There is no question that there is no better place to stay in Merced than the El Capitan Hotel. After all, it features the city’s best lodging and dining, entertainment venue and event space. What’s more, the historic JdV by Hyatt hotel has a deep connection to the establishment of this city in California’s spectacular Central Valley. In fact, the hotel first opened in 1872, the same year the city was founded. Learn why the El Capitan Hotel is your top local choice, whether it’s to visit UC Merced or as a gateway to Yosemite National Park. Indeed, it’s also one of the finest hotels in the entire Central Valley.
El Capitan Hotel
609 W. Main St.
Merced, CA 95340
About The Hotel
According to historians, the first El Capitan was built by the Central Pacific Railroad to accommodate visitors to the Yosemite Valley. At the time, the railroad passed right in front of the hotel. However, if you were to visit Yosemite, you had to travel by horse-drawn carriage. Moreover, it wasn’t until 1907 that you could board the Yosemite Valley Railroad to El Portal from Merced. Unfortunately, by that time the El Capitan Hotel Merced was demolished and rebuilt at its present location. A spectacular structure with an Art Deco/Spanish Colonial architectural style, it had 33 rooms upon reopening in 1912. With a stunning expansion, the hotel now features 114 beautifully appointed rooms and suites. The hotel reopened in 2021, marking its fourth ever opening. In case you were wondering, El Capitan gets its name from the iconic granite rock formation in Yosemite National Park.
Nicole Hollis Design
The impressive interior of El Capitan Hotel was designed by San Francisco-based designed Nicole Hollis. One of the world’s top designers, Nicole Hollis has received multiple awards, including named a Hospitality Giant by Interior Design Magazine. Her recent projects include Brasswood Napa Valley, Hall Wines and El Prado Hotel in Palo Alto.
Of the 114 rooms are three one-bedroom suites and nine junior suites. You can choose rooms from sizes that range from 302 square feet to 380 square feet. This includes rooms in the historic Arbor Lane section of the hotel. Of course, accessible rooms are also available for your consideration, including rooms with a tub or roll-in shower. In addition, you can enjoy outstanding amenities, like a worktable, 49” HDTV, laptop compatible safe and free wireless. That’s not to mention plush bathrobes, coffeemaker, Beekman 1802 bath products and beautiful tile bathroom floors. As for suites, you have accommodations ranging in size from 430 to 560 square feet.
The El Capitan Hotel in Merced is thankfully, very pet friendly. That means you won’t have to leave your furry friends behind for your trip. There is a weight limit of 100 pounds per pet for a maximum of two pets. The non-refundable fee is $35 per night and each pet gets their own comfortable bed. Not only will your pet enjoy a good night’s sleep but can also get some pampering with toys and snacks.
Most but not all hotels in Merced offer complimentary parking. In view of this, El Capitan Hotel is happy to offer complimentary parking. In this case, the hotel uses a secure parking garage adjacent to the property. In further detail, this is the same parking garage that is shared by Merced City Hall and Civic Center. If you’re driving to Merced, you can choose to self-park or take advantage of valet parking from friendly hotel attendants