Why I Love Ventura #3: Funky Motels

Before the 101/1 freeway was built, bypassing the city, Thompson Boulevard served as one section of the only highway that stretches up the California coastline. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car on our way to my grandmother's house; the neon lights meant that we were almost there. Thompson is still lined with the funky little motor lodges of bygone eras. The Mission Bell Motor Court and Cafe, built in the Twenties, is the oldest of these and still is in business.

I've never stayed at the Mission Bell, but people I know who have say the same thing: it's authentic, clean, cheap, and quaint in a "mom & pop" sort of way. Here's one review: "Unique layout of rooms and carports make this little motel appear as if it is a village on its own. The rooms are simple, yet cozy, and the manager adds to the atmosphere by offering a warm welcome. Great place to stay!"

Those arches are the individual carports attached to the corresponding rooms. Pretty cool, but I imagine a lot of modern cars don't fit in them. It's easy to imagine them filled with cars belonging to people escaping L.A. for the warm, uncrowded beaches of Ventura though.

This is the motel in the Forties.

Today, the cafe is one of the most popular places to nurse a hangover on Saturday and Sunday mornings. They serve basic breakfasts, nothing fancy, and there's always a crowd of people waiting to get it because it's really tiny inside. Although this is a black and white photo, it's modern. The place really is just this authentic.

Other vintage Ventura motels include:
(links go to pictures)
I wouldn't recommend you stay in some of these--some have gotten really seedy--but some are just fine. I actually lived in the Viking for a couple of months in 1996 while saving money to get an apartment. It was a great room, with a big window that looked out over the boulevard and the ocean beyond, its own little kitchen (a separate room off of a short hall) that was as vintage as it gets, complete with a little 4-burner Wedgewood range, full-size fridge, and a vintage table with two chairs. I'd stay there again if I were in the same situation.

As I've said before, what sets Ventura apart from a lot of California beach towns is its "funk" factor. The motels and coffeeshops lining Thompson Boulevard are a large part of that.