Route 66 Motels: Vintage Motels I Would Actually Stay In & Where to Stay If You Want Something Nicer
This post is part of a series I’ve done on Route 66. In 2022, I drove the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. 2500 miles, 8 states, countless stories, and an endless stretch of small towns, neon, diners, motels, and roadside attractions. Read through all of my Route 66 posts here. They’re also linked at the end of this post. If you’re planning your own Route 66 road trip, either the whole thing or just a part, I hope these help you out. Enjoy the drive!
I know there are people who like to road trip in a super spontaneous way…adventuring and exploring until they’re ready to call it a night and then looking around to see what kind of place they can find to stay. Well that actually sounds like the worst possible way to travel to me ; )
Nothing is more stressful for me than not having a plan.
So Route 66 required a lot of planning for me. And mostly it was because of the hotel situation. I’m not really a roadside motel kind of gal. And while I don’t need something fancier than, say, a Courtyard Marriott…you’d be surprised how many places along Route 66 that “level” is not available.
Now don’t get me wrong…you can (mostly) find exactly the kind of places that you’re looking for the route, but…it takes planning.
Route 66 Motels
For starters, there are a few different types of places you’ll find to stay along Route 66:
1.Classic Route 66 motels that are still open and operating more or less in their original condition. These are getting to be fewer and farther between and a lot of the more “iconic” ones (i.e. the ones that have been kept up) book out in advance.
2.Renovated Route 66 motels that have been completely gutted and revitalized to modern standards but in a way that pays homage to their history. I’ve mostly found these in mid-sized/larger cities along the route where they attract a variety of travelers.
3.Historic boutique hotels that aren’t necessarily Route 66 related, but are still great local options. Wherever I travel, I’m always drawn towards boutique hotels, and doubly so if they have a deep history.
4.An endless amount of chains running the gamut from Courtyard Marriotts to Motel 6s. Honestly, at whatever price point a chain is a chain and I try to avoid them whenever one of the above options is available. But that’s not always possible.
On my Route 66 road trip, I managed to hit all four categories.
Besides the hotels and motels that I actually stayed in, I always make time to poke around other places to try and get a vibe on whether or not it’s a place I would recommend. So I’ve got the scoop for you.
But let me put my disclaimer here…this post is based on MY OPINIONS. This is not a directory for every motel or hotel on Route 66. These are places I have either personally stayed in or seen and my personal thoughts on them.
Let’s start with the classic Route 66 motels…
Classic Route 66 Motels
Blue Swallow Inn
I’m going to make a big statement here…if you’re only going to pick ONE vintage motel to stay in on your entire Route 66 road trip, make it the Blue Swallow.
Open since 1939, the Blue Swallow has been a long time gem along the mother road and as other places have closed down through the years, it’s made this place feel like a time capsule.
It’s been lovingly maintained, renovated, and restored over the last 80 years, but it still feels like the original motel offering travelers a glimpse into what it would’ve been like to travel along Route 66 all those years ago.
I’ll level with you…I am not really a roadside motel kind of gal. I don’t need the Ritz, but something like a Courtyard Marriott is usually my standard. So a lot of old motels along the route are cute but not a place that I would personally want to stay.
But the Blue Swallow is a GEM. I’d stopped by and seen in person in passing before and knew I had to go back for an overnight stay.
Here are the details from my stay:
Check in time at the Blue Swallow is 3 PM (mountain time) and when we pulled up out front we were greeted warmly by Robert.
Robert and Dawn Federico are the current owners of the Blue Swallow, but they’ll tell you that they’re merely custodians for the legacy of this great place that longtime owner Lillian Redman poured her heart into.
They’re exactly the kind of folks you think would operate a vintage motel on Route 66…super friendly, welcoming, and willing to sit and spin a story with anybody.
Robert got us checked in, gave us the rundown of the place, a little tour of the property and showed us to our room.
