Offbeat Attractions: The Madonna Inn

Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House

Since its opening in 1958, the Madonna Inn has been a landmark on California’s central coast. Created by architect Alex Madonna and his wife, interior designer Phyllis, the hotel features 110 uniquely themed rooms that are definitely out of the ordinary. Located on the west side of US Route 101—about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco—the property enjoys a pastoral setting in the rolling hills just south of downtown San Luis Obispo.

The Madonna Inn

The buildings’ exterior was clearly influenced by Madonna’s Swiss background, evidenced by chalet-style, gabled roofs and ornate wood-carved railings. The interior of the hotel is the real treat though. Each of the hotel’s 110 rooms are individually decorated  with their own theme and color scheme. Many adjectives come to mind: gaudy, garish, kitschy… but more than anything, fun. Where else can you stay in a room that looks like a bordello from the Flintstones? Or one that looks like the Austrian Royal bedchambers? Rock waterfall showers and elaborate stone fireplaces are signature features in many of the suites. At the Madonna Inn, you can be transported to a charming European village, the American Old West, or even the lush Hawaiian Islands by simply choosing your room. [Check out this link to see photos and descriptions of all of them.] I was surprised at how clean housekeeping is able to keep everything. I would have expected all of those uneven rock surfaces, carved woodwork, and silk flower arrangements to be covered in dust. However, the place was spotless.

Our room, the “Swiss Rock.”

The property also features the lavish Gold Rush Steak House, festooned in flowers and filigree. Gilded candelabra and twinkle lights are suspended above romantic, hot-pink pleather banquettes. To the side is a dance floor surrounded by intricately carved pillars that make you feel like you’re deep in the Black Forest. In fact, wood carvers came from as far away as Bavaria to create the custom-made beams, railings, and other carved ornamentation. For a more casual dining experience, there’s the Copper Café and Pastry Shop that’s reminiscent the California Gold Rush era.  The atmosphere is a cross between a Swiss bakery (the waitresses wear dirndls) and a Western saloon, with a horseshoe-shaped bar and hammered copper tabletops.

The resort also features a pool, two Jacuzzis and a fitness center. Located at the highest point on the property, you can relax and enjoy the bucolic setting, gazing out at the rolling hills, studded with oak trees.

Many tourists stop by the Madonna Inn on their way up to nearby Hearst Castle just to peek at the hotel’s men’s room with its infamous rock waterfall urinal and giant clamshell sinks. I’m glad I had the opportunity to stay the night there though. It was certainly an unforgettable experience.

Where: The Madonna Inn is located at 100 Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 (805) 543-3000.
How much: Room rates range between $189 and $309/night. The larger suites cost up to $599/night.
For more information: Visit the official Madonna Inn website.


Here’s a slideshow of more photos from the fantastical Madonna Inn: 

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Have you been to the Madonna Inn before? Would you like to stay at such a place? Feel free to comment in the section below!


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