CARTAGO, Calif. — When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you a really big lemon, you make a hotel room out of it.
When driving down Highway 395 in Inyo County, it’s hard to miss the lemon-shaped hotel room in the little desert town of Cartago. If drivers pull over, they will be greeted by a metal dinosaur, several cactus sculptures, and a welcome sign that reads “Lemon House Inn.”
The odd roadside attraction is Manuel Alvarez’s idea of the perfect Eastern Sierra getaway.
“I don’t know, I just love this house," said Alvarez.
Once inside the rind, you’ll find everything you need: a bathroom, a kitchen and a bed. Plus, you'll see more lemon memorabilia than you know what to do with.
The Lemon House was not always an inn and it wasn’t always yellow. The funky dome was originally constructed by Vernon Lawson sometime around 2006. Back then, the structure was white. Lawson believes it may have been an old surplus fiberglass weather station of sorts.
In 2009, Alvarez added the metal cactus and the dinosaur sculpture, which was made by the late Bakersfield artist George Green. The following years, Lawson covered the dome in spray foam, added some windows, and painted it yellow.
“The color is 'Ginster Yellow,' the exact color of my 1997 Volkswagen,” said Lawson.
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When Lawson owned it, he called it the Yellow Dome and intended to rent it out as a retail space. After it sat vacant for several years, he sold it to Alverez in 2021, who then renamed it the Lemon House Inn.
“A lot of people say it looks like a lemon,” said Alvarez. “My brother and I fixed it up for all the hikers to stay in.”
The Lemon House Inn is not far from Mt. Whitney Portal, the gateway to the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S.
When Manuel took over, he remodeled the adjacent motel and added more accommodations.
Whether you are just passing by or staying the night at the Lemon House Inn, visitors are welcome to take pictures. Just don’t bother the people inside or it could make for a sour experience.
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