If you love teak wood, simple lines, and pops of color, why not satisfy your mid-century modern fix while on vacation? Whether you prefer the sleek lines of International Style city skyscrapers, the integration with nature of Frank Lloyd Wright, or the the kitschy 50s resort style, you can find it in its original or restored glory around the country.
The destinations below have loads of examples of mid-century architecture and design to explore, and places to stay that reflect the style of the 1950s.
The desert oasis of Palm Springs has been treasured since it’s first inhabitants, the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians, arrived 2000 years ago. In the beginning of the 20th century, it was an exclusive playground for Hollywood’s stars. After World War II, when the Indians who had been granted moat of the land in the area were finally permitted to sell their land for a profit, there was a development boom just as a new modern style of architecture took hold.
The gorgeous mid-century architecture has been reclaimed and revitalized without going too far into the realm of kitsch. You can find residential and commercial gems by John Lautner and Donald Wexler and Richard Neutra’s iconic Kauffman House via a self-drive tour or guided tour.
For places to stay in Palm Springs, try The Parker, a mid-century resort that once belonged to Gene Autry, or the recently renovated L’Horizon, where you can live like one-time guest Marilyn Monroe. If you prefer a rental, try Vacation Palm Springs.
The east coast version of Palm Springs lies on the Atlantic Ocean, but residents only recently thought to capitalize on the kitschy “Googie” architecture that flourished there in the 1950s and 60s. As a result, many of the mid-century hotels have been demolished in favor of more contemporary developments in the popular resort town.
Today, though, the city promotes it’s “Doo Wop” architecture as a tourist destination, along with its classic New Jersey boardwalk. The bright neon, the courtyard pools, and the over-the-top colors are now celebrated even as modern development grows up around it. The city is promoting other mid-century and vintage events throughout the year to bring travelers to the area in the off-season.
For places to stay in Wildwood, try the Bel Air Hotel or the Caribbean, both relatively well-preserved examples of the Doo Wop style.
Three of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations, including his masterpiece of Usonian architecture, Fallingwater, are within a couple of hours of Pittsburgh. If Fallingwater is the critical favorite, Kentuck Knob is the sentimental second for its warm woods, cool stone and walls of glass overlooking nature and and the Youghiogheny River below.
You can even stay in one of Wright’s creations at Polymath Park Resort in the Laurel Highlands. Set among wooded trails, the Duncan House features many of Wright’s signature elements – warm wood, built-in cabinetry, natural stone and neutral colors make the home feel like a part of the woods.
For places to stay in Pittsburgh, try the Kimpton Hotel Monaco or the Ace Hotel in a former YMCA building downtown.
Chicago offers a full menu of 20th century American architectural styles, and the Chicago architecture tour by boat is not to be missed.
One midcentury building you will not miss is Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina Center (pictured above), whose poured concrete curves are a direct reaction to the sharp angles of the stark International Style skyscrapers of Mies van der Rohe (though Goldberg was a student and a fan of Mies).
If you’re a Frank Llloyd Wright fan, Chicago is where you will find the highest concentration of his buildings, including Unity Temple, the Robie House, the Rookery, and his own home and studio. Many tours are available by foot, by bike, and by motor through the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
For places to stay in Chicago, try the Langham, a five-star hotel housed in a skyscraper designed by Mies van der Rohe, or the Park Hyatt, with a subtle midcentury style.
Do you have favorite mid-century modern destinations in these cities or others that we’ve missed here? Let me know in the comments below.
This post is part of Trip.com’s Underdog City campaign.
Fact. Mother’s Day was invented in Philadelphia. In the early 1900s, Philadelphian Anna Jarvis advocated for the holiday to commemorate none other than her own mother who worked tirelessly to improve the lives and opportunities for women all over the East Coast.
I love Mother’s Day. And I wouldn’t trade the homemade cards, the pancakes served with forks whose handles seem to have been dipped in maple-syrup, and the hot sticky kisses for anything in the world. But, like all holidays that involve my kids, it’s exhausting.
Wait, I’m not alone? You mean there are other moms out there who need to recover from their own holiday? Apparently so.
And what better way to celebrate surviving another year of motherhood than with other mothers?
Two weeks ago, six area family travel bloggers met up in Philadelphia looking a little road-worn and our voices slightly hoarse from the last-minute “don’t forget…” and “whatever you do, don’t…” and “make sure you…” instructions we left with our kids and their caretakers.
Here were my bits of maternal wisdom, etched in white board marker for emphasis:
It ‘s no secret that I live in the House of Brotherly (mostly)Love and I have appreciated Philadelphia with John and the three boys on numerous occasions, taking biking tours, visiting its many parks, and exceptional science and children’s museums. We love the city.
But what did it have to offer this group of slightly harried moms in three short days?
Let’s start with the essentials:
We didn’t have to stray far from our South Philly vacation rental to stumble upon one fantastic shoe store, Bus Stop. Besides the shoes, we loved the carefully chosen jewelry, fragrances, and bags.
