My Covid Staycation at the Madonna Inn
Updated: Sep 9
How this quirky Central California coastal Inn will have you feeling like you've been instantly transported to a Swiss Chalet... or a jungle in Africa... or back in time to the 1900s... or to prehistoric caveman times... wait, what?
Is it considered a staycation if you’re traveling a couple hours away? I’m not sure—that’s a legitimate question. While I suppose my trip to San Luis Obispo might technically not be a “staycation” by definition, it sure felt like one since San Luis Obispo (“SLO”) is so close to Santa Barbara (where I lived for many years) and still not far from Ventura (where I live now). Either way, the point was to stay at a hotel property somewhere close by, to get the feeling of getting away, without having to travel too far because of Covid-19 concerns. And so, my girlfriends and I got together and booked a couple of rooms at the quirky and super unique SLO staple, the Madonna Inn.
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This über quirky, fun hotel has been around since the late 50s and is famous for its elaborately themed rooms. Each room is completely different, and they vary from a Swiss chalet to jungle abode or caveman dwelling. Their popular suites—like “Barrel of Fun” where we stayed—often book a year in advance, as you can pick your room upon booking. These suites often have detailed rock walls and waterfall showers, ornate linens, tapestries and wallpapers, and sometimes bizarre decor.
The rooms themselves are the pièce de résistance and what draws people to the Madonna Inn. Often times getting “a steal” and booking the best room is part of the fun. People who are long-time patrons of the Madonna Inn know that the best rooms book well in advance, and those who have yearly stays often book their room a year in advance.
One unique thing about the Madonna Inn is that you choose the specific room you stay in. Photos of the rooms are available online, though in most cases, the photos just don’t do the rooms any justice, so knowing which rooms to book ahead of time is actually helpful.
The Check-In Process:
The check-in process was easy and felt safe, but just took slightly longer than normal. When you arrive at the Madonna Inn, you drive past the main entrance area, where the dining room and shops are open to the public, and head toward the registration desk that is located within the porte-cochère. If you drive through the porte-cochère, you’ve gone too far. Guests arriving at the property park just before the porte-cochère (by the colorful painted cow sculpture) and then go into the registration office before heading to their rooms (the rooms are spread out, so you likely won’t know where to park until after you check in).
Our stay was in early July, so in California that was still pretty much at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hotels and restaurants had just opened within the last month or so. To protect guests from additional exposure to Covid, the office only allowed one household of guests into the office at one time. There were signs outside the door instructing people to stay outside until it was their turn, and there were even ropes designating areas to wait in line in case others were inside. Though there was in fact one couple inside when I arrived, there was no need to wait in the designated ropes, as I was the only person in line. I waited for less than 10 minutes before being allowed inside.
Once inside the registration office, the woman at the desk went through the normal process like any other: took my ID and credit card information and confirmed the stay. She then gave me a map indicating where my room was and where to park,
Most of the facilities at the property were open when we stayed in July. The pool was open—and was quite full, to our surprise. The tables and loungers were set in clusters for families and groups staying together to be together, and were generally six feet apart from other groups. The hot tub, however, was closed (due to the fact that you can’t socially distance in a hot tub).
While the shop and the restaurant in the main building were open (the restaurant was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner), the in-room dining options were limited. While they did offer things like boxed pastries and coffee—with contact-less delivery, left outside your door—they did not offer the traditional breakfast like normal. We didn’t find this to be a hindrance at all, since coffee and some pastries were all we really wanted for breakfast anyway.
The day we arrived, the spa was still closed, but we were notified at check in that the spa would be booking massages as soon as the following day. We didn’t take advantage of any of their spa services, but it was nice to know that was option if we had wanted to.
The easiest way to choose a room is to head to their website and peruse the photos of each of the rooms online. Then you plug in your dates into the booking calendar and see which rooms are available.
While choosing a room is really based on personal preference, here are some of the Madonna Inn’s most popular rooms:
You know that iconic floral carpet they have throughout the restaurant? The one in bright pink, with pops of orange, green and yellow? Well, it’s in this room too. This is their signature room, and you can tell that from the moment you walk in. It boasts all the Madonna Inn favorites: a massive fireplace, unique walk-in waterfall shower, and interior furnishings that were hand selected by Phyllis Madonna. If privacy is what you’re after, then this is your girl: a stone pathway leads to the entrance of this secluded suite in the hilltop unit.
This is the room where we stayed. And let me tell you: the photos DO NOT do it justice! This room has glittery blue walls, us SUPER spacious, touts the Madonna Inn’s famous rock bathroom, and has a large seating area with a comfy couch, fireplace and dining table. It also has a pretty rad outdoor patio where you can people watch as guests come to and from the pool.
Named after Bridalveil falls in Yosemite, this room boasts a rock waterfall shower, with ornate stained glass windows and green galore.
One of the property’s most spacious suites, the Austrian suite has two separate balconies, a large living room, vaulted ceilings and a shower large enough for two.
A super unique, celestial-like room in varying shades of blue and gold, this large king suite has an enchanting staircase that winds upward into a private viewing tower above. If you’re familiar with the property, the viewing tower is that stained glass top portion to the right of building 3.
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