Eat, stay and play at San Luis Obispo’s kitschiest icon
The Madonna Inn, a famous hotel, restaurant and bakery just off Highway 101, is a whimsical icon of California’s Central Coast. Dating to 1965, the delightfully wackadoodle property holds a place in the imaginations of all generations of Californians. Those of a certain age remember it as the hippest honeymoon destination of the ‘60s. Many road-trippers stop by for a meal and a nose-around while driving between the LA and Bay areas. For overnight guests, the inn offers a choice of 110 uniquely themed rooms, not one bore among them.
The Madonna Inn is famous for its cakes – fantastical confections the size of a hatbox. And its Gold Rush Steakhouse, where the beef is sourced from the Madonna family’s own cattle ranch. Diners sip drinks from collectible rainbow-hued goblets. Even the restrooms generate quite a buzz. The flower gardens are striking too, offering a photogenic setting for countless weddings. Yet the Madonna Inn’s biggest claim to fame is its indescribable aesthetic. It’s quite the trip into the bonkers design minds of the hotel’s founders, Alex and Phyllis Madonna.
The Madonna Inn’s architecture incorporates enormous boulders, their raw forms fashioned into chimneys, cave-like waterfall showers and fireplaces. In the popular Caveman Room, rocks are hewn into every single surface from floor to ceiling, all fittingly accented by animal-skin upholstery. Another theme is pink roses, which in the steakhouse saturate every visible inch. Hot pink, powder pink, every shade of pink features throughout the property. There are fuchsia tennis courts and pink-tinted sugar in tabletop shakers at the café. Oh, and adding to the Mad Libs approach to décor, there’s a Swiss Alps theme too. Note the hand-carved wood doors and beams, custom leaded glass and hammered copper fixtures, all lending a charming folksiness of their own.
Those who stay at the Madonna Inn overnight should spend some time browsing through the 110 themed rooms and suites online. You can even opt to book a different room every night. Just a few of the featured themes – all executed with a thoroughly maximalist approach – include safari, Ireland, golf, a mountain cabin and the Matterhorn. The Merry Room has fully glittered walls, and the 100-percent pink Love Nest features a winding staircase to a private viewing tower, as well as access via trestle bridge. Expect painted porcelain sinks, crewel embroidery, rococo lamps and ceramic figurines worthy of your loopiest great aunt.
In maintaining its fame for more than 60 years, the Madonna Inn proves the value of its uniqueness without relying on novelty alone. This is no fading belle of times past. Themed rooms only attract guests if they’re truly enjoyable to stay in, and a restaurant is only as successful as its food, eye-catching décor aside. The hotel also offers its guests plenty to do. Consider hiking, biking and horseback trail rides on the property, spa treatments and wine tasting sessions (Madonna Inn has its own private label). Guests also have access to a fantastic pool and poolside bar, as well as several boutiques.
The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo, just minutes by car from downtown. SLO is fantastic for foodies, and its attractions include a Spanish Mission, beautiful botanical gardens, golf courses and hiking trails. There are also many wonderful wineries in the Central Coast region. The Madonna Inn is approximately 45 miles from Hearst Castle, and just a 10-minute drive from Avila Beach.
100 Madonna Road, San Luis Obispo, CA