There was much to celebrate with the conclusion of The Great Depression and WWII. The economy was beginning to bounce back, soldiers returned home, and in neighborhoods around the country, more automobiles could be found parked in the driveway.
With daily life beginning to return to normal, there was a hunger to explore beyond the front porch and create happy new memories by taking road trips. All there was to do was pack a bag, pick a direction on the map stashed in the glove compartment, and drive! In no time, travelers would be able to see the rolling landscapes and small towns of America by way of historic Route 66, Lincoln Highway, or any Two Lane backroad — many seeing the country by car for the first time.
When it was time to pull over and refuel with a good night’s rest, families would follow the buzzing neon signs perched outside the entrances of roadside retreats called Motor Motels.
What made these an excellent overnight option back in the day was their privacy, safety, and affordable rates for families on a budget. (Some Motor Motels only charged $5 a night! Of course, that is not the case today.)
Motor Motels got their name from the convenience of being able to park your vehicle next to your room.
Today, many Motor Motels are still in business and provide the same hospitality as they did back in their prime. Because of their limited capacity, they make an excellent option for social distancing while still supporting small businesses. Not only that, many Motels still have their original character and architectural flair making them great for those who appreciate mid-century design, and those looking to create a unique Instagram backdrop.
As we slowly come out of our pandemic lock-down, we’re all looking for a safe weekend getaway that not only gives us a break, but also allows us to treat ourselves on a budget. What better place to start than some retro, motels from our past? The best part: many Motor Motels are located in small towns that are just as cool and unique as they are!
Here are our top picks for Motor Motels across America.
Brevard, North Carolina
Open Since 1958
If nature and small towns are your weekend escape, Sunset Motel is the place for you!
Located at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, the Sunset Motel is a wooded retreat for nature lovers who want the modern amenities that a tent just can’t give — like free wi-fi, cable, fridge, microwave and coffee makers. The friendly staff here has welcomed guests far and wide for more than half a century, so they are pros when it comes to southern hospitality.
They even have a bicycle washing station on-site to accommodate their more adventurous guests!
After a day of hiking and waterfalls, or mountain biking, freshen up in your room before heading to beautiful downtown Brevard for a bite. Walk beneath the color canopy of the Main Street shops, restaurants, and historic buildings of this town with fewer than 8,000 residents! Top off the day with a drink on your patio as you breathe in the fresh mountain air! (Also worth noting — Cardinal Drive-In is right down the road! Just another nostalgic event to add your Sunset Motel experience.)
More Two Lane Fun Nearby: Do you know less than 45 minutes away is a town with just 706 residents? This town is home to the oldest grocery store in the state, rich in railroad history and on the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s our favorite way to spend time in Saluda, North Carolina!
Custer, South Dakota
Open Since 1938
When you realize the close proximity of the Chalet Motel to Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Crazy Horse Monument, it’s easy to imagine the carloads of families who made the journey here to see some of America’s most well-known landmarks.
For more than 80 years the Chalet Motel has been a “home away from home” for folks looking for an unforgettable overnight experience. What makes this place unique is that instead of staying in traditional motel rooms, guests get to choose the charming Dutch-style cabin of their choice! Note that the cabins are smaller than your average cabin, so this is a great option for couples looking to spend some quality time together. (Yes — the cabins are pet friendly!)
The Chalet staff also offers complimentary bicycle rentals, access to their nostalgic board game collection, lawn games, and if you ask, they’ll also point you in the right direction of some amazing local hiking trails.
More Two Lane Fun Nearby: The Dakotas are home to some of America’s most unique National Parks, like the Badlands — the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. Take a look!
Open Since 1950
We’d love to check in to this New England escape as soon as possible! In 2015, the current owner refreshed the Motor Motel’s six wooden guest cabins and four rooms — all with ocean views! Located on 4-acres of open field, guests have access to lawn games, a swimming pool, and a library. The refreshing white paint and minimalistic coastal decor compliment the freshwater beaches nearby.
To help give you a break from endless scrolling on your socials or streaming your shows, it’s intentional that all rooms do not have telephones or televisions. Guests instead have record players and books at their disposal. Without the distractions, you’ll have more time to enjoy the coastal sunset and sunrises too!
If you feel like venturing into downtown Lincolnville (pop. about 2,000) you’ll find some fresh-caught lobster, antiques, bakeries, and local shops where you can pick up a souvenir.
More Two Lane Fun Nearby: If your New England adventure stretches beyond Maine, take a drive down “The Quietest Stretch of Road In New England”.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Open Since 1939
Historic Route 66 travelers have been making The Blue Swallow Motel a road trip tradition for more than 80 years — and for good reason! Travelers make pullovers here to revisit “the good old days” because many features about this Motel have remained unchanged.
There are 12 colorful rooms available — all of which are outfitted in retro style design, and even a few original decor pieces from the 1940s when the Motel opened. A few favorites include the 1926 clawfoot tubs, the original bathroom tilework and fixtures, and the pink stucco walls. Showing the authenticity of the Motor Motel, some rooms still have an attached garage!
Though the rooms may appear to be frozen in an era gone by, they do include modern amenities like cable, flat-screen TVs, and even a functioning 1940s rotary dial telephone! Guests do receive basic toiletries and shower cap upon check-in.
Since the Motel was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, it’s certain that the buzzing Blue Swallow neon will continue to welcome travelers for generations to come.
More Two Lane Fun Nearby: If you’re doing some exploring around New Mexico, you’re in luck because you get to experience something rare — the darkest place on earth, Chaco Culture National Historic Park!
Open Since 1968
Travelers interested in the history of the American Wild West should make a reservation at The Stardust Motel. It’s located in Wallace, Idaho, the Silver Capital of The World, but you’ll feel like to struck gold when you check in to your Stardust suite!
You’ll be comfortable in your retro, mid-century style room with amenities like air conditioning, cable TV, a coffeemaker, WIFI, and heat — which will come in handy if your stay is during the Silver Valley ski season.
What makes The Stardust so special is that downtown Wallace is just steps away from your door! Experience the best of the local restaurants, breweries, shops, sweet treats, and more! It’s worth mentioning that Wallace is the only American downtown listed entirely on the National Register of Historic Places!
Even though the population of Wallace, Idaho is just tipping 770, you won’t be pressed to find a more friendly or inviting place!
More Two Lane Fun Nearby: If the Stardust is booked, how about a night in an old fire tower? Here’s our recommendation for spending the night in the fire towers of rural Idaho.
These establishments were almost considered extinct, but as more travelers cling to authentic, nostalgic experiences, Motor Motels are making a come back! We hope you’re inspired to give a Motor Motel a try on your next Two Lane road trip. Safe travels and see you out there!
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