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1930s Travel & Nightlife



On The Road
Stopping For The Night


on the road

America was a nation on the move in the 1930s. The Depression and the dust bowl forced many people to pack up their belongings in rusty old trucks and seek a better life elsewhere.

Route 66 was built in the 1920s and stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Okies were migrants from the midwest who fled their dust-covered farms and headed to California, the "land of milk and honey." Route 66 was the road they took to get there.

In the late 1920s, many gasoline filling stations began to replace their visible register pumps with modern electric pumps. These new pumps used round "clock face" dials to measure gasoline (see photo at right).

Historic Route 66
Images From Historic Route 66
Route 66: The People's Highway

Click here for more images of the open road!


around the USA
In Missouri, tourists were first admitted to Meramec Caverns in 1935. In South Dakota, the Mount Rushmore monument was under construction between 1927 and 1941. You could visit and watch the workers blasting away, or you could attend the dedication ceremonies that were held as each President's head was finished. On the East Coast, vacationers traveled to seaside resorts like Atlantic City, Ocean City and Asbury Park.

Rock City Gardens, Tennessee
Meramec Caverns
Mount Rushmore
Coney Island
Atlantic City Museum
I Love Atlantic City
Ocean City Historical Museum
Asbury Park History & Postcards

south of the border
During the 1930s, vacationing in warm climates during the winter became popular, and this gave birth to what is known as the resort season. Wealthy travelers looking for fun in the sun enjoyed retreats like Bermuda and the Bahamas. Gamblers and gangsters headed for exotic locales like Havana and Rio De Janeiro. Cuba's tourism and nightclub industries thrived when wealthy Americans vacationed on the island to escape prohibition.

Most people arrived by ocean liner. If you were really adventurous, you could "fly down to Rio" in a bumpy old stratocruiser!

the changing nature of pleasure travel
Before the automobile came along, most summer vacations were spent in resort areas that were just a short train ride away from home. If a family could afford to rent a cottage, mom and the kids usually spent the entire summer there. Dad didn't get much time off, so choosing a resort close to home allowed him to come out to the cottage on the weekends.

During the first decades of the 20th century, the concept of the yearly paid vacation became firmly established. Dad got the whole week off, which allowed him to travel with his family. Summer vacations became shorter, but now it was possible for the entire family to visit locations farther away from home.

Long or short, these trips had one thing in common: they took place at a single, predetermined location, such as a resort, hotel or summer cottage.

In the 1910s, the automobile took the country by storm, and it changed the way we took our vacations. In the past, our travels were limited to areas with train or boat access. By the 1930s, the trip itself was an integral part of the vacation experience. We could visit obscure roadside attractions, buy cheap souvenirs at trading posts, eat our meals at tiny cafes, and spend each night of the trip in a different town. The concept of automobile tourism had been invented, and with it came autocamping, tourist courts and motels.

Ocean City, New Jersey, 1939

summer cottages
Throughout the 1800s, renting a cottage for the summer was a popular vacation choice. Some rental cottages were grouped together in resorts, while others were built and rented out separately. Many cottages were rented by the same family year after year. More affluent families owned their own summer homes.

By the 1930s, summer stays were being replaced by shorter trips, and roadside motels and campgrounds were providing our overnight accomodations. During the Depression, many families lost their homes to foreclosure and were forced to move into their summer cottages. Because of this, many summer homes were being converted into year-round residences.

Even so, you could still find many families who rented a cottage for a week, a month or the entire summer. The kids went swimming and fishing, mom did the laundry and cooking (as usual), and dad still came out on the weekends.

world's fairs
In the 1930s, we were convinced that the "world of tomorrow" would be a futuristic paradise, complete with airships, streamlined trains, bubble-shaped automobiles, towering skyscrapers and electric appliances. At the world's fair, we could see this brave new world in action.

Chicago Century Of Progress Expo 1933-34
New York World's Fair 1939-40
Golden Gate International Expo 1939

Little's Lodge in Rutland, Vermont

resorts & simple vacations
People didn't have a lot of money in the 1930s, which made vacations a low priority for many families. Travelers who couldn't afford expensive hotels or huge summer homes favored simple resorts, campgrounds, old homes converted into hotels and inexpensive state parks.

