If it's booked, try …
9. Wigwam Motel, Rialto, California Weekend rates start at $60. www.wigwammotel.com, (909) 875-3005. Or ...
10. Wigwam Village Motel, Cave City, Kentucky Doubles start at $45. www.wigwamvillage.com, (270) 773-3381. Built by the originator of the Wigwam Motel, Frank A. Redford, they've been renovated recently but still retain their vintage flavor.
11. The Sands, Treasure Island, Florida. The Recent Past Preservation Network adopted this seaside town near Tampa when developers decided to tear down the Surf, a jewel of a mid-century beachside motel, to build condos. Though that preservation effort failed, the town is still a would-be haven for modernists, with a scattering of stucco-and-neon motels and three causeways considered so architecturally significant that they're on the National Register of Historic Places. South Beach it's not, but South Beach Jr. it might be, if preservationists persuade developers that sprucing up the one-of-a-kind motels would be better than scrapping them to make room for another bland-new building. In the meantime, try the Sands of Treasure Island, where neon will welcome you to a courtyard of striped umbrellas, hibiscus, and white stucco buildings with 1950s casement windows. Rates start at $55 in low season, $65 in high season. www.surf
andsands.com, (727) 367-1969
If it's booked, try…
12. Thunderbird Beach Resort. Though renovation has blurred the resort's modernist roots, the original neon sign still beckons from the foot of the historic Treasure Island causeway. Rates start at $79. www
.thunderbirdflorida.com, (800) 367-2473
13. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, California So over the top that its men's room has a rock waterfall for a urinal … it looks like the owners cornered the market on pink paint … it makes Graceland seem like a model of self-restraint … and that's why so many people stop here when they're cruising Highway 1. Built back in the 1950s as a 12-room motel, the Madonna has grown to 108 rooms, each a unique creation. Jungle Rock has stone walls, zebra bedspreads, and a waterfall shower; American Beauty has rose wallpaper and a rose bedspread; Cave Man has rock on the walls, floor, and ceiling, with leopard print everywhere else. Rates start at $147; reserve the most outlandish rooms far in advance. www.madonnainn.com, (800) 543-9666
If it's booked, stop by the nearby Motel Inn, where the word motel originated in 1925. It's under renovation to become part of the Apple Farm Inn next door.
14. Austin Motel, Austin, Texas Built in 1938 when the motor-hotel rage had just begun, the Austin Motel now happens to stand smack-dab in the hippest neighborhood in the city. Not to be outdone, the motel oozes retro charm, from its neon sign to its kidney-shaped pool. In place of a greasy-spoon café, a Mexican restaurant serves up live music along with its enchiladas and migas. Within a few blocks are antiques shops, vintage-clothing stores, a folk art gallery, and the Continental Club, a choice live music venue. Doubles start at $85, including tax. www.austinmotel.com, (512) 441-1157
If it’s booked, try …
15. Hotel San José, built in the 1930s as a motor court and since remodeled into minimalist splendor. Doubles with in-room bath start at $145. www.sanjosehotel.com, (512) 444-7322
Drawn to the (neon) light
for 10 years, andrew Wood and his wife, Jenny, have traveled the united states in search of motel neon. the fruits of those journeys are displayed on their website, www.motelamericana.com, and in a book, Road Trip america. We recently asked wood about his sign collection.
How did your motel quest start?
When I was going to grad school in Ohio, my wife and i would drive back to Florida, where I’m from. Once, we got off the interstate and drove the back roads, and we found these old motels with really cool signs. Jenny’s a photographer and I’m a writer, and we decided to share motels from all over the country with people via the internet.
One is the blue swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico, the oldest continually running motel on Route 66. Its neon sign is absolutely sublime. The former owner, Lillian Redman, would hand out this card that said something like, “we are all travelers between eternities.” She saw the motel as a place to contemplate life.
And you can’t go too wrong with the munger moss motel, in Lebanon, Missouri. Its neon sign is so big and Gaudy, it’d be illegal in most cities.
Where should people look for interesting motels?
Anywhere on a two-lane highway. You’ll find motels in any state. Even in places you think might be too desolate, there are motels to be found. Anywhere.