I mean really…when was the last time you checked into a hotel and the owner showed you to your room?
The rooms are quaint and charming and pretty much exactly like they would’ve been in 1939. Small and with a lot of the original furnishings, but very clean.
Most rooms come with access to a little garage, but you’re just supposed to pull your front wheels inside (it would be quite a cozy fit!).
There’s a little hospitality room with a vintage communal fridge (it’s the mama fridge to the baby fridge in the gift shop) and a washer and dryer.
And there are all kinds of board games you can play as well.
Also just in case you’re like me and wandering about the mattress…it was very comfortable and one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.
The overall experience: Staying at the Blue Swallow really did feel like a whole experience.
It’s been so pristinely preserved that it feels like it could be a movie set or in a museum or theme park (hello ever been to Carsland at Disneyland??), but it has such a great community atmosphere.
There are plenty of chairs outside so everyone sits outside their rooms in the evenings and listens to music and watches the neon.
And Robert and Dawn live on the property in the back of the office so there’s a real social component to the place which a lot of hotels don’t have anymore.
In the mornings, there’s coffee, tea and snacks in the lobby and my mom (who is super picky in the coffee department) thought it was VERY good.
There are only about a dozen rooms at the Blue Swallow and it’s so famous that it often sells out so you’ll definitely want to make your reservations well in advance.
Book your room at the Blue Swallow here.
Something else to know: The Blue Swallow’s neon is so famous that it attracts a lot of looky lous, but it is an actual hotel not a theme park attraction, so if you’re not staying there you need to be sensitive about just driving up and walking around the take photos (there isn’t a ton of parking out front). It’s best to go inside to chat with the owners (super friendly!) and they usually don’t have a problem with people taking photos as long as you don’t intrude on the guests. Also, there’s a gift shop in the lobby and it takes a lot to maintain neon like this so if you stop to gawk, I would definitely recommend making a purchase to offer support because there just aren’t many places like this left.
Motel Safari (Tucumcari, NM)
Tucumcari is lousy with historic Route 66 motels. Definitely more so than anywhere else on the route. And while it’s a fun concentration, I actually think it’s a shame because you can only stay in one. I can’t not recommend the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, but if they’re booked, I would definitely recommend the Motel Safari. It’s super cute and very well maintained! And it has mid century modern vibes (which I love) and the rooms look a bit more modern than the Blue Swallow.
Wagon Wheel Motel (Cuba, MO)
If you’re looking for a cute little Route 66 motel in Missouri, the Wagon Wheel has to be on the short list. I’ll be honest…I love the idea of vintage Route 66 motels but in reality there are very few I would actually stay in. But this is one of them. It’s on a nice property and feels more like you’re in the country than in town even though it’s right on the route. Plus there’s a cute little gift shop so stop by even if you’re not planning to stay the night.
La Posada (Winslow, AZ)
My personal favorite spot in Winslow is La Posada Hotel. I didn’t stay the night here (in hindsight I totally would have), but we stopped in for lunch at the Turquoise Room and to take a look around.
It is SUCH a great historic hotel. La Posada is an old Harvey House that’s been completely renovated, but it’s retained all of its original character.
So you should definitely spend the night there, but even if you don’t…you need to visit for lunch. We had one of the best meals of our trip at the Turquoise Room. The cuisine is local and fresh (have you had enough diner food yet?) and it feels a little upscale without being very expensive.
Their signature soup was amazing (it’s a smooth black bean and cream of corn) and the crispy pork carnitas were great but what completely stole the show was the pumpkin cheesecake served with caramel gelato. We are STILL talking about it.
El Rancho Hotel (Gallup, NM)
At the far western end of New Mexico where you see all those wide vistas made famous by Hollywood’s westerns, El Rancho Hotel opened in 1937 to serve Hollywood’s booming film operations in New Mexico. It was built by Griff Griffith (brother of director D.W. Griffith), and 85 years later it’s still a site to see.
