10 Destination-Worthy Cheap Motels

·11 min read

After more than a year of being mostly cooped up, travelers finally began to venture out en masse and explore again this past summer. And while the liberation was refreshing, the sudden surge in demand also translated into nightly hotel room rates that were a bit...shock-inducing.

Depending on the geographic location you happened to be visiting, a three-star hotel room likely ended up well over $300 per night. A June report from STR showed nightly room rates had risen by about 44 percent over the same period in 2020. Naturally, few people were traveling in June 2020, amid the height of the pandemic—but as things seemed to approach something close to normal, hotel room rates soared, which was more than a little challenging for budget-conscious travelers.

At the moment, the future of hotel room rates remains uncertain amid the delta variant and labor shortages. But it's always a good idea to remember that there are alternatives to steep hotel prices. And by that we mean: motels.

From coast to coast, there are motel options that should really be on your radar. And not just because they're generally more affordable (and because you want to live your best Schitt's Creek life). Motels in many regions are experiencing a renaissance that includes undergoing stylish makeovers, the installation of trendy eateries, and the arrival of on-site, Instagram-friendly cocktail lounges that serve up the latest in craft cocktails. Add to all of these important developments an increased emphasis on upgraded technology to accommodate today's travelers, and you've got some truly destination-worthy motel options.

And speaking of destination, many of these motels are also situated in locations that can't be beaten, whether that's the heart of a fascinating and vibrant urban center, or amid the towering pines of a stunning state forest, or perhaps along a pristine stretch of beach.

Bottom line? If you hadn't done so already, it just may be time to expand your travel accommodation searches and repertoire to encompass motels. Here are 10 of our favorite options across the country—places that are far more than just budget-friendly. (Though their affordability is definitely a noteworthy quality.)

The Sandman, Sonoma County, California

A property that landed among USA Today's Top 5 Best Roadside Motels in 2021, The Sandman was reimagined in 2017. The modern throwback property is inspired by Spanish Mission Revival buildings found throughout the Golden State.

Inside the colorful lobby of The Sandman, you'll find eclectic touches and vintage furniture, all carefully chosen to pay homage to motor lodge culture. Guest rooms, meanwhile, are outfitted in a quintessential relaxed California aesthetic that mixes comfortable, bright spaces with an uncluttered collection of natural and handcrafted elements.

And did we mention the indoor-outdoor pool house and bar? The space features a retractable glass garage door and a walk-up window where guests can enjoy cocktails in an alfresco atmosphere. There's also a year-round heated pool, hot tub, and backyard complete with a fire pit, string lights and lanterns, a bocce court, and cornhole for evening social gatherings.

Added bonus: The property is perfectly situated to allow visitors to explore California's renowned wine country region.

Room rates start at $107 per night.

Grayhaven Motel, Ithaca, New York

The Grayhaven has been welcoming vacationers and travelers for more than a century. Recently restored, today's visitors will find spacious mid-century rooms as well as fully furnished cottages and suites with kitchenettes. Each of these spaces has been thoughtfully restored with period fixtures and modern amenities.

The property on which Grayhaven is situated is also a giant part of its appeal (particularly if it's quality time in the great outdoors that you're after). The motel's 11-acre grounds include walking trails, hammocks for lounging and reading a book, a bocce court, croquet, fire pits, and picnic areas. Not far beyond Grayhaven's boundaries, you'll find Buttermilk Falls and Robert H. Treman state parks, which combined offer endless opportunities for hiking and exploring the waterfalls and gorges the region is known for.

Room rates start at between $105 and $139 per night.

El Rey Court, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The El Rey Court dates back to 1936, when it first opened its doors along historic Route 66. Since then, this property has been completely updated and rebranded. Still, its traditional New Mexico adobe-style architecture (a favorite among locals and road trippers alike) remains intact. And even amid the changes that have taken place, the property's eclectic soul remains vibrant.

Recent upgrades to the El Rey include refreshed décor throughout the property and the conversion of a dated breakfast room into what is now La Reina bar, a funky cocktail gathering spot that hosts live music on most nights. There are also concerts on the lawn, and pizza lovers will want to make a beeline for the "Tender Fire Kitchen" a wood-fired pizza trailer that offers dinner on the weekends on the events lawn. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, don't miss the Swim Club pool area, which has been updated with a retro throwback design.

Rates are about $110 for weeknights and $136 for weekends during the offseason. Come June through August, the nightly rate increases but still remains about half the price of hotels in the Santa Fe Plaza area.

River Palms Cottages and Fish Camp, Jensen Beach, Florida

Located in the seaside town Jensen Beach (also known as the Pineapple Capital of the World), River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp is a locally beloved motel. The property sits on a waterfront compound overlooking the Indian River and offers traditional motel rooms as well as vibrantly painted standalone cottages. The lush grounds surrounding the motel and cottages are planted with all manner of exotic plants, as well as many tropical fruits—including avocados, pineapples, lychee, and bananas. Interspersed are hammocks strung in the trees so that guests can curl up and watch the sunset.

