America’s great motel makeover: a roadside revolution


America’s great motel makeover: a roadside revolution

Head out on the highway to explore how ‘motor hotels’ are being reimagined afresh for 21st-century travellers...

Laura Holt

BY Laura Holt31 August 2019

Over the last century, America‘s motels went from being a blaze of neon that whispered of opportunity, to transient places for fugitives on the run – used as the sombre backdrop in Edward Hopper’s paintings, David Lynch’s dystopian universe and Hitchcock’s harrowing horror films. But the good news is: they’re back. Call them boutique motels, call them motels-made-good, but America is reclaiming its lost highway hotels and reinventing them afresh for 21st-century travellers. And this time, they’re here to stay…



Left-leaning Cambria straddles California’s Pacific Coast Highway, with an artsy town on one side of the road, including pottery studios, antiques stores and quinoa-heavy cafes, and driftwood-strewn Moonstone Beach on the other. It’s here you’ll find Cambria Beach Lodge, a 27-room retreat with sun-bleached floors, tropical-tinged textiles and vintage-style Linus bikes to borrow. It stays true to its motel roots with fun-yet-functional design. Fresh Californian breakfasts are served each morning with frontline views of the Pacific and key cornerstones of the PCH await outside, including the elephant seals of Piedras Blancas and Hearst Castle.


Upstate New York

If you’re planning a road trip to see fall’s foliage, head to Brentwood Hotel in Sarasota Springs. One of Upstate’s new breed of boutique hotels, this 1970’s motel-made-good has been artfully reimagined by Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack. Monochrome interiors are dark and decadent: from the Don Draper-ready cocktail bar to the brass lighting and oil paintings in the rooms. There are custom-made Linus bikes for exploring leafy Saratoga State Park and fireside drinks and barbecues waiting on return each evening. Its location on the edge of America’s oldest horse-racing track means you’ll often see thoroughbreds speeding past between July and September, and exercising on the gallops at other times of year.




Hotelier Liz Lambert is the vision behind this new-look 1930’s motel in the self-proclaimed ‘live music capital of the world’. In Liz’s words: ‘almost every piece of furniture, every paint colour, every hook’ was designed from scratch in partnership with local Texan creatives – even the bed linens and kimono bathrobes that adorn the 40 rooms. Elsewhere, there are manicured grounds and a private pool hidden behind a bamboo shield, plus a lobby with a curated menu of wine, beer and snacks. In true hipster fashion, there are also vintage typewriters and Polaroid cameras to borrow – providing you can pull yourself away from the food trucks, craft breweries and gig venues that grace Austin’s streets. When your sins kick, breakfast arrives in the form of room-delivered bento boxes.



Berkshire Hills

New hotel Tourists is making us want to join to queue and follow the crowd. This former motel turned hipster hangout in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts harks back to the golden days of motor hotels, when a simple roadside sign spoke of adventure. Outside, the Hoosic River snakes and the peak-packed Appalachian Trail waits to be explored. On return, there’s a deck-side bar, an outdoor pool and blonde-wood rooms, all set around a summer-camp-style estate. Plus, you might also stumble on the odd musical happening, as Wilco bassist, John Stirratt, is one of the owners. Being a tourist never looked so cool…



Long Island

Way out east at the point where New York State kisses the sea, Journey East Hampton is a welcome departure from the mainstay of Hamptons’ hideaways. Set between the villages of East Hampton and Amagansett, this former motel stands converted with 22 cabin-like rooms, plus a hydrangea-lined garden where you can slip into the pool, play lawn games or sip cocktails from slat-back chairs. Grab a free-to-use bike to imagine yourself in The Affair, then return to the art-lined lounge for fire-side negronis come evening.

Why stop there? Hit the road with the rest of our Stateside hotel collection