I haven’t stayed here, but I stopped by for lunch and IT IS SO COOL.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
And don’t miss the Ortega’s Indian Store in the lobby. The Ortega Family (who now owns the hotel) has had a high end Native American jewelry store on the Plaza in Santa Fe for many years.
More Places I Would Consider If You’re Committed to Vintage Motels
We’re moving a little deeper into the bench now…these are still great vintage options (all clean and well reviewed), but either a little more roughing it than I like OR their locations in proximity to other places I like better puts them on a second tier for me (i.e. Missouri has a LOT of good vintage motel options, but you just only need to spend so many nights, you know?).
Munger Moss Motel (Lebanon, MO)
The restored Munger Moss Motel is one of the gems on the Mother Road and WOWZERS THAT SIGN. Built in 1946, the Munger Moss Motel isn’t quite as charming as the Wagon Wheel Motel in nearby Cuba (in my opinion), but it does sit on a little stretch of road that’s pretty highly concentrated with old preserved Route 66 spots (check out the Starlite Lanes bowling alley and Wrinks Market which is now a boutique).
Rockwood Motor Court (Springfield, MO)
This place has just been recently renovated and reopened. It’s small, but seems pretty nice and in a way gives me similar vibes to the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari but minus the neon. And it’s in a quieter part of town than the Rail Haven.
Boots Court (Carthage, MO)
The architecture of this historic motel is pretty unique and it’s in the process of being restored. Can’t wait to see it when it’s done!
El Trovatore (Kingman, AZ)
It has a pretty long stretch of Route 66 that’s been left relatively intact with small vintage motels. The El Trovatore Motel is probably the place to stay if you’re looking for something “vintage” but I couldn’t personally vouch for its quality.
Wigwam Motel (San Bernardino, CA)
IF you’re going to spend the night in San Bernardino and you want to have the classic Route 66 wigwam experience, this is where you’ll want to do it. I seriously considered it, but ended up deciding that after a long day towards the end of the trip I just wouldn’t be up for a vintage motel. And I was right.
Here’s what I will say about it…this Wigwam Motel is MUCH nicer than the one in Holbrook so if staying in a Wigwam in on your bucket list, this is the one to pick (I’ve also heard that it’s nicer than the one in Kentucky, which is the third and final remaining Wigwam in the US). In general San Bernardino isn’t the greatest place, and while the Wigwams are on a pretty busy street, it didn’t seem as bad a part of town as some places I saw. Plus the entire thing is gated.
Renovated Route 66 Motels
El Vado Motel (Albuquerque, NM)
Built in 1937, El Vado was one of New Mexico’s first motels and an absolute Route 66 icon. Like many of its day, the motel fell into disrepair (although it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993) until it was purchased by the city in 2010.
The property was completely renovated in 2018 (to stay true to the Spanish Revival style with Pueblo detailing) but modernized to combine elements of boutique hotels, gathering spaces, food pods, local shops, etc. and it’s pretty much perfect.
I think this is the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting Albuquerque (whether on a Route 66 trip or not). The rooms are well designed and modern, it has a fun vintage motel feel, there’s good dining and shopping onsite, you’re close to top attractions like Old Town and the ABQ BioPark, there’s a pool which is important because Albuquerque often feels like the surface of the sun, AND it’s pretty reasonably priced.
Things to know before you arrive: I read a bunch of reviews before my stay here and pretty much the only negative things people had to say were parking and check in. And yes, it’s a little wonky so here’s the situation:
The front desk/check in area is through a door that faces Central Avenue (the main street) and there’s not really anywhere to park right by it. Assuming you’re driving down Central westbound, you’ll turn left into the motel BEFORE you get up to the neon sign. On your right you’ll see the little shops. All of the parking is just ahead of you so if you see a spot, I would take it (some closer to the motel are clearly marked for motel parking but this whole lot is open). If there isn’t a spot, I would just pull up under the portico (it’s marked as the entrance to the conference/event center) and leave your car there while you go to check in. The lobby entrance is up at the front of the hotel (towards the neon sign) at the blue door marked “Lobby Entrance” (it’s tiny and not easy to see from the street) to the left of the Tap Room.
