10 Ridiculously Over-the-Top Maximalist Wonderlands
♫ Gimme, gimme more, gimme more ♫
Sleek, sterile rooms and perfectly Marie Kondo’d apartments are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for a place where every available square inch is jockeying for your attention. These places are designed so that no matter where you look, your senses will be utterly delighted (and occasionally a little bewildered).
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Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return
WHERE: Santa Fe, New Mexico
When visitors arrive at the House of Eternal Return (created and staged by the art and entertainment group Meow Wolf), they’ll find themselves stepping into not just one new world but 70. Inside what appears to be a straightforward Victorian house, unassuming appliances open portals to colorful (sometimes glowing) worlds that are contained within each of the 70 rooms. Visitors choose their own path through the house, surrounded by dazzling environments every step of the way. The House of Eternal Return (temporarily closed due to the pandemic) is Meow Wolf’s first permanent exhibition but plans are underway to open two new exhibitions in Las Vegas and Denver in 2021.
The Robot Restaurant
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
Located in the Tokyo red light and entertainment district of Kabukicho, the Robot Restaurant has been bombarding visitors’ senses since 2012. Less of a restaurant (food is served here but you’re not going for the dining experience) and more of a sci-fi cabaret, this venue stages a 90-minute show multiple times a day wherein robots battle and costumed drummers and dancers perform amid a non-stop onslaught of music, lights (laser, strobe, neon—take your pick!). The details of the show vary a little but it’s consistently a delightfully chaotic experience.
WHERE: San Simeon, California
You won’t find any rooms awash in neon or adorned with disco balls, but make no mistake, Hearst Castle is a maximalist haven that only an outrageously wealthy eccentric could bring to fruition. Famously created by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, this estate is a decadent collision of over-the-top design choices. The structure and design of Hearst’s own personal Xanadu range from Spanish Revival to Renaissance, to Gothic with its many rooms decked out in priceless works of art and multiple ceilings that were purchased from Europe and shipped to Central California. Not to mention the two pools, one of which has tiles made from Murano glass and gold leaf.
The Madonna Inn
WHERE: San Luis Obispo, California
Not far from Hearst Castle is the Madonna Inn—a beloved bastion of kitsch that’s like if a Barbie Dream House had a mid-century fever dream, making it perhaps the most delightful place in the world. In addition to its hot pink restaurant and similarly blush-hued bar, the Madonna Inn offers its guests an array of themed rooms. There’s the Crystal room, which is decked out with velvet and glitter for a glitzy atmosphere worthy of an Old Hollywood starlet. Or you could check in to the Austrian room, which has been outfitted with ornate details one might find in a royal bed chamber. Looking for something more…primal? Try the Caveman room, which features rock floors, ceilings, and walls as well as a rock pond and plenty of animal print.
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Yayoi Kusama Museum
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
When artist Yayoi Kusama was a young girl, she experienced a hallucination in which the field of flowers surrounding her spoke to her and she felt as if she was “self-obliterating” within this neverending field of dot-like flora. This experience would prove to be extremely influential on Kusama’s sculpture, painting, and immersive installations which frequently feature a seemingly infinite number of (frequently colorful) dots. Although Kusama’s work is often exhibited in museums all over the world, the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo is specifically dedicated to her work.
WHERE: Shoreditch and Soho in London England
If you’ve ever longingly gazed at a playground ball pit despite being old enough to purchase alcohol—because why should elementary schoolers get to have all the fun?—you’re in luck! Ballie Ballerson combines the childhood joy of flailing around in a ball pit with the grown-up freedom to imbibe adult beverages. Though it started as a pop-up, Ballie Ballerson has established two permanent locations where patrons are invited to dive in and raise a glass.
Courtesy of Ballie Ballerson
WHERE: Niland, California
Leonard Knight started work on what would evolve into one of the most notable examples of folk art in the United States in 1984 and would continue to develop and maintain the sprawling sculpture until his death in 2014. Located in the Californian desert (not far from the notorious Salton Sea), this man-made mountain is made primarily of adobe and donated paint. Its face is adorned with Bible quotes and verses as well as bursts of color and patterns.
WHERE: Portland, Oregon
Glowing Greens exemplifies everything that makes mini-golf the superior version of golf (the other version being regular country club-style golf). The 13 holes of this subterranean, indoor, mini-golf course are awash in neon colors brought to life by black light and flanked by skeletons, pirates, and various creatures. Honestly, more people would probably watch the PGA tour if it involved more giant pirate skulls and special effects.
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Unicorn and Narwhal
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
While there’s no shortage of themes to center your bar around, it’s actually impossible to settle on a more over-the-top jumping-off point than “carnival.” Seattle’s Unicorn and Narwhal bar makes it possible to experience the best, most joyously extravagant parts of going to a carnival (the food menu features a grilled cheese stuffed grilled cheese) without fretting about when the Ferris wheel you just boarded was last inspected.
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International Church of Cannabis
WHERE: Denver, Colorado
The exterior of the International Church of Cannabis does very little to hint at the kaleidoscope of color that visitors can look forward to upon entering its doors. On the outside, it looks like a traditional Lutheran church (which it was before it was converted into the International Church of Cannabis in 2017), but inside the ceiling and walls are awash in bright rainbow colors. The church is home to a religion called Elevationism which reveres the spiritual benefits of cannabis aka “the sacred flower.”