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Historic California Hotels Owned by Native Americans

Historic California Hotels Owned by Native Americans

California tribes and tribal members have restored and preserved a handful of the Golden State’s landmark hotels

From San Diego to Gold Country and all the way to the far northern reaches of the state in Humboldt County, California’s Native American tribes and individual tribal members have helped to preserve and restore some of the state’s most historic hotel properties. Dating back a century or more, these hotels tell the stories of their communities and offer guests the chance to immerse themselves in local history, including, in some cases, unique aspects of tribal heritage. Here’s a look at four such properties that are worth considering for your next Golden State getaway.  

U.S. Grant Hotel

If the term “iconic” is used rather loosely these days, the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego is one institution that certainly merits the designation. Opened in 1910 by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., the son of the 18th president, the $1.9 million, 437-room hotel helped put San Diego on the national map. Over the years, the hotel has hosted everyone from Albert Einstein to Steven Spielberg, not to mention more than a dozen presidents. Among them was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who delivered his first fireside chat radio address outside of Washington, D.C., from the 11-story property.

For all of the hotel’s illustrious history (it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places), its story actually reaches much deeper into San Diego’s past. That’s because for 12,000 years, the hotel site was the location of a Kumeyaay settlement. The Kumeyaay people are native to the San Diego area but it was President Grant who banished the tribe to a small, remote reservation in eastern San Diego County. So it was impossible to ignore the symbolism when the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation bought the U.S. Grant in 2003 and began to restore the by-then faded hotel to its former glory ahead of a 2006 reopening.

The U.S. Grant certainly has retained its big-city grandeur, but it also features touches that speak to the site’s Kumeyaay heritage. According to the Gaslamp Foundation, the evening primrose, the tribal flower of the Sycuan and Kumeyaay people, is now incorporated into decorative details in the Grand Lobby and Crystal Ballroom. The hotel’s art collection also includes pieces created by such Native American artists as painter Gene Locklear and sculptor Johnny (Bear) Contreras of the San Pasqual Band of the Kumeyaay Indians.   

Jamestown Hotel

Notable for its distinctive balcony and brick exterior, the Jamestown Hotel you see today was built in 1919, but the hotel’s history reaches all the way back to the heyday of the California Gold Rush. Constructed in 1858, the original hotel burned down within a few years after opening. Its successor fared better, lasting until the early 1900s before it too was claimed by fire.

Over the years, the lodging underwent a series of renovations, as well as ownership and name changes. It was even converted into a hospital (and, at one point, possibly a bordello) before reopening as a hotel in the 1970s. Then, in its centennial year of 2019, the Jamestown Hotel began a new era when the Chicken Ranch Economic Development Corporation, the business development arm of the Chicken Ranch Tribe of Me-Wuk Indians, purchased the hotel.

The hotel’s rooms are named for famous women historical figures—including Sacagawea, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped guide and translate during the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s—and blend historical character with such upgrades as modernized en suite bathrooms. The hotel restaurant serves breakfast classics, including stuffed French toast and biscuits and gravy, while the dinner menu features hearty favorites including a flame-grilled tri-tip.

The Jamestown Hotel is perfectly situated for exploring Gold Country and the High Sierra. Located right in Jamestown, you can take excursion train rides and see the landmark roundhouse at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. There’s more history nearby at Columbia State Historic Park, home to California’s largest collection of Gold Rush–era buildings, while the table games and slot machines at the tribe’s Chicken Ranch Casino (a new 190-room casino resort is set to open in 2024) await just five minutes away. And if you’re looking to explore the high country, Yosemite National Park is close enough for a day trip.

Historic Requa Inn

Owned by Yurok tribal members Marty and Janet Wortman, the 14-room Historic Requa Inn is notable both for its unique past and a remarkable location in the heart of Redwood National and State Parks. Dedicated to the protection of the North Coast’s old-growth redwood forests, the parks have earned the globally significant designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Preserve.

Dating to 1864 and rebuilt in 1914 following a fire that destroyed the original building, the Historic Requa Inn commands a point overlooking the spot where the Klamath River flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Yurok lived in a village here for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, making the location one of the longest continuously occupied sites in all of California.

More rustic than ornate, the inn reflects the area’s long history as a center for commercial fishing. The Wortmans bought the property in 2010 and set about restoring the inn’s character by ripping pink vinyl wallpaper from the walls, stripping away paint to reveal redwood trim, and redoing the original hardwood floors.

Every room has its own distinctive character. The Trillium Suite is notable for its private deck with views of the Klamath River, while The Post Office room, as its name suggests, is in a space that once served as the Requa post office. The inn is the perfect jumping off point for explorations of the North Coast’s Yurok Country, including the region’s wild, unspoiled beaches. Breakfast is available daily, and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, the inn serves farm-to-table dinners.

Hotel Arcata

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the beaux arts Hotel Arcata brought a touch of luxury to remote Humboldt County when it opened in 1915. Designed by prolific San Francisco architect William H. Weeks and now owned by the federally recognized Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe, the three-story hotel on Arcata Plaza is a true local landmark.

The property was notable for a host of modern conveniences at the time it opened: telephones, hot and cold water in each room, and electricity. Back then, a pistol range in the basement and an assortment of taxidermy trophies of such game as moose and elk were intended to appeal to sportsmen drawn to the North Coast for hunting. Over time, the hotel began to lure a more diverse clientele—even some Hollywood types stayed at the hotel when silent films were shot in the Arcata area around 1916 and 1917.

Like many historic hotels, it went into a long decline, and, after the property fell into bankruptcy, the Big Lagoon Rancheria reopened the hotel in 1990. While it has been fixed up, the hotel has retained its character and period integrity. The main entrance is beneath a cast metal and hammered copper marquee with a shell motif, and just inside is a vestibule clad in marble quarried in Alaska. Both the lobby and the guest rooms display vintage photographs of the Arcata area. For a real treat, book a Plaza Suite for views of Arcata Plaza and a glimpse of Arcata Bay.

And you don’t even have to leave the hotel to find a great dinner. That’s because Hotel Arcata is home to Tomo Japanese Restaurant, a leading Humboldt County destination for sushi since 1984.

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