Top 5 California Retro Motels Along The Beaten Path

They were modern and even futuristic in design with dramatic angles, colorful interiors, and oversized neon signs.

This lifestyle is meticulously documented in Heather David’s new book, Motel California.


Motel California book

Starting in San Diego and working our way up the coast to San Francisco, these 5 retro landmarks of yesteryear still shine brightly from their glory days. And are in awesome locations.

Humphreys Half Moon Inn
2303 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

Starting in San Diego, our journey begins at one of the best replicas of native Polynesian architecture on Shelter Island, the port-cochere is said to emulate a fishing canoe, its hanging lantern a lure for fish.

Being on the bay, this California motel is a relaxing visual feast that gives you calm waters and the feel of being far, far away.

Beverly Laurel Motor Inn
1047 Wilcox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Heading up to Los Angeles, our next stop is the Beverly Laurel Motor Hotel.

You’ll catch a dose of nostalgia with its kitschy personality and the location in the Fairfax District allows amazing walkability to stylish boutiques, trendy restaurants, and cool galleries.

Don’t forget some delish comfort take-out food to take on the road while you’re in Los Angeles. With these top 5 pizza places nearby, you can’t go wrong.

Ready to book a room in Los Angeles?

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Madonna Inn motel

Madonna Inn
100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, California

About midway up the coast along the beautiful 101 highway drive, we arrive at the iconic Madonna Inn. This is one California motel you don’t want to miss.

This is one of those places where you say “What the…” as you’re pulling up. Built in 1958, the inn features more than 100 hundred uniquely themed guest rooms and is truly a hodgepodge of a lodge.

Stardust lodge motel

Stardust Lodge
4061 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

This trek is worth visiting just to see one of the best retro Vegas-style midcentury motel signs around. We’re now in South Lake Tahoe on the main boulevard, being on a lake and in the heart of the shopping and entertainment district.

Beck;s motor lodge motel

Becks Motor Lodge
2222 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Beck’s Motor Lodge is a fave California motel located in one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in San Francisco. Walk out the door and walk into some of the coolest cafes, stylish shops, and the most notable nightlife in the city.

Afterward, come back to a relaxing room with updated amenities and a modern design to re-energize before exploring more San Francisco hot spots. 

If you’re looking for some low-key lodging in one place along the California coast, we highly recommend the Simpson House, a bed and breakfast in Santa Barbara. No matter how great your life feels, this place will make it even better.

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