Funky Nevada City: Outside Inn

The vegetable take-one-leave-one table brims with fall offerings.

MARVEL OF A MOTEL: Pop culture and the motel have had a rather colorful relationship over the decades, with the road-close, drive-up-to-your-door properties weathering a few fictional characters that might be called notorious. (It's autumn as of this typing, so, yes, it feels appropriate to mention Norman Bates right about now.) But motels in reality? They're usually not at all what pop culture has presented: They're tidy and friendly and efficient and a bargain to boot. And sometimes they go further than that, way further, and ascend to something rather esoteric and marvelous and a little wicked and a little whimsical, especially when the town they're in also shares those flavorful characteristics.

TAKE THE OUTSIDE INN... a motor-court-y landmark in Nevada City. It doesn't boast guests so much as fans, those hikers and kayakers and Gold Country buffs and nature-seekers who love some themed-fun with their motel room. And they get it: The Outside Inn offers gently imagined rooms that pay homage to climbing, to fishing, to winter, to the stars above. But it isn't just its non-cookie-cutter character that makes the motel, which has roots in the '40s, such a charmer: Look to its free vegetable table, its photo-packed blog, and its haunted pathway come Halloween.

IT'S TRUE...  that they're just dashing that Norman-Bates-y thing completely, though you may meet Mr. Bates outside the motel come Halloween. The haunted pathway, found adjacent to the Outside Inn, is full of ghoulies, meaning excited people from the town come to call on Halloween night (and not just guests). As for the vegetable table? It's a neighborly Nevada City staple, and you can take a squash/apple/cuke or leave one. As for the blog? Erin Thiem, who owns the motel, is an ace photographer who documents La Vida Nevada City, and the laidback life around the Outside Inn. Should you need to get stoked before you book your themed motel room at a funky, free-spirited property famous for haunted pathways and free veges, spin down the motel blog.

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