Flamingo Hotel—Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

In 2004 Art and Shelley Williams took the Flamingo Motel under their wing. “You could say it was clean but worn,” says Art. “It had a good reputation, and that’s important.” And reason enough to keep the name, which reflected the trends in the motel’s natal year, 1954, when pink and exotic things tickled the traveling public’s fancy.

Though updates included Wi-Fi service, the Flamingo retains its retro feel. The couple also kept up the emphasis on cleanliness, aiming for a white-glove standard… the Flamingo has served more travelers every consecutive year, right up to the summer months, rooms are in great demand. Art advised travelers to phone ahead to check availability. He adds, “One day this coming year has a thirty-five-person wait list.”

Grand Canyon Caverns Suite—Peach Springs, Arizona

True, you’ll feel like Fred Flintstone when you first open your eyes in the Grand Canyon Caverns Cave Suite—and  find your seventy-foot ceiling roofed with rock some sixty-five million years old. Perhaps you’ve even brought along a pair of dinosaur-pattern pajamas to take the nip out of the underground’s perpetually crisp fifty-six-degree air. Grand Canyon Caverns is the king of road-side wonders surviving along the western section of old Route 66. Its hidden largesse was discovered in 1927…

The Cave Suite is touted as the darkest and quietest motel room in the world, but the amount of silence and isolation experienced is up to the individual. The room—which books for $800 a night for two, plus an additional $100 for every additional person up to six—truly is a sweet hideaway nestled at the center of the earth.

Palms Retro Motel—Atlantic Beach, Florida

In a large, painted wall mural, a bright classic wagon with wood panels—affectionately called a “woody”— carries surfboards beneath towering palm trees. The room’s décor, including a retro radio, completes the picture of sandy splendor that seems to have everything except Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

The eight-room motel hit its heyday in the 1950s. So, it’s likely more than a coincidence that the new owners remodeled the now-ten-room “Florida-style” one-story U-shaped motel using themes from the 1945–1965 era.

Each room has a unique motif. Movie stars dominate. There’s a “Rat Pack” room, a “Bad Boys” room that remembers James Dean and Marlon Brando, and a room called “The Dudes” dedicated to favorite film cowboys such as John Wayne.

Rabbit Ears Motel—Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Maybe Alice’s White Rabbit did take a sabbatical after the adventures of the book. And if he did, we imagine he might have scampered straight toward the Rabbit Ears Motel of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he would be treated like royalty.

The Rabbit Ears is rightly famous, and so is its namesake terrain: Located at the roof of the Rockies, this long-standing family motel shares a moniker with Rabbit Ears Pass, the southernmost of three geological gateways across the Continental Divide. The gently sloping crossing to the Yampa River Valley, in turn, earned its name from Rabbit Ears Peak, the remnants of an ancient volcanic plug, shaped in two great columns that stick straight up like the ears on Bugs Bunny’s head.

The motel’s first ten rooms were built in 1953, during the postwar travel boom… At the time of the motel’s opening, its iconic rabbit sign was animated: Chase lights winked across the big red arrow that has since turned pink. The eyes of the giant white bunny flashed blue from side to side as if to say to the harried traveler, “It’s getting late, so why not stop here?” In 2003, its sign was placed on the Routt County Historic Register. So hop by for a bit of well-earned rest.

The Mermaid Lodge & Motel—Ainsworth Hot Springs, British Columbia

From its hillside vantage deep in the Canadian Rockies, the Mermaid overlooks a landscape rich in rugged beauty and history. Long before the lure of gold drew prospectors from the south, this area was celebrated for its natural spa.

To accommodate those travelers rushing north for fame and fortune, sheriff and government agent Henry Anderson built the original lodge in 1891. Five years later, a devastating fire wiped out every building in the settlement except the Mermaid.

The current complex includes the original lodge and modern motel units with all the comforts of home. With its long history, one thing is clear: The Mermaid Lodge & Motel has proven to be as hardy a survivor as the original pioneers who marched north to plunder nature’s wealth and were overcome by her charms.

Marcotte’s Family Motel—Elizabeth, Illinois

A discreet knock on the door lets you know that a cheery little tray waits outside emblazoned with a colorful chicken. It’s filled with a bright red coffeepot, cinnamon muffins, and a pitcher (shaped like a lamb) of real cream. You sigh contentedly, pouring the steaming coffee into a cup before strolling outdoors to catch the early morning view of hilly pastures, trees, and horses.