The luxury of not living in suburban car culture for the weekend (and not raising serious eyebrows by showing up at school pickup with boozy breath) is that we could indulge in a lunchtime drink. Jones totally delivered with fresh, unusual drinks like a jalapeno Tom Collins.
I can’t think of a better thing to do on a sunny Philadelphia day than a Mural Arts Tour. The Mural Arts Project was born in an effort to—literally—clean up the city by creating outdoor murals that would reflect the flavor, history and circumstances of its unique neighborhoods. Today, you can view over 2,000 murals in all corners of the city and they all have a story to tell. We followed our friendly guide through parts of the center city and China Town, hitting about a dozen murals along the way. They also offer trolley tours, bike tours, and custom tours.
The mural above depicts Philly’s vibrant immigrant history and incorporates both mosaic and paint.
Intimate art and conversation
The Barnes Foundation has been on my list since it opened a few years ago and I’ve tried to go several times with the boys only to be turned down in favor of—really anything else. How wise they were. I really enjoyed going with adults, with a knowledgeable docent, and no one to run after.
What I found most interesting were the docent’s insight about the art of collecting art, which Barnes had turned into an—yep—art! By arranging his vast collection in particular ways on a wall and adorning blank spaces with metal hinges and other industrial hardware, Barnes forces the viewer to make connections between different art forms and artistic eras that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional museum setting (i.e., the Impressionist room or the Art of Ancient Greece).
A well-curated vintage flea market is one of my happy places and we stumbled upon a great one: the Franklin Flea. It’s only open on Saturday and calls itself a winter market but has been extended to several summer dates. In other words, check the website before you go.
My favorite finds were old skeleton keys and hotel room numbers, Turkish towels, and exquisite kimonos brought back by a woman who lived in Japan while her husband was stationed there.
I did not buy a kimono. The regret is weighing me down, curbing my back with sorrow, my only support a cane of bitterness.
Treats in Midtown Village
Nothing soothes a damaged shopper like gelato. I indulged in two flavors, cashew and dark chocolate, at Capogiro’s in Midtown Village. Some of the crazies I was with had affogato, a shot of rich espresso (after 4:00 in the afternoon! I said crazy, didn’t I?) topped with a floating mound of gelato.
We strolled in and out of quaint shops browsing at jewelry, housewares and clothes, satiated on culture, great conversation, sugar and (for the moms gone wild) caffeine.
On our last day, we solemnly followed as one of the world’s ultimate mother figure was hoisted through the streets of the Italian Market, waving to the growing throngs of people pinning dollar bills to her ribbons, along with their deepest wishes and dreams. As always happens when I’m away from them, I kind of wished my boys were with me, while simultaneously wishing for more trips with friends. And the beauty of traveling with other mothers is that I didn’t even have to look at them to know they were thinking the exact same thing.
A big big thanks to the Barnes Foundation, the Mural Arts Program, and VisitPhilly for their generous support.
Our weekend in “the old country” wasn’t exploding with warring factions, unresolved crimes of passion, or never-forgotten slights at somebody’s daughter’s wedding. Maybe that’s because we weren’t in Sicily, and were not appearing in a Francis Ford Coppola movie. I know, I’m kind of disappointed too. But what it lacked in drama, our family reunion more than made up for in charm, ease, and gentle reminiscence by our group’s elder members.
Thirteen of us visited West Chester, PA on a beautiful spring break weekend. My mother-in-law and her sister had spent their childhoods there. Strolling down the streets with them as guides was a lesson not just in family history but in small-town life in 1940s to 60s America.
The old firehouse, for example, is the reason the family bought a TV. It was there that their brother, Tom, went to watch sports with the firemen every day after school. Their parents did not like that one bit and decided the only way to keep him home was to buy their own TV.
Many of the buildings have long since been converted to other businesses entirely. Behind their modern-day facades lie long-forgotten memories, like the town’s one department store, where the family would buy everything from fabric to school shoes.
Today, West Chester is a bustling college town—it is home to West Chester University—with loads of restaurants and boutiques. But it still maintains its old school small-town charm.
The weekend’s favorite haunts reflect West Chester’s graceful blend of old and new:
Hotel Warner: The Hotel Warner sits in the heart of West Chester in a converted movie theater. With its large vintage black and white photos of the town and theater, it set the perfect stage for our walks down memory lane and beyond. We loved that you could walk everywhere from here.
According to 6-year-old Jeremy’s school what-I-did-on-my-spring-break worksheet, his favorite part of the weekend was the “chair races.” I was not aware of this event but I’m guessing maybe our downstairs neighbors were. Sorry.
Éclat:: The culinary highlight for me was hands-down the insanely delicious chocolate I stumbled upon at Éclat. I met the chef/owner, Christopher Curtin, and within minutes we were waxing nostalgic about Belgium like long-lost cousins. I know very little about most things but I’m becoming kind of an expert in artisan Belgian chocolate. And this man is legit. He trained under one of my favorite Belgian chocolatiers, Pierre Marcolini. His bars and mendiants have an intense, honest flavor and are sourced from some of the best cocoa on earth. In fact, he filmed an episode with Anthony Bourdain during a chocolate quest in Peru.
