The 6 Best Design-Forward Motels in the U.S.

These roadside motels have undergone retro-chic transformations

Soundview Motel

Courtesy Soundview

The Rundown

In the era of working from home, sometimes travel is as much about getting a change of atmosphere as much as it is about getting a change of scenery. And when you’re looking to trade out your own tired walls for some more exciting ones, it makes sense that you would seek out a place to stay that is aesthetically compelling as well as comfortable.

Over the last several years, there has been a huge uptick in roadside motel transformations. Motels were originally conceived as a lodging option for Americans on road trips in the 20th century (fun fact: the word “motel” comes from “motor hotel”). One hundred years later, these iconic accommodations are getting a new rep as destinations for the Instagram generation. Read on to learn about some of the coolest design-forward motels that have come out of this revival.

01 of 06

Best Overall: TOURISTS

TOURISTS Motel

Courtesy TOURISTS

Why We Chose It

TOURISTS feels like a chic summer camp for grownups, situated at the heart of the lively Berkshires arts scene.

Pros
  • Creative vegetable-focused menu on-site restaurant The Airport Rooms

  • Nearby hiking, cultural sites, and an on-site saltwater pool make this a great home-base for those traveling with kids and in need of activities

  • Rooms and common spaces are elegant and minimalistic, (blonde wood, white linens, and amenities like private outdoor decks and kitchenettes)

Cons
  • Can be hard to book at the last minute

  • Pricey

  • No fitness center

  • Housekeeping every other day

Between Mass MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, Solid Sound Festival, and an array of other programs, North Adams and Williamstown have long been a destination for arts aficionados . TOURISTS is specifically catered to offer this hip crowd a place to stay during their time in Western Massachusetts, and since its opening in 2018 the hotel has quickly become a destination in its own right.

  • The hotel is a revamp of a roadside motel, which was taken down to its studs and totally refurbished by the owners (among whom is John Stirratt, a founding member of the band Wilco). The property has a laid-back vibe and lots of features that emphasize the natural beauty of the surrounding woods and Hoosic River, like a saltwater pool, outdoor showers, and private balconies. If you’re drawn to the Berkshires for the access to nature and also the cultural happenings, TOURISTS offers the perfect union of the area’s outdoorsy and artistic sensibilities. To get the most out of the TOURISTS experience, book a Canopy room, which have large balconies overlooking the river.
02 of 06

Best for Families: Calistoga Motor Lodge

Calistoga Motor Lodge

Courtesy Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Why We Chose It

This unique wine country property includes a laid-back spa, conversation-starter activities, and loads of nostalgic charm.

Pros
  • Three on-site pools, all fed from geothermal springs

  • Spa offering poolside treatments, with a chic lounge space which is great for visiting groups

  • Walking or biking distance to downtown Calistoga and the Silverado Trail

Cons
  • No on-site dining option

  • Difficult to book on short notice

There’s something for everyone at the Calistoga Motor Lodge. For families traveling with young kids, the array of onsite activities like s’mores roasting, outdoor movie night, hiking, biking, and the three geothermal pools mean nobody ever has to complain about being bored. For couples seeking a romantic getaway, there’s poolside spa treatments (including a CBD massage for those really looking to get into the California spirit) and close proximity to all the delights of Napa wine country. And for solo travelers or friends looking to unwind amidst some good vibes and NorCal sunshine, walking into the beautifully appointed rooms alone will make your jaw unclench and shoulders relax.

The décor has a generally retro-feel (the “Camper” rooms are an ode to 60s camper vans) but the feel is clean, bright, and airy rather than dated. Overall, the atmosphere of the rooms and common spaces feel like the background of a very cool Northern California movie set. Between the on-site amenities and activities, and the close proximity to all that Napa has to offer, Calistoga Motor Lodge is the perfect home base for doing as much or as little as you want while soaking up the sunshine.

03 of 06

Best Budget: The Lincolnville Motel

Lincolnville Motel

Courtesy Lincolnville Motel

Why We Chose It

Maine is the land of summer camps and easy outdoor fun, and the Lincolnville Motel perfectly captures Vacationland's summer spirit on its minimalistic property.

Pros
  • Emphasis on offline, quality time; there’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms, but there are record players and a hotel library for analog fun

  • Pool with lots of inflatable floats

  • Friendly atmosphere and inviting common areas encourage meeting and making friends with other lodgers

Cons
  • No ocean access from the property

  • No fitness center or on-site dining

The Lincolnville Motel is a distillation of the best parts of Maine. This refurbished 1950s motor lodge sits on four acres just north of Camden, looking out over the Penobscot Bay. If you are one of the thousands of people who grew up going to summer camp in Maine and still nostalgic about it every chance you get, the simple pleasures and beautiful scenery at the Lincolnville will bring you right back. The property consists of four motel rooms and six cabins, all decorated in with whitewashed walls and an aesthetic that perfectly meshes Scandinavian minimalism with old New England charm (think lots of blonde wood furniture and crisp white sheets paired with with charming odds and ends from local flea markets.) 

A stay at the Lincolnville is all about offline, quality time. There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms, only in the large central common space. Rather than screen time, guests can take walks around the property, splash in the pool, enjoy the sauna, or sit on the ocean-facing deck with a book checked out of the property’s library. There’s no on-site dining, but all the lobster rolls you could ever want are available a ten-minute drive (or twenty-minute bike ride) away in downtown Camden.

04 of 06

Best for a Weekend Getaway: The Wayfinder Hotel

Entrance of The Wayfinder hotel with vintage Porsche in front

Why We Chose It

Whether you’re in town for the Folk Festival or for a few days of beachy sightseeing, the Wayfinder is the coolest and buzziest accommodation in Newport.