About the parking…yes, there’s not an overabundance of it (especially since there’s the shopping and dining onsite that draws non-guests), but I never had a problem finding a spot and the shops and restaurants all close fairly early and a lot of parking spots open up then.
And double check the hours for the restaurants if you’re planning on dinner at the hotel after a day out. When I stayed during the summer peak season, most of the pods closed by 7 or 8 and the Tap Room wasn’t open much later. Not a problem if you plan for it, but inconvenient if you show up at the hotel later expecting an easy dinner.
Another Option: If El Vado is sold out, or you’re just looking for something different, it’s sister property Monterey Motel is just a couple doors down and was completely renovated in 2020. It doesn’t have the same scope as El Vado (it’s not a hangout spot with a pool, restaurants, and shops), but the rooms are a little newer and the parking is a little easier (spots are right outside the rooms).
El Rey Court (Santa Fe, NM)
I’ve been to Santa Fe a few times, but I haven’t done the Route 66 spur through Santa Fe yet. But when I do I’m definitely going to stay at El Rey Court. It looks really similar to El Vado in Albuquerque which I LOVED.
High Country Motor Lodge (Flagstaff, NM)
The High Country Motor Lodge is an old Route 66 motor court that has been completely renovated with a really great design that reflects Flagstaff’s mountain adventure atmosphere.
Here’s what you need to know: It has a trendy, boutique feel, but it’s still an old motor court so the rooms are all accessed from the outside and you’ll park near your room. Good to know so you don’t go schlepping your bags into the lobby and then have to load them back up and drive to your room ; )
The rooms are comfortable and well designed for Flagstaff’s cold weather. It was about 20 degrees at night when we visited and the beds are all outfitted with heavy down duvets. It’s honestly the best sleep I’ve had in a long time.
The hotel has a good vibe for hanging out…great heated pool and hot tub, fire pits on the back patio, cornhole on the lawn, lots of communal seating in the cocktail lounge and game room. They serve dinner in the evenings and the bar area is pretty lively, but there’s also a little grab and go coffee area that also has breakfast in the mornings.
They have a whole sauna and plunge pool situation that’s the first Nordic Spa in Arizona. 50 minute sessions can be reserved for a fee.
Besides the regular hotel rooms, they have a few Cosmic Cottages that are private, stand alone suites.
I seriously can’t recommend it enough. You can book a room here.
Historic Boutique Hotels
The best options in this category are kind of front loaded at the beginning of the route.
The Blackstone (Chicago, IL)
I stayed at the Gwen and really liked it, but if you want something more historic, try the Blackstone which has been hosting presidents, celebrities, and even a few mob bosses since 1910. Find out more here.
Hotel St. Louis (St. Louis, MO)
On my Route 66 trip I was looking for something budget friendly downtown so I opted for the Magnolia Hotel (read my full review here), but next time I’d consider the Hotel St Louis. Find out more here.
The Chase (St. Louis, MO)
If you want a Route 66 era hotel that doesn’t skip on the luxury and is away from downtown, check out the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. The art deco style hotel was built in 1929 and it’s located in the historic Forest Park neighborhood which was home of the 1904 World’s Fair and now home to some of the city’s best attractions (the zoo, art museum, history museum, boathouse, etc.). Find out more here.
Hotel Vandivort (Springfield, MO)
This swanky spot in downtown Springfield is well designed and by far your best option in town. Find out more here.
The Mayo & the Tulsa Club Hotel (Tulsa, OK)
The Mayo and Tulsa Club are both beautifully restored hotels in downtown Tulsa. The Mayo was restored several years ago and it’s pretty grand. The Tulsa Club just recently opened and it’s a fantastic art deco hotel.
