The world’s most popular Airbnb listing isn’t easy to find.
From San Francisco, the journey begins with a one-hour drive on Interstate 280 and a windy crossing of “Killer 17” – one of the most accident-prone highways in California.
In the small coastal town of Aptos you climb into the Santa Cruz Mountains, past centuries-old sequoias and herds of deer. After a few kilometers you lose cellular service and rely on pre-printed instructions on paper.
When you spot the cluster of weathered mailboxes, turn right and climb up a steep single lane driveway until you come to an old, mint green shed.
You park and walk up the driveway, past black cats, cackling chickens, and thick foliage.
Here lies the world famous Mushroom dome.
Most booked accommodation from Airbnb (The Hustle)
Over the years, this 100 square meter geodesic structure has more than 5.8k Airbnb guests from around the world.
People from more than 40 countries – Djibouti, Mongolia, China, India, Australia, Peru – on 6 different continents have traveled here. It has been the subject of news articles, Instagram shoots, and video tributes.
The Mushroom Dome is the most booked and most searched for accommodation on the Airbnb platform 5.6 million other offersincluding an elephant-shaped house, a cave in France and a 12th century Scottish castle.
What makes it so popular? Why do people flock here? And how did the fame of this tiny cabin affect the owner’s life?
I went there one August afternoon to find out.
The origins of a legendary hut
Within seconds of getting out of the car, I was greeted by Katherine “Kitty” Mrache, the 71 year old owner of the Mushroom Dome.
With friendly eyes and a head of white feather hair, Kitty came out of her garden, a flock of hummingbirds in tow.
“You did it,” she beamed.
Kitty emigrated to the forest in 1984 when her parents – a renowned geologist and antiwar activist – moved here from the Bay Area suburbs in search of solitude. They asked her if she would be interested in joining them if they bought their land next door.
“Hell yes!” She said.
She lived on the property for the next decade, earning a living as a Kumon teacher, Montessori teacher, and crystal healer.
Kitty poses in front of the Mushroom Dome (The Hustle)
In the mid-1990s, Kitty’s parents allowed a friend who had recently become homeless to build a small cabin on the 10-acre property.
Kitty agreed – as long as the structure was 100 square feet or less.
A local builder sold the woman a set of blueprints for a unique geometric structure; With the help of a former Navy SEAL, she built it from scratch and lived there for the next 7 years before getting married and moving out.
After Kitty’s parents died, her family sold the property. But Kitty, who still lived next door, wanted to keep the strange hut.
“We rented a crane and loaded it onto a low-loader,” she says. “And then I saw a housefly.”
As an all-rounder, she set up the relocated cabin as a crash pad for her children. She cut out 144 wooden triangles by hand, built a foundation and retrofitted the roof with elastomer paint.
When she and her husband Michael became empty nests, they decided to rent it out at night.
An early Airbnb user
In July 2009, Kitty listed her cabin on Craigslist for $ 60 a night, but quickly found out that the website was full of scammers and unreliable guests.
“People would book it and then cancel at the last minute so they never heard from again,” she says. “You didn’t prepay so I’d just lose my income.”
Looking for an alternative, she stumbled upon a newfangled short-term rental platform called Airbnb.
At the time, the company was 11 months young and relatively unknown.
Kitty decided to try it out and signed up.
The hustle and bustle
The Mushroom Dome was that 8,357 Ownership to join Airbnb. Almost all of the other listings were urban properties in San Francisco and Manhattan. Kitty’s apartment – a strange looking dome in the middle of the forest – was strange. And that worked in their favor.
The Mushroom Dome was fully booked within 2 weeks.
Since then, the booth’s popularity has not diminished
Today the Mushroom Dome is so popular that it only becomes 2 or 3 vacancies in a typical year.
Guests usually need up to 8 months in advance. Even Kitty’s own kids – now grown adults – have to grapple with the crowds to get a night on the calendar.
Despite its popularity, Kitty has chosen to keep her property relatively affordable $ 156 / night, ~ $ 100 / night cheaper than city hotels.
“I don’t want only the tech geeks to stay here,” she says. “I want it to be accessible to all types of people.”
Her guests range from millionaire founders to lower-middle-class families who save year-round to stay here.
The hustle and bustle
Part of Kitty’s success can be traced back to Airbnb’s marketing love affair with her cabin.
She joined the platform when the company consisted of just a few people working in an apartment. To this day, she knows the founders by their first names – and they see them as the embodiment of the company’s stated purpose: to help everyday people monetize their additional space.