D’Ascenzo Gelato: This quaint little shop was so nice we went twice. Their homemade gelato and sorbet was delicious and their little outdoor seating area was a perfect place to check out the action on Gay Street (along with High Street, this is the town’s main street). It takes me about a minute to establish a routine so I ordered the same thing both evening: a scoop of dark chocolate and a scoop of hazelnut. TDF (I’m not sure if TDF is a “thing” but it was to die for).
Baldwin’s Book Barn: We discovered this bookstore on our way out of town and I could have spent all day, all winter really, wandering, browsing, and maybe catching a nap with one of the resident cats. The rambling shop rambles through an early 19th century stone barn on the outskirts of West Chester. The bookstore opened in 1946 but you lose all sense of time wandering through its nooks and crannies, creaky hidden stairways, and seemingly endless little reading corners. It was hard to tear ourselves away.
We couldn’t have picked a better setting for our gathering. Walking the streets of our relatives’ childhoods taught us about them, our children’s heritage, and American history. Thank you, West Chester. And maybe we’ll see you next year!
John had taken the boys on bike trips before so I knew they’d be fine. But me? I hadn’t set bottom on a bike since 2007 when we rode around Assateague Island during the island’s quiet car-free hours. I have a slew of excuses every time they ask me to join them. The fact that I don’t have a bike is my top excuse but in truth, I’m afraid I’m going to be the one person on earth who actually forgets how to ride a bike.
So the thought of tooling around Philadelphia by bike was pretty terrifying. Still, it was my idea. I knew the rest of the family would enjoy it and they’d been bugging me to join them on their weekend rides for months. Plus, the idea of touring a city faster than on foot, but unburdened by a car is appealing. And don’t you think “urban family mini-break on bike” has a sporty, extreme, REI-ish ring to it?
We pulled into the very-centrally located Residence Inn in our usual manner. The minivan door slides open and various boy shoes and hats spill out, a quick whiff of road trip escapes, and the boys come tumbling out. This time, we added four bikes to the spectacle and entered the lobby like we were part of a biking road crew, composed mostly of midgets.
Still, we were met with smiles and lots of curiosity from the desk staff, who told us Philly was a fantastic bike town and they’d be happy to store the bikes for us. John ran down to Independence Hall and picked up the bike we’d rented for me in advance from Wheel Fun. (You can find more bike rental options on the website www.bikecoalition.org).
I was a little shaky when I got on the bike and saw the midtown traffic but took a deep breath and rode off behind John and the boys. Before we knew it, we were on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (Philadelphia’s Museum District) on a wide shady bike path. We stopped to admire “The Thinker” outside the Rodin Museum and went off in search of lunch.
We didn’t have to go far. We found a number of food trucks parked at The Oval, a new public space initiative in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with oversized board games, a sand box, table tennis, and live events. We loved the Lil’ Pop Shop’s popsicles, with flavors like lime mint (Jacques’ favorite) and coconut hibiscus (mine).
Eastern State Penitentiary
We veered off The Parkway for a few blocks to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in 1829, the massive building’s deserted hallways and tiny crumbling cells echo of institutional despair. It might sound a bit morbid for family fun time but there’s plenty of space to run around for Jeremy and my oldest sons loved seeing Al Capone’s surprisingly plush cell, filled with oriental rugs and other luxury furnishings. And the lesson is…….OK, kids, let’s get back on our bikes.
The Franklin Institute
We were lucky to arrive at the Franklin Institute just in time to see the automaton in action. The delicate drawing robot (which you might remember from the movie Hugo) is only taken out of its glass case a few times a year for demonstrations and it is a thing of beauty and grace. We were fascinated with the rest of the Amazing Machines exhibit, a steam-punk collection of beautiful mechanical inventions with hands-on demonstrations of the various machine parts. It reminded me of one of my favorite museums in the world, Paris’ Musée des Arts et Metiers. We kicked, surfed, drove, and threw balls in the Sports Challenge Exhibit, and the older (tall enough) boys rode the aerial bike before a quick ride back to the hotel.
As we entered the hotel lobby with our bikes, the desk clerk looked up and said something that I’m sure has never been uttered about my brood before, particularly by hotel staff: “Oh, there’s the cool family. Hi guys.”
Fairmount Water Works
The next morning, we took a quick ride across town and then down to the path along the Schuylkill River Trail. Built mostly on old railroad tracks, the26-mile River Trail is quite flat, shady, and perfect for family rides, although I’m sure it gets crowded on the weekends (we were there on a Monday morning). Our favorite spot was just outside the Fairmount Water Works. We didn’t visit the historic water treatment facility but climbed up the windy Alice in Wonderland-ish path to a series of little pavilions where we admired the insanely gorgeous view of the treatment center, the river, and boathouses in the distance.
We talked about riding the whole trail on our next visit, and maybe taking a little side trip to Valley Forge. See that? I’m talking like I’m a regular biker! Next stop–REI for a bike and maybe a cute urban biking ensemble.