucking the trend of traditional motor lodges, this motel offers a bathhouse and spa. Offering a steam room, lounge, mud bar, geothermal mineral water-fed pools, and plenty of pampering services that were intentionally designed to refresh the tired traveler.
17 Panda Inn: Sichuan, China
The world’s first panda-themed hotel was designed and brought to life in Sichuan, China. The playful hotel staff wears life-sized panda suits and roam the halls to assist with guests' needs. Panda-dressed staff greet guests in the lobby with hot tea and hugs. Each of the 32 rooms has been covered in everything panda. The artwork, furniture, towels, slippers, pyjamas, and telephones are all either decked out in panda print or they are panda shaped. This funky and bizarre hotel is sure to attract panda lovers from all over the world; it was booked before it ever opened.
16 Hüttenpalast: Berlin, Germany
If you’re looking for a funky place to stay in Berlin, Huttenpalast is your place. This eclectic budget hotel is set in a trendy Berlin neighborhood and surrounded by bars, restaurants, and cafes. The hotel itself is a converted factory that has been designed with unique loft-style spaces. Individually designed lodging options include indoor treehouses, Scandinavian-style wooden huts, retro caravans repurposed by artists, indoor campsites, and cabins. If you’re looking for something a little more traditional, modern hotel rooms are also available. Relax and take in the bizarre scenery from the outdoor garden areas or lounge on a hammock on one of the indoor patios.
15 El Cosmico: Marfa, Texas
The town of Marfa itself is a haven for artists, free spirits, and wanderers. El Cosmico is no different. The unique and funky motel/campground offers rustic campsites, pre-set tents, immaculately decorated tee-pees, airstreams, and repurposed vintage trailers for guests to stay in. A rustic and communal outdoor kitchen allows guests to cook for themselves and host friendly dinners. A small wooden stage hosts music acts and events. The lobby boasts a small boutique offering unique goods and trinkets. An outdoor fire-pit, lounge areas, and hammocks make sure guests have a place to meet, mingle, and relax.
14 Treebones Resort: Big Sur, California
Selling itself as a ‘premier clamping experience,’ Treebones set-up shop in the picturesque area of Big Sur, California. Yurts, campsites, tents, human nests, and twig huts offer unique lodging options as well as panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Their biggest attraction is a hand woven two-story twig hut. It offers ocean views and a full-sized mattress pad. This funky one-of-a-kind structure is a unique way to camp in the California countryside. When you aren’t cradled in the twig hut, you can enjoy massages, yoga retreats, and hiking nearby. Visitors are not allowed to walk the grounds without a reservation.
13 Jules' Undersea Lodge: Key Largo, Florida
You don’t have to travel all the way to Dubai for underwater lodging. Jules’ Undersea Lodge is situated in the Key Largo lagoon in Florida. There is no gimmick here, to access the lodge you must scuba dive 21 feet down to the entrance. Diving through the tropical mangrove in the lagoon is an experience by itself. Once you’re inside the lodge, large windows give you unparalleled views of the water and marine life. Modern amenities are offered in the rooms, but who has time to watch TV when fish are swimming up to your bedroom window? The lodge offers an underwater restaurant with ‘world famous’ pizza, as well as dive classes, and marine biology training.
12 Caliente Tropics: Palm Springs, California
This affordable Palm Springs motel offers luxurious rooms with an island-getaway theme. Originally opened in 1964, the Polynesian-themed resort was a hotspot. It pulled A-list celebrities and famous music acts. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were just a few of the usuals. Now, a massive pool, spa, and outdoor hot tub attract the budget traveler. Views of the surrounding mountains and palm trees can be enjoyed from the outdoor living spaces. Food and drink are available at the on-site restaurant and at The Reef Bar, which is located poolside and serves us cold drinks with a little ‘tiki charm.’
11 The Vagabond: Miami, Florida
This fabled rat pack hangout has undergone extensive renovations to bring its glamorous history back-to-life. Beautifully designed rooms offer a retro-luxe vibe, hip interiors, and all of the hi-tech necessities you’ll need. The on-site sushi and wine bar offers delicious eats and a spectacular wine selection. Outside, you’ll find the Vagabond Pool Bar. During daylight hours you can grab a poolside cocktail and unwind. The intimate bar area turns into a trendy hotspot once the sun sets. This classic American motel has been transformed into a chic and stylish boutique hotel in the Biscayne Boulevard corridor. It’s more fabulous than ever.
10 Kate's Lazy Meadow: Mt. Tremper, New York
Kate's Lazy Meadow is located in the Catskill Mountains near Woodstock in Mount Tremper, New York. This hotel and its sister property were created by Kate Pierson of the B-52s. The hotel offers several accommodations spanning over a five mile area. Nine mid-century modern suites sit on the Esopus Creek and three cottages can be found scattered nearby. Each has its own fifties-style kitchen stocked with everything needed for cooking meals and crafting cocktails. Each suite offers a unique collection of rare and vintage films and in the summer months a Japanese style hot plunge pool can be used.
