I've been coming here for years, through a series of owners and managers, and seen the place go through various stages. The big “plus” is the location. Columbia is one of my go-to getaways from the Bay Area, and the motel is just across the road from the state historic park and preserved Gold Rush town. I like to walk and hang out around the town, and go for nighttime strolls when it’s quiet and looks like an Old West movie setting. Other than the costlier historic hotels, this is the only lodging where that’s possible. It’s convenient for driving to Sonora, Angel’s Camp, Murphy’s, Twain Harte, or Pinecrest. An overall “very good” rating is not just for the motel, which is not truly “very good,” but for all the advantages of staying there.
As to the “stages” it has gone through… I recall when the pool was open, the ice machine worked, there was full-time staffing and the lobby was open with a sitting area and reading material. I also recall when some rooms were SROs for folks in rehab, just paroled, or a step above homelessness. The place has had a lingering reputation. What it is now is nothing like what it has been at some other times. And yet, in all the years I have been coming, I have never truly felt unsafe. I’ve always found the staff to be courteous and helpful, and those owners I’ve met were also cordial.
For the cost, it’s a decent place to stay and everything usually works. Yes, it's old and needs work. The potted plants are dead, the soda and ice machines have been for years, the stairs are decrepit, and the room carpets are worn. On one recent visit, I had to ask for a lightbulb and the phone plug kept falling out of the wall jack. But the rooms have always been clean and stocked, and they have microwaves and mini fridges.
On two visits this spring, the lobby has been unstaffed; you'd ring a bell to call the manager, or the manager would see you coming because she and her husband lived in the motel. Housekeeping was by request only, by hanging the door sign or telling the manager (however, she asked every time she saw me if I needed anything). The reason: no staff. The only employees were these two, one partly disabled, who were expected to function as manager, desk clerk, maintenance and laundry worker (laundry is done in-house), housekeeper by request, and whatever else needed doing. The owners would not hire anyone else. When these owners bought the inn, their main hotel experience was from one of them being a maid, then they got the notion that they wanted their own place. They own a restaurant in Sonora that evidently takes much or most of their energy. They also do inefficient things like going to Costco in Modesto or buying light bulbs half a dozen at a time, when they could be using vendors that make bulk sales and deliver.
The pool is permanently closed because it does not meet current safety codes and upgrading it would cost too much. It is kept full and covered because draining it would cause it to dry out and crack, according to the manager. I've often suggested to the manager that it should be replaced with a landscaped area with chairs, picnic tables, and other niceties for guests to use in good weather. There is now no such area. She said it had been mentioned to the owners--but that would cost money too. The manager also said she would like to see the lobby open to guests, which would require full-time desk staffing; it has a TV that she said the owners put in for their enjoyment, and a couch littered with hair shed by the owners’ dog, but I don’t think I’ve seen the owners in the lobby in 2-3 years.
I can air this now because the manager confided that she and her husband planned to give notice soon and leave at the end of June. I wished them well; I’ve enjoyed staying over the years and they were always cordial and pleasant. She had no idea what the situation might be like once they left, and of course, neither do I. I hope it works out, that the owners can get new staff and keep the motel in business. If they come to their senses, have adequate staff, and make a few changes and improvements, this could be a much better place and be filled every night with people who want to enjoy historic Columbia.
If you’re interested in staying, call ahead or check the website to be sure it’s open. Get a room on the front side, facing the parking lot. There are rooms on the back side, which is upstairs because the building is built into a hillside. The hillside is covered with trees and gets very little sunlight, so it’s colder and darker and has a vaguely damp feeling. If you’re skittish, it can also be a bit spooky; you never see people or activity in the back, and you can easily imagine your next-door, long-term tenant neighbor shooting up, cooking meth, or counting the loot from his/her latest mini-mart stick-up.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Rob and his fiancé Cheryl have put a lot of hard work, dedication and passion into the Columbia Inn Motel to make it a positive experience. We enjoy meeting and getting to enjoy our guests personally. Our goal is to make everyone feel at home while visiting ours. Rob served 14 years in the Air Force and has had several ventures since. One of which is 49er Mining Supplies, that he opened in 2001 and is currently located adjacent to the motel office. Rob's knowledge of mining is vast and he loves sharing with all. We invite you to come to the Columbia Inn Motel located in the heart of the Mother Lode and take a step back in time. Be sure you take time to visit the historic Columbia State Park which is a short walking distance from us. ... more less