Cover image: William Gillette postcard circa early 1970s / Public Domain

Driving along the Cabrillo Highway (U.S. Route 101/California SR 1) halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco through San Luis Obispo, California, you can’t miss the Madonna Inn. In fact, when you pull off the exit to Madonna Road and into the inn’s parking lot, you’ll be just as charmed by the mostly pink, Swiss chalet-inspired exterior of the inn as the many road trippers and family vacationers who’ve been stopping here at the motel/tourist attraction have been charmed for decades.

And if the façade isn’t enough to lure you in for either just a peek or a night’s stay at the inn, certainly you’ll be curious about its pink and green dining room or its famous men’s room urinals designed by Hollywood set designer Harvey Allen Warren that are made of rock with everything getting flushed away by a waterfall.

If this sounds like your idea of fun, then read on as today’s Motel Monday takes a look at this celebrated Southern California overnight icon – the Madonna Inn.

“An Architectural Fantasy”

An early postcard of the lobby of the Madonna Inn c. 1960s. / Public Domain

Successful highway contractor Alex Madonna wanted to offer tourists and their families something a little different from the cookie-cutter hospitality chains that were popping up all over mid-century America. As a result, Madonna and his wife, Phyllis came up with idea of the Madonna Inn with each of the inn’s rooms having a different theme.

After going through many architects and designers, the Madonnas couldn’t find one that shared their vision. As a result, they decided to build it themselves without a plan, designing the rooms as they went along. In the end, they ended up with a few odd-shaped rooms fashioned out of the leftover spaces creating what the New York Times called “an architectural fantasy in Southern California” in 1977.

What people really come to inn for, however, isn’t just the architectural design of the building; rather, more come for the rooms.

Rooms at the Inn

A postcard of the Safari Room c. late 1960s. / Public Domain

As they were building the inn, Mr. and Mrs. Madonna decided on the theme for each room and then looked for suitable decorations.

Looking like the Universal Studios back-lot, themes include a “Safari Room” featuring faux leopard linens, tiger curtains and a bedroom bench upholstered in zebra skin. The all pink “Love Nest” is so sugary sweet you may need to make a dentist appointment after your stay. Then, of course, there’s the famous “Caveman Room” which will bring out the Neanderthal in anyone (though room service is available for all of you hunter-gatherers on their modern stone-age family vacation).

The first 12 rooms were completed December 24, 1958. The Madonna’s were so excited by their first visitor that night they waived his $7 a night fee and gave him a complimentary stay. Nevertheless, the Madonna Inn was an immediate success and an additional 28 rooms were built soon after its opening making a total of 40 rooms available to guests.

The Love Nest as seen in a postcard c. 1960s. / Public Domain

In 1960 construction started on the main inn which would come to include of a wine cellar, a bakery, a coffee shop, a dining room, a cocktail lounge, a ladies’ boutique, a men’s gift shop, a gourmet shop, banquet rooms  and of course, the men’s room with its famous waterfall urinals.

Unfortunately, in May 1966, a fire burned the original units to the ground. Still, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the inn opened back up a year later. By 1970, all of the rooms had been rebuilt to look like they do now.

Some of the names of the rooms have changed as well since its opening after Hanna-Barbera Productions brought a copyright suit against the Madonna Inn in 1983 for its use of the characters Fred Flintstone and Wilma Flintstone and the phrase “Yabba Dabba Doo” in the inn’s  “Flintstone Room”  Today it’s simply known as the “Caveman Room”.

The Madonna Inn Today

Today, the Madonna Inn has 110 themed rooms for guests to choose with no room being exactly repeated in the over 64 years since the Madonna first opened.  

Along with the rooms, guests can relax at the pool or spa, get in a workout at the fitness center, do a little boutique shopping, play some tennis, go horseback riding, go hiking, or enjoy some of the tasty snacks and meals you can get at any one of the restaurants, lounges and bars located on the property.

Alex Madonna passed away in 2004. In a 1982 New York Times article, Madonna said, “I try to give people a decent place to stay where they receive more than they are entitled to for what they’re paying. I want people to come in with a smile and leave with a smile. It’s fun.”

A stay at the Madonna Inn is fun, indeed, Mr. Madonna.

For more information or to scope out the room you want to reserve for your next Southern California road trip, you can visit their website here or call them toll-free at 1-800-543-9666.

Did someone just mention snacks? 

Whether it’s the Madonna Inn or Christ in the Ozarks, be sure to have plenty of Stuckey’s on hand no matter where you’re headed on your next road trip. Along with your favorite pecan treats like our pecan pralines and our iconic Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls, why not some take along some of our tasty salt water taffy or for those with the crunchy munchies, our Hunkey Dorey for road trip snacks?

Speaking of Hunkey Dorey, for all of you popcorn lovers who can’t make up their mind, try the Stuckey’s Popcorn Sampler that’s sure to be a big hit with all of you road warriors on your next big adventure.

Whether you’re preparing for a family vacation or a family staycation, stock up on your Stuckey’s snacks by ordering from stuckeys.com today.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again.