Wednesday 13 January 2016

Road Trip Diary: Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo


Day 59 & 60
Carmel Valley to San Luis Obispo
Wednesday 1st & Thursday 2nd July 2015

The Madonna Inn is a pink palace of perfection. That is, if like me, your idea of perfection is a hotel with individually designed rooms and hyper-kitsch interiors in multiple shades of salmon, carmine and coral.

A bit of history before you start thinking this is some new hipster venture in the vein of the Ace chain: the original Inn, complete with the famous white faux Swiss cladding, was opened in 1958 by local entrepreneurs Alex and Phyllis Madonna with money from their construction and cattle businesses. Initially built with 12 rooms, by 1960 the hotel had 40 and today they have 110, each with its own name and style. The rock-effect Caveman is one of their most popular room requests- think underground Bond villain lair chic. Located on a strip of arid hillside in San Luis Obispo, the Madonna Inn is a west coast treasure and a tourist trap but it's also a conveniently located stop on a Pacific Coast drive.

Without hesitation, I would say that this was the stay I was most excited about. Ed didn't feel quite the same because it’s an expensive stay for a road trip on a tight budget- the cheapest room is $199/night. Not extortionate but more than we had factored in for most nights. I had a minor tantrum at the thought of not staying there, especially after driving past it on our 2011 trip and Googling photos of the rooms obsessively ever since, so Ed kindly relented and we initially booked one night and then increased it to two when we realised we had saved money on a few other motels later down the line.

On arrival we were allocated Floral Fantasy, possibly the pinkest, tackiest room of the whole bunch. I was ecstatic. Again, Ed not so pleased but he got over it. Everything in the room was monogrammed with their logo and the miniature toiletries, soaps and various other freebies were all hastily shoved in my suitcase.

There are a few things you might need to get over to fully enjoy the Madonna Inn. Firstly, it's a weird place. On the first night whilst we sat in the bar, a class of locals attended a sombre tea dance next to us and it felt very much like we had ended up in an episode of Twin Peaks or The Twilight Zone, either of which we would have been very happy with.

Secondly, it's expensive. We only ate in the much-photographed Gold Rush restaurant on one of our nights because a steak cost nearly $50. To be fair to them, for that price you do get a whole host of sides so I'd advise skipping appetisers/starters unless you're famished. It was good, solid, tasty food and you're paying for the setting as much as you're paying for dinner. For dessert, we ordered a couple of slices of their famous cakes and I could have happily grazed my way through a whole pink champagne signature bake. I mean, look at it!  As penance for our blow out, the next night we ate at a terrible IHOP on a nearby strip mall and I cried into my syrupy pancakes for more glorious champagne cake.

Thirdly, its a wonderful place and it's ageing well, but it's a bit shabby around the edges. Nothing awful - our room was spotlessly clean - but it's not a modern build so a few areas look like they could do with a lick of paint. If you can get past these points and you will love it.

We spent our next day lounging by the beautiful pool, drinking coconut slushies from the pool bar and napping. If you're not lazy like us you can play tennis, go horse-riding (something I truly regret not doing), take a hike in the hills and/or partake in their onsite wine tasting.

I could have stayed there a week but Ed was itching to get to Santa Barbara so we spent our last evening in the bar nestled on pink cushioned stools on the pink floral carpet whilst we drank pink strawberry cocktails and then retired to our pink bed in our very pink bedroom. Perfection indeed.

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