Pioneer settlers, Gold-Rush prospectors, and other entrepreneurs have left an indelible mark on California’s history and given rise to some of the state’s most enduring hotels and inns. Discover some of the oldest hotels in the state—a few of which have been in continuous or near continuous operation since the turn of the 20th Century.
In the Gold Rush town of Jamestown, the 1859 Historic National Hotel has been in continuous operation since it was first built. Stephen Willey is only the third owner of the hotel, which he purchased with his brother in 1974. The hotel’s saloon had been a place they would stop for drinks on their way back from skiing and backpacking. When his brother learned the hotel was for sale, he convinced Stephen to move to Jamestown and run the hotel for at least six months. The original six-month commitment turned into a 43-year restoration and modernization project. In 1974, the aging hotel had 12 rooms and just one bath. Working room-by-room, they tore the hotel down to the studs, upgraded the electrical, plumbing and insulation, and added baths. Instead of the original 12 rooms, the hotel now has nine guest rooms, each with private baths. The rooms feature high coved ceilings, dark-stained wood trim, and beautiful period details. The hotel’s authentic Gold Rush-era saloon features the original back bar from 1859 and a stamped tin ceiling.
Walking the wide, wrap-around porch of the elegantly-restored Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake is like stepping back in time. The Western-style hotel was built in the 1870s by one of Lake County’s first non-native settlers, Rufus Tallman. It was popular among many well-heeled travelers who journeyed by stagecoach from Sacramento and San Francisco to soak in Lake County’s natural mineral spring waters. Rufus’s daughter and son-in-law inherited the hotel in 1912 and continued running it for decades. Two owners succeeded them, but eventually, the hotel fell into disrepair. It stood vacant for 40 years before current owners Bernie and Lynne Butcher purchased the property in 2003 with the vision of restoring the hotel to its original grandeur. They salvaged many architectural details, including the fir floors, staircases, and banisters. They introduced period moldings, tile floors, and claw foot tubs in keeping with the vintage of the hotel. The period-perfect 17-room hotel now exudes the grace and luxury of a turn-of-the-century hotel run by a family with impeccable taste.
Built in 1849, the Groveland Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Tuolumne County and was one of the first permanent structures in the Gold Rush-era camp then known as Garrote.The handsome adobe building may also be the only example of the Monterey Colonial architectural style in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was first used as trading post and then became the Garrote Hotel. The hotel’s name was changed to the Groveland Hotel in 1875 when the name of the town changed. By 1914, the mining industry had lapsed into an irreversible decline and the hotel endured a number of incarnations until Peggy and Grover Mosley purchased the hotel in 1990 and completed extensive restorations. The 17-room hotel features a two-story wrap-around porch and a lovely outdoor patio area. Doug and Jenn Edwards purchased the hotel in June 2017 and are currently embarking on additional renovations, which will be completed this winter.
Entering through etched glass doors of The Queen Anne Hotel in San Francisco, guests step back in time to an opulent, bygone era. Built in 1890, this grand Victorian rose from the wealth produced at the Comstock Lode and first served as Miss Mary Lake’s Finishing School for Girls. After surviving an earthquake and a fire in 1906, it became an exclusive gentlemen’s club and was then later sold to the Episcopal Diocese. By the 1970s, it had fallen into disrepair and was boarded up, only to be fully restored and re-opened as a hotel in 1980. Today, the hotel offers 48 elegant rooms and suites with luxurious amenities, period-perfect details, and lavish Victorian charm. Some of the rooms offer large bay windows, wood burning fireplaces or Jacuzzi tubs for two. In keeping with the vintage of the hotel, tea and sherry is served each afternoon in the Parlor Room.
Behind a white picket fence in the charming village of Cambria stands the historic Olallieberry Inn. The inn was originally built as a private residence in 1875. Two Prussian brothers who were also pharmacists had arrived in Cambria to run the local drug store and built the house out of Cambria pine with redwood siding from Big Sur. The house changed hands several times until Gordon and Frieda Howard bought the house in 1955 and converted it to a boarding house and tourist home, which operated until the mid-1970s. In 1976, a doctor and his wife bought the house and turned it into a formal bed and breakfast inn. The current owners, Nelson and Maureen Hubbell, purchased the inn in 2016 and are currently renovating and restoring the property to its original vintage. The nine-room inn features beautiful wall coverings, fabrics, antiques and a fireplace in every room.
Churchill Manor was built in 1889 by Edward Churchill and his wife. He was a wealthy banker who also owned a brewery and a vineyard. At nearly 10,000 square feet, Churchill Manor was reputedly the largest home in the Napa Valley at the time. After Edward’s sudden death in 1903, his wife and daughter continued to live at the manor, and later, his granddaughter. But the family suffered financially during Prohibition and the Great Depression. The granddaughter took on boarders and rented the mansion out for weddings, but eventually sold the property in 1956. The mansion served as a hospital, a commune and college student housing before plans were made to tear it down to build apartments. Preservationists saved it, and the Churchill Manor became the first Napa residence to be placed on the National Registry. Brian Jensen and Joanna Guidotti purchased the mansion in 1987, restored it and turned it into a bed and breakfast. The grand, three-story, 10-room inn features an expansive, wrap-around veranda and four parlors with original redwood-carved moldings, fluted columns and fireplaces.
The historic Gingerbread Mansion Inn in Ferndale is possibly the most photographed inn in Northern California. Painted in cheerful yellow and peach hues, it features a unique combination of Eastlake and Queen Anne styles with a round corner tower, elaborate gingerbread trim on the porches and gables, and many other Victorian flourishes. The mansion was built for a physician in 1895. It later served as a hospital and a nursing home. It fell into disrepair for a time and was later restored to its original grandeur, complete with genuine Victorian antiques and a charming English garden with trickling fountains. The inn offers 11 lavishly decorated guest rooms and suites, many with clawfoot tubs and fireplaces. The inn serves afternoon tea and wine with pastries and hors d’oeuvres. They also serve a full breakfast, along with an early morning tray of coffee and “little extras” that is delivered to the room.
A secluded escape near downtown Santa Barbara, the Simpson House Inn was built in 1874 by Scottish immigrants Robert and Julia Simpson. The grand Victorian remained in the family until 1920 and was sold only twice before it fell into the hands of developers in the late 1960s. A local couple, Glyn and Lynda Davies, fought to save the historic home from being torn down. They both quit their jobs and after many negotiations with the city, purchased the home with the plan to open it as a bed and breakfast. Moving in with their two young children, they began the work of restoring the house to its former splendor and opened the inn in 1985. Today, the inn offers 15 elegant guest rooms tucked away in a beautiful garden setting. Guests are treated to a complimentary chef-prepared breakfast and afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres each day.