Magazine article Sunset

The Gold Country's Historic Hotels

Magazine article Sunset

The Gold Country's Historic Hotels

Article excerpt

A guide to 11 of the most enduring places to rest your head in California's Mother Lode

Back in the 1850s and '60s, when the mines in California's Gold Country were booming and rough camps with names like Hangtown aspired to a veneer of culture, the opening of a new hotel loudly proclaimed prosperity. It also hinted at respectability, although neither miners nor travelers seemed to care whether it was gaudy or glamorous.

Richly decorated with polished brass fixtures, crystal chandeliers, and solid oak furniture, Mother Lode hotels were democratic outposts of civilization. Writers such as Mark Twain held forth in their saloons; artists such as Jenny Lind were toasted in their salons. Upstairs, the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and outlaw Black Bart rested their heads in feather-bedded splendor, while downstairs (even then) the wags in the bar would argue the distinction between highwayman and politician.

What's surprising about the Gold Country's original hotels isn't their historic popularity but how many are still standing today. With the gradual closing of the mines, some hotels were turned into offices or hospitals, others simply abandoned. But a growing number of these unique properties have started to make a comeback. Wellfinanced restorations have revived a few hotels' dignity. Other hotels are maintained by merely slapping yet another coat of paint on a sagging old frame. But even these retain a musty charm of authenticity that has an unmistakable Wild West appeal.


On a recent swing through the Gold Country, we found three restored hotels that not only have retained their historic lines and looks but also provide all the modern conveniences. Accordingly, we've ranked these hotels (as well as eight others) based on how well each balances the authenticity of its historic preservation with its comforts. Dining quality was also a factor in our top three choices.

Groveland Hotel Heading east into Groveland on State Highway 120, your first glimpse of the Groveland Hotel is of its original 1850 adobe building. But today, the 17-room hotel-which has been totally and tastefully restored to include period wallpapers, antiques, and knickknacks, as well as private baths-incorporates the 1914 Queen Anne next door without losing the historic integrity of the original structure. Reserve ahead for a table in the dining room or, if the weather is balmy, in the pleasant courtyard behind the hotel.

Where: 18767 Main St., Groveland.

Cost: $95-$175.

Contact: (800) 273-3314.

City Hotel For a pure 1857 experience, head to the City Hotel in Columbia State Historic Park, the state's bestpreserved Gold Rush town. Quench your thirst at the What Cheer Saloon, then head into the dining room for a four-course meal with a menu that takes risks (rack of lamb with a walnut crust and pomegranate sauce), complemented by a wine list heavy on local labels. As for the hotel itself, it's a Mother Lode classic, carefully restored right down to the period furniture in the upstairs parlor and the black wroughtiron railings on the second-story balcony. Expect simplicity, not luxury, though, in all 10 of the hotel's strictly period rooms (shared showers are down the halls). If the hotel is full, try one of the 14 rooms at the Fallon Hotel down the street.

Where: 22768 Main St., Columbia.

Cost: $75-$95 at the City Hotel, $45-$95 at the Fallon.

Contact: (209) 532-1479 for the City Hotel, 532-1470 for the Fallon.

Imperial Hotel There is a rich, almost seductive opulence to this brick 1879 hostelry that comes at you in whispers and peeks. …

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