Hotels

Best kitsch-themed hotels in California (and the rest of the US)

As an introvert-extrovert, the hermit social mores of the pandemic have suited me well. Of course, I miss dancing with hikes and having pizza parties without worrying about why my friend is sniffling. But generally I embraced the Inside with choice of ASMR stimulation, dissociation and slum sorcery. Lately, however, I’ve felt like waking up far, far away from my own apartment in a giant clam. Or crack my eyes in a plastic spaceship, or under a disco ball in a themed hotel in California. I want to walk into a potato-themed joint by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and think, If I died here, no one would know. But it would be worth it. I want to dig my little goblin nails into all the shag carpet across the United States, and I want you to come with me.

“Where to go?” you ask? We’ll check out the “Cadillac” or “Char” option for our beds at the hot pink watering hole which is California’s legendary Madonna Inn, and be sure to bring plenty of Whispering Angel. My Liberace appetite for themed hotels has always been there, but it grew even stronger during the long winter nights. So I promised myself and my 16 American Girl dolls to find the best themed hotel rooms and spare no sensory expense.

What follows is a smorg of my must-haves, must-haves (again), and wildcard picks to get our brains sizzling for a juicy, silly trip to over-the-top places. Some kitsch hotels are perfect for lovers. Others are a great place to surround and abandon your enemies. All are excellent for tapping into your best fifth dimension.


The Black Swan Inn Luxurious themed suites

The couple-duo known as “A pretty cool tour of the hotel” are hands, knees and toes one of the best sources of kitsch hotel recommendations. (Scope their vlogs to give your eyeballs a bath of joy.) The Black Inn Suites in Pocatello, Idaho is one of their best finds to date. Part portal to ancient Egypt, part rustic cabin, part tropical oasis, and (our favorite) underwater estate. Perfect for your Ariel-Sebastian-Dom-Sub role play.

Find out more about the luxurious themed suites at the Black Swan Inn at TripAdvisor

Madonna Inn

Not all junk goes to heaven, but if it does, heaven looks like the dining room at the Madonna Inn in San Louis Obispo, California. It’s the mother of all mothers, the kitschy pulse of mid-century America, with more than 100 pieces whose themes range informally from “fried Barbie brain” to “sleazy Flintstone”; Austrian kink-lord for rock shower romance. Start at the spa, take a break in your room, and end your trip on one of their hikes.

More information about the Madonna Inn at TripAdvisor

The Whale House

The Whale House looks like a clapboard snail that has lived, undisturbed, under an acid tab for 40 years in the California foothills. This was the vision (probably?) of the famous architect Michael Carmichael when he built it in 1978, inspired by the legendary swirls and windings of Antonio Gaudi. It’s tucked away in the wilderness of Santa Barbara, CA, could easily house a small group of potential high-level commune members, and has a loooong pool that goes right into the house.

More information on the Whale House on Airbnb

The dive motel

Sometimes you want to feel like a half-smoked poolside cigarette that just fell from Laura Dern’s perfect mouth to the The heart that is in Desert time. And when that urge hits, it smacks, so find a hotel room worthy of faux sleaze at the Dive Motel in Nashville, Tennessee, where rooms come with a party-switch disco ball, and the bar main is as close to crawling inside Big Buck Hunter as we’ll ever get. It’s hard to believe this baby is actually a contemporary homage to crisp road edges, which makes us want to chat with the owners even more.

More information about the Dive Motel on TripAdvisor

Cove Haven Resort

Your eyes do not deceive you; This is indeed a collage of a very real, very massive bath coupe at one of the world’s premier resorts. Cove Haven is in Lakeville, PA and has kind of stood the test of time. It’s one of the few Cove Haven resorts in the Love Belt that was popular in the 1970s, but it’s by far the best of the lot for its abundance of heart-shaped tubs, ‘Steak and Scampi Night and many outdoor adventure trails. AND THIS GLASS.

