Luxe Highway Lodges
Luxe Highway Lodges
Meet the Coolest Boutique Traveler's Retreats
Anyone with an Instagram account can tell you the roadside motel has gone from kitsch to clutch over the past 5 years. Blending mom-and-pop nostalgia with new-age modernism and just the right amount of novelty, the rush to repurpose, restore and reimagine every abandoned inn has attracted a new generation of savvy travelers. From an outdoorsy Colorado motor lodge to a boutique gem in Santa Barbara wine country, this new breed of hip hotels is hyper-curated, loaded with character and just off the open road — #nofilter.
Scene and scenery are natural bedfellows on the Pacific Coast Highway — it’s little wonder the Golden State’s most recognizable drive is a go-to destination for filmmakers, poets and bucket-listers. Now, a slate of hospitality heroes are taking note and moving in, reviving rundown motels into weekend-worthy destinations.
1. Reborn from the ashes of a dilapidated motor inn, Hotel Joaquin is a paean to the golden-oldie days of surfside glamour. With its hidden coves, artist colony roots and breezy affluence, Laguna Beach has long been a coastal playground for Californians looking to unplug — and the Joaquin is chock-full of tributes to the vibe: there’s morning yoga, cucumber toast with tahini at the seafood-centric Saline, and airy rooms boasting vintage record collections and flea-market furniture alongside Anichini linens. Hotelier Paul Makarechian tapped his travels to the French Riviera as well as his childhood on the nearby beaches for inspiration, and it shows.
2. Nestled on the shores of Carbon Beach, the exclusive Nobu Ryokan Malibu is impeccable minimalist design with maximalist results. This one-time 1950s-era motel has been reimagined as a 16-room Japanese ryokan by way of the California coast, with handcrafted teak soaking tubs from Alaska, indoor/outdoor fireplaces, limestone and bronze accents, and wraparound terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the breathtaking ocean view. Room service, from Nobu Malibu next door, is best enjoyed while wearing a plush linen yukata robe.
3. Keen design sensibility and a deep connection to nature inform the surf-chic Cambria Beach Lodge, a roadside spot lending a dash of style to the sleepy seaside village. Across the road from the famous Moonstone Beach, coastal-inspired rooms are simple but don’t skimp on amenities like premium bedding, Faribault wool blankets and a very local mini-bar. Should you venture out, Linus bicycles and binoculars are available to borrow, and the sky deck is the ideal place to toast the sunset with a glass of Paso Robles wine.
4. The Surfrider Malibu takes “barefoot luxury” to the extreme. Two years after a total architectural renovation, this 1950s-era motel turned contemporary boutique hotel is being hailed as the hot new getaway in the ‘Bu. The simultaneously stylish and living-room-chill Surfrider is kitted out in natural materials (white oak, teak, limestone, sisal rugs) and boasts one of SoCal’s all-time best roof decks, complete with cozy sofas, fire pits and a view that defies description. Rent a wetsuit and a custom board (shaped by renowned locals like Keegan Gibbs) and jog across the street to experience the legendary First Point break, knowing that a heated outdoor shower awaits.
With a name inspired by the Beat Generation and a nonconformist ethos to match, The Drifter has emerged as the confident hipster’s haven in New Orleans. Both luxe and low-key, this revived 1950s motel is breathing life into an industrial swath of the Mid-City neighborhood’s Tulane Avenue. Thanks to its playful, individualist aesthetic, The Drifter feels worlds away from the raucousness and wrought iron of the French Quarter, though it’s just 10 minutes east. A convivial courtyard and tropical pool area welcome visitors with fresh frozen cocktails, a cantilevered disco ball and a lattice wall inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragán, while a rotation of on-site food trucks serve authentic Trinidadian and Haitian dishes. And the 20 contemporary guest rooms — all cool troweled concrete, Oaxacan tilework and midcentury electric fans — offer a respite from the hustle and humidity of the Big Easy.
Orange vinyl tufted beds and lip-shaped phones light up the 41 retro-themed rooms at the Austin Motel, the 1938 former motor inn recently revamped and rebooted by the undisputed Queen Midas of the South Congress Avenue hotel scene, Liz Lambert. New additions to the “cosmic cowboy” hideout include a bar by the pool (kidney-shaped, naturally) and Joann’s restaurant, sating Tex-Mex cravings in a space inspired by old-school California diners. Check into a poolside suite to feed the coin-operated Magic Fingers vibrating beds. An open-air lounge space has replaced the parking lot, but one thing hasn’t changed, to the relief of locals: its signature, suggestive neon sign, the reason for the motel’s winking “Phallus Palace” designation.
Eat, Drink, Repeat
Grilled avocado and Morro Bay oysters share menu space with citrusy Baja scallops at Norman, the full-service restaurant at Skyview that’s a quintessentially California-meets-country attraction (nothing says embracing your history as a 1950s-era motor lodge quite like naming your restaurant after Norman Bates). Brimming with cowboys who moonlight as winemakers, reluctant celebrities and a growing cadre of L.A. expats, the Santa Barbara enclave of Los Alamos has emerged as the quiet Central California hub for creatives and foodies who know their pinot grigios from their Muscadets, and Skyview is its ground zero. Enjoy Pendleton blankets around fire pits, a fleet of tangerine Linus bikes, a house pinot noir vinified on-site and guest rooms fitted with globally sourced décor.
Year-round outdoor adventure reigns supreme in Salida, the unpretentious mountain town home to Amigo Motor Lodge and several of Colorado’s most iconic peaks, the 14,000-foot-plus monsters known locally as 14ers. Peaks including Princeton, Shavano, Harvard, Yale and Elbert — the state’s highest — are all a quick jaunt from the lodge, along with scenic hikes like the Green’s Creek, Lost Lake and Waterdog Lakes. And if you’d rather have wheels do the work, there’s no shortage of mountain biking at the world-famous Monarch Crest Trail. After a day spent exploring, get comfortable back at the Amigo, where Tuft & Needle mattresses, Malin+Goetz products and a subdued mountain modernism conspire to ready you for another day in the Rockies.
HERO: @Skyview, Los Alamos
INN CROWD: @Nicole Franzen
LAUNCH PAD: @Nick Simonite
EAT, DRINK, REPEAT: @Skyview, Los Alamos
SWEAT EQUITY: @Meg_Ranegar