Speeding along State Road 120 from Sacramento, with Yosemite National Park just a handful of miles down the road, it’s quite easy to zip right past an oasis of history dating back to when gold was the currency and justice was swift.
Ripe with an abundance of other pre-park activities including hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, gold panning and so on, Groveland, a town of about 3,300 year-round residents, is ideally located for folks headed to explore Yosemite’s grandeur. For those who want simply to relax in the midst of history, the Groveland Hotel awaits. It’s a small, two-story hotel with just 17 rooms and a friendly, resident cat. And it has its rewards. One of them is genuine Southern hospitality (and Southern drawls), transplanted from Tennessee and nurtured daily by co-owners and hosts Peggy and Grover Mosley.
The hotel boasts a rumored resident ghost and an award-winning chef and wine cellar. The Cellar Door on-site restaurant comes with a full bar and a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence for its 500-plus-label inventory, including such choice champagnes as Veuve Clicquit La Grande Dame. Each room is decorated differently, making it more like a B&B than hotel. There are, however, modern touches like Wi-Fi and flat screen TVs and a community computer for guests’ use, as well as comfy elements like featherbeds, down comforters and turndown cookies waiting on the pillow.
The hotel dates back to 1849 and northern California’s gold rush era, and while it has undergone some natural evolution, there are still many more rustic touches than modern upgrades. The emphasis remains on casual.
For guests who just want to hang out, there is the nearby Rainbow Pool, a community swimming hole with picnic tables. The Groveland offers picnic lunch packages, with wine, if desired. And the hotel is pet-friendly. (The resident cat, Lola, appreciates the company.)
Room rates range generally from $199 to $219, with a full breakfast (including fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and bear claws) that gets routine raves. There are special in-room amenities that can be added, such as a Cheese and Fruit package ($55), wine for $75, or wine and flowers for $125. For guests in a newly wed mode, one solid in-room amenity choice is the champagne, chocolate and strawberries package for $68 (add flowers and it’s $120). A bubble bath basket (for bathtub use) is $68.
One of the intangible values is the casual conversation with Peggy and Grover Mosley. Innkeeper Peggy (Simmons) Mosley grew up in Tennessee and went to Hums High School with Elvis Presley. Even though Elvis never made it to the Groveland, there are lots of photos (including the high school year book with unique Elvis photos) and stories to be shared.
In fact, history is the preferred topic for guests relaxing with a glass of wine or a morning coffee on the hotel veranda, overlooking Main Street. The Groveland Hotel was originally an adobe structure, typical of the Old West. The hotel’s various incarnations have include a gambling house, a ranger station, even a Greyhound Bus Station. Some historians suspect the Groveland may be the only building constructed in the Monterey Colonial architectural style popular in the late 1840s and early 1850s. By 1990, the building was dilapidated and near demolition when Peggy and Grover Mosley bought in. They spent the next two years and a million dollars revitalizing the hotel and an adjacent Victorian style building into an AAA 3-Diamond Hotel.
The Cellar Door Restaurant dinner menu is creative and reasonable. There are small plates and large portions, with a respectful nod to vegetarian as well as Northern California tastes. Entrees can range from El Capitan veggie lasagna (with a tomato ragu and three-cheese blend) to a buffalo meat loaf served with seasonal vegetables and mushroom sauce.
Fine dining amid several centuries of Old West history takes a bit of perspective. The town of Groveland is small – a few cafes and shops, a handful of other options for lodging, and the Iron Door Saloon – widely acclaimed as the oldest continuously operating bar in California. Its iron front doors are its trademark, but the draw is frequently scheduled local and regional live musicians every weekend and a bar filled with mining remnants, old photographs, a few stray bullet holes and lots of history. The iron doors, bought as protection against potential fire, arrived in the early 20th century, bought in England, shipped around the tip of South American, then by mule back to the front of the establishment.
The saloon is also adjacent to the Iron Door Grille, which serves lunches with an emphasis on cakes, pies and other pastries. The dinner menu also emphasizes homemade soups and pastas as well as standards like New York Strip Steak and Barbeque ribs.
All of this – the Groveland Hotel, the Iron Door Saloon, the town itself – sits amid the history of Northern California’s Gold Rush days, survivors of a rougher, less certain time.
Originally, Groveland and the nearby Big Oak Flat were called Savage’s Diggings, one of the first gold strikes, this one in late 1848 by one James Savage. In 1840, Savage’s Diggings became Garrotte, so named for the quick justice from the big oak tree in what is now Big Oak Flat.
The easy gold pickings faded by the 1870s, and Garrotte went from a bustling community of bars and bordellos to a quieter community for nearby cattle ranchers, and, eventually, tourists headed for Yosemite Valley. In 1875, the community’s name was changed to Groveland. In 2012, Groveland warmly awaits your visit.
For More Information:
Groveland Hotel | www.groveland.com, 800-273-3314
Iron Door Saloon | www.iron-door-saloon.com, 209-962-6244
Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau | www.tcvb.com, 800-446-1333