The vibe: Unpretentious boho chic
Location: 211 Broad St, Nevada City, CA 95959 | View on Google Maps
The AFAR take
The National Exchange first opened in the gold-mining boom town of Nevada City, California, in August of 1856. Today it’s one of the oldest hotels in continuous operation west of the Rockies. In 2018, the Santa Barbara–based firm Acme Hospitality came in to restore the property to its Victorian-era glory—while adding modern comforts, more than 400 pieces of art, and opulent design touches.
Who’s it for?
Road-trippers interested in California history who want a well-mixed cocktail after a day spent swimming in the nearby Yuba River, hiking in Tahoe National Forest, or tooling around the compact town. Good for couples or friends traveling together. Families with young kids should book either a double queen or double full room. Pets are welcome for no additional fee. LGBTQ-friendly: The hotel was hosting a gay wedding the weekend I visited, and the bar hosts recurring Drag Queen Bingo nights.
Nevada City sits in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco (a two-and-a-half-hour drive without traffic). In 1850, Nevada City was the third-largest city in California and home to the owners of the area’s most profitable gold mines (neighboring Grass Valley was home to the miners). Many of the city’s early inhabitants came from New England, so much of the brick architecture has an East Coast look. Today, Nevada City’s downtown district is filled with restaurants, bars, yoga studios, and sweet indie shops selling housewares, clothing, and more. This is Northern California, so also expect your fair share of herbs, crystals, and edibles.
History is the name of the game at the National Exchange: Author Mark Twain delivered lectures and actress Lola Montez performed her infamous Spider Dance here.
Each of the 38 guest rooms features one-of-a-kind antiques and original art. The hotel’s lead designer Anne L’Esperance used 13 different wallpapers (including some classic William Morris patterns) throughout the property and brought in a handful of intricate modern wallpapers that draw inspiration from botanicals grown in the Sierra foothills.
Several of the front-facing rooms have access to semi-private wrought-iron verandas that overlook the town. If you need a television in your room, this is not the place for you—Acme Hospitality took a vernacular approach and kept TVs out of all the guest rooms. Modern luxuries include large bathrooms with penny-tile floors, Beekman 1802 bath and body products, and electric tea kettles.
The food and drink
Guests can join a weekend brunch or nightly dinner at the noir-inspired on-site restaurant Lola, cocktails in the well-appointed National Bar, and a complimentary breakfast of pastries, yogurt, and granola in the Grand Lounge. The dinner menu changes seasonally and might include such comfort foods as seafood chowder and fried chicken. Rumor has it that the National’s iconic wooden bar (original to the hotel) was donated by the Hearst family, who visited in 1863. The tin ceilings are new, but blend right in.
Staff and service
Casual, warm, and super friendly
There are two ADA accessible rooms, one king suite and one standard queen room. There is no elevator in the hotel.
Looking to the past
History is the name of the game at the National Exchange: Author Mark Twain delivered lectures and actress Lola Montez (the restaurant’s namesake) performed her infamous Spider Dance here. In the late 1800s, the hotel housed the city’s first telegraph office.
Need to know
- Allows pets? Yes
- Family-friendly: Yes