While they’re no longer suitable for overnight lodging, abandoned hotels can offer urban explorers a fascinating glimpse into a city’s past. We’ve scoured the country to identify the top 10 abandoned hotels for exploring in 2021.
Keep reading to find out where to go and what you can expect to see, both outside and inside these forgotten structures.
Killer Urbex Note: It is important to note that many of these locations are in an extremely delicate state. Specifics on the locations are not given purposefully to ensure these abandoned hotels stay as vandalism and destruction-free as possible. Take only photos, leave only footprints.
The Top Abandoned Hotels In America
Thunderbird Motor Hotel (Jacksonville, Florida)
In 1959, the Thunderbird Motor Hotel opened its doors in the thriving Jacksonville suburb of Arlington. After a major renovation in 1969, the Thunderbird achieved iconic status with its Native American-inspired décor and celebrity guests like Fats Domino, the Sammy Spear Orchestra and even the Rolling Stones.
The trendy hotel featured 300 plush rooms, a convention center, two pools, the Zodiac Room lounge, the Kettle Pub and the 500-seat Terrace Room dinner theater. Its close proximity to the downtown business district and the Gator Bowl football stadium provided a ready-made customer base.
By the 1970s, cocktail lounges, supper clubs and big-band performances had fallen out of favor, hitting the Thunderbird’s revenues hard. The property was sold to Red Carpet Inn in 1973, but the plan to build a 15-story addition to the original hotel never materialized, and its lenders foreclosed on the property in 1975.
A new investor group acquired the landmark hotel in 1978 with a similar plan for a new tower that also fell through. The Thunderbird Motor Hotel filed for bankruptcy in 1984 and was reborn as a Quality Inn two years later.
As Jacksonville’s population—and its tourism industry—drifted southward over the next decade, the Thunderbird continued to founder. It was rebranded as a Ramada Inn before it was shuttered for good in 2002.
An affiliate of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church purchased the property in 2003 with the intention of establishing a special event space for conventions, weddings, retreats, family reunions and other gatherings, but never completed the transformation. It sat unused for the next decade until being sold to a South American developer in 2014 and again to Arlington Expressway Corporate Buildings LLC a month later.
In a similar sequence of events, the derelict hotel changed hands twice within a two-month period in 2017. This last buyer expressed interest in renovating the property to make way for a new hotel, conference center, multifamily housing and retail space, but never took action.
In the years that followed, the site deteriorated further, attracting vagrants and vandals. A fire broke out in late 2019, consuming a substantial portion of the original hotel building. What’s left of the structure is boarded-up and covered in graffiti and mildew.
The long-empty swimming pools are choked with leaves, dirt and other debris, and weeds burst through cracks in the dilapidated tennis courts. A thick layer of overgrown brush blankets the property where wealthy guests once flocked for entertainment and escape.
Lee Plaza (Detroit, Michigan)
This historic 15-story Art Deco hotel in midtown Detroit was designed by renowned architect Charles Noble in 1929. It originally opened as a luxury apartment building that offered hotel-style amenities, including an ornate lobby, ballroom and dining room adorned with Italian marble, wrought-iron trim and crystal chandeliers. The 90-foot hallway connecting these common areas, known as “Peacock Alley,” featured a hand-painted arched ceiling and mirrored walls.
Lee Plaza instantly gained recognition as one of the most impressive buildings in the city, but unfortunately, its construction coincided with the most devastating economic crisis in the nation’s history. After changing hands multiple times during the Great Depression, its new owners began renting rooms to overnight guests.
Over the next several decades, the once-proud building fell into physical decline, and it was eventually acquired by the city and repurposed as a residential complex for senior citizens until 1997, when it closed permanently.
In the years of vacancy that followed, scavengers stripped the building of most of its artwork, architectural trim, fixtures and wiring. Several dozen stone lions’ head sculptures that once adorned the building’s exterior were stolen in 2000 and were later discovered in Chicago, drawing the FBI into the theft.