The National (OKC, OK)
This newly opened hotel in the renovated historic First National Center is a GEM. This is the kind of snazzy, high end historic boutique hotel you’d expect to find in a major city. If you’re looking for an extremely comfortable place to stay that still has a historic feel, this is your spot.
Find out more here.
The Barfield (Amarillo, TX)
This new luxury hotel in downtown Amarillo recently opened in the historic Barfield building – Amarillo’s first skyscraper!
The vibe is very “Texas.” A little bit cowboy and a little bit oil town with a lot of polish, it’s by far the most upscale property you’ll find in Amarillo (but still at Amarillo prices ; ) And it’s part of Marriott Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection.
It’s a great place to stay that’s high on personality and higher on amenities than most places you’ll find in the area. And it could be a welcome break if you’re been staying in vintage roadside motels.
Find out more about the Barfield here.
Like Nice(r) Places to Stay?
If motels in any form just aren’t your thing, but you still want in on the Route 66 fun, then you’re going to want to stick to the cities for your overnights.
All of these cities and towns have pretty strong hotel scenes. Obviously Chicago and LA are going to have tip top luxury properties, but even smaller cities along the route have really great high end boutique options as well as all the big chains you’re looking for…
My Ideal Route 66 Itinerary (Based on Places to Stay)
Here’s a rundown of which hotels I would pick to stay at in different cities. If it says “your preferred chain” it means there’s not really a great place that I like but logistically it’s a place where you’ll need to spend the night so just go with whatever chain you prefer.
Chicago, IL – The Blackstone
Springfield, IL – (Your preferred chain)
St. Louis, IL – Hotel St. Louis
Cuba, MO – The Wagon Wheel
Springfield, MO – Hotel Vandivort
Tulsa, OK – Tulsa Club Hotel
Oklahoma City, OK – The National
Amarillo, TX – The Barfield
Tucumcari, NM – The Blue Swallow
Albuquerque, NM – El Vado Motel
Santa Fe, NM – El Rey Court
Gallup, NM – El Rancho
Winslow, AZ – La Posada
Flagstaff, AZ – High Country Motor Court
Kingman, AZ – (Your preferred chain)
San Bernardino, CA – (Your preferred chain)
Santa Monica, CA – Fairmont Miramar
My Route 66 Hotels
Are you a nosy Nancy just dying to know where I actually stayed on my trip? I’ll oblige ; ) Keep in mind that since I live in Tulsa, OK and have family in Springfield, MO I did most of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma without actually staying in hotels. But here you go…
The Gwen, Chicago
Courtyard Marriott, Bloomington
Courtyard Marriott, Springfield
Magnolia Hotel, St. Louis
Blue Swallow, Tucumcari
El Vado, Albuquerque
High Country Motor Lodge, Flagstaff
Springhill Suites, Kingman
Hotel June, West LA
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve written about my cross country road trip pretty extensively section by section. Read them all here: Part 1 (Chicago), Part 2 (Chicago to St. Louis), Part 3 (St. Louis), Part 4 (St. Louis to Springfield MO), Part 5 (Springfield, MO), Part 6 (Springfield, MO to Tulsa), Part 7 (Tulsa), Part 8 (Tulsa to OKC), Part 9 (OKC), Part 10 (OKC to Amarillo), Part 11 (Amarillo), Part 12 (Amarillo to Albuquerque), Part 13 (Albuquerque), Part 14 (Albuquerque to Flagstaff), Part 15 (Flagstaff), Part 16 (Flagstaff to San Bernardino), Part 17 (Los Angeles).
Plus I’ve done roundups by state: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California.
I’ve got the scoop on where to stay including the best Route 66 motels recommendations.
And finally, my final trip recap where I spill the beans on how many days you need, the best itinerary, my favorite don’t miss spots, and other tips.