California’s bargain-chic roadside motels


L&M Healdsburg, Sonoma County

For the last couple nights I’ve been at the L&M Motel in Healdsburg, the lively and tony town in Sonoma County. H-burg is an under 2-hour drive from homebase (San Francisco), so I try to come up here often. Trouble is,  there aren’t many hotels under $300 per night, and that adds up to an expensive weekend.

Then, while I was researching a story for Sunset Magazine, “50 Hotels Under $150,” I heard people whisper about the L&M. I drove by. From the outside, it read Freeway Motel. But once I investigated, I discovered that the owner, Wanda, cares about gardening. Fruit trees are planted. Hedges are trimmed. There’s a barbecue surrounded by colorful lawn furniture. An indoor swimming pool is super kitschy. The rooms are well maintained with a touch of whimsy, like a leopard print chair. What Wanda cares most about, though, is blueberry scones. She’s perfected them. Heaps of fresh warm scones are in registration all day. The motel is a 10-minute walk to H-burg’s square.

Rates for the Louie & Marie (the names of Wanda’s grandparents) start at $110. And talk about old-school: no online booking engine or galleries of room photos to Pin. You’ll need to call or email; and refrain from Pinning.

Here are three other roadsides in California that I like:



The restaurant at Hadsten House in Santa Ynez wine country

Hadsten House is the quirky, arty girl from New York in a room full of ribboned cheerleaders. Hadsten is in Solvang, a faux Danish village in the heart of Santa Ynez wine country that looks like your great aunt’s curio cabinet with its Hallmark collection exploded into real-life.  While from the outside, Hadsten is all Danish 1970s, inside, you’ll find that stylemaker looking to impress.

Formerly a Vagabond Inn, it was remodeled down to the bare wood six years ago. They also added a restaurant, a spa and an outdoor Jacuzzi. Rates midweek start at about $165. During the weekend in busy summers and falls, you are probably looking at $240 or so.


Courtesy of Hadsten House Inn & Spa


The pool at the Hadsten House in Santa Ynez Valley


The Presidio Motel is in another fancy (expensive hotel) town: Santa Barbara.


Presidio Inn in Santa Barbara, California

The down-to-earth Presidio may not be in the throbbing heart of State Street. And that’s a good thing. Instead the circa-1970s motel is near the more grown-up, less touristy section of State Street closer to the Mission. You can walk to the beach (the weather here is nearly always perfect) or  just take off on one of the beach cruisers that the hotel keeps at the ready for guests. There is no pool but a great deck where you can take in the fresh air and stare at the mountains. Rates start at about $119 per night.


Presidio Inn

It’s forgivable if from the motel roadside write ups above, you assumed that all the motor lodges to follow = cheap. Then, along comes Glen Oaks at $225-$275 per night.


Photos by James Hall courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur

But I’m going to go ahead and argue that it is cheap, at least for the combo of Big Sur locale and design sensibilities. Remember, we are in the neighborhood of the north-of-$800 per night Ventana and Post Ranch inns. Yes, we are also in the neighborhood of Ripplewood Resort, which I also love. But it’s not Glen Oaks’ 1950s motor lodge redone to perfection. Extra bonus, Glen Oaks not only upgraded the motor lodge but built chic cottages and cabins, which you can also stay in.


Photos by James Hall courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur


Photos by James Hall courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur

Photos by James Hall courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur

Photos by James Hall courtesy of Glen Oaks Big Sur

Which roadsides did I miss?

What do you think?