The Madonna Inn Is a Kitschy, Retro Paradise — Here’s What Makes It So Unique
The retro hotel is full of eye candy.
Staying at a hotel is fun: crisp sheets, housekeeping, and you get to use (and take home) cute miniature toiletries. But not all hotels are created equal. Many are decidedly bland, with decor that makes one indistinguishable from the next. For those who appreciate individuality, there’s the Madonna Inn, a midcentury wonder in sunny San Luis Obispo, California. A quirky hotel that’s been in business more than 60 years, it features 110 elaborately decorated theme rooms, each uniquely styled. While its kitschy flair may not be for everyone, we think it’s an oddity worth visiting (or even just admiring from afar). Here’s a bit of the lore behind the Madonna Inn and a look at what makes it so special.
A Short History of the Madonna Inn
The Madonna Inn is a sprawling property located on 1,000 acres of land. The first 12 rooms were built in 1958, and construction of the main inn began in 1960. Today, there are 110 unique rooms, each with a distinct theme and aesthetic. The hotel’s name comes from the inn’s founder, Alex Madonna, whose aim, according a 1975 article in The New York Times, was to “create something that would be distinguishable from a run‐of‐the‐mill Holiday Inn.” He has no doubt succeeded.
Madonna and his wife, Phyllis, collaborated on the design, which features leaded glass work, hand-carved marble, large rocks sourced from the inn’s grounds, and bright bursts of color. (The hotel is known for its wholehearted embrace of pink — even the tennis court is pink!) In 1966, part of the inn was damaged in a fire; but not long after, it bounced back with the themed rooms that exist today, drawing curious travelers from all over the world. In recent years, its bright colors have made it a social media staple, and those who appreciate its vibrant ’60s style and playful nostalgia simply can’t get enough of it.
Which room would you choose?
While the Madonna Inn boasts amenities like a pool, a spa, hiking trails, horseback rides, and restaurants, the main attraction is, without question, the design. Should you visit the inn, the most difficult part of your stay will be choosing which of the 110 rooms to stay in. As the famed Italian author Umberto Eco wrote, “the poor words with which natural human speech is provided cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn.” Truly, it must be seen to be believed.
Thankfully, the Madonna Inn’s website has photos of every room. (Videos of the rooms can also be viewed on the inn’s TikTok page.) You can easily spend an entire day clicking through them all. Themes include golf, the wild west, antique cars, caves, and hearts and flowers, to name only a few. There’s even a website section for rooms featuring “rock waterfall showers,” one of which also has green carpeting and a rainbow-painted ceiling. Clearly, at the Madonna Inn, minimalism is a no-go.
Here’s a tour of a room with a working water wheel (definitely not something you’d expect to encounter in a hotel) and glittering green walls.
The bathroom setup in the “Old-Fashioned Honeymoon” room feels like something out of a storybook.
The Madonna Inn’s tour video of the “Yosemite Rock” room has over one million views, and with good reason — its rock walls are straight out of The Flintstones.
Long Live the Madonna Inn
Amidst the stress of modern life, the charmingly campy decor of the Madonna Inn is the perfect escape. The fact that this inn is still standing — in all its ’60s glory — is a testament to the enduring power of Alex Madonna’s creative vision. Madonna’s style may be over-the-top, but as he told The New York Times, “the people are always happy” when staying there. To step into a candy-colored time machine, book a visit.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.