A Travel Designation Filled with Adventure and Story Telling – The Holbrooke and Grass Valley Delight Visitors

Grass Valley CA. – Born in a time of California where young men of Cornish decent were rifled across the seas to work The Empire Mine. The Holbrooke Hotel would become a staple of Grass Valley and the region’s history. However, it would first be recognized as a muddy tent that welcomed miners after a shift to a strong beverage or three.

“Before there was a hotel, there was a saloon. In 1852, thousands of thirsty prospectors filled their glasses at the original Golden Gate Saloon. After Grass Valley was destroyed by a fire in 1855, the owners quickly adapted and sold whiskey and beer to loyal customers from a tent among the rubble the next day.”

Its growing popularity with the miners and the eventual windfall at the empire mine helped the Holbrooke become just what the region needed. A slaughterhouse of gluttony and debauchery. Rumors are still told today of young men tying themselves to the bar because the bar rules were simple. “If you could sit at the bar, you could have another drink.” As a result, many patrons of the times were drug to the basement once they passed out from an evening at the Holbrooke.

What was once old is New Again

Today visitors to Grass Valley can still revel in the size of fortunes recovered from the Empire Mine. Then, however, they would have difficulty realizing the Holbrooke Hotel was once such a filthy place.


Serving the wild west alongside presidential visits, the Holbrooke certainly is a storyteller’s dream. But what was old and traditional is now new again and ready for visitors.

After a meticulous restoration, this California Landmark property celebrates its storied past with a mind for modern comforts and a gracious approach to hospitality. 

An hour from Sacramento and nestled in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, Grass Valley is a postcard town rich in history and outdoor adventure. We were excited to get a chance to visit this historical place and sample its outdoor adventure.

The Holbrooke, upon arrival, provided a quaint rustic feel as you parked in the back and first noticed its black and white exterior with old fashion balcony on the second story where room guests could sit outside their rooms and enjoy an evening read. The patio set up had guests enjoying food and drink with patio in the shade of the building.

The energy of this place once you open the door is infectious; the new design is clean yet authentically western. The Original Bar has been cleaned up and was already a popular place in the early evening, making the first impression of the Holbrooke, exciting.

After checking in and moving upstairs to our room I was taken back at the hand drawn art on the wall by local artist. “Sarah Coleman” Simple forest drawings that simply were inspiring to see. Our room was large enough for a leather sofa, queen size plush bed, and a good size bathroom with a claw foot tub/shower combination that made you feel like history would be good to you at the Holbrooke. No details were left undone in the make over. The Holbrooke was designed for comfort and set to impress.

With a restaurant and two bars on-site, you scarcely need to leave the property, but if you do, there are numerous rivers, lakes and trails to explore nearby. Or, have a relaxing wander through charming downtown Grass Valley enjoying wine tasting and perusing local shops.

Before dinner, take a trip downtown Grass valley for a quick brew at the Grass Valley distillery and a local Pasty from the Grass Valley Pasty company. The family at the Pasty shop are good people, and the traditional Cornish miner food is a healthy, good-tasting meal. However, I will need to hold off on dinner a bit. That’s ok; there are plenty of walking stops in town and hills to climb to walk of the early cuisine.

The Golden Gate Saloon

After a few hours of enjoying Grass Valley, we returned to Holbrooke for our first sample at the Holbrooke Golden Gate saloon. One of the longest-operating barrooms west of the Mississippi River With a refurbished original Bar top older than all the patrons who now visit.

A busy little spot at 4pm, the energy from early has only increased as locals mixed with travelers, and conversations and laughter rang throughout the hotel’s first floor. The drinks were fantastic, a spicy Jalapeno-infused drink was mine of choice. If I lived locally, I would return regularly for this flavor of choice.

Returning to our room before dinner allowed me to relax comfortably on the leather sofa. As I sat there, I started to chuckle at the thought and rumors of this old hotel being haunted. It was such a peaceful room filled with luxury, but the kind of place a cowboy might still kick off his boots and lounge for the evening. 

Dinner time ushered in the evening at the Holbrooke, and to no surprise, the Golden Gate saloon was still a happening location. Sitting indoors allowed the bar’s energy to add to our dining experience. With a contemporary menu with the fresh flavors of California and a dash of Mexico, The Golden Gate utilizes the bounty of our local and organic farms.  

Our crew was up for a little indulgence this evening. Our table was filled with delicious food that was shared from fried Brussel Sprouts, smoked chicken wings, and Multiple salads for appetizers. Followed by Beef Cheek, Pork spare ribs, and a Pork chili Verde and followed by several sharable desserts, including a to-die-for Churro dessert that just capped off the evening. 

So stuffed I decided to take an evening walk in the city. It is Halloween season here in Grass Valley, and as you can imagine, with such a storied past, holidays such as Halloween are a lot of fun in Grass Valley.

