Bright and early the weekend before Thanksgiving Prudence Fenton and I hopped in the mustache van and drove up the coast to San Luis Obispo.

If you’ve never been to The Madonna Inn there, drive, fly, walk, bike, whatever mode of transportation it takes, and go there NOW!

I don’t care where you’ve been to see your architectural kitsch, this is one stop shopping of infinitesimal magnitude. I’ve blogged about this place many a time before but one post, even a hundred, could never cover the staggering detail present on the 2200 acres that appear mirage-like on the side of the 101 freeway.

The whole place was designed by this guy

…. for this lady:

Alex Madonna, a construction magnate and entrepreneur who among other things built the section of the 101 the Inn sits next to, built this palace in 1958. These portraits of Alex and his wife Phyllis’ hang right outside the main dining room.

You need a closer look at that mother of all grape lamps in between them. Eight feet of barrel and the most magnificent assemblage of resin grape clusters anywhere:

This hangs right across the cave from this stairway, one of the subtler ones at The Madonna Inn:

Every time I drive up north taking the 101, I stop at The Madonna Inn to eat. Usually I’m in a hurry and just have time to hit the coffee shop. By the way, coffee always tastes better when the sugar is in one of these two forms, available only here:

The pink crystals and rock formations look especially good on the all copper counter and tabletops…

…which are surrounded by all copper decorative trim…

…which makes sense as this is the name of the coffee shop:

But if I’m not in a hurry to get where I’m going I try to park myself in the main dining room, The Gold Rush Steakhouse. I think you can see why:

Here’s another reason:

That’s one big ol’ slab o’ beef! As an animal lover I  don’t like to think about this but the beef is grown mere feet from the restaurant.  Here I am posing at midnight with the subject of my meal:

I always love a restaurant that starts you off with a relish plate:

Far from the usual celery and carrots and olives, this one has salami and a big brick of cheese thrown on top.  Also thrown in for my birthday festivities was Nancye Ferguson, who drove up to join us.

When it’s your birthday at the Madonna Inn your table is marked with a balloon:

Tables with balloons get free cake for dessert:

I had seen the 9″ high pink champagne cakes in the coffeeshop earlier…

So I got a big hunk of it:

Cake always tastes better when it matches the decor.

It’s even better when the decor is decorated for Christmas.

At this time of year, any place there’s room to stick a Christmas tree at The Madonna Inn there is one:

Angles guard over every table:

Some of the most famous rooms at the Madonna Inn are the bathrooms. The most famous is the men’s room. I finally got the balls to sneak in with Jim Burns, a.k.a. Sgt. Frank Woods in Call Of Duty-Black Ops, who also joined us.

Although the giant clam shell sinks are fantastic…

…the legendary waterfall urinal is the main attraction:

Though sans waterfall, the ladies room next door has its own unique charm:

In another bathroom off of the coffeeshop, little girls get their props.  You can’t tell the scale from this photo but the toilet is teeny tiny tot sized…

…and matches the mini little girl sink in the middle of the big gal facilities:

All of this pales next to the bathroom in The Madonna Suite, where I tended to the needs of my roast-beef-sugared-champagne-caked body.

Here’s a little closer look at the sink, though it’s hard to see detail amidst all the rock. Water trickles down all the troughs dug out of the rock.

A full tour of The Madonna Suite tomorrow…

Heading out of LA last Thursday on the 5 was a mess.  An overturned 20-wheeler heading south spilled oranges, lemons and an entire tank of fuel, cloggin up both sides of the freeway like cholestrol in arteries. My travel mate, Snappy P, and I almost had an anuerism baking in the 106 degree sun at a standstill on the fuel-with-lemon-zested highway. So we cut over on 126 to the 101, which added a couple hours onto the trip but also took us past one of the most blessed sights in California, The Madonna Inn, in San Luis Obispo.

If you haven’t been there, the Madonna is a wonderland of kitsch with a kapitol K, with over 100 themed-to-the-nines-and-then-some rooms and a dining area that would bring Liberace to his knees.  I’ve blogged about this place before, but were I to write a book on it there still wouldn’t be enough room to shower enough praise on this architectural and decorating masterpiece. So please enjoy this tip-of-the-kitschberg look around and, without question, if you’re ever on the 101, The Madonna Inn is mere miles from Hearst Castle and, if you’re reading THIS blog, it’s where your tour really should take place.

