The Madonna Inn: A Central California Curiosity that Continues to Delight

In Part One of our Madonna Inn story we wrote about the history of the Inn and the dedicated family behind its success. Today we describe the reasons why it is so famous.

There is nothing like it – anywhere

The Madonna Inn Resort and Spa spreads across 2,000 acres of scenic Central California. The sprawling complex of glistening white and pink buildings houses an assortment of banquet rooms, restaurants, a cocktail lounge with bandstand and dance floor, boutique and wine shops, a pool and fitness center, an Expo Center, an equestrian event center, and a fabulous spa. Need a limousine? No problem – there’s a company on site.

This is Disneyland without the rides, but it has something beyond comparison – bizarre guestrooms. All the rooms have descriptive titles such as Jungle Rock, Bridal Falls, Caveman, Yahoo, Irish Hills, Matterhorn, Time of Your Life, and Oriental Fantasy. Close your eyes and you can almost hear Tattoo chanting “de plane, de plane!”

In the largest guestroom building, boulders as large as 200 tons were assembled to create guestrooms with rock walls, rock fireplaces, and in some cases, rock waterfall showers.

Many were skeptical about the feasibility of constructing guestrooms around rocks bigger than cars, but we have it on good authority that the Inn’s creators Alex and Phyllis Madonna took comfort in an old Chinese proverb. The maxim goes, “Those who say it can’t be done should not bother those who are busy doing it.” Structural design such as this is just not seen outside the confines of the Madonna Inn.

The famous men’s room urinal

The men’s toilet in the main building where the stores and restaurants are located is so unique that members of the gentler sex often pop into the men’s loo to see the famous rock wall urinal – complete with waterfall flush. The sinks in this lavatory are fashioned from giant clamshells – overall, it is a bathroom you will remember.

Other unique adornments at Madonna Inn

The building housing the Gold Rush Steak House and adjacent Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge is finished with intricate hand carved doors, posts and beams, wine barrels, and railings. Many were done by Alexander Zeller a famous Bavarian master woodcarver who died suddenly in the 60s and before he could complete his work at the Inn. If you look closely in the bar (there is a photo in the slide show) you will see where Mr. Zeller’s carving ends, but his beautiful preliminary sketches continue. Those sketches and outlines are in themselves, worthy works of art.

The Conference Center

The Alex Madonna Expo Center is just a short distance from the Inn’s main facilities. This is a complex with a capacity for 2,600 guests and over 20,000 square feet of floor space making it the largest event facility on the Central Coast of California.

The Pool and Spa

Popular demand resulted in the construction of The Spa at Madonna Inn in 2008. It is situated in the same area as the elegant 90-foot long European pool with beach style entry.

It is easy for guests to enjoy a relaxing and rejuvenating therapy session by Licensed Massage Therapists and Estheticians in The Spa, and then take up a comfortable lounge at poolside to listen to the soothing cascade of the Inn’s 45-foot waterfall. There is also an exercise room at this site, and a large pool bar room. Life is good at Madonna Inn.

The Gold Rush Steak House

Congenial Steak House Manager, Nick Johnson is rightfully proud of his domain, where he smoothly orchestrates the busy dining activity like a seasoned conductor.

The gold rush setting of California’s past provides the vibe and festive atmosphere for this animated restaurant that boasts live band performances three nights per week. During our Saturday night dinner, JP’s Swing Band provided the big band sounds that delighted more than a dozen couples who never left the floor until the music stopped.

The milieu in the Gold Rush is reminiscent of the elegant and dressy super clubs of yore. If this were 1960, the evening entertainment might have included an unexpected celebrity appearance, or an Astaire and Rogers style cabaret.

However, do not be deceived – the Gold Rush is not at all formal and caters to the comforts of its traveling patrons. Guests arrive garbed in everything from suits and gowns to casual attire.

The Gold Rush Tree

Despite elegant furnishings throughout, a 28-foot golden tree fixture with floating cherubs still captures the attention of every eye that enters the Gold Rush Steak House. The “tree” is generously decorated according to the season and is a notable and exciting centerpiece for dining room activity.

Welcome to delicious

We started our meal with a relish tray appetizer of fine cheese, thin sliced Italian salami, fresh celery, various peppers – and other goodies. It was an easy segue into a crisp fresh garden salad with an excellent choice of dressings.

The Gold Rush menu is extensive with excellent entrée selections. The cuisine and wine list is both approachable and sophisticated. After much deliberation, and based on local recommendations, we settled on the filet mignon with baked potato and a carrots and string beans accompaniment.

The tender and delectable house steaks are seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked to perfection over an oak pit barbecue. The results are tantalizingly delicious. Note: Those who prefer their meat unseasoned should advise the server when ordering.

Did we mention desserts?

Take a peek at the Champagne Cake in the photo gallery

Controlling quality

Owner Alex Madonna knew the best way to ensure his “World’s Best Steaks” for the Gold Rush dining room was to control the feed and production process. It is not surprising that he collaborated with John Wayne in buying and raising cattle for the Madonna Inn. Our guess is that the two men enjoyed a friendship that had much more in common than an ability to select and raise good livestock.

Yes, the Madonna Inn is wonderful and fun, and we recommend it highly. It is an especially rewarding experience because it is founded on an all-American family success story. In these difficult times, we can all use an occasional smile and a little extra inspiration.

Be sure not to miss our *photo gallery* of the Madonna Inn, click here.

For reservations and more information about the Madonna Inn look at their website at:  http://madonnainn.com

You can also check out http://www.sanluisobispocounty.com 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 our article describing the interesting history of the Madonna Inn.

Click here to read our article about the annual visit of the Monarch Butterflies to San Luis Obispo County’s delightful Pismo Beach, which is just down the road a piece.

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!

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Photos of Madonna family courtesy of Madonna Inn

You can see the world with Google Maps. www.maps.google.com

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