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Late Checkout is TQE’s travel vertical. Whether you’re seeking an Eat Pray Love moment of your own, or a wholesome family sojourn, we hope you embark on an adventure requisite of a late checkout below.
As a coastal Californian (well, as coastal as living 90 minutes from the beach in LA traffic makes me), I'll admit to a bias against the inland parts of our state. I'm as awestruck by Yosemite and Lake Tahoe as anyone else, but when it comes to small-town getaways, I've tended to hug the Pacific Coast Highway.
So when I heard the recent buzz around "upstate California," known for years as Gold Country thanks to its roots in the 1850s Gold Rush, it took a bit of convincing for me to stray from my Cali comfort zone. Two boutique properties—Grass Valley's Holbrooke Hotel and The National Exchange in Nevada City—seemed well worth this venture into the unknown, with fabulous remodelings that still pay homage to their nearly two centuries of history apiece.
Gleefully tawdry stories abound, with the hotels having served as saloons, gold exchanges, and even brothels in the intervening years, ones that beckoned me to visit for myself even in the midst of a serious heat wave. What I found was not just an oasis of good food, drink and hospitality, but a gateway to some gorgeous natural splendor that had been hiding right in my own backyard.
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Though the railways brought hopeful investors to the site of the Holbrooke Hotel when it was constructed in 1852, today's travelers blessedly have more options at their disposal. Us Angelenos can choose between a six-hour drive or a one-hour flight to Sacramento, an accessible airport for most anyone traveling cross-country as well, which is located less than 60 miles from Grass Valley.
Break up the drive with a coffee at Pour Choice in historic Auburn if you like, or head straight for the Holbrooke right on Grass Valley's picturesque main drag. Of the two properties, and towns, the Holbrooke and Grass Valley in general are definitely the quieter option, with a stately serenity that announces itself as soon as you see the lobby bar. This bar, The Golden Gate Saloon, is the hotel's origin story in the flesh, as it began as a popular drinkery before the lodgings were added on.
Downstairs, the moody Iron Door speakeasy boasts local music and comedy programming, though it was closed during my visit as a heads-up to anyone planning a midweek escape. Instead I spent my time upstairs in one of their 28 guest rooms, where clawfoot tubs and wrought-iron balconies embody both Western nostalgia and modern glam. Especially on a travel day, the lack of urgent Must Sees in town feels like an asset, not a deficit—the lack of TVs in the rooms feels like similar encouragement to truly unwind.
I took that to heart, making no other plans besides a 7pm dinner at Golden Gate downstairs. Dressing for the Cosmopolitan Cowboy vibe in Buck Mason jeans and a slub linen polo felt very much welcome, especially as the Mexican-inspired menu was more upscale than I'd expected. While I found the food a touch fussier than I'd have liked, there was no arguing with the cocktails (a bonus of having 18 decades' worth of practice as a saloon). The House Old Fashioned on draft and the Belafonte's roasted pineapple-infused mezcal were total bangers, perfect for bringing back to the room or sending you off for an evening stroll of Grass Valley's quaint downtown.
Roper Twill Ford Standard Jean
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Italian Slub Linen S/S Full Placket Polo
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The Olive Oil
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The Classic Smoky Trio
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If you follow my itinerary, the next day you'll be checking into Nevada City's National Exchange—and there's no better way to fill the time between check-out and check-in than exploring the nearby Yuba River. The South Yuba River State Park is just outside of NC, with stunning (albeit chilly) swimming holes carved right into granite rocks. If you're up for a 45-minute drive, I was even more taken with Emerald Pools on the edge of the Tahoe National Forest, which are as gleamingly green as they sound due to the rocks' high mineral content.
After a rejuvenating swim, you'll be ready for the livelier goings-on in Nevada City, where the National Exchange's grander footprint (dating to 1856) makes it a happening destination. From a rousing nightly pianist to Drag Queen Bingo every third Wednesday, the hotel has more bustle than the Holbrooke, plus 38 well-appointed rooms including the lavishly wallpapered King Suite I fell in love with.
The in-house restaurant, Lola, knocks it out of the park, with staples like fried chicken and grits alongside an eclectic, expertly curated wine list. That they had their finger on the pulse was equally evident in their sundries store, which carried Pineapple Collaborative Olive Oil, Fishwife Smoked Salmon, and other gems that couldn't be more Quality Edit. After dinner, venture out to see a show at the Nevada Theatre, where Mark Twain used to hold court, or bring your nightcap upstairs to the most gigantic saffron-colored sectional you've ever seen (see the photo at the top of this article). I swear just vibing on the couch alone is worth whatever travel it calls for.
For those visiting from further out, this two-stop journey could serve as a kickoff to a larger trip through the bordering Bay Area, but for in-staters it's perfectly dosed as a rustic, relaxing long weekend. With autumn in full swing, it's worth noting that both properties are hosting "Haunted by History" ghost tours on October 15th and 29th, and offering 15% off discounts on two-night stays for midweek leaf peepers lured by the fall foliage.
But no matter when you visit, the trails and rapids of the Yuba River are just as essential to the experience as the history—and both hotels are where you want to come home to after an afternoon of adventuring.
Gliding down natural waterslides by day and sipping on draft Old Fashioneds by night? That's the kind of upstate trip I can always get behind.