Fun

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The Madonna Inn

A Swiss chalet, set in the game Candyland, filled with gaudy treasures.

Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steakhouse, via Expedia.com.

Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse, via Expedia.com.

Everyone has their happy place. Maybe yours is summer camp, or the mall. For some people it’s Disneyland; for others, a national park. For me, the happiest, most enchanting, most marvelous place in the world is the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California.

Two of the inn's rooms. Above: the Love Nest. Below: the Caveman Room.

Two of the inn’s rooms. Above: the Love Nest. Below: the Caveman.

Growing up in Southern California, I had always heard about this magical place—a hotel famous for its fantasy-themed rooms, over-the-top decor, and kitschy charm—from friends who had visited and from travel magazines my parents read. It was built by Alex and Phyllis Madonna (no relation to this Madonna) and opened its doors on Christmas Eve 1958. (The first 12 guests got to stay for free!) From the outside, it looks like a Swiss chalet set in the game Candyland, and the inside is just a cornucopia of wonderfully gaudy treasures.

The world-renowned Madonna Inn cakes, via Susan Branch.

The world-renowned Madonna Inn cakes, via Susan Branch.

Phyllis’s favorite color is pink, so many elements of the hotel’s decor, from the streetlights to the carpet to the napkins and even the sugar on the tables in the restaurants is that lovely shade. When I moved into my own apartment earlier this year, I may or may not have mimicked the Madonna Inn’s pink-centric approach to interior decorating. I even painted my bathroom pink as a sort of homage to both the hotel and Jayne Mansfeld, complete with framed photos of both hanging on the wall.

My Madonna Inn–inspired bathroom. Yes, that is Cam’ron next to Jayne Mansfield and Dolly Parton, if you’re wondering.

My Madonna Inn–inspired bathroom. Yes, that is Cam’ron next to Jayne Mansfield and Dolly Parton, if you’re wondering.

The inn also does little things to make your experience there extra special, like providing rock candy with which to sweeten your iced tea and serving every beverage in these gorgeous colorful goblets that you can buy to bring home (I have a pink one and a jade one myself).

The aforementioned goblets. Also visible: rock candy accompanying my iced tea.

The aforementioned goblets. Also visible: rock candy accompanying my iced tea.

And if you stay there on your birthday, there will be a balloon and a slice of cake waiting for you. (Trust me, I have experienced it. Are there cake ninjas at the Madonna Inn? I’d like to think so.)

Me enjoying my favorite Madonna Inn treat, the pink champagne cake.

Me enjoying my favorite Madonna Inn treat, the pink champagne cake.

Then there are the rooms. There are 110 of them, with fun names like Krazy Dazy (flower-themed, naturally), Canary Cottage (bright yellow, festooned with birdcages and fake birds), Captain’s Bridge (nautical-themed), Bit of Solvang (fashioned after Danish hand-painted china), Fabulous Fifties (you can probably guess), and Everything Nice (what the Madonna considers a “refined atmosphere,” i.e., maroon shag carpet, velvet fake-Victorian sofa and chairs). Each room is different, but they are all BANANAS. Pink glitter walls! Rose-patterned carpeting! Taxidermy! Gold cherubs hanging from ceilings! I could go on and on. One of the most popular rooms is the Caveman, which has a rock waterfall and a decorating scheme straight out of Land of the Lost.

Clockwise from top left: Vous, Canary Cottage, Irish Hills, and the Madonna Inn Suite. Photos via Madonna Inn.

Clockwise from top left: Vous, Canary Cottage, Irish Hills, and the Madonna Inn Suite. Photos via Madonna Inn.

Finally, after years of longing, I went to the Madonna Inn for the first time in February 2008. My friends and I had been researching the inn for months, and decided to make the three-hour drive up north for a weekend getaway. We planned an elaborate photo shoot, complete with wigs and costumes (pretty much just for our Facebook and Myspace profile pics). Seeing the hotel in person blew us away. We fell in love with it immediately, and we visited several more times over the years. Our Madonna Inn photo shoots became something of a tradition, each with a different theme, e.g., “Alice in Wonderland” or “Marie Antoinette.”

Marie Antoinette Lodi. Photo by Robyn Swank.

Marie Antoinette Lodi. Photo by Robyn Swank.

I’ve stayed in a total of six rooms so far at the Madonna Inn, and my life goal is to get to all of them. A couple of favorites have been Carin (with the aforementioned pink glitter walls), Just Heaven, and Love Nest, the latter two of which have a spiral staircases that lead to a teeny-tiny sitting areas surrounded by colored glass windows. Sounds like a good makeout spot to me, HALLO.

Yours truly modeling for you in the Carin room. Photo by Robyn Swank.

Yours truly modeling for you in the Carin room. Photo by Robyn Swank.

What a wedding would look like at the Madonna Inn! Look at those pink chairs! Photo  via Madonna Inn.

What a wedding would look like at the Madonna Inn! Look at those pink chairs! Photo via Madonna Inn.

