Somehow, one of the most notoriously disastrous road trip movies makes a weirdly compelling argument for taking a similar trip –whether you’re going it alone, Easy Rider, or in true Griswold style want to teach your kids (but really yourselves) about a time before snapchat.
Admit it. No matter how much you revelled in the schadenfreude of his shortcomings, there was always a part of you that empathised with Clark Griswold. Immortalised in National Lampoon’s Vacation, he is the original anti-hero of road trip catastrophe – punished by his dogged (yet repeatedly unsuccessful) attempts to reunite the ‘fam’ on a defective road trip across America. Beneath his pratfalls though, there’s a surprisingly sentimental man on a nostalgic quest for new memories of old America. For a country so young, nostalgia – surprisingly – is something that the USA excels in. From Colonial Williamsburg to 1950’s diners, there’s an underlying romance about historic Americana that is hugely endearing, and worth experiencing.
If you want the full adventure, yes you should take to the roads. Of course it’s great to spend time in one amazing city like Manhattan or Los Angeles, but it’s all the stuff in between (and there’s a truckload of stuff) that gives the USA the wild diversity and charm we sometimes forget about. Where else do recreational vehicles take on the approximate girth of a West Country hamlet? Exactly; America was designed for road trips. Propelled by the Dust Bowl migrations of the 1930s, road travel was fast endorsed by a burgeoning motel culture and other roadside attractions in the 1940s, encouraging a more ‘enjoy the ride’ approach to getting anywhere. Forget giant balls of twine though, it’s the motels we are interested in.
Don’t worry, we get the old connotations. Motels are fictional badlands for the lawless and debauched; home to Norman Bates, vibrating beds, abysmal towel service, and wafer-thin doors that are more likely to be redecorated by bullet holes than an interior designer. Regardless, the motel has become something of an American icon – a symbol of that nostalgic 1950’s Americana that Griswold was making a grab for. And recently, we’ve seen a growing revival of these tired establishments – several of which have been flipped into lodgings far more stylised than the crummy motor hotels of yore. We’ve found five architecturally designed and interior-styled motel conversions that we think capture the astounding diversity of the USA. If you’re curious enough, feel free to fuel up your vehicle of choice and visit them all in one trip.
1. SOUND VIEW – GREENPORT, NY
Look through the glittery haze of Long Island’s decadent reputation, and you’ll find a quieter side of life prevails in several little pockets, in places where Adirondack chairs still sit facing the sound without a jot of irony, and love affairs exist predominantly between people and the sea. This romance has been preserved at Sound View, a waterfront hotel in Greenport – a quaint historic town that has become the vibrant epicentre of renaissance along North Fork’s 30 miles of farmland, vineyards and beaches. Situated on a quarter-mile of private beach on Long Island Sound since 1953, the newly renovated property was designed by Brooklyn-based firm, Studio Tack, and harks back to the golden era of motels, with touches of New England modernism and nautical undertones that nod to the town’s fishing and boating history. The property includes 55 guest rooms, various waterfront dining and drinking venues, an outdoor pool and a private beach with sweeping ocean views. It’s the perfect place to swill brandy and imagine yourself as a character that’s escaped from one of Gatsby’s parties.
2. THE DRIFTER – NEW ORLEANS, LA
If the 22-hour drive from Long Island has exhausted you, tough! Fix up and look sharp – G sharp, to be exact, because you’ve just rolled in to the ‘Big Easy’, whose streets are coursing with the spirit of jazz, 24/7. Now, once you’ve depleted your capacity to fling beads at a Mardi Gras parade, play the air trombone, or bolt down a bag of beignets – let it be known that there is cause to venture outside the French Quarter. You can trawl Magazine Street for bygone relics, or ditch the Dodge and hop on a street car to a playful new enclave in Mid-Town at The Drifter Hotel. Originally built as a motel in the 1950s, The Drifter has been interior-designed by Nicole Cota Studio, showcasing a vibrancy of tropical colours and textures. An original asymmetric awning and restored neon motel sign are defining features of the hotel’s exterior, while a tropical style dominates inside with artwork by local creatives. The guest rooms include custom-made furniture, trowelled concrete walls and Oaxacan tilework. At the heart of the hotel is a tropical courtyard and pool that hosts a range of cultural programming such as immersive art shows and live music.
3. AUSTIN MOTEL – AUSTIN, TX
Just as you’ve bopped your last boogie-woogie, get ready for your toes to start tapping as you cross the Austin city limits into yet another musical hub – the epicentre of not only country and blues, but also rock, new wave and indie scenes. Otherwise known as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is genuinely one of the coolest towns in America, where the atmosphere is electric and the food is ‘nasty’ – but in the good way. The really good way. Make an extended pit stop here at Austin Motel – its quirky signage is unmistakeable amongst the excitement of South Congress Avenue. Recently taken over by Liz Lambert’s celebrated company Bunkhouse, Austin Motel has been operating as a motel since 1938 and is considered a beloved and quintessential part of the city’s history. Unveiling their new lodgings at South by South West music festival in 2017, Bunkhouse has incorporated its signature interior touches while keeping the motel’s authentic vibe and charm of the neighbourhood intact. They’ve renovated it all, including the 50s-style outdoor pool, and renegade-style retail shop, all set amidst the original mid-century architecture. We can’t think of a better reason to stay a while and immerse yourself in the beguiling twang of steel guitars and Texan accents.
4. CALISTOGA MOTOR LODGE AND SPA – CALISTOGA, CA
For those of you steering anything smaller than a Chevy Suburban, prepare to feel tiny against a seemingly endless backdrop of
rolling land and sky whilst driving through the mountains of California. There will be times you feel like no one else on the planet exists, and when you reach a populated area, it may feel a little like a mirage. Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa however is no such thing; it’s a new 50-room property located at the northern end of Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley town of Calistoga. Enveloped by the Mayacamas Mountains, the vibrant yet laid-back plot is a classic, 1940’s roadside motel that has been reimagined by New York- based design firm AvroKO to celebrate the great American road trip. The hotel and spa brings a new, unbuttoned experience to Napa Valley, with a whimsical spa anchored by geothermal mineral water-fed pools, poolside analogue games and rooms that take cues from vintage camper vans. Secluded in the back of the property is the hotel’s spa, modelled after a classic bathhouse and dressed in candy colours reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
5. ANVIL HOTEL – JACKSON, WY
Time to roll the roof back up, Thelma – it’s starting to snow. The final leg of your journey will take you on an even higher ascent to the historic downtown of Wyoming’s quintessential mountain town, Jackson. Though it remains open year-round, the Anvil Hotel is a renovation of a 1950’s ski motel, and is essentially Jackson’s first cool hotel which includes 48 newly-designed rooms, a wood-fire Italian restaurant called Glorietta, and a lobby that functions as both a cafe and mercantile. The overall design aesthetic is modern, yet rugged, reflecting the terrain and culture of Jackson. Located minutes from the country’s best skiing (from mid-November to mid-April) and a two-hour drive from Yellowstone National Park, the hotel also provides a unique variety of outdoor experiences for guests, including dog sledding, elk refuge sleigh rides and wildlife tours. So do it for Clark and make the journey the right way. You may not end up in Walley World, but you’re just as likely to meet a moose!