Gateway Towns: Changing one's mind at the Hotel Charlotte

Road Journals Blog—Once upon a time I loved B&Bs. But over the years that love has been tested by nosy and imperious proprietors, and cluttered, damp little rooms. Eventually, after three nights in Fossil, Ore., at a drafty inn with insects and no wi-fi, that love withered and died.

Hotel Charlotte | Andrea Mann/Flickr

These days, when I look for a place to stay I generally avoid terms like “personality” and  “charm,” which too often mean rust-stained lace curtains and not enough towels. And so my heart sank on a recent trip for Via when the only place in Groveland, Calif., with a vacancy was the Hotel Charlotte. Where were the Embassy Suites? Where was the Holiday Inn Express?

Not in Groveland, which is a very small town. The online photographs of the Charlotte featured much that I dread in B&Bs: Victorian bordello decor and an apparent lack of windows. I wondered if could I race the nearly 150 miles up to Groveland, do my reporting, and get back home to the Bay Area in one day?

Ultimately, I decided against it, and my son Owen and I drove to Groveland late one autumn afternoon. The town is strung out along a single main street, right in the middle of which is the Charlotte, painted a garish blue.

I so dreaded checking in that we walked around town first. We went to the museum. We scoped out restaurants. We had hot chocolate. Finally, we made our way back to the inn.

Carolyn, the woman who checked us in, was friendly but not pushy, and gave us a bigger room at the same rate simply because it was available. The room was lovely and spare, with an iron bed, a quilt, a table, a chair. There were windows and plenty of towels. The wi-fi worked like a charm. This isn’t half bad, I thought.

The next day, we explored the town, and when it started to snow, we came back and played Battleship in the cozy lobby and chatted up Carolyn. We went on many excursions, and every time we came back it was like coming home. We ended up staying two nights, and were sad when we left.

I had developed a little crush on the Charlotte. No one likes being proved wrong, but sometimes it’s much better than the alternative.

Jennifer Reese wrote about gateway towns to national parks for the July/August 2011 issue of Via.

This blog post was first published in August 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.