There’s something magical about taking a road trip—hitting the road and racking up the miles with the aim of seeing and stopping; delighting in the open road and the promise of what lies ahead. Even the most planned itineraries have surprises in store—after all, who knows what roadside attraction may catch one’s eye along the way, capturing the road-trippers imagination with its kitsch, or ensnaring the imagination with a snippet of forgotten history?
And, without a doubt, the motor inn is a distinct part of the American road trip lore: pop-up properties that once dominated the landscape, these pull-in places have, throughout the decades, been rendered nearly obsolete through the ubiquitous, widespread availability of chains promising affordable accommodations and a comfy place to catch some zzz’s before moving further down the road.
The Bygone Era Of Motor Inns And Lodges
The mid-20th century was the heyday of these roadside wonders, as more and more people hit the road across the country’s expanded highway system—Route 66 entered the American consciousness, a catalyst for the desire to get on the road and see where it takes you. And while these motor inns, lodges, and mom and pop motels began to disappear in the late 20th-century in place of easily searchable and bookable lodgings with convenient access to highways and Wi-Fi, in recent years, there’s been a marked resurgence of the roadside motel: a revival of sorts that aims to recapture the vintage magic and motel memories of yore, a chance for road-trippers to once again pull-in and stay the night before once again headin’ out on the highway a la “Born To Be Wild."
Fittingly, this latest crop of motels and motor inns offers a new take on the classics—revamped and remodeled to be more than just a stop along the way, many of these re-imagined 21st-century gems aim to be a roadside attraction in and of themselves; beyond basic testaments to a bygone era meant to (re)capture the imagination of the modern-day road warrior. Below are some of the newest and best examples of this retro road trip trend; a list that will make any intrepid traveler excited to hit the road this summer.
Saratoga Springs’ Spa City Motor Lodge
Anyone road tripping through the Hudson Valley will have their share of amazing upstate NY lodgings to choose from, however, the Spa City Motor Lodge in downtown Saratoga Springs offers guests a blast from the past with their modern take on the motor lodge. Formerly the Saratoga Downtowner Motel, the property was transformed into a hip, vintage masterpiece; the first in a series from Bluebird by Lark Hotels; whose aim is to “revive the classic American roadside inn”—and here they have succeeded with their boutique spot right in the heart of beautiful Saratoga Springs. Rates start from $76 and up/night
Highlands North Carolina’s Mountain Top Motor Inn
This off-the-beaten-track getaway is the antithesis of the budget chain hotels situated right off the highway—to get to the secluded Skyline Lodge is itself an adventure that is definitely worth the trek. Situated high on a mountain top in scenic Highlands, NC, the Mountain Top is a mid-century marvel designed with a distinctly Frank Lloyd Wright flair; rustically luxe, this renovated time traveler from the 1930s is the perfect retreat, an upscale re-imagining that’s so much more than a mom and pop motel. rates from $249 and up/night
The Starlite Motel: A Retro Retreat In The Catskills
A Kerhonkson, NY gem straight out of the 1960s, the eclectic motor inn vibes of the Starlite Motel, despite its retro oeuvre, transcends time—and is equally at home in the 21st century as it would be in the movie “Easy Rider.” A traditional motor inn layout with a modern twist, this super comfy spot at the foot of the Catskills harkens back to a time when motor lodges were king and the roads of America were magical highways filled with adventure around every corner. And with an onsite canteen, an outdoor pool, and outdoor spaces meant for socializing, this cool lodging is so much more than a place to stay the night. Rates start at $200 and up/night
A Texas Classic: The Shady Villa Hotel
Miles upon miles of big, wide-open Texas skies and meandering road trip-ready roads are the setting for the Lone Star State classic The Shady Villa Hotel. Welcoming visitors for over 150 years to this scenic stop smack dab in the middle of Texas, the Shady Villa boasts of being “an architectural time capsule”—and with cook reason. A place where the past and the present co-exist amid a sprawling mid-century motor inn, this iconic property is a small town standout that embraces its heritage while also attracting a whole new generation of guests with its eclectic funky vibes that are delightfully retro. Rates start at $89 and up/night
The Modern Hotel And Bar Is A Boise Standout
Like many motor inns of yore, the Modern Hotel and Bar was born in the 1920s. Now, over 100 years later, the current iteration is a reinvigorated and reanimated motel that’s a virtual homage to its historic past—a family-owned, trendy destination in the heart of Boise. Packed with charm, hospitality, and quirky perks like an in-room film festival showing short films nightly, the Modern Hotel and Bar is a campy revival of the mid-century classics that once dominated the American landscape. Rates start at $178 and up/night
The rise of the American motel and its historic beginnings throughout the early and mid-20th century is a love letter to the allure of the road trip. The freedom of packing up and hitting the road had a distinctive appeal for those looking for adventure—a tradition that continues to this day. And at the heart of these retro road trips is a revival of mom and pop roadside inns of the past re-imagined to welcome guests with their vintage flair and eclectic appeal; time-traveling treats that hope to reclaim a piece of the past, here in the future.