playland motel

Flashing neon signs. Route 66. Road trips and rebellious runaways. The roadside motel is an undisputed American icon that prospered with the growth of auto travel in the 50s and 60s on the wide-open highways of the USA.

Sure, their reputation is still shrouded by ‘no tells’– selling rooms by the hour dotted along the highways, kitted out with polyester everything and grimly buzzing fluorescents. But now, thanks to a breed of design savvy moteliers, a crop of motor inns have been reimagined as ‘boutique motels’.

Case in point: the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, the blockbuster of boutique motels. It may have the skeleton of a motel: a low-rise building, patios, a diner and communal pool – but it’s owned by one of the coolest hotel groups on the planet and carries with it Ace’s distinctive, casual taste. This is a high design but affordable pit stop.

And, it’s not the only one. For those looking to go road trippin’ in the USA, read on for our pick of the best boutique motels.

Playland Motel Far Rockaway, New York

Born as a year-round retro beach getaway for the New York (hipster) set. This transformed clam bar is no Super 8, with 12 artist-designed and very comfortable rooms, but the ethos remains: affordable, no televisions and communal bathrooms. Like most of the new-gen motels, this is not a rest-stop but a destination – thanks to its buzzing indoor and outdoor bars and roster of DJs and live acts.

  • +1 347 954 9063
  • Go to Website
  • 97-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
    Rockaway Beach
    New York

Pioneertown Motel Pioneertown, California

Originally built in 1946 as a live-motion set, this motel comes with authentic cowboy kudos, thanks to its role in over 200 Westerns. Re-established in 2015, it’s been sensitively restored true to its original ol’ Western look and feel. Think classic Navajo rugs, reclaimed timber and rich leathers, all charged with rugged cowboy charm. It’s the only overnight accommodation in town and keeps things simple: there’s no bar, restaurant or TV, but there is a dive bar a short mosey from your digs, which more than makes up for the lack of on-site entertainment.

  • +1 760 365 7001
  • Go to Website
  • 5240 Curtis Road

The Roxbury Catskills, New York

A pared-back country getaway this is not. This 14-room Catskills motel is all about over the top kitsch maximalism – and it’s no surprise, being owned by ex-Broadway couple Gregory Henderson and Joe Massa. From the Flinstone themed Fred’s Lair to the kitted out bright orange and zebra upholstered Shagadellic suite. Other themed rooms cover The Jetsons, The Partridge Family and even a Mayan temple–inspired bedroom, complete with a secret passageway.

  • +1 607 326 7200
  • Go to Website
  • 2258 County Road 41
    New York

Thunderbird Motel

Located in the west Texas art colony of Marfa, Thunderbird was built in 1959 as a classic single-story roadside motel with 24 rooms and a swimming pool: no frills, no fuss. Not much has changed, except it’s been bought by seasoned hotelier Liz Lambert (also responsible for the San José Motel) and reimagined by Marfa-based artist/designer Jamey Garza with simple but detailed touches: polished concrete floors, simple pecan furniture and cowhide rugs.

  • +1 432 729 1984
  • Go to Website
  • 601 W San Antonio Street

Orbit In Palm Springs, California

For a 101 in mid-century modern, check into the Orbit In, Palm Springs. Situated in the Tennis Club District and built by acclaimed designer, Herb Burns (the man responsible for introducing the concept of the “motor court inn to Palm Springs”) the Orbit In is steeped in old Hollywood glamour. Guests of yesteryear include Charlie Chaplin, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. Bought and re-invented in 2007, the motel still maintains its mid-century, cold war optimism. Prepare yourself for space-age furniture mixed with retro vintage finds, such as egg and Eames lounge chairs, lava lamps and a poolside bar, perfect for the complimentary 5PM Orbitinis (sake martinis).

  • +1 877 996 7248
  • Go to Website
  • 562 W. Arenas Road
    Palm Springs

Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel Catskills, New York

Live the life of Avon ladies and Tupperware parties at Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel. Situated on nine acres up in the Catskills Mountains, this haven of lime green and burnt orange hues was gutted and renovated by Kate Pierson of The B-52s and decorated with phrases like groovy, wacky and psychedelic in mind. Check into one of the nine suites, all decked out in authentic 50s-style kitchens, plastic fantastic furniture and ceramic bubble art. Or rest your head in one of the five vintage Airstream trailers behind the motel by the creek. Get ready for margaritas and Love Shack on repeat.

  • +1 845 688 7200
  • Go to Website
  • 5191 Route 28
    Mount Tremper
    New York

The Rose Hotel Venice, California

This motel, the vision of photographers Glen Luchford and Doug Bruce, boasts affordable digs in Venice Beach. It may be branded as a ‘hotel’, but definitely has‘boutique motel’ vibes. In the words of its owners: “Our walls are thin, and the building is wonky… and we like it just like it is.” The seven laid back, light-filled rooms exude Abbot Kinney cool: salvaged furniture (courtesy of the Rose Bowl flea market) muted grey and white-washed surf friendly tones, ‘casual’ staff t-shirts by Rag & Bone and, of course, framed Luchford photographs scattered on the walls. There’s no room service, on-site restaurant or pool, and that’s the point. The main attraction is Venice Beach, best explored by foot, bike or board.

  • +1 310 450 3474
  • Go to Website
  • 15 Rose Avenue

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