Last Updated on April 28, 2023
When our son attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, many of his friends’ parents told my husband and I about a place we had to stay ‘at least once.’ They called it every Cal Poly “parent’s rite of passage.” The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo is like no other venue we’ve ever experienced.
An experience it was: eclectic, quirky, bizarre, and unusual. A legend in its own right.
The Inn’s overpowering gaudiness is a spectacle to behold. You’ll find lots of color, lots of personality, lots of shine, and absolutely zero self-consciousness about what some people may consider ‘too much.’
History of the Madonna Inn
The historic landmark hotel was established in 1958 by Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis who were looking to create a unique lodging experience. Did they ever!
It wasn’t long after construction completed that word got out and soon the Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo became renowned for its elaborate and whimsically decorated rooms. Each of the hotel’s 110 accommodations is uniquely themed with a mix of bold colors, antique furnishings, and odd, ornate fixtures. No two are the same.
The first 12 rooms were completed December 24, 1958. To the surprise and delight of travelers who stayed at the Inn that night, their rooms were complementary. An additional 28 units were quickly added, making a total of 40 rooms available to the weary or curious traveler.
In April 1960, construction started on the main inn, which would eventually include a dining room, bakery, coffee shop, wine cellar, cocktail lounge, banquet rooms, ladies’ boutique, men’s gift shop, and the gourmet shop.
Over the years, the Madonna Inn has become a San Luis Obispo landmark and a popular destination for tourists, celebrities, and locals alike.
Rocker Debbie Harry, supermodel Kathy Ireland and actor Macaulay Culkin, Dolly Parton and even John Wayne have stayed at the Inn. Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffman, Reba McIntyre and Sam Elliott are among the celebrities who’ve dined here.
And the Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo has been featured in several films and television shows, including Hollywood’s “The Big Lebowski” and the TV series “The Bachelor.”
Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo, California
The Madonna Inn sits on over 1,000 acres and the massive rocks used in the construction came from these grounds. Some of the larger rocks weigh in at an excess of 200 tons each.
Several wood carvers were brought in for the specialty work hand carving the doors, beams and railings.
The marble balustrade in the sparkly gold and bright hot pink Gold Rush dining room came from Hearst Castle. All copper and brass items were etched and shaped from original designs and fabricated on the premises. The eclectic gold tree fixture in the main dining room was fashioned from electrical conduit left over from building projects and copper remnants.
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Those Crazy Rooms!
The real fascination of the historic Inn is its fascinating and peculiar rooms, ranging from luxurious and ornate to whimsical and playful and some just downright bizarre. The rooms’ themes span across time and place, fantasy and reality.
The challenge for visitors will be choosing which one they want to claim they’ve stayed in. Do you go for what you like? Or do you impress others by ramping up your scale of weirdness? Some fun ones include:
Caveman Room: designed to look like a prehistoric cave, with rock walls, a waterfall shower, and a giant stone fireplace. Flintstones, anyone?
Love Nest: a romantic room with a four-poster bed, a heart-shaped hot tub, and private balcony overlooking the garden. Like something right out of Old Vegas.
Safari Room: decorated with animal prints, a canopy bed, and a private balcony overlooking the pool. You may not be in Africa, but you’ll feel like it.
Irish Hills Room: with a cheeky leprechaun statue just inside the front door, vintage portraits in the bathroom and the eyes of those pipe-smoking gents positively twinkling as they follow you around the room.
Daisy Mae Room: 1934 comic strip character in love with Li’l Abner. Entirely rock-themed with a unique waterfall shower. You’ll think you’re back in Dog Patch, USA.
Just Heaven Room: French-inspired deluxe suite with a sitting area and a spiral staircase up to a viewing area. Features a plush, round bed and a ceiling painted to look like the sky, complete with twinkling stars. This room is simply divine.
Yahoo Room: decorated in a Western theme, with a buckboard bed, cowboy hat lamp, horseshoe-shaped shower, and a cowhide-covered sofa. The only things missing is the horse and the tumbleweed.
Carin Room: Swiss for “endearment,” an enchanting room touched by the angels in soft shades of pink. Gold cherubs embrace the king bed, lovebirds adorn the bath. Feeling romantic?
Which room did we stay in?
On our first visit to the Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo, it was the Old Mill Room with a mill waterwheel above our bed, complete with the sounds of rolling, splashing water.
My hubby was hooked on the Caveman Room for our second stay. We loved the stone fireplace and of course, the rock shower was pretty awesome.
Which room next? Only time will tell.
Hotel Madonna California
The variety of themes might be the biggest draw, but the experience of the Madonna Inn isn’t just about the rooms. The lounges and restaurants of the Inn are as eclectic as the accommodations, and there’s no denying the cocktails and food here are really good, especially when indulging at Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House seated in a pink booth. It doesn’t get any better than this.
The traditional steak house serves up oak-pit barbecued steak, seafood, chicken, and other entrees, along with a superb wine list and decadent desserts in a dazzling atmosphere. Whatever you order, be sure to save room for a slice of Pink Champagne Cake, the signature Madonna Inn dessert given a shout-out by Kacey Musgraves and other notable stars.
A spectacular hilltop oasis built right into the mountainside features a heated beach-entry pool, two jetted whirlpools, a fitness room, gazebo and waterfall. Of course, it also has pink umbrellas that feel quite fitting when holding a signature ‘pink cloud’ frozen drink in hand.
An opulent onsite spa located near the pool area offers unique spa treatments such as a ‘Flower Power’ massage and “Fruitful’ facial.
We found after our first stay at the Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo that it definitely has a cult-like following for those who are drawn to this crazy, kooky place.
Nostalgia is in the very fabric of the flamboyant Inn. Its attention to detail harkens to another era. One of our friends aptly calls a stay here ‘like being in a funky time capsule.’
Yep, we answered the call to the parental rite of passage, but we have to admit, we enjoyed it! Madonna Inn still owned and operated by the Madonna family remains one of the most iconic and beloved lodgings in California.
You’ve got to do it to say you did!
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