Though the ’50s and ’60s have long passed, retro hotels across the country keep the spirit of the atomic age alive and thriving. Born from decades defined by new ideologies, a booming economy, and impressive structural innovations, the period presented a new style in American history—one not based on reviving aesthetics of the past, but rather looking firmly towards the future. The era saw the emergence of unique architecture aesthetics such as googie, duck, and parkitecture. Graphics and art grew more vibrant, and fashion experienced a revival in haute couture as a rebellion against austere styles of the past. It’s for these reasons that retro motels are so much more than just kitschy roadside destinations: They’re portals to a distinct moment in design history. From a reimagined airport terminal to a Route 66 rest stop, AD visits nine endlessly cool and effortlessly fun retro hotels.
TWA Hotel (New York, New York)
There are few places that capture the cool, mod vibe of the ’60s quite like the TWA Hotel in New York. Located inside Eero Saarinen’s 1962 TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport, a trip to the jet-age structure is like taking a step back in time. Inside, guests will find restaurants, exhibits about the building’s history and the Swinging Sixties, a rooftop infinity pool, and a 10,000-square-foot gym (which happens to be the world’s largest in a hotel). The entire property is incredibly interactive—perhaps best exemplified in Connie, a renovated Lockheed Constellation L-1649A located on the property’s tarmac. For a true retro air experience, guests can board the historic plane, where they’ll find a transformed cocktail bar.
Egyptian Motor Hotel (Phoenix, Arizona)
Originally opened in the 1950s, the Egyptian Motor Hotel was recently resurrected into an energetic and modern inn. While the 47 reimagined guest rooms capture the modern spirit of the property’s history, it’s truly the outdoor courtyard that serves as the heart of the groovy getaway. Here, live music envelops guests in electric energy at the 250-seat outdoor entertainment venue. Games such as giant Jenga, Foosball, cornhole, and submarine races are also included.
The Pearl Hotel (Point Loma, California)
Robert Platt, a local San Diego architect, designed the Pearl Hotel in 1959. At the time, the hotspot operated as the Sportsman’s Lodge. Today, the reinvigorated hotel maintains many of the original architectural details, though it is now outfitted with a stylish mix of contemporary furnishing and vintage finds. The moderne oyster-shaped pool pays homage to the hotel’s new name, while the in-room artwork honors the Ama (female Japanese pearl divers).
Hotel June Malibu (California)
Nestled beneath the crest of a hill just off of the legendary Pacific Coast Highway sits Hotel June Malibu. Once called the Malibu Riviera Motel, this boutique spot was one of the first hospitality offerings in the area. It was also where Bob Dylan wrote most of the material for his critically acclaimed 15th studio album, Blood on the Tracks. In 2015, Gary Wilcox, whose parents founded the inn, sold the historic bungalow-style property to a group of boutique hoteliers. In 2021, Hotel June opened its doors, offering a contemporary spin on the coastal hideaway.
Bluebird Dennisport (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
The Bluebird Dennisport in Cape Cod offers the New England take on a retro hotel stay. Here, quintessential coastal interiors take up residence inside dune-shack-inspired guest rooms and classic Cape Cod cottages. Located within a 1950s motor lodge, Elder & Ash, the design team behind the escape retained the property’s original pink bathroom tiles as a reminder of its past.
Thunderbird Inn (Savannah, Georgia)
Built in 1964, the Thunderbird Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located in downtown Savannah, the midcentury-modern retreat was originally a motor lodge, known for refrigerated rooms and drive-in parking. In addition to being incredibly nostalgic, the unique inn is also notably eco-friendly. In 2016, the lodge added solar panels in addition to environmentally conscious systems related to heating and cooling, plumbing, and recycling. Conveniently, the Thunderbird Inn is situated within one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmark districts. Here, a short walk offers views of dozens of architectural styles, including Victorian, Gothic, Greek Revival, and Regency.
Austin Motel (Austin, Texas)
Just south of the Colorado River sits the Austin Motel, a retro property whose story starts in the middle of the Wild West and is riddled with Texas outlaws and dubious personalities. Today, the reinvented hotel boasts 41 rooms and guest suites, each decked out in vibrant, pop-art-inspired mod interiors. Here, guests will find custom vinyl tufted beds, wall-mounted golden wood desks, 1950s-inspired seating, and classic push-button phones. Located in the South Congress neighborhood, a spirited lido deck featuring reproduced midcentury seating and a kidney-shaped pool make it an enticing place to spend a summer afternoon.
Motel Safari (Tucumcari, New Mexico)
Route 66 inspires a distinct type of nostalgia in American culture—pictures of a prosperous West, wind-blown freedom, and unimpeded movement often come to mind. It’s these qualities that Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico, strives to both channel and honor. One of the Mother Road’s original motels, the business has been in operation since it was built by Chester Dohrer in 1959. Though it changed hands many times, by the mid-2000s, it had fallen into disrepair. Luckily, Richard and Gail Talley stepped in to save the historic motel in 2007, and it’s current owner, Larry Smith, keeps their vision alive today. Designed in the googie style, the hotel is famed for two unique suites: the Rockabilly Suite, which honors Wanda Jackson, and the Rawhide Suite, which pays homage to the classic Western show Rawhide.