The Madonna Inn: A Family’s Fantasy Comes True

The Madonna Inn is located on 2,200 scenic acres in San Luis Obispo, California. Its very existence is the fulfillment of an American family’s dream.

Passersby who approach the sight of the gleaming white and pink buildings along busy California Highway 101 are guaranteed a smile. Those that take the time to stop and look around are always glad they did. There is nothing quite like the Madonna Inn Resort and Spa.

This article was originally intended to be one of our many reviews of unique and luxury properties, and we will get to that, but first we want to relate the fascinating story of how the Madonna Inn came to be.

The Madonna Inn is best known for its peculiar and sometimes off the wall guestroom decor. However, we found it to be more than an exclusive resort with unusual rooms, great restaurants, and a revitalizing spa. It is also the story of one family’s success through hard work, determination, and dedication to public service.

The Madonna Inn story

This is the short version, but if you happen to be an American, it should be enough to give you pride in the country that made the achievement possible.

In the beginning

Alex Madonna was born in 1919. Soon after graduating high school he started building roads and bridges in California with little more than the pick and shovel that was to become his cattle brand and trademark in later life.

Alex applied his road building skills in the US Army during WWII, and upon returning from Japan met and married his lifelong partner to be, the lovely and talented Phyllis Boyd. Together they dreamed great dreams. Through the years, they worked hard and built an empire in Central California, a piece of which is the magnificent Madonna Inn.

Some historic achievements

Alex’s construction company had the distinction of completing the last 5 miles of Interstate 5 that links Canada with Mexico. The location of the historic event was just south of Sacramento, California. He also constructed many miles of the new California Highway 101 freeway that coincidentally runs directly in front of the Madonna Inn.

Beyond road construction

The Madonnas were visionaries with many talents. In the early 1950s, they had the idea that a hotel located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles on busy Highway 101 would be popular because it would break up the long drive between the two major cities.

On December 24, 1958, Alex and Phyllis opened the 12 room Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Imagine the first guest’s surprise when the owners greeted and informed them that because it was Christmas Eve, their accommodations were free!

Expanding the dream

Of course, Alex and Phyllis were right about the location of the Inn, and in 1960, the successful entrepreneurs added the café, restaurant, lounge, pastry shop, and gift shops. Each new feature was thoughtfully designed with the convenience and enjoyment of the traveling public in mind.

Through the years, the Inn grew to its present 110 rooms. Phyllis’ interior design ingenuity complemented Alex’s architectural and construction skills and the Madonna Inn took shape and gave new meaning to the word “unique.” 

An eloquent tribute

Phyllis Madonna has written a book entitled, “My Point of View.” It is the story of the Inn, her family, and her life with Alex. During our stay, we borrowed a copy from the registration office and read it cover to cover. What a fascinating and meaningful life unfolds in those remarkable pages.

Alex Madonna passed away in 2004, but his story and vision lives on at the Madonna Inn. 

We wish we had an opportunity to meet and spend time with Alex and Phyllis Madonna. Their lifetime achievements are truly inspiring.

Alex and Phyllis have children who grew up in the family’s ever-expanding businesses in hospitality, land development, construction, lumber, and ranching. As their enterprises grew, family members stayed involved and provided jobs for an ever-growing number of locals who ultimately contributed to the growth and vitality of the Central Coast of California. 

We were told that Phyllis still lives on the property and regularly visits the Inn. Her daughter Connie is now General Manager, and by all appearances, she is doing an excellent job of upholding the family tradition of hospitality.

To see more photos of the Madonna family and the Madonna Inn click here.

There will be many more photos of the Inn and its many amenities in the next article when we explore the legendary idiosyncrasies that have made the Madonna Inn so globally famous. 

For reservations and more information about the Madonna Inn look at their website at:

You can also check out to locate other attractions in the area such as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (Hearst Castle), in San Simeon, CA, which is about 45 miles away.

Click here to read another of our articles about San Luis Obispo County. It’s about the annual visit of the Monarch Butterflies to delightful Pismo Beach.

If you go

The Madonna Inn is about 225 miles south of San Francisco (take Exit 201) and 175 miles north of Los Angeles (take Exit 200A) just off California Highway 101. Follow the signs to the Inn.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Photos of the Madonna Family courtesy of Madonna Inn.

You can see the world with Google Maps.


1 Comment

  1. It is remarkable, the helpful information

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