More information about Cove Haven at TripAdvisor

Hotel Big Idaho Potato

We’re just relieved that someone else has fulfilled our dream of living inside a giant potato. Much like a more local version of James and the giant peach (this guy was low key doing a fantasy semester at sea; Fight Me). You wouldn’t recognize it by its starchy skin, but this hotel in Boise, Idaho actually has a very bright, sleek, and airy interior that looks better than most of our early studios.

More information about the Big Idaho Potato Hotel at Airbnb

Area 55 Futuro House

High-key one of the best places to probe and be probed with your lover(s). Area 51 Futuro House in Joshua Tree, California offers you the opportunity to sleep in a piece of legendary architecturebecause “there are only 85 [of these abodes] worldwide,” the host writes, “19 in the US, and only 1 available that you can stay in for one night. Put these mushrooms in your backpack and get ready to (finally) learn how to talk to aliens with your Long Furby.

More information about the Area 55 Futuro House on Airbnb

The Victorian mansion of Los Alamos

There’s no energy more exciting than the Plastic Gladiator Energy – and it’s just one of the select, exceptionally themed pieces at the Los Alamos Victorian Mansion in Los Alamos, California (a neighbor of the Madonna , BTW). In addition to spending time with your boo Ben-Hur, there are romantic Parisian loft-themed rooms, Fat (see: giant Cadillac bed), ancient Egypt, pirates and what we can only describe as “the sultry little house on the prairie”.

More information about the Los Alamos Victorian Mansion at TripAdvisor

Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast

We’ll do anything for an A-frame, but especially one with bright posters. Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast is a new hotel in Idyllwild, California, and was actually partially designed by kitsch/retro lairds Dita Von Teese and Third Man Records. The tiny houses also pay homage to the owner’s favorite icons: “Dolly Parton & John Waters, his favorite spooky ride and his favorite TV show.” Rounding out the cottage themes was a 70s Honeymoon Kitch tribute, a year-round Christmas room, a geek culture tribute, and a 420 room in honor of California’s upcoming marijuana law. recreational,” according to the b&b’s website. Lots here for this fun house.

Learn more about Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast at TripAdvisor

Hostel Don Q

If you’re driving through Wisconsin, the Don Q Inn in Dodgeville will take you on Cloud Nine with its hot air balloon-themed room and take you to outer space with its astronaut-themed suite — and that’s just the beginning. Like a true kitsch hotel, this place offers an assortment of randomly themed rooms that we’ll call ‘jungle’, ‘igloo’, ‘pioneer’ and more. There’s even a plane permanently parked outside the hotel for a killer photo op.

More information about the Don Q Inn at TripAdvisor

The Sunset Estate

Remember how the Nickelodeon Headquarters used to watch in the 1990s? This sprawling rental in Scottsdale, Arizona is the closest to recreating that magic. “Over $1 million has recently been invested in renovating this property,” the owners explain, “to create a one-of-a-kind centerpiece. It’s our crown jewel. You can up to 14 other guests spend an afternoon hopping between the saltwater pool, volleyball court, bowling alley, spa, and numerous playgrounds Dare we say we’ve found the cult new resort?

More information on the Sundown domain at Vrbo

Wing Castle

Calling all cottagecore girls and budding witches: Wing Castle in Millbrook, New York is your new gathering place. Built in the 1970s by a local artist, the castle-like estate is made up of various medieval-themed rooms that include a dungeon and plenty of follies (like their own Stonehenge) to explore. If you’re stopping in with a big team, there’s even a separate Snow White-style cabin for rent.

More information about Wing Castle at TripAdvisor

We’ve barely dipped our toes in the chlorinated waters of America’s kitsch hotels, but hopefully these will get your list off to a good start. Any last advice? Don’t underestimate the time frame (months, sometimes) that many of these places are reserved for; Do: Bring an 80s porn star robe for the occasion.


Rec Room staff independently curated all items featured in this story.