It’s easy to spot the 20 foot high sign from the freeway:

We didn’t pull in until after 10 PM so unfortunately it was too dark to adequately photograph the exterior. But you can certainly see from this that a little something special is going on:

Just to the left of that fountain is the entrance to the dining rooms:

Go through those doors and you walk into this:

My eyes are  always too busy attempting to take in everything in the main dining room, The Gold Rush Steak House, to focus much on the food, which happens to be excellent.  Take a look around while I munch on something now.

Here’s the reservation desk:

There’s even a dance floor and live band:

And LOTS of mirrors:

And an excellent selection of 50’s chairs if you just want to sit and drink.

If the sugar is this color at The Madonna Inn you can only imagine what the drinks look like:

If you decide you want to do a little clothes shopping during your meal you can hit the stairs to hit the racks:

Despite being loaded down with about ten pounds of prime rib, it’s worth making the climb because of clothing like this:

Let’s take a closer look at that bedazzling:

I would, however, suggest taking the stairs across the room:

They feature these banisters…

…that pass by this door…

… and these portraits of the owners that are nested on either side of the most astounding grape light in history:

Those portraits are a good five feet high so imagine the grandeur of that giant barrel that the resin grapes are tumbling out of as the cherub blesses the wine on the other side of the rock wall. I would say it couldn’t get any better except that at the bottom of the stairs is a penny crushing machine:

Of course, you could have always chosen this stairway:

But then it wouldn’t have led to this bathroom…:

…with this ceiling…

…and these stall doors…:

…and this pink marble and (unfortunately not flocked) gold and pink wallpaper.:

It’s always nice when the bathroom is conveniently located next to the wine cellar:

God knows, there’s miles more to see at The Madonna Inn, like the coffee shop next door to The Gold Rush:

But I’ve got to save something for next time. For as many years as I’ve stopped here to eat and relieve myself, I’ve never stayed overnight.  Which means that I’ve never actually stepped into in any of the rooms. From what I’ve heard and googled, these make the dining area look like the kitsch minor leagues. One day this will happen, especially as I’m thinking of having my birthday party there this year. And when it does, I’ll probably be celebrating in The Caveman:

Or maybe the Old Mill…

Or maybe the Vous:

E vous?


Yesterday, me and Mark Blackwell, who I work with, drove back to LA from up north in Sonoma where I was working with Pomplamoose. As I had raced through the last 48 hours to drive up there with a van full of props so we could shoot our “Shbaby” video, unloaded everything, danced and carried on like a lunatic for the video for much of the time, wrapped, re-wrapped and repaired  instruments I had made out of foamcore, many of which weren’t happy taking the trip, singing and finishing tracks for another song, “R U Thinking”,  finalizing our “Jungle Animal” video, racing back and forth to the hotel where someone who weighed at least 400 pounds was very fidgety in the room above me both nights… as all this was crammed into a less than 48 hour period I was drop dead T-I-R-E-D when it was time to head back yesterday morning.


The plan was that Mark and I were going to take a very leisurely drive down a very peculiar route back down to LA so we could see all these kitsch attractions we had never seen before. But the morning started out with me discovering that my trustee MacBook Pro had finally died. Dead as in completely, totally, this-is-going-to-cost-you-a-lot-of-money DEAD. At least I still had my iPad but this too had been giving me trouble like refusing e-mails from certain of my e-mail accounts, not retaining saves after I took copious notes, and the dictation program working as if I was speaking in Chinese. I also had my two iPhones, both of which are very early versions of the phone, and if you even look at either one of them funny the batteries instantly drain. Now I am someone who is very technology dependent. I’m also a gadget freak. The only way you ever see me with one of anything is if the mate had recently died and I hadn’t had a chance to replace it yet. But here I was miles away from home with a heap of scrap metal technology with a blog to get out and a social network to attend to before we even packed the van.