Downtown Jensen Beach is just a 10-minute walk from the motel, where visitors can explore boutiques, waterfront eateries, and an artist's colony made up of working studios. Finally, given its name, it should come as no surprise that River Palms Cottages and Fish Camp is also popular with fishermen. Guests can book a fishing excursion with legendary Captain Rufus Wakeman, a Florida native guide who has more than 20 years of experience and has held 10 world records for various fishing accomplishments.

Nightly rates at this Florida getaway from May through November start at about $105 per night. From December through April, rates start at about $119 per night.

Austin Motel, Austin, Texas

Operating since 1938, Austin Motel is said to be a beloved part of the history in its namesake city. The motel is another midcentury architectural gem that has been preserved by the current operators, the Bunkhouse Group.

The Austin Motel's eclectic vibe is still a dominant feature, but the Bunkhouse Group also incorporated its signature design style when refreshing the 41 rooms with a casual yet playful color scheme. Public spaces have also been rejuvenated over the years, including adding a renegade-style retail shop in the lobby and constructing a pool bar and deck around the motel's 1950s-style kidney-shaped pool. There's also a full-service restaurant onsite, Joann's Fine Foods, where the menu features reimagined dinner classics with a Mexican influence.

For those who enjoy nothing more than a little urban exploring, the Austin Motel is a great choice. It is located along South Congress Avenue, an area known for eclectic shopping, as well as an abundance of dining and nightlife.

Need one more reason to put this motel on your to-do list? It regularly hosts a range of events and programming from Neon Night Swims to movie nights at the pool and happy hours with live music.

Rates start at $132 per night.

Long Key Beach Resort Motel, St. Petersburg, Florida

Location, location, location. It's an expression that applies both to home sales and to the most memorable travel accommodations. Long Key Beach Resort certainly has much to offer on this front. The property sits right along St. Petersburg's award-winning beaches (which are consistently voted among the best in the world).

When you get tired of all that sun and sand, there's also a heated waterfall pool to enjoy. Additional amenities include a three-level sun deck, shuffleboard, and barbecue grills. Some guest rooms include kitchenettes, another budget-friendly feature for those who want to make their money stretch a little further.

Rates start at $90 per night.

Tälta Lodge, Stowe, Vermont

Tälta Lodge arrived in Stowe, Vermont, in October 2021 as a contemporary take on the original 1960s mountain lodges. The property was designed to evoke nostalgic feelings of family getaways, but with a modern spin. To that end, the 51 rooms at the property include plush beds, present-day interiors, and mountain-style furnishings. Many also have private decks. And because this property is located in Stowe (a place known for being an all-season escape for die-hard adventure and nature enthusiasts), most guest rooms include modular gear walls. There's also ski and mountain bike storage onsite.

The lodge is located in the heart of the Green Mountains, but you'll of course want to spend much time beyond the property itself, whether that involves exploring charming downtown Stowe, or spending time on the epic slopes the area is renowned for, or hiking, swimming, fly fishing, canoeing…the list goes on and on.

Room rates start at $149 per night.

Skyview Los Alamos, Los Alamos, California

Over the years, this iconic California roadside motel has gone through a metamorphosis and has emerged as a boutique luxury property. In addition to 33 guest rooms, you'll find a full-service restaurant serving unforgettable California fare, a heated pool, and a working vineyard all on a five-acre expanse in a region that's been described as a time capsule of the Old West.

The Skyview's multi-million renovation included restoring the property's mid-century vibe while also adding new modern decor throughout. Guest rooms are now outfitted with globally sourced design elements and include hardwood floors, flat-panel televisions, and down duvets, among many other notable upgrades. More than a few rooms also offer indoor fireplaces and private patios that provide wine country views.

Rates vary but depending on the time of year, rooms can be found for about $194 per night.

Big Sur River Inn, Big Sur, California

Located along California's striking coastline, Big Sur is a destination that's all about epic natural beauty. For those not familiar with this legendary region, it's a place where you'll find striking seaside cliffs around every twist and turn in the road, and towering Redwood forests that offer endless hiking opportunities. The historic Big Sur River Inn puts you in the heart of all there is to see and do here.

Said to be Big Sur's first motel and restaurant (getting its start in the 1930s when it was called the Apple Pie Inn) the rustic property features rooms right along the Big Sur River. Amid its forest location, you'll find wooden chairs set up beside (and in) the river. There's also an onsite general store and a pool. Guests who want to venture beyond this peaceful setting have easy access to miles of hiking trails, beaches where you can explore tide pools, and a variety of area gift shops and galleries.

Queen rates start at $175 per night.

Lincolnville Motel, Lincolnville, Maine

So much of Maine's charm is about summer living and simple pleasures and the Lincolnville Motel is a property designed to make the most of these things. Located along Main's Midcoast region, the Lincolnville is a refreshed roadside motor inn dating back to the 1950s. The six quaint wooden cabins and four motel rooms, all of which offer views of the ocean and surrounding open fields, feature a hipster retro vibe. Each room emphasizes quality bedding and clean design. There are no televisions or phones in the rooms, but there are record players and books.

Situated on four acres of gently sloping open field with views of Penobscot Bay and its islands, amenities at the Lincolnville Motel include a swimming pool, library room, and lawn games. A 2016 winner of Down East's best accommodations award, this seasonal getaway is a place to unplug and unwind without having to spend a fortune doing so.

Room rates start at around $105.

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