Pros
  • Vibrant atmosphere offers a hip and contemporary alternative to Newport’s more traditional hotels

  • Excellent on site restaurant serves all-day brunch and a plethora of creative cocktails

  • One of the more budget-friendly lodging options in Newport

Cons
  • No ocean views

  • Not walking distance to downtown Newport

Newport is a tourist town, and amongst a marketplace of traditional Victorian B&Bs and pricey luxury resorts, the Wayfinder offers something unique. The hotel is a renovated 1980s roadside property just outside of downtown Newport. Although the space’s history can still be felt in the room configurations and the nondescript location, the vibe here is anything but outdated or drab. Rooms and common spaces are decorated with bright colors and midcentury furniture, and art by local Rhode Island artists is featured throughout the hotel. The hotel takes a playful approach to it’s nautical surroundings, opting for vintage flags and mermaid-y mixed media prints rather than seashell wallpaper.

There’s a strong social atmosphere at the Wayfinder. The on-site Nomi Park restaurant is excellent, serving lots of creative dishes that make use of the excellent local seafood. The bar at Nomi Park is always crowded (in a good way) with both locals and visitors, and if you’re seeking company the collection of eclectic art around the restaurant makes for a great conversation starter.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Best Urban: Austin Motel

Austin Motel

Courtesy of Austin Motel

Why We Chose It

Between the vibrant, retro rooms and the 1,100-square-foot swimming pool, this is the perfect home-base for soaking up the vibrant downtown Austin scene.

Pros
  • Convenient South Congress location

  • On-site Joann’s Fine Foods is a local hotspot for tacos, brunch, and cocktails

  • Large pool is the venue for a number of events including full moon swim gatherings and a weekly poolside banana split party

Cons
  • No fitness center

  • Small rooms and bathrooms

The Austin Motel excels at Americana retro-chic. The hotel originally opened in the 1930s, and in 2017 it was revamped by Texan hotelier Liz Lambert, who has become famous in the hospitality for her motel revitalizations. The first thing to love about The Austin Motel is the location. The property sits on the Northern end of South Congress Street, which is basically the main artery of the “Keep Austin Weird” ecosystem. There’s excellent food, shops, art galleries, and sightseeing within walking distance. Those looking to check out the Austin taco scene should be sure to save a meal for Joann’s Fine Foods, the lively on-site restaurant. In addition to excellent nachos, Joann’s has one of the best patios on South Congress for al fresco dining and people watching.

The colors and furnishings in rooms and common spaces punchy and vibrant, with brightly colored pleather headboards, custom patterned wallpaper, and vintage poolside furniture. Non-suite rooms are on the smaller side, but between the lively common spaces, pool, and middle-of-everything location this isn’t really a place where you will end up spending much time in your room anyways.

06 of 06

Best Beach: Sound View

Sound View Motel

Courtesy Sound View

Why We Chose It

A 2016 makeover brought stylish and contemporary design and a standout culinary program to this North Fork property.

Pros
  • Excellent location, on a quarter mile of private beach along the Long Island Sound

  • On site activities include biking, yoga classes, musical performances, wine tasting, sailing lessons and more

  • On site restaurant The Halyard serves a farm-to-table menu on an oceanside deck

Cons
  • Pricey

  • The Halyard is one of the more expensive dining options in the area

  • No fitness center

At the Sound View, Brooklyn design sensibilities meet laid back North Fork charm. This beautiful property, which has been welcoming guests to Greenport since the 1950s, was completely redone in 2016. The Sound View the perfect place to enjoy all the charm and romance of a Long Island summer without the fuss (and expense) of the Hamptons. The interior design combines Scandi minimalism with classic New England style. Rooms are outfitted with blonde wood midcentury furnishings and crisp white bedding. Common spaces, including the lobby lounge, Halyard Bar, and poolside area, are bright, airy, and stylish, combining nautical blue art and upholstery with nostalgic antiques.

The real star at the Sound View is the sound itself. The hotel sits right on the beach, and guests have access to a pristine quarter mile stretch of shoreline. If you’re the type of traveler who prefers to unwind by doing, there are tons of activities to partake in at the Sound View, from wine tasting to beach yoga to waterfront art workshops.

Final Verdict

Sometimes a vacation is about staying somewhere cool as much as going somewhere cool. For travelers seeking out unique atmospheres (with Instagrammable mise en scene as a bonus), the hotels on this list all offer an ambiance that exudes nostalgic charm without sacrificing modern comforts. Another compelling component of the motel revival trend is the emphasis on sustainability at many of these properties, which can be seen first and foremost in the decision to repurpose existing buildings rather than undertake new development. Whether you are a photographer, design-aficionado, or just looking for something a little different from your next vacation, the properties on this list offer ambiance in spades.

Compare the Best Design-Forward Motels

 Property Resort Fee  Rate  Rooms  Free WiFi
 TOURISTS Best Overall None  $$$  6  Yes
Calistoga Motor Lodge Best for Families $25  $$$  50  Yes
The Lincolnville Motel Best Budget None  $$  8 Yes 
The Wayfinder Hotel Best for a Weekend Getaway None  $$  197 Yes
Austin Motel Best Urban None  $$  41 Yes 
Sound View Best Beach $37 $$$$ 55 Yes

Methodology

We reviewed over 20 motels and hotels across the U.S. to compile this list. We relied on consumer reviews, industry accolades, and media coverage to determine the best hotels and motels in each category. All of the hotels on this list are recently remodeled. We placed special emphasis on independently owned properties, and properties that partnered with local small businesses.

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