Click here to see more vacation destinations!

stopping for the night

The first campgrounds for automobile tourists were constructed in the late 1910s. Before that, tourists who couldn't afford to stay in a hotel either slept in their cars or pitched their tents in fields alongside the road.

The modern campgrounds of the 1920s and 1930s provided running water, picnic grounds and restroom facilities. They also kept those pesky "tin can tourists" out of the farmer's fields.

Before the 1930s, auto tourists adapted their cars by adding beds, makeshift kitchens and roof decks. In the 1930s, the first travel trailers became available, and this made camping even more popular.

tourist homes
In town, tourist homes were private residences advertising rooms for auto travelers. Unlike boardinghouses, guests at tourist homes were usually just passing through.

cabin camps, tourist courts
Small comforts were few and far between at cabin camps, which were basically just auto camps with small cabins instead of tents. Travelers in search of modern amenities could find them at cottage courts and tourist courts. Here, the cabins had electricity, indoor bathrooms, and sometimes even a garage or carport. They were arranged in attractive clusters or a U-shape. Often, these camps were part of a larger complex containing a filling station and cafe.

motor courts, motels
When the individual cabins of the tourist court were combined under a single roof, you had the motor court or motor hotel. Some motor courts were beginning to call themselves motels, a term that was coined in 1926 when a motel owner couldn't fit the words "Milestone Motor Hotel" on his sign.

The first motel chains were born in the 1930s. In 1935, Scott King opened a modern motor court in San Diego. In 1939, he renamed it TraveLodge, and it became the first motel in the TraveLodge chain. In 1929, Edgar Lee Torrance built the first Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts motel in East Waco, Texas. In 1931, a second location was opened, and by 1936 there were seven motels in the Alamo chain.

History Of Motels
Sanders Court & Cafe
Roadside Accomodations In The 30s

Walker's Cabins,
Westport, New York

Click here to see more places to spend the night!


Fancy hotels in the city provided luxurious accomodations, fine dining and glamorous nightlife.

Elevator operators, bellhops, valets and desk clerks made your stay more comfortable by providing services that would be hard to find today.

personal services
Need your suit pressed? Just call the valet. Leave your shoes outside the door before you retire, and they'll be shined for you. Hungry? Simply call down to the dining room and order room service. And when you leave, let the doorman hail a cab for you.

call for Philip Morris!
All long-distance phone calls were placed by the hotel operator. Setting up the call could take a long time, so guests often waited in the lobby or lounge while the connection was made. Then the bellhop came around announcing that your call was ready.

which floor, sir?
After you entered the elevator, the operator shut the doors and took you to your desired floor. Push-button elevators that didn't require an attendant had been around since the 1920s, but most buildings didn't use them yet.

a night on the town
Most of the city's nightspots and finer restaurants were located in hotels. Visit my Nightlife and Dining Out sections to learn about fancy restaurants and nightclubs in the 1930s!

New York City
Hotel Astor
Biltmore Hotel
Hotel Algonquin
St. Regis Hotel
Plaza Hotel
Sherry-Netherland Hotel
Hotel Lincoln
Pierre Hotel
Hotel Pennsylvania

Blackstone Hotel
Edgewater Beach Hotel
Palmer House
Ambassador East Hotel
Drake Hotel

Los Angeles
Ambassador Hotel
Beverly Hills Hotel
Chateau Marmont
Garden Of Allah Hotel & Villas
Sunset Tower

The old Waldorf-Astoria was demolished in the late 1920s to make room for the Empire State Building. This is the new Waldorf-Astoria, which opened in its new location in 1931.

Click here to see more places to spend the night!


Trains were the most popular method of long-distance travel in the 1930s. Thanks to the popularity of the auto, rail travel declined somewhat during the 1920s, but it rose 38 percent between 1933 and 1939. A major reason for this was the introduction of stainless steel streamlined trains.

