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Best Classic Roadside Motels

Best Classic Roadside Motels
El Bonita Motel, St. Helena, Calif.

Photo: Telstar Logistics

Planning to hit the open road for a fun drive into the unknown? Take a road trip with a twist this year by bunking down in one of these excellent roadside motels along the way. Our editors have hand-picked a string of reinvented American classics, many of them reborn as boutique hotels in recent years (so you can overnight in style), then added an equal measure of traditional motels, ranging from the unusual to the iconic. Choose any one of them for your roadside rest, and you might find yourself hard-pressed to say which was more memorable, the journey or the destination. Nightly rates are easy on the pockets, too, starting at just $43/night.

1. Aqua Hotel and Lounge

Before driving out to the Florida Keys, park your car at this refurbished 1950s motel in the heart of Miami's South Beach. Remodeled to boutique standards in 2000, the two-story hotel's 45 rooms boast a budget-chic aesthetic (think cement floors, Ikea furniture, and a prevailing minimalist vibe) and doors that back onto the hotel's octagonal pool and happening patio scene. Additional perks like a small cocktail bar and close proximity to both the beach and Ocean Drive make the Aqua particularly appealing to hipsters traveling on a shoestring. Rates from $105/night.

2. Caliente Tropics Motor Lodge

This vintage 1960s motorlodge is a tiki-lover’s dream come true and a slice of roadside Americana right in the heart of Palm Springs, Calif. Built in 1964, the Caliente Tropics has an illustrious past, hosting guests like Elvis, Nancy Sinatra, and the Rat Pack, not to mention the first Miss Hawaiian Tropic Contest and the third-largest pool in Palm Springs. Today all 90 rooms are renovated, each one very clean and decorated in fun, tasteful tiki themes, with luxury mattress sets, high-quality linens, new ceiling fans, desktop data-ports, WiFi, and voicemail. A cocktail lounge and Mexican restaurant are on site. Rates start at $43/night.

3. El Bonita Motel

While much of Napa (and neighboring Sonoma) has gone upscale in recent years, the old-fashioned El Bonita Motel, in the central Napa town of St. Helena, has refused to follow suit. Dating from 1941, this hospitable motel is an excellent choice for families, travelers with pets, and those simply road-tripping through wine country on a budget. The basic but comfortable rooms come with microwave, fridge, and coffemaker, and are scattered over 2.5 acres of beautifully manicured grounds equipped with a pool and hot tub. Most appealing of all, however, may be the prices, which are practically unheard of in these posh parts. Rates start at $94/night.

4. Farmer's Daughter Hotel

Expect a farmhouse vibe and country hospitality at this revamped motel in Los Angeles, located right across from the Farmer's Market and the new Grove entertainment complex. More than just your standard budget hotel, this property actually has a pool, free parking, wireless Internet access, and room service, which, combined, make these quirky digs a great bargain for the price. Decked out in country-chic from head to toe, for a look and feel that’s downright adorable, the hotel’s 66 guestrooms showcase beds with lattice-worked headboards, plaid-and-gingham curtains, and rustic country furniture. Despite the farm-like atmosphere, modern amenities are also available, including high-speed Internet access; cable TV; DVD and MP3 players; mini-fridge; in-room safe; coffee-maker; and more. Rates start at $175/night.

5. Hotel San Jose

Rest up for a road trip through Texas Hill Country at this 1930s motor court turned hip boutique hotel on trendy South Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. Located across the street from the legendary Continental Club, the hotel often plays host to touring musicians, some of whom play in the hotel’s inner courtyard during weekly Rock ’n’ Reel events (music followed by a movie screening). The overall design is a conspiracy of Mexican, Japanese, and Texan influences: Spanish tile roofs, gardens landscaped with a mix of bamboo and native vegetation, and minimally furnished rooms accented with cowhide rugs and pine beds. With amenities like complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room manicures/pedicures, bike rentals, a small swimming pool, and a comprehensive music and video library, leaving this hipster haven and heading back to the open road may require some effort. Standard rooms start at $160/night on weeknights and $175 on weekends.

See 5 More Classic, Reinvented Roadside Motels


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