Madonna Inn (San Luis Obispo)

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The Madonna Inn is a Highway 1 icon, built in a pseudo-Swiss style by architect Alex Madonna. (You were hoping it was owned and operated by Madonna, the singer, weren’t you?) Each of the 110 rooms has a different and elaborate theme, incorporating bizarre chandeliers, faux finishes, rock waterfall shower stalls, and an aesthetic I can only describe as Alice in Wonderland meets Route 66.

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Madonna died in 2006, but the landmark motel lives on, its bright pink sign beckoning weary travelers to stop for the night, wander the “magical gardens,” dine in the restaurant (where the men’s room features a giant rock waterfall created by a Hollywood set designer), and wander the trails (or ride the horses).

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You can’t book a specific room; instead, the fantasy you immerse yourself in is determined by the luck of the draw. As it happens, we wind up in the Swiss Bell room, where the ornate green headboard is hand-painted with dazzling sunflowers and the walls are a blend of polished wooden paneling and a ton of local rock. Have a peek at our bathroom:

 

 

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It’s harder to snag a photograph of the rock waterfall shower due to close quarters in there, but if you can imagine bathing in a torrential downpour while standing at the bottom of a rock-lined well, then you’ve pretty much had a shower in the rock waterfall shower facility. (In other words: bathing under a rock-lined water fall in cramped quarters sounds more romantic and magical than it really is.)

The entire place is a testimony to Steve Madonna’s spirit. He once said that anyone could build the same room a thousand times over and call it a motel. He wanted, instead, to create something unique that would have people “arrive and leave smiling.” That’s an inspiring approach to doing whatever it is you do. What might happen if every one of us stopped building thousands of identical rooms … and tried to create things that surprised and delighted the people we serve?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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