One of the most common feelings we experience when stepping into a hotel room is déjà vu. This room seems so familiar, we think to ourselves. The bed, the mini-fridge, the generic picture hanging on the wall are hard to distinguish from other hotels we stayed. At the Madonna Inn of San Luis Obispo, California, this sensation of hotel déjà vu is near impossible. Not only are the rooms unlike any other hotel rooms you’ve seen, but no two are alike.
Perhaps the best way to introduce you to the Madonna Inn is to list off some of the most common characterizations bestowed upon this California landmark. Here we go: garish, over-the-top, kitschy, excessive, colorful, “relentlessly pink” (NY Times), extravagant, gaudy, opulent, quirky, oddball, funky … you get the picture. Much of this will already be apparent as you are guided towards the sprawling resort and spa outfitted like a Swiss-Chalet by a giant neon sign featuring an animated horse-drawn carriage.
When the hotel first opened in 1958, it was just a simple 12-room motel where motorists driving up and down California could rest for the night. It was opened by local real estate developer, Alex Madonna, and his wife, Phyllis, who continued to expand the motel until it burned down in 1966. Out of the ashes of the old motel, rose the glorious Madonna Inn that we are sharing with you today. By the end of the 1960s, the Inn, featuring a restaurant, lounge, café, and pastry shop, as well as all 110 rooms had been rebuilt.
One of the most difficult tasks you will be faced with when staying at the Madonna Inn is choosing a room. Each enormous room is decorated according to a unique theme hinted at in the room’s name. As you make your way through the long list of rooms, you’ll come across titles such as Barrel of Fun, Caveman, Everything Nice, Imperial Family, Old Fashion Room, and Time of Your Life. With such a wide variety of themes to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find something up your alley: unless you’re a strict minimalist. There has been no attempt at subtlety made by Phyllis, the designer and decorator of the Inn’s rooms. The most famous of the rooms are those which feature an all-rock grotto with waterfall shower.
The common rooms are just as lavish as the individual rooms. No restraint was exercised when it came to the use of gold, pink, and copper throughout the dining facilities. The pink booths and gold fixtures in Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House are exactly the kind of touches that have turned the Madonna Inn into a roadside attraction. But of all the oddities and surprises housed in the Madonna Inn, it is the rock waterfall urinal in the men’s washroom that is the most legendary. It’s not surprising to see women lined up outside the men’s room, waiting for a chance to run in and catch a glimpse of the fabled urinal. If you find yourself driving between Los Angeles and San Francisco along route 101 sometime soon, we definitely recommend you bypass the rest stops and make use of the extraordinary facilities here.