The South’s most highlighted road trip routes are studded with retro hotels, old-school motels, and revamped motor lodges. These 10 lodging options are genuinely retro — they opened in the 60s, 50s, and earlier but have been given new life with structural updates and modern amenities. Step back in time to mid-century splendor at these funky, retro hotels.
Highlands, North Carolina
Highlands, NC, is a dreamy destination no matter what, but coupling your mountain weekend with a room at Skyline Lodge takes “dreamy” to new heights. The property was conceived in the 1930s as a mountaintop casino and resurrected in 1965 as a motel. It reopened a few years ago as a relaxed and rustic yet luxe and lush 40-room inn. Classic halls of exterior-entry rooms snake around the twinkling string-lit courtyard with firepits, lounge seating, and games.
Built in 1904, the beautiful all-brick building in East Nashville that now houses The Russell has seen poverty, illness, and natural disaster. But the community has always helped the area and its people heal and mend. In light of that collective spirit, every stay here gives back to Nashville’s homeless. The Russell has 23 unique rooms, brimming with character and original features like stained glass windows, exposed brick walls, and repurposed pew headboards.
Over its 50+ years of glory, Savannah’s famed Thunderbird Inn has hosted the young Jackson Five, Roller Derby stars, and emerging artists. Since the roadside lodge and its 42 colorful rooms opened in 1964, the “T-Bird” has become synonymous with Savannah’s modern pop culture scene. It still welcomes creatives, history geeks, and Deep South travelers today. Situated on U.S. Highway 17 — Atlantic Heritage Coast — you’re right in the thick of Savannah’s prolific National Landmark Historic District. The inn joins over 1,800 cafes, theaters, markets, diners, and other buildings from multi-era retro styles. It’s like the whole city glows in neon light. The T-Bird offers appropriately homey amenities like fresh popcorn and ice-cold lemonade upon arrival.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Built in 1956 and reimagined in 2017, the old motel sign out front of this Tulane Avenue property beckons you to explore a new wave in New Orleans’ sea of revelrous outlets. The iconoclastic, postwar Beat Generation inspires the name, and the property is full of nostalgic touches and playful forays from the city’s typical offerings. Global and local drifters converge here for coffee breaks, food truck hangs, pop-up art events, and DJ-spun pool parties.
Durham, North Carolina
Durham’s Unscripted was once the Jack Tar Hotel that operated in the 1960s. Its 74 boutique rooms and suites have since been revitalized, and the property’s gotten a lot of new spaces, like the open-air rooftop pool, an all-day coffee shop and restaurant, a craft cocktail bar, and an on-site taproom. Durham’s vibrant culture and burgeoning food scene are on our radar, and Unscripted is playing perfectly into the town’s progressive energy and chic design.
Nestled in the heart of South Congress’ famed strip of restaurants, bars, and boutiques, Austin Motel is a quintessentially quirky part of Austin’s history and culture. Filled with classic midcentury roadside motel architecture and touches, it’s been a welcoming oasis since 1938. The property has 41 rooms, a 50s-style outdoor pool, and all the modern conveniences you need. Even if you don’t have an old-school plastic room key, you can snag a pool pass or ticket to one of its lively seasonal events.
We’d be remiss not to mention that Bunkhouse Hotels is a leader in the retro hotel world. Just in Texas alone, there are many more examples of revamped lodging or old-school design like Hotel Saint Cecilia (Austin), Hotel San José (Austin), Hotel Magdalena (Austin), Carpenter Hotel (Austin), and Shady Villa Hotel (Salado).
Beachside Hotel & Suites
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Vacation mode is immediately activated at this newly renovated boutique hotel in Cocoa Beach, Florida, near Cape Canaveral. Built in 1965, the old bones recently got a new life, but “your grandma” and all of the “hip sun goddesses of the 60s” will still remember it, says the owner online. The bright, funky property features a unique lazy river pool, complimentary beach cruisers and surfboards, umbrellas in the poolside cocktails, and sweeping ocean views. What’s not to love?
Built in 1924, Atlanta’s Hotel Clermont (then The Clermont Motor Lodge) has hosted a cast of Southern characters … not all reputable, but each adds to its speckled historic patina. Visionaries saved it from despair a few years ago and turned it into the warm and welcoming spot it remains today, with luxe midcentury decor and cozy dining options. Unrelated but connected to the chic hotel, the basement houses one of Atlanta’s favorite strip clubs, The Clermont Lounge, hiding a taste of the history beneath. If you know, you know.
St. Clair Motor Lodge
Falls of Rough, Kentucky
The St. Clair Motel was built in 1952 (ish) by Burl St. Clair and his wife, Elaine. Locals Ed and Jill Evans drove by the defunct property time and time again and decided the gem was worth reviving. This adored Rough River Lake roadside motel has come back to life through a thoughtful renovation that preserved the vintage vibe. It gives the area a much-needed lodging option for lake lovers, anglers, hunters, Mammoth Cave visitors, and small-town antique shoppers.
Bon Aire Resort
St. Pete Beach
The Bon Aire has offered a relaxing getaway for travelers on St. Pete Beach since 1953. A welcome respite from generic resorts, this boutique resort sits directly on the beach and is filled with 50s-style charm and character. Over the years, buildings have been added, and rooms have been updated, but the retro heart of the Bon-Aire remains.
Rent the convertible, slide on your shades, and enjoy a stay in these truly retro and restored hotels, motels, and lodges!
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