If you are a lover of pink, vintage kitsch, and FUN in general, make it a life goal to visit the Madonna Inn. Did I mention there were horses and the men’s bathroom has a waterfall urinal? I haven’t even described the women’s bathrooms either—pink and gold wallpaper and wooden carved stall doors covered in tufted pink leather!!! ♦

20 Comments

  • luvcat June 24th, 2014 12:01 AM

    OH MY GOD I AM AT A LOSS FOR ADEQUATE WORDS. the Madonna Inn became my vision of heaven when i first went there as a five year old. this place is so sacred to me. Seeing this on rookie is the most insane, awesome reminder of how relevent this site is to my life and how incredibly important the existence of rookie is to the world.

  • Krista June 24th, 2014 12:18 AM

    I actually cannot believe how much I love this/you <3

  • kimchi June 24th, 2014 2:29 AM

    I’ve seen lots of photos of the Madonna Inn before, but I have never wanted to stay there as badly as I do now. I’d never even considered the potential for doing photo shoots there, what is wrong with me! I’ve never been inside, but I’ve driven past it a few times driving from LA to San Francisco. I think the hotel is made even cooler by being in the middle of nowhere. I was really surprised when I saw it for the first time because I had no idea where it even was, and then all of a sudden it was there. There are some places you visit only in your mind, and it is quite a shock when they appear out of the blue.

    http://glitterous-clitoris.blogspot.com.au/

  • Kat109 June 24th, 2014 3:36 AM

    Oh my gosh, I absolutely LOVE Madonna Inn. I live in SLO and totally freaked when I saw this article. I frequently hang with friends in the gift shop and explore all of the rooms. Thank you x1000 for posting about something so close to my heart.

    • _holly_ June 24th, 2014 5:23 PM

      eek, I live in slo too, and I also freaked out when I saw our little town getting some acknowledgement!

  • elliecp June 24th, 2014 4:47 AM

    OMG THE CAKES
    also Canary Cottage looks like my dream
    I want to go so badly!

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • Sho-Sho June 24th, 2014 7:43 AM

    Argh I want to get on a plane and fly to California RIGHT NOW. I want to stay in the pick & shovel room so badly!
    Thank you so much for bringing this into my life!!!!

  • dianadiana June 24th, 2014 8:19 AM

    The Madonna Inn is my childhood! I can’t tell you how many of those cakes I’ve had… And every. single. time. my cousins and I went we snuck into the men’s bathroom to see the waterfall urinal! I’m half way around the world from SLO so it made me so unbelievably happy to see this on Rookie. Thank you for a little reminder of home when I’m so far away :’)

  • paashaas21 June 24th, 2014 8:31 AM

    ohmy

  • FlaG June 24th, 2014 8:55 AM

    Aching with longing. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaachiinngggggggg…

  • LuxOrBust June 24th, 2014 1:31 PM

    Okay, I’m in love. Going this summer

  • itssabine June 24th, 2014 3:26 PM

    How had I never heard of this before?!

    http://cursive-type.blogspot.com

  • Vlada June 24th, 2014 3:50 PM

    Oh please!!! Why?? Now I have to add it to my bucket list because it seems like a dream place.
    I think I will choose Just Heaven :)

    http://speakingofvlada.blogspot.com.es/

  • brett the boy June 24th, 2014 10:05 PM

    i live in SLO and i love this place! ive never stayed in any of the rooms but the pink champagne cake is the best cake ever made by anyone on this planet!! i got one for my boyfriends birthday this year and we ate the whole thing by ourselves (over the course of a week or so, those things are huuuuge)

  • Pebbles64 June 24th, 2014 10:14 PM

    My husband and I were married at Madonna Inn in 2012 . My guests sat in the pink chairs for the ceremony ! And drank out the goblets with dinner ! The food is amazing ! The champagne cake is to die for ! We also stayed in the Austrian Suite ! Madonna inn is definitely a must-see !
    Cheers
    Pebbles 64

  • missemma June 24th, 2014 11:10 PM

    Ahh I stayed here with my best friend in January. We were driving home to NorCal from L.A. and miscalculated how long the costal route would take, so we decided spur of the moment at 11:30 at night to stay here. best. decision. ever.

  • Mimi7 June 25th, 2014 12:56 AM

    Wow, I’ve actually been here! I haven’t stayed in a room, but I’ve eaten at the restaurant. I was so jealous that my dad got to go in the waterfall bathroom!
    http://dreaminginfashion.wordpress.com/

  • maxrose June 25th, 2014 2:28 AM

    i love the madonna inn so much i’ve been going pretty much my entire life its my favorite place in the world!! i cant believe its on rookie this makes me so happy!!

  • Lally June 29th, 2014 5:39 PM

    Omg!! you have just reignited my love for this place! I have always wanted to visit, it looks a like an amazing magical place. One day I’ll get there! XX

    lallymacbeth.blogspot.co.uk

  • laurasophie June 30th, 2014 9:24 AM

    ah i was on exchange for a year in slo and on my way to school id drive by the madonna inn and its so magical and perfect and its so great that you wrote about it on rookie !