9 Ohio House: Chicago, Illinois
A trendy motel stuck right in the middle of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. An anomaly in the big city, this small motel is shoved between high-rises and mega hotels. Opened in 1960, the Ohio House has maintained a sense of Americana in Chicago. Recent renovations and restorations have improved the rooms, which now feature comfortable and simple decor. The rooms are basic but affordable. The location is great for those looking to explore nearby art museums, shops, or neighborhoods. The funky motif and affordable price tag make this little motel stand-out in the Windy City.
8 Thunderbird Inn: Savannah, Georgia
Voted one of the top ten best retro hotels in the USA by USA Today, Thunderbird Inn truly embraces its retro motel vibe. The rooms are all decorated with colorful, mid-century modern furniture pieces and artwork. Guests receive complimentary hot popcorn upon arrival, rooms are stocked with classic Moon-pies and RC Cola, and breakfast consists of free Krispy Kreme donuts and hot coffee. If those freebies aren’t groovy enough for you, check out the tours and attractions. Situated in the heart of Savannah, several landmarks, haunted cemeteries, and famous movie locations are nearby.
7 Harbor Hotel: Provincetown, Massachusetts
Harbor hotel is a laid-back getaway on Cape Cod that infused retro-glam decor with bright guest rooms and plenty of communal gathering places. The cabana bar offers poolside cocktails and the open-door pet policy lets you to bring your furry friends. The pool area and large patio offer several lounge areas. The hotel restaurant hosts a popular weekend brunch and the hotel itself boasts a museum-worthy art collection. Perhaps one of the biggest draws to this retro establishment is the large outdoor fire-pit that is set in the sand and overlooks the tranquil waters of Cape Cod bay.
6 Amigo Motor Lodge: Salida, California
This 60 year old motel has been renovated to offer minimalist design and a casual environment now known as the Amigo Motor Lodge. Rooms are reasonably priced while offering high-end amenities and unique decor. The property itself is complete with a fire-pit, hot tub, sun room, and teepee. Nearby dog sledding, hiking, skiing, hot springs, and bike trails provide entertainment for the outdoor enthusiast while boutiques, bowling, yoga, doggy daycare, and a drive-in theater entertain everyone else. The overall design and decor in the living spaces of this vintage motel give it a funky vibe and a fun personality.
5 Pioneertown Motel: Pioneertown, California
Pioneertown Motel is a unique California destination with a rich Hollywood history and a storied musical timeline. This funky motel was established in 1946 by Roy Rogers and has been the set of several old Western movies and events. The neighboring establishment has famously hosted musical acts such as Paul McCartney and Robert Plant. The recently renovated motel made sure to maintain the luxury and character that attracted so many celebrities over the years. Situated on flat-top mesas and surrounded by protected land, Pioneertown is a great home base for exploring the California desert.
4 Surfrider: Malibu, California
The Surfrider is located on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, across the street from the world-famous Surfrider beach. This 1950s-era motel was completely redesigned into a boutique hotel with well-appointed rooms and large outdoor living spaces. The Roof Deck is available exclusively to guests and offers locally sourced, sustainable, and organic food and drinks along with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Couches and fire-pits offer luxurious lounge spaces to relax and unwind. Set in the posh Malibu, the Surfrider offers traditional California style with an iconic twist.
3 Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club: Waikiki, Hawaii
A retro-oasis in Honolulu that offers an endless list of amenities and uniquely decorated lounge spaces. An on-site restaurant offers dishes that dare to scare your taste buds as well as a hefty cocktail list. A small boutique shop offers authentic Hawaiian goods, accessories, clothing, and more. A small coffee bar serves up espresso and cold brew. As for the amenities, a large swimming pool, free sunscreen, cabanas, welcome snack, use of beach totes, chairs, and towels, bicycles, daily restaurant credit, and a swim club are all part of the perks. If that doesn’t fill your time, Surfjack offers unique on-site experiences such as sunset pilates, wine tasting, surf lessons, and jam sessions.
2 The Burrard: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
A converted motel from 1956, the Burrard made sure to keep its historic character during the renovations. The colorful mid-century design and accents are still visible throughout the hotel. The hotel has expanded to include a lush garden courtyard with activities and patio areas for lounging. A wood-paneled cocktail bar serves classics such as sidecars and Manhattans. The retro hotel offers a variety of rooms for every budget and stocked each room with modern amenities. Free wi-fi, Nespresso units, and insider city guides come with every room. The Burrard also offers a few unique amenities; umbrellas for rainy days, gym passes, and free Brodie cruiser bike rentals.
1 Faralda Crane Hotel: Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Crane Hotel is secret hang-out for famous DJs, VIPs, celebrities, and royals. People from all over the world flock to this unique destination to host events, festivals, presentations, and meetings. Samsung, Red Bull, James Bond, and Heineken are just a few of the brands that have utilized this now iconic landmark. There are only 3 suites available here so booking a room can be a bit of a challenge. Suites include an exclusive champagne breakfast and unforgettable views of the city. A panoramic lounge and spa pool add to the list of amenities. The Crane hotel advertises for free spirits and those that can keep a secret.