For a good long while, it seemed like the era of the American motel was at an end. The chain hotel business model had kicked them to the proverbial curb, offering accommodation at almost every corner – affordable, functional, and generic. Many moteliers went out of business as soon as their quirky roadside shack lost its sheen.
And yet, the previous decade has brought somewhat of a revival of the venerable motel. Bought up, restored, and/or syndicated, many of them are back in business as boutique establishments, offering the modern traveler a glimpse into a bygone age. A few of the classic era motels are still struggling to survive, but others are now turning a tidy profit by catering to weary drivers.
We polled our drivers for opinions, and put together this list of ten popular motels or motel chains. There was no set criteria for the selection – some of them are seen as good value for money, while some possess an ineffable coolness factor that might make them worth your time.
The Austin Motel, Austin TX
Nicknamed the Phallus Palace after its distinctive sign, this classic piece of roadside Americana has been in business for almost a century. Though recently renovated, it remains true to its kitschy retro roots, featuring vinyl, plastic, and colorful wallpaper. Overall, there’s an old-timey vibe to the place. The prices are on the high side and don’t cover the meal at Joann’s Fine Foods, their onsite Tex-Mex diner. But if you feel the need to treat yourself while driving through the Lone Star State, you could do worse than stopping at the Austin Motel.
The Economy Inn, New Orleans LA
Don’t let the single-star reviews fool you – this place really is a hidden gem. Tourists don’t like it because it’s way out on the periphery, but if you’re just passing through the Big Easy, the location probably isn’t a priority. You can get a comfortable, clean, quiet room with cable TV, wireless internet and free
The Red Roof Inn
A cheap option for the weary traveler, the Red Roof has both hotels and motels available in 600+ spots throughout the US and beyond. The rooms are small but clean, and usually include tables and chairs which is always a welcome addition. They don’t do laundry, breakfast is not included, but the prices are low and the chain is 100% pet-friendly. So if traveling with an animal and on a budget, it’s a good option to have.
Flintstone’s Bedrock City, Williams AZ
You’re driving down the empty road, looking for a place to park your RV for the night, and you spot a giant Fred Flintstone wishing you a yabba-dabba-doo welcome. I mean, how do you not pull over? Located in Arizona about half an hour from the Grand Canyon, Bedrock City is a kitschy motel, campsite, and roadside attraction all in one. They offer decent service with a touch of seventies cartoon entertainment. The bad news is, Bedrock City is shutting down at the end of 2019. So if you’ve got that Neolithic nostalgia, drop by the place while you still can.
This motel chain is a popular option for drivers looking to get the most bang for their buck. You can find them almost anywhere – they’ve got about 2,000 locations across North America. The amenities are kind of basic, but they do cover everything you need. You get free WiFi, though signal strength is known to vary from room to room. The prices are in the low- to mid-range, and they all include a pretty decent continental breakfast.
Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant, Philadelphia PA
If looking for something a little out of the ordinary, you could try the Red Caboose Motel, about an hour’s drive away from Philly. You get to stay in one of their 38 railroad carts, all of them decoupled, retrofitted, and colorfully painted. It might sound quaint and weird but it’s actually kind of charming. The prices are reasonable, the breakfast is excellent, and the gift shop sells – yeah, you guessed it – model trains.
Rodeway Inn, Chicago IL
There’s nothing exceptional about this motel on North Lincoln Avenue, apart from the prices which are surprisingly low. The rooms are spacious and spotless, the bathrooms are well-kept, the staff is friendly, and there aren’t even any hidden fees. They offer free parking and free WiFi, but unfortunately, they don’t allow pets of any kind. So keep that in mind if you happen by with a dog in tow.
Thunderbird Inn, Savannah GA
Originally built in the sixties and recently renovated, this motor lodge is a pretty good bargain for travelers in the Savannah area. The rooms are cozy and clean, the internet is free, and they reel in their regulars by offering complementary coffee and donuts in the morning. Their costs are pretty low for the quality of accommodation, but they make up for that by charging extra for on-site parking and pets, so be on the lookout for that.
This massive chain owned by Wyndham Worldwide mainly runs hotels in the vicinity of national parks. Their roadside motels, however, are usually much cheaper, which makes them a great option for professional drivers. You get a similar quality of service at a fraction of the cost, including comfortable beds and decent soundproofing. However, since their staff are used to catering to tourists on an adventure, they might pester you with offers of hiking tours and the like.
Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel, Mount Tremper, NY
Yet another example of retro chic, this place was founded by Kate Pierson of the B-52s and built as a tribute to the 1950s era. It’s located in upstate New York, about a two-hour drive away from the city, so cell reception isn’t great. However, all the “lazy lodges” and “groovy cabin suites” come with free WiFi so you’ll be able to stay connected. The place is rustic, pet-friendly, and pretty affordable too. They’ve expanded west all the way to California, but we haven’t tested out the Lazy Desert version yet.