After an hour delay, we were on the road, whipping through towns I’ve never heard of where the temperature was inching towards 110° in a van with malfunctioning maintenance messages flashing on the navigator every 20 minutes, not to mention I’d had very little sleep in the last 36 hours. Not necessarily the set up for Allee taking a nice, relaxing drive home. We decided to take highway 99 that intersects the 5, a fast but excessively dull drive that puts you in LA from San Francisco in five hours. The 99, on the contrary, takes a couple more hours as it swings way east. But it hits the 5 again down past Fresno so there didn’t appear to be much to lose. Other than we didn’t count on a fire breaking out on the Grapevine, a brutal section of the 5, when a big rig overturned and spilled  hundreds of thousands of carrots across all four lanes and somehow ignited a fire. Which then sent us on one of the wackiest and lonnnngest  detours I’ve ever taken, changing what could have been a six-hour trip into a 14 hour pilgrimage and putting us home at 2 AM.  Here we are passing one of the trillion or so tankers that reflected the 110° heat back to us as we made bandannas stuffed with ice cubes to stay cool:


Thank God, before we realized we would be taking a trip of such epic proportions we passed this building off the 99 which at least fulfilled our dreams of seeing some kitschy sights. Unfortunately, there weren’t many of them but this is a bulldozer building that I would love to call my own.


We finally pulled into a town called Atwater that looked like it might have some interesting possibilities after three consecutive motel signs led us to believe that perhaps the town was untouched by time.


But it hit us almost immediately that time had, indeed, marched through Atwater and there was really nothing outstanding in the way of vintage or kitsch. I’m sure the Atwaterians see this as progress but we were bummed. Especially as this city has the longest traffic lights in history. I could have done with having more to see than a Marie Callendars on the main drag where we were for all most 15 minutes after two agonizing long lights and the longest train I’ve ever seen in my life.

A waiter at Marie’s told us how to cut over to the 101, something we realized we had to do it unless we wanted to sit in a steam room breathing in carrot scented smoke in a traffic jam of  legendary proportion that is a signature of that part of the 5 – there are signs at both ends of the Grapevine that recommend you turn your air conditioner off because the grade is so steep it kills cars. So we took the 152 to jump from the 99 to the 101.


For a minute there it seemed like the beauty of the 152, passing through towns and circling a huge reservoir, was worth adding a couple of hours onto our trip. But when the 152 finally dumped us back onto the 101 it was an hour plus above Monterey, as if we’d driven in the shape of someone who was smiling hard and ended up wayyyyy north, six or seven hours still to go to make it to LA and we had already been in the car for six hours. A straight route down the 101 and 5 from Sonoma would have had me home an hour ago.

But there was one thing and one thing only that put my head in a better space. A few hours down the 101 was The Madonna Inn, a masterpiece of  kitsch. No, that’s not saying enough, the Sistine Chapel of  Kitsch, nestled right next to the 101 in San Luis Obispo.  If we drove fast enough, the dining room would still be open and sitting in the midst of this I don’t care if they served me a tin can I would be happy. We were very happy indeed sitting in the Madonna pink deliciousness and all that accompanied it.

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And after eating this classically American meal…


… I got to take my hopefully last bathroom break here before I arrived home in hopefully 3-4 hours:


Now mind you, I’ve just shown you the main dining room. There’s still the coffee shop, spa and gift shop that features items like this bedazzeled peace t-shirt…


And then there’s the 100 uniquely themed rooms, no two alike, with names like California Poppy,  Canary Cottage, Edelweiss,  Jungle Rock,  Imperial Family, Pick & Shovel and about 100 more in the hotel itself.

I would like to thank The Madonna Inn for coming to the aid of two road weary travelers after a couple intense days of incredibly great music and one day of the most circuitous trip I’ve ever taken. I would have wished for there to be more to see along the carrot/diesel-fumed detour we were forced to take but all in all it was an incredible three days. So also, thank you, Pomplamoose…


… and thank you, Mark, for driving every inch of the entire trip…


… and, once again, thank you, Madonna Inn, for adding a bit of sparkle to an otherwise exceedingly lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng, hotttttt day.