Iconic American lodging: cool and offbeat motels in USA

You’ve seen them in movies and you’ve read about them in books, motels, the classic roadside lodgings with big flashy neon signs, are the epitome of Americana culture. But what exactly is a motel and what is the difference between hotel and motel?

Originally designed for motorists (the name ‘motel’ stems from ‘motor hotel’), motels are low-rise constructions typically found along motorways as opposed to hotels, favoring city centers. The layout of a motel is usually orientated to the outside, while hotels’ doors normally face an interior hallway.

Now that you’re in the know, here are our nine favorite motels in USA that’ll make your trip memorable.

Farmer’s Daughter Hotel, Los Angeles, CA


A laid-back and unassuming vibe transpires throughout Los Angeles-based Farmer’s Daughter Hotel. The guests make for a mixed group: from cosmopolitan travelers to budget-oriented families.

The motel’s history goes back to the 1960s, when it was the meeting point of tourists, celebrities and television execs. After a complete revamping in the late 1990s, the place is a cross-over of a typical two-story motel and a quirky boutique hotel. The rooms are pretty standard, but thanks to the cheerful yellow paint job, the posters of farmyard animals adorning the walls, the country-style rugs and comfy rocking chairs, you’ll wake up in a sunny mood every morning.

Other amenities include a compact pool just off the lobby, bicycles for rent and a restaurant – Tart – specializing in American comfort food with a Southern twist and bottomless Bloody Marys.

Take me there! Book a room at Farmer’s Daughter Hotel with momondo (rates start at $211 per night)

Read more: The best restaurants in Los Angeles

Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant, Philadelphia, PA

Fancy a night in one of these?

When the Pennsylvania Railroad put 19 cabooses (railroad cars coupled at the end of freight trains) up for sale during the summer 1969, Donald Denlinger made an offer. And that’s how the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant was born.

Located on a piece of land along the Strasburg Rail Road, an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, the motel offers 38 cabooses, all painted with a different railroad insignia and in various colors. There’s even an authentic rail dining car where you’ll be served breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you feel the dining car move, don’t worry – it’s just a simulation to give you a taste of how it felt to dine in a moving train.

For train enthusiasts: the motel gift shop sells scale model trains and a variety of items crafted out of train parts.

Ready to go? Book a room at the Red Caboose Motel with momondo (rates start at $85 per night)

Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs, CA


Looking for a motel and a party in the middle of the desert? Look no further! Located in Palm Springs, home to summer music festival Coachella, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club combines 1950s motel style with amenities such as record players and turntables, artisanal cocktails, and a photo booth.

The rooms span from the standard kind that come equipped with cool amenities from Rudy’s Barbershop, to patio rooms complete with fireplaces or garden rooms. All rooms feature vintage furniture and prints, plantation shutter-style walls and hand-printed bed throws.

However, the main draw for most is the year-round outdoor pool, complete with hammocks, fruity cocktails, a DJ mixing dancing tunes and an ice cream-truck-cum-bar serving alcoholic snow cones.

There’s no reason for the pool party to stop, especially when opening hours last until 2am.

Who said party? Book a room at the Ace Hotel with momondo (rates start at $229 per night)

Read more: Hotels with unbelievable swimming pools

Thunderbird Marfa, Marfa, TX


When minimalist sculptor Donald Judd met with a bunch of architects focused on preserving the original architecture of the classic 1950s motel, the result was a modern look with a retro feel.

Locally run and with only 24 rooms, the Thunderbird Marfa is a small, stylish and friendly motel located in the desert city of Marfa, Texas. The interiors are rather sparse in decoration, but you’ll quickly notice the comfy platform beds, the colorful Peruvian blankets, the original art and photography adorning the walls, and, last but not least, the beautiful natural light flooding the rooms.

Since the temperatures can be quite extreme here, there’s a communal pool where you can cool down. Among the standard amenities, this place also offers typewriters and turntables for rent.

Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-a-Way, Joshua Tree, CA

Perfect desert hideaway!

On the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park, home to the twisted Joshua trees and rugged geologic formations, lies Spin and Margie’s Desert Hide-a-Way.

