Old-fashioned roadside motels are experiencing a resurgence during these pandemic days thanks to their social distancing-friendly layouts and classic road trip appeal. You can pull up, park your car, and access your room without having to walk through enclosed lobbies and hallways or ride an elevator. Here are two stellar options for fast getaways centered around elevated boutique-style “motels” that offer appealing al fresco public spaces, resort-quality amenities, and top-notch food and beverages. Plus, they deliver ample access to Mother Nature and abundant local character to feed cravings for a change of scenery.
Go Coastal at The Surfrider Hotel, Malibu
Originally built in 1953, The Surfrider Hotel, Malibu (thesurfridermalibu.com) reopened in 2017 after being transformed into a breezy, contemporary California beach house. The design-minded property was an instant hit, attracting visitors from around the globe and earning accolades in top travel magazines. As a result, there was nearly a year-long waiting list to secure a highly coveted room reservation. Well, lucky for us Los Angeles folk, one silver lining of the pandemic is that The Surfrider has more availability these days, especially if you’re looking for a midweek break.
The 20-room hotel could not be in a more optimal location along Pacific Coast Highway, set right across from the iconic Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach. For the best view, book one of the upper level rooms outfitted with a hammock on the balcony. You’ll rest easy knowing the hotel earned LA County’s highest health inspection score and they work with Ecolab to implement their earth-friendly sanitization procedures.
In the beach house spirit, each airy room is stocked with beach baskets and signature Surfrider beach towels. You can also borrow one of the colorful house surfboards to ride the waves at Surfrider Beach. Or, have the hotel prepare a custom picnic basket (complete with batched cocktails!) and savor a feast with your toes in the sand while watching surfers do their thing.
The heartbeat of The Surfrider is the roof deck. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and cocktails are served on the exclusive guest-only perch. The chef is a French Laundry alum with serious culinary credibility. His approachable, creative food centers around seasonal local produce and sustainable seafood. After trying the addictive ceviche, I decided the food is reason alone to stay here!
One of the things I loved most about the property was that I could leave my car parked throughout my stay, given there’s plenty to walk to—a rarity in Malibu. You can walk out onto the pier and stroll south along PCH to find one of the public beach access points. Grab a bite at Malibu Farm or nearby Nobu, and stock up on the softest sweats around at Aviator Nation. If you feel like venturing further afield, take one of The Surfrider’s Mini Coopers out for a spin up the coast.
Follow the Sun to Sparrows Lodge
When the dry desert air calls, make a beeline for Sparrows Lodge (sparrowslodge.com) in South Palm Springs. The 1952 property was originally built by MGM actor Don Castle and was popular among Hollywood stars of the day. The 20-room hideaway was cleverly updated in 2013 with serenity in mind—the peaceful vibe is further enhanced by the 21+ adult-only policy and the fact that there are no TVs.
The laid-back atmosphere starts upon arrival. After parking your car, you walk through a cozy lounge with a fireplace that opens to the pool courtyard, then find yourself in the restaurant/bar at the center of the hotel. That’s where you check in and a staff member guides you to your room.
The spacious rooms have a cabin-like feel with dark wood paneled walls, rich leather accents, and vaulted ceilings. I stayed in a Garden View King with a roomy steel horse-trough soaking tub and a private, shaded back patio. No matter what room type you book, you’ll get your own courtyard seating area by the front door. And all rooms are equipped with extra sanitizing wipes and UV wands.
The Barn Kitchen serves breakfast and lunch daily, and the bar remains open until late evening nightly. Time your stay for one of Chef Woo’s special weekly family-style suppers on Wednesdays and Saturdays, which are only available to a limited number of guests and held outside under the stars.
Sparrows has an open-air massage tent with two treatment “rooms,” where I experienced one of the most heavenly massages of my life. I recommend the “Whole Body Purification Ritual,” which includes sage smudging, dry brushing, a blissful full-body massage, and an argan scalp treatment.
If you’re feeling more ambitious than pampering and sipping cocktails poolside all day, Sparrows is a great base for exploring the otherworldly landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park, located about an hour’s drive away. Closer to “home,” there’s excellent shopping in Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District, whether you’re looking for vintage mid-century modern decor, distinctive art, or vibrant resort wear.