Rooms range from basic (one queen and one full bed) to more elaborate layouts with kitchenettes. What makes the place special are the thoughtful little extras—beds dressed in snowy white sheets and country quilts, a small workout room, and larger suites with media players. Outdoors, a fire pit encourages guest gatherings, flowers and hostas brighten the yard, and comfortable chairs have been placed in all the best nature-viewing spots.

The largest room has a deck and a hot tub, from which you can relax in while you enjoy an evening gazing at the pastoral scene: the Driftless hills of northwestern Illinois…

Jolly Roger Motel—Wildwood Crest, New Jersey

At Wildwood, New Jersey, the start of summer is signaled with the raising of the Jolly Roger—not the ol’ skull and crossbones, but the fiberglass pirate who stands watch atop the Jolly Roger Motel, a Wildwood landmark since 1959. When area residents see the red-vested, black- booted pirate in the tricorne hat waving his sword above the motel’s roofline, they know the Jersey Shore will soon be inundated with beach-bound vacationers.

The U-shaped Jolly Roger Motel was designed by Will Morey—the man whose penchant for publicity was responsible for making Wildwood, New Jersey, a vacation destination in the Garden State—and Palmer Way, the father of the inn’s current co-owner, John Way.

The Jolly Roger Motel is awash in neon signs. Pastel blue and yellow hues dominate its decor; sharp lines define its slanted roofline and large, glass-walled lobby. West Coast architects might call the Jolly Roger’s construction style Googie, but Wildwood residents have another name for such retro 1950s designs: Doo Wop. The term was coined during the 1990s to describe a building style that incorporates space-age elements—large sweeping angles, starbursts, and boomerang shapes—and the official tree of Wildwood, the plastic palm…

Thunderbird Lodge—Riverside, California

According to American Indian lore, the Thunderbird gathers the clouds under its wings as it soars through the sky, producing thunder with each massive flap. It stirs the wind, and creates lightning as it blinks…

The Thunderbird Lodge in Riverside, California, has adopted the awesome avian as its avatar, although this gentle overnighter aspires only to provide guests with a peaceful night’s sleep. Constructed in 1960—the motel retains a magical aura worthy of its namesake. Much of the warm, feathery feeling can be attributed to its vintage neon sign, which after half a century, still welcomes travelers with open wings. The beacon’s design features the blazing bird of legend—feathered in red, blue, turquoise, and teal—topped with a handsome head of orange and yellow. Along Victoria and University Avenues, its fiery outline can be seen at some distance.

While the Thunderbird Lodge neon sign has remained unchanged over the past fifty years, the two-story, square-patterned complex it heralds has undergone numerous upgrades… all with an eye toward preserving the inn’s historic integrity. Arriving guests immediately note the  Thunderbird’s connection to the sky: the ceiling of the entrance canopy has been painted with  fluffy clouds, white and adrift in a blue firmament.

Roosevelt Inn—Hyde Park, New York

Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, NewYork, on January 30,1882. He was buried there, at his family estate, on April 15, 1945. So it’s fitting that—in 1951—Hyde Park also became home to the Roosevelt Inn. The charming motel generally catered to tourists—sightseers who traveled to and from the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site to pay their respects to the late president.

In 1971, Raili Rudowski and her husband, Horst, began managing the motel. As they raised their family, they added a second story to the original building. A widowed Raili now shares management duties with her daughter, Karen, who grew up cleaning and cooking on premises.  This dynamic mother-daughter duo has maintained the tradition of greeting travelers to the Hudson Valley with a style unique to their family’s European roots.

“We’re famous for our flower boxes on our railings, and we still keep that up like they do in Germany,” says Karen. Each winter, when the inn is closed during January and February, Karen and her mother often travel to other parts of the US and Europe to harvest ideas for keeping the motel cozy, comfortable, and attractive.

K&S Motel—Limon, Colorado

Give Rich and Donna Metcalf a “ten” for courage. When they first beheld the K&S Motel in 2008, the classic Colorado sleeper had been vacant for the previous to years. Yet somehow, the Metcalf’s still decided to buy the aging lodge…

“I have no idea why we bought it,” Rich admits, shrugging his shoulders… “We felt like [the motel] had a huge amount of charm. If we fixed it up right, it would be a cozy place to stay” he says.

The Metcalfs’ courage echoes that of Francesco Armitta—an Italian immigrant who had the gumption to start the motel in the 1930s shattered economy. Under his American name—Pat Lewis—he badly opened Pat’s Motor Court, composed of a five-unit motel and a gas station. A carport snuggles beside each room…