If you’re looking for a bit of color in the middle of the dusty desert, this is the right place. From the brightly colored cabins to the cozy communal areas and the various bits and bobs found on the property, such as road signs, birdhouses, rusted cans, this motel truly is a hideaway you’ll never want to desert.

The cabins are comfortable and come equipped with kitchens and nice-to-have amenities such as deep soaking tubs and bath salts.

Go for the desert! Book a room at Spin and Margie’s with momondo (rates start at $145 per night)

Kate’s Lazy Meadow, Mount Tremper, NY

Back to the 1950s!

Want some quiet time away from New York? Take the two-hour drive north and book a couple of nights at Kate’s Lazy Meadow.

Located by a tranquil creek, close to the Catskills Mountains, Kate’s Lazy Meadow is a tribute to the booming 1950s. Woodland cabins come complete with Tiki heads, atomic-age furniture, funky color schemes and kitchenettes featuring vintage cabinets, Frigidaires and stoves. Co-founder Kate Pierson, member of rock band The B-52’s, calls it her ‘cabin fever fantasy’.

You can pick and choose between eight suites – some even pet-friendly – and three secluded lodges within five miles from the main property. Though mobile phones don’t work here, all rooms come equipped with Wi-Fi, a land line, and a retro VHS collection of video tapes. Pop in a tape and cozy up on the sofa!

Read more: What to do for free in New York

Miracle Manor Retreat, Desert Hot Springs, CA

Enjoy the silence! © John Madere

By the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, you’ll find the spa city of Desert Hot Springs. As the name hints, this area is rich in natural hot springs that are thought to have therapeutic benefits for the body.

Run by a duo of LA-based designers, the Miracle Manor Retreat is a motel spa with a focus on natural opulence and clean aesthetics. Everything from the sage soap to the organic cotton bed sheets and the khaki paint scheme of the walls, will give you the feeling of staying in an extension of the desert.

Though it might feel a tad spartan (there are no TVs and phones), you’re encouraged to contemplate life while gazing at the mountains, read a book or try one of the many treatments their spa offers. They’re rumored to have the best massage therapists in town.

Convinced? Book a room at Miracle Manor Retreat with momondo (rates start at $130 per night)

Dog Bark Park Inn, Cottonwood, ID

Sleep in the world's biggest beagle! © Dog Bark Park Inn

Ever heard of chainsaw art? Husband and wife Dennis and Frances have been creating folk art carvings in wood for over 30 years, and they especially love carving out dogs. In 2003 they opened the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, consisting of a motel in the shape of a beagle – actually the world’s biggest beagle. Yes, you’ve read that correctly! Needless to say this unusual place has quickly become a local attraction.

Locally known as Sweet Willy, the motel is an authentic mom and pop establishment. The large beagle sleeps four inside its two-story body, and, naturally, pets are welcome. Your stay will be made even more enjoyable by the luxurious homemade breakfast, including the family’s secret recipe for fruited granola.

If you never want to forget this exceptional place, buy a miniature version of it in the adjacent gift shop, carved, of course, by the lovely hosts.

In love with this place yet? Book a room at the Dog Bark Park Inn with momondo (rates start at $92 per night)

Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, CA

The Gold Rush Steak House at Madonna Inn

The Madonna Inn is not just a motel by the side of the road, but a landmark and local sight in its own right.

Located in the Californian city of San Luis Obispo, this motor inn is rural ranch meets pink fantasy palace. Some might call it kitsch, but owners Alex and Phyllis Madonna strove to create an imaginative home-away-from-home.

Among the many draws, are the 110 themed rooms and suites. Phyllis Madonna went out of her way to decorate each room as creatively as possible and give them whimsical names, such as Tall & Short, What’s Left, Pick & Shovel, Time of Your Life, Yahoo or Rock Bottom.

Even if you don’t need a place to crash during your Californian road trip, stop by to visit one of the most popular local attractions: the motel’s downstairs men’s restroom, featuring a rock waterfall that’s also a urinal.

Start planning now! Book a room at Madonna Inn with momondo (rates start at $179 per night)

Looking for more travel inspiration? Have a look at our tips for the perfect road trip or visit momondo inspiration for more travel ideas and expert tips
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