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Walnut Creek Magazine

Retro is All the Rage

Apr 16, 2018 06:00PM ● By Fran Miller

A Road Map to Mid-Century Charming NorCal Motels

By Fran Endicott Miller

American families in the 1950s and 60s often hit the highway for getaways at roadside motels that weren’t just conveniently located and affordable —they were in fashion. They were modern and homey and optimistic, and even futuristic in their design. Today, the number of retro hot spots popping up and embracing their kitschy heritage is proof that everything old becomes new again. The neon signs, vibrant décor, and dramatic angles of these former motor inns were once considered exotic. Now, the mid-century designs feel welcoming, cheerful, and even irresistible. Here are four local retro reincarnations to indulge in nostalgic Americana vibes.


The Astro Lounge

The Astro  

Don’t let the tangerine and turquoise retro exterior of The Astro (main photo) fool you. This newly renovated Santa Rosa landmark is reborn with retro urban charm. Located in the heart of the SoFa, an up-and-coming arts district South of A Street, the 1963 motor lodge received a major makeover emerging with vibrant mid-century modern furnishings within its 34 rooms. Concrete floors and natural wood headboards provide a simple backdrop for works by local artisans, all available for purchase. Once considered the seedy part of town, this resurgent area is home to beautiful Juilliard Park, an ideal spot for an afternoon stroll. Check out the vintage toy and book-filled lounge or relax in the mandarin-tree scented courtyard. Make sure to enjoy a meal at owner Liza Hinman’s other Santa Rosa hot spot, Spinster Sisters, a lauded eatery located just around the corner. Bike there on a rented classic Shinola from the motel’s on-site fleet. 323 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa, theastro.com. Photos by Jessamyn Harris


Dream Inn Guest Room

Dream Inn

Situated on the landmark site of Jack O’Neill’s first surf shop, the Dream Inn is a playful hop, skip, and a jump away from Santa Cruz’s adored 100-year old wharf and historic Boardwalk. As the only beachfront hotel, this reimagined and revamped 60’s icon evokes the best of Beach Boys summer nostalgia by embracing its O’Neill heritage and Cowell Beach proximity with surfer-chic, retro style. Ocean blue dominates the color palette while surfboards and sea murals punctuate walls and halls leaving no doubt to your whereabouts. Every single guest room has a bay-facing patio or balcony to watch the Monterey Bay waves and sunsets. Swim, float, or wade in the ‘steps from the sand’ heated outdoor pool or take a dip in the hot tub. Relax atop a chaise lounge and cozy up to a fire pit, cocktail in hand. Don’t miss the Inn’s signature restaurant Aquarius or the Jack O’Neill Lounge for feel-good beach fare, like award-winning clam chowder. 175 W Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, dreaminnsantacruz.com.


The Sandman Pool House

The Sandman

Road-trippers and wine country explorers find playful simplicity at this California-cool vintage motel. Located off US-101 and minutes from the area's best wineries, breweries, and restaurants, the newly refreshed Sandman Hotel is a throwback to roadside inns reinvented for today’s travelers who seek spontaneous adventures. The property’s whimsical design is inspired by Spanish Mission Revival buildings and features terracotta accented facades, native landscapes, bamboo furnishings, and local art. A new pool house and bar offer an indoor-outdoor space with a retractable glass garage-door perfect for relaxing with a blended jalapeno margarita. An uncluttered California vibe permeates the lobby while each sun-filled guest room comes equipped with modern conveniences like flat screen televisions, kitchenettes, and Malin & Goetz bath products. 3421 Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa, sandmansantarosa.com.


Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

With style that takes its cue from the 1950s, the laid-back Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa celebrates the great American road trip. A cross between a small town general store and a living room, the cozy lobby lounge greets guests with a retro cooler stocked with drinks and snacks. The newly remodeled property at the end of Highway 29 is the first in the Napa Valley to offer air-stream camper concept-driven rooms accented by bold carpets and off-beat art. Junior suites have a motor-home-style seating and dining area that folds down into a sofa bed, but it’s the quirky, secluded spa that most lures. Modeled after a classic bathhouse, MoonAcre Spa boasts mint green claw foot tubs, a mosaic-tiled steam room, and a “mix-your-own” mud bar as part of a classic Calistoga experience. The lodge’s three mineral pools of varying degrees—decked by blue and white striped loungers and cabana beds—are fed by the property’s geothermal hot springs. Family and pet friendly, this whimsical property also holds Hula Hoop competitions, bocce ball games, and Frisbee tournaments. 1880 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, calistogamotorlodgeandspa.com. Photo by Aubrie Pick