The first streamliner was the Burlington, Chicago & Quincy Pioneer Zephyr, which made its debut run in 1934. It was quite impressive...a dazzling silver train with aerodynamic curves, recessed flourescent lighting and air conditioning. It was designed to revitalize the passenger train industry during the Depression, and it did just that. The railroad chose a name starting with "Z" because the Zephyr was intended to be the "last word in passenger service."

In the mid 1930s, some streamliners, like the Zephyr, were pulled by diesel locomotives, which were just coming onto the scene. By the end of the decade, there were 90 diesel streamliners in operation.

Chicago was a major rail hub during this decade. From here, passengers could travel to Los Angeles on the Chief, Super Chief, California Limited, City of Los Angeles or El Capitan. The Super Chief was nicknamed "the train of the stars" due to the large number of celebrities who traveled on it. The 20th Century Limited and Broadway Limited took passengers to New York City.

Trains that offered sleeping car service had several arrangements to choose from. Some cars had seats that converted into sleeping berths concealed by curtains. Others had small private compartments, many with their own bathrooms. On the Santa Fe line, dining cars featured meals served by the Fred Harvey Company. Luxury services included onboard barbers, beauty shops and steam-operated clothing presses.

Steam locomotives had to stop every 40 miles to take on water. The small settlements that grew up around railroad water tanks were known as whistle stops and jerkwater towns.

Railroad Timetables & Ads
The Pioneer Zephyr
List Of Named Passenger Trains
20th Century Limited



If you could afford it, a "night on the town" was truly something special. At ballrooms and dance halls, you could demonstrate your fancy footwork while listening to the best bands in town. At nightclubs, you could have a few drinks and see the floor show.

In New York City, African Americans were enjoying the cultural richness of the Harlem Renaissance. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong were the hottest tickets in town. The Cotton Club brought the best of this new jazz sound to white folks.

The Montmartre in Havana

South of the border, cities like Havana and Rio De Janeiro were known for lively nightspots where gambling was combined with exotic entertainment.

Nevada legalized gambling in 1931. In the dusty frontier town of Las Vegas, several small casinos opened on Fremont Street. This area soon became known as Glitter Gulch. Hoover Dam, which was only 30 miles away, was under construction between 1931 and 1936. The casinos flourished when workers came to town during their time off.

Between 1920 and 1933, the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was illegal in the United States. This era was known as prohibition. Taverns and restaurants that sold alcohol illegally were known as blind pigs and speakeasies. The modern nightclub was born during this time, when speakeasy owners adopted the label in order to give their establishments an air of respectability. After prohibition was repealed in 1933, many of these places became high-class clubs frequented by cafe society.

In small towns, it was quite common for barbecue stands to convert to taverns after prohibition was repealed.

New York City
The Savoy Ballroom
The Cotton Club
Roseland Ballroom
The Stork Club
El Morocco
St. Regis Hotel:
-------St. Regis Roof
The Rainbow Room
Onyx Club
Hollywood Cabaret
-------Starlight Roof
Hotel Astor:
-------Astor Roof
Hotel Pennsylvania:
-------Cafe Rouge Ballroom
The Silver Slipper

Club DeLisa
Blackhawk Restaurant
Green Mill Gardens
Edgewater Beach Hotel:
-------Beach Walk
Savoy Ballroom
Melody Mill
Aragon Ballroom
Trianon Ballroom
Chez Paree
Oh Henry Ballroom

Los Angeles
The Trocadero
The Ambassador Hotel:
-------The Cocoanut Grove
The Vendome
Earl Carroll Theater Restaurant
Moonlite Gardens
The Clover Club

Havana, Cuba
The Montmartre
The Tropicana

Street Swing Nightclub Directory
Chicago Jazz Clubs 1915-1940
Ballrooms Of The Past
Tips On Tables: Nightclubs & Restaurants

Jitterbug or Lindy-Hop, anyone?

Click here to see more nightlife from the 1930s!

other pages in this section:

Shopping & Dining
Town & Country

return to the 1930s main page