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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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!!! ♦