This area was once so isolated that it was two years into the Gold Rush before mining claims began to operate along this section of the Yuba River.
Sierra City has a population of 225 -- and three full-service saloons, giving it a bar-to-drinker ratio that is a proud reflection of true Gold Rush heritage. This town is small enough to feel the full impact of PCT traffic. And during July, when the main pack of thru-hikers rolls down Highway 49, it can feel like the town is one big hiker party. Watch your manners. Relations between the locals and the hiker community have vastly improved in recent years, largely due to the efforts of Larry Breed, proprietor of the Sierra Country Store (213 Main St., 530 862-1560).
The grocery store's porch -- conveniently located smack dab between the laundry facilities and the post office -- has long been the social hub of the town. The store's take-out offerings include sandwiches, burgers, pizza and vegetarian wraps, among other things. The double cheeseburger is the best food value in town. Sandwiches were hit-and-miss and the pizza looked downright iffy.
The clean, modern cabins at the Buttes Resort (530 862-1170) on the main drag (Highway 49) are a very good value if split between two or more hikers and get our strongest recommendation. They are an ideal place for a zero day or a reunion with family. Owners Mike and Lindy Terwilliger have just the right touch for the hospitality business. Herrington's Sierra Pines (101 Main St., 862-1151), is just west of town on Highway 49, another fine facility comparable to the Buttes. We've eyeballed it but never stayed there. Pluses: a really cool trout pond in the front yard and a very highly regarded restaurant on the premises. Minus: having to hoof it to downtown Sierra City on the highway shoulder. The potential deal-killer caveat for both of these fine hostelries: a two-night minimum stay. Plan a zero day. (We've heard through the trail grapevine that Herrington's might offer some cut rates and single nights to hikers. We haven't confirmed.)
Avoid the Mountain Creek restaurant. The food is passable but severely overpriced (burgers in the $9-$10 range). And the service was the worst we've received in any trail town. The Red Moose (formerly Mountain Shadows) appears to be closed for good as of the 2010 season. The Old Sierra City Hotel (212 Main St., 530 862-1300), the bar/restaurant/hotel across from the store and post office, has four rooms upstairs and serves a limited dinner menu seven nights a week. Essentially, the dinner menu is whatever two items Bob, the bartender/chef/chief busboy/bouncer, feels like cooking that day. Of the three licensed establishments in town, this is the one with the killer jukebox and the right vibe at the bar. (Remember: Drinking beer on the porch of the store is a big no-no that will render you persona non grata.) The Bassetts Station store and cafe, four miles north of town at the junction of Highway 49 and the Lakes Basin road, is not a good deal for dining.