Other items, such as furniture, mirrors and light fixtures, were left to decay in the deteriorating structure as the plaster flaked from the walls and stains from water damage crept across the floors and ceilings.
In 2017, the city sought proposals to redevelop Lee Plaza, but determined that none of the responses offered viable solutions to preserve or restore the historic building. Two years later, the city announced the pending sale of the property to a development group with plans to redevelop the building as a residential and retail center, with construction of the more than $50 million project expected to begin in 2021.
If you are on the hunt for a great respirator to more safely observe some of these incredible abandoned hotels, we highly recommend the 3M 6800 for a full-face option and the North 7700 if you would prefer a half-face option. Find more respirator options in our in-depth guide.
Deauville Beach Resort (Miami, Florida)
Built in the heart of Miami Beach in 1926, the original Deauville Beach Resort featured a lavish casino and a beach club boasting Florida’s largest swimming pool. Just two years later, its developer filed for bankruptcy and the property was sold at public auction. In the 1930s, it was converted into a health spa by its new owner, bodybuilder and fitness enthusiast Bernarr MacFadden.
The original structure was demolished in 1956 for construction of a new 538-room oceanfront resort complex, which included multiple restaurants and shops, ice skating rink, beauty salon, swimming pools and even its own radio station. Named “Hotel of the Year” in 1957, the tony resort attracted celebrity guests like Lena Horne, Joan Rivers, Buster Keaton, Eleanor Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
In its peak years, headlining acts at the resort’s Napoleon Ballroom included Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. In February 1964, the resort played host to the Beatles, who recorded their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the Napoleon Ballroom.
Though it lost some of its luster over the following decades, the resort continued to operate until July 2017, when an air conditioning unit that had been installed without proper permitting sparked an electrical fire that forced the hotel’s 800 guests to relocate to other nearby lodging.
The resulting damage required extensive repairs to the property’s electrical systems, and before the work could be completed, Hurricane Irma made landfall along the Florida coast, causing severe water damage that led to mold and other issues inside the resort. Citing lack of funding, the property’s owner was unable to make the necessary repairs to reopen the business.
In 2019, the City of Miami Beach sued the property owner, citing the property’s dangerous state of disrepair and neglect. Trespassers caused two small fires later that year, forcing the owners to add several security guards and new fencing in an effort to keep intruders out of the defunct resort. Despite these measures, the property continues to attract homeless people, vandals and urban explorers, and the city’s lawsuit is still pending.
Igloo City (Cantwell, Alaska)
Located approximately halfway between Fairbanks and Anchorage in a remote region of Alaska, the ill-fated Igloo City attraction never even opened its doors. The four-story concrete dome was intended as an offbeat hotel, but failed to comply with local building codes during its construction in the 1970s.
Over the decades since, multiple owners have tried and failed to complete the project, but the task has grown increasingly difficult as the structure has deteriorated.
The unfinished igloo is large enough to be visible from planes flying at 30,000 feet overhead, and its interior has been explored by dozens of curious passersby, as its doors are no longer locked. Inside, its deteriorating wood beams and plywood walls are covered in graffiti, and the lower levels of the exterior have also been tagged with brightly-colored spray paint.
With little hope of restoration and not many residents around to complain about the quirky eyesore, the failed hotel is likely to remain in its incomplete state indefinitely.
Penn Hills Resort (East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania)
First built in 1944 as a tavern in the bucolic Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, the Penn Hills Resort was converted into a honeymoon resort in the 1960s. With more than 100 rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling carpeting, red heart-shaped jacuzzi tubs and round beds, the resort billed itself as a “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure.” During their stay, guests could enjoy access to a ski resort, golf course, tennis courts and two large pools shaped like wedding bells.
When the resort closed in 2009 shortly after the death of its founder, Frances Paolillo, the property was in a state of significant physical and financial distress. Workers never received their final paychecks, and the resort owed the county more than $1 million in back taxes.
Monroe County subsequently took ownership of the abandoned property, selling off a few parcels over the next several years but leaving the majority of it to decay. Scavengers broke in and stole copper wiring and other materials, and damage to the skylights and windows has led to flooding, water damage and mold. Weeds, trash and other debris litter the property, and a tree has burst through the cracked surface of the tennis courts.
In 2016, a group of New York-based investors purchased the remaining property for $400,000, only to sell it again in 2017 for $688,000. Later that year, the resort’s main building was destroyed in a fire. The remaining structures were set to be demolished soon afterward to make way for new development on the derelict site, but as of 2020, the remains of the resort were still standing and attracting urban explorers.
Urban exploration of abandoned hotels is no fun if one of your hands is occupied with a flashlight. Save yourself with a headlamp, one of the most versatile pieces of urbex gear. We highly recommend either the PETZL Actik Core, or the Black Diamond Wiz for those on a budget. For a complete breakdown, please view our headlamp buyer’s guide.
International Hotel of Ponce (Ponce, Puerto Rico)
Though it closed its doors to guests more than four decades ago, the remains of the International Hotel of Ponce have endured, becoming something of a beloved symbol on the island. “El Ponce,” as the locals called it, opened in 1960 as the city’s first truly modern hotel.
Its futuristic style was the handiwork of American architect William Tabler, and its perch atop El Vigia Hill afforded visitors spectacular views of the Caribbean. The 25-acre property featured a large swimming pool, ballroom, restaurant and cocktail lounge.
During the height of the tourism boom on the island’s southern coast, the hotel attracted celebrities, diplomats and other well-to-do patrons who came to experience the burgeoning art and social scene. But within 15 years, the hotel abruptly closed for reasons that are still undetermined. In 1979, the mayor of Ponce announced that the hotel would reopen in time for that year’s Pan American Games, but the promise went unfulfilled.
The structure was used as temporary housing for survivors of a 1985 landslide in the neighboring Mameyes community, but was abandoned again once the residents were permanently relocated. Several subsequent attempts at redevelopment fell through, including plans to repurpose it as a new hotel and convention center, a housing complex for seniors and a residence for homeless LGBTQ youth.
In 2020, the latest ownership group announced that the hotel would be converted into a Tribute Portfolio by Marriott Hotel with a casino, spa, night club and several restaurants. The $20 million project is slated for completion by spring 2022.
The Marconi Hotel (Marshall, California)
In addition to being widely credited with inventing the radio, Guglielmo Marconi also commissioned the construction of a California luxury hotel for use by his staff and their guests. The hotel was built next to his trans-Pacific radio receiving station and featured 35 rooms as well as a library, dining hall, game room and lounge. During the first World War, the U.S. military took over both the receiving station and the hotel; when the war ended, they were turned over to the RCA company.
In the 1960s, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center known as Synanon took over the property. Over the next decade, the group evolved into an “alternative lifestyle community” before declaring itself the “Church of Synanon” in 1975. However, the so-called church began losing members after it drifted into cult territory, demanding that its female acolytes shave their heads and the men receive vasectomies. When its leader was charged with attempted murder in 1980, the church dissolved completely.
The campus was then given to the state and assimilated into the Marconi Conference Center State Historic Park, but the hotel building was left to decay. There have been preliminary discussions about restoring the hotel and operating it as a museum and visitors’ center, but thus far no funding for the project has been identified, and the aging, vacant example of the US’ abandoned hotels continues to disappear into a thicket of ivy and underbrush.
The Ambassador Hotel (Jacksonville, Florida)
The Ambassador Hotel opened nearly a century ago as a luxury apartment complex in Jacksonville’s urban core. The six-story brick and limestone building was designed in the Georgian Revival style and constructed in an H-shape that afforded a window to each of the 110 units.
The 310 West Church Street Apartments were transformed into the Three-Ten Hotel in 1944. The hotel would change names several more times over the next decade before acquiring the Ambassador moniker in 1955.
Over the next quarter-century, downtown Jacksonville entered a physical and economic downward spiral. Many of the homes in the nearby LaVilla neighborhood were demolished or condemned, and the Ambassador’s reputation took a hit after a series of code violations, police raids and other unsavory incidents.
Despite having been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel was condemned in 1998 due to faulty wiring, substandard sanitation and lighting, cracked walls, locked fire exits and other health and safety issues.
Over the next 20 years, multiple efforts to save the Ambassador were launched without success. A St. Augustine-based developer paid $5.4 million for the hotel and the surrounding 1.5 acres in 2018, announcing plans to restore and reopen the historic building as a 100-room boutique hotel with a rooftop bar.
The group also plans to demolish the adjacent building and replace it with a 200-unit apartment building and 15,000 square-foot retail development. As a Jacksonville resident myself, I’m glad to live near one of the most interesting abandoned hotels in the country, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for the Ambassador.
Cameras, headlamps, respirators and more. Urban exploration can be very gear-heavy, especially when exploring abandoned hotels. When this is the case, it’s important to have a good-quality backpack. We recommend both the Osprey Packs Daylite for sling backpacks or the Mardingtop Tactical Backpack for a standard two-strap backpack. Alternatively, check out our comprehensive guide for far more options, tips, and tricks.
Lake Shore Inn (California City, California)
In the mid-20th century, developer Nat Mendelsohn envisioned a city rising from the Mojave Desert that would ultimately eclipse Los Angeles. The community would be a welcoming oasis in the harsh desert, complete with a lush green park and vast artificial lake. Mendelsohn’s dream made it as far as its street grid, but no homes were ever built on the 120 square-mile tract known as California City, despite it being the state’s third-largest city by geographical area.
The only residence that ever made it off the ground was the Lake Shore Inn, which included a pool, jacuzzi, lounge, bar and modest event space. The hotel was abandoned several decades ago, and its rooms have been ransacked by vandals and vagrants. The empty swimming pool is filled with piles of dead leaves and other debris, and the sagging chain-link fence that surrounds it does little to deter visitors to the property.
The faded sign reading “Lake Shore Inn” in dated light-blue script has been tagged with crude graffiti, and the decrepit asphalt parking lot is marred with weed-filled cracks.
Though a residential community has begun to develop nearby—thanks mostly to the proximity of Edwards Air Force Base—the crumbling eyesore stands out like a sore thumb in the dusty desert landscape. It now sits, preserved as one of the best abandoned hotels in the United States.
Buck Hill Inn (Cresco, Pennsylvania)
Built as a tiny 18-room hotel in 1901, the Buck Hill Inn was expanded in 1926 to keep pace with the larger venues in this tony resort community in eastern Pennsylvania. After the renovations, the property’s handsome stone structures offered 400 guest rooms, an indoor pool sheltered by a retractable roof, a luxurious lobby and an elegant dining room. Its enormous covered porch on the north side of the campus delivered breathtaking views of the nearby Pocono Mountains, and at its peak in the 1980s, the resort was recognized as one of the country’s top 10 convention centers.
Despite its years of success, the Buck Hill Inn began a precipitous decline in the late 1980s that led to its closure in 1991. The property was featured on the MTV show Fear in 2000, allegedly as a location for supernatural activity related to dozens of murders and suicides that had supposedly taken place on-site.
Despite the lack of evidence to substantiate these claims, the vacant inn quickly developed a reputation among ghost hunters and urban explorers, drawing hundreds of visitors after its national television debut.
After years of abandonment and decay, the property has been identified for redevelopment as a boutique hotel and small community of single-family residences with a community equestrian center. However, investors are still being sought to help fund the ambitious plan, and for now, the defunct resort remains in place.