The company featured the Mushroom Dome on a series of billboards in 5 US cities with the headline: “Millions of Airbnb Hosts. Just like Kitty. ”It also had a replica of the structure installed on the fourth floor of its headquarters in San Francisco.
A billboard showing Kitty’s residence in Belmont, California (Via Emilee Goo)
According to Airbnb, the Mushroom Dome’s prosperity is part of a larger trend on the platform: an increasing popularity of unique looking properties.
“Travelers are turning to unique accommodations like cabins, tiny houses and tree houses to break the monotony of last year, with the nature of the stay – not the exact location – being a goal,” a company spokesman said The hustle and bustle.
- The platform says it has 170k + of these listings – a 30% Jump from 2019.
- The search for “unique” properties (like hobbit holes and potato houses) soared 94% in the 1st half of 2021, compared to the same period 2 years ago.
Kitty attributes her success to a focus on the human touch.
“For a lot of people, it’s kind of woo-woo,” she says. “But for me it is important to concentrate on the service, not on what I can get out of it.”
She berates Airbnb hosts who leave a key in a locker and never contact their guests. Your property is more than just a place to sleep: “It is a door for people to discover themselves.”
The guest books in the cabin are full of notes from travelers describing the dome as a conduit for transformative experiences. In a confined space, the guests made suggestions to each other, took pregnancy photos and celebrated major milestones in their lives.
Kitty holds a card showing where all of her guests are from (The Hustle)
Kitty wants to be a central part of this experience.
She has been practicing meditation for 40 years and often leads guests on mindfulness searches and metaphysical journeys.
During my two hour chat with her – which was supposed to focus on what makes an Airbnb listing so popular – we discussed:
- Telepathic dogs
- Quantum physics
- Mineral healing
- Thought field therapy (“tapping”)
- Tectonic plates
Raised in the countercultural chaos of the 60s and shaped by the New Age spirituality of the 80s, Kitty is as unique as the property she rents out.
She entertained me with stories about alchemical substances, ghost channeling, and the night her activist mother once spent in a prison cell with singer-songwriter Joan Baez.
We talked about the immortal Indian yogi Babaji, the 70s rock band Supertramp, and Mellen-Thomas Benedict, a man who allegedly died in 1982 and was brought back to life.
At some point during the conversation, I realized that kitty – not just the dome – is an integral part of the entry’s popularity.
Kitty reads reviews in an old log from 2009. “We picked this place as part of our honeymoon,” wrote one guest. “Thank you for offering us a beautiful place to start our life together.” (The hustle and bustle)
However, the mushroom dome is not for everyone.
Kitty got a few bad reviews for being too talkative. Others don’t understand how rustic the property is.
“I had a wife who brought her mother here from China. They drove all the way up, looked at it once, and drove straight back down the hill, ”she says. “It wasn’t her idea of a good time.”
But by and large, the guests know what they are getting into – and a break from city life is part of the charm.
Financially, the mushroom dome was a lifesaver.
Before joining Airbnb, Kitty was struggling to get by on her $ 250 a month. Social Security Checks.
Bring the cabin in today $ 8,000 / month. ($ 96k / year) – more than eight times what the average Airbnb deserves.
The extra money helped her husband Michael retire from working with international students at the UCSC expansion school.
“For the first time in our lives, we don’t have to worry about money,” says Kitty.
The hustle and bustle
She is well aware of the controversy surrounding Airbnb. The platform has been ridiculed for its negative impact on the housing stock, rising rents and property prices, and gentrification.
But there is a difference between renting out a remote cabin in the forest or getting hold of a property in a residential-hungry part of the city exclusively for use as holiday accommodation.
The booth was a boon to Santa Cruz County: it brings in ~ $ 50,000 / year in the temporary use tax, and more than 2,000 other property owners in the area – mostly empty nests over 50 – have followed Kitty’s lead and rented their own additional rooms.
Success has allowed Kitty to renovate and rent a second piece of land in the country – a cave she calls Hummingbird Harbor.
Dozens of hummingbirds gather around red bird feeders in front of the door, sucking up 2 liters of nectar every day.
Hummingbirds roam the air across the property (The Hustle)
Like many Airbnb hosts, Kitty was weighed down by the pandemic.
Last year she had over 70 cancellations and the mushroom dome was empty for almost 2 months. She stayed positive and used the time to lay a new parquet floor and build a new couch.
The doldrums in bookings – a first in more than a decade – also gave Kitty some time to ponder everything that strange little cabin has given her.
“I’m 71 now, and sometimes I think I would love to travel and see the world,” she says, looking at the sequoia trees that surround the deck.
“But instead the whole world came to me.”