I made a final pit stop at the Iron gate bar for a nightcap and a little live entertainment before returning to my room. Iron Door – rumored to have been both a speakeasy and a brothel in its 150 year history, this moody subterranean bar is now home to local music, comedy, dj’s and a cocktail list featuring a creative mix of beer, wine and craft cocktails!

No Ghosts Here

No ghosts here, as I slept very well on the plush bed with very comfortable linens. The following day I was surprised to find a potable coffee cart down the hall for the hotel’s guests, filled with coffee and several items to customize my drink. This was something unique that I have yet to see at newer hotels. It was enjoyable to grab my coffee and peruse the artwork on the walls as I walked around the hotel. Such a storied past and yet a newness to the Holbrooke that made me feel like I had stepped into a place of prominence.

My Friends on this trip were not so confident of the no nightly visitors. Instead, they seemed to be awakened that night by some questionable noises from this old building. Nevertheless, it provided plenty of laughter as we sat around breakfast at the golden saloon. So lovely having great food at the hotel, so we didn’t need to venture out for our meals.

Not one to miss all the adventure of this trip, a friend suggested a quick drive out of town for a polar plunge in the Yuba River. A Perfect way to start another day on the Western Sierra Front. We made our way down to the South Yuba for a quick and icy dip in the canyons. 

Later that day, we would also drive out to the Wood Covered Bridge at the Yuba State Park. It is a fantastic location that has been rebuilt and looks like it was built yesterday after it has also been refurbished recently.

If you are planning a trip to Grass Valley and want to include an adventure or two on your journey, here is a locals’ list of favorite trails for hikers and bikes that might come in handy. As for us, we will be returning in the future to try a few of these trails and to stay at the Holbrooke.


  • Deer Creek Tribute Trail – Walk from the National Exchange Hotel through charming neighborhoods and connect with the Tribute Trail. The trail features a beautiful suspension bridge over Deer Creek and arguably the best vista for enjoying seasonal foliage in spring and fall.
  • Sugarloaf Mountain Trail– a quick one mile out and back trail provides a birdseye view of downtown Nevada City- a perfect place for a sunset picnic! 
  • Buttermilk Bend Trail – a scenic 15 minute drive brings you to South Yuba River State Park, with accessible parking ($5) and a historic covered bridge. The Buttermilk Bend trail skims the Yuba River and provides unparalleled wildflower bliss in the spring and early summer!  
  • South Yuba Trail – Walk as far as you like enjoying vistas of the Yuba River below, or tackle the full 19.8 mile point to point hike if you’re feeling ambitious!

Insider Tip: The forests and woodlands surrounding Nevada City are full of awe-inspiring hiking, biking and equestrian trails. From right here in the downtown district to the far mountain peaks, the Bear Yuba Land Trust helps inform our recreation needs with their online Trails Portal—full of interactive and downloadable maps and in-depth descriptions of our communities’ most beautiful trails—all while protecting our local meadows, watersheds, forests, trails and parks. www.bylt.org 


  • Pioneer Trail a popular 24 mile trail for Mountain Biking- a 3,400 foot elevation gain makes the full trail challenging for beginners. But even the most inexperienced bikers can park just north of the historic Five Mile House and explore shorter rides.
  • Hoot Trail a 4 mile side trail (off of the main Pioneer Trail) the Hoot Trail is a super fun ride full of jumps and berms. Suitable for more daring novice riders with loads of fun add-ons for more experienced bikers!
  • Scotts Flat Trail a 7 mile trail for Hiking or Mountain Biking takes you to the shores of Scotts Flat Lake. A lovely shady ride through the ponderosa pines in the quiet of the 

Insider Tip: Don’t have a bike, but want to try some of the local roads and trails? Rent a bike at Tour of Nevada City https://www.tourofnevadacity.com/rentals/ 


south yuba state park
south yuba state park

Recreate like a local- ask the front desk for a handy guide to safe, respectful enjoyment of our outdoor spaces! The more adventurous traveler will find no shortage of lakes and streams; here’s a good place to start!

  • South Yuba River at Bridgeport: The Bridgeport Covered Bridge is the longest single-span wooden covered bridge still in existence in the US. Learn more about the wagons that crossed it, pan for gold, escape to hidden swimming holes and roam the trails along our precious Yuba River!
  • Scotts Flat Lake -Nine miles east of Nevada City is a lovely lake with day use area suitable for swimming, fishing, sunning, boating, water skiing, sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.  

Deer Creek a scenic year-round creek that runs through town with trails that are accessible from Downtown Nevada City. 



Publisher of Sierra Rec Magazine. An avid hiker and explorer of mountain lifestyle and adventure. I love to discover new trails, hike along rivers and hang a hammock along the shores of a mountain lake. I often great people on the trail and have found some of my favorite places from the advice of people I meet in the Wilderness. I love the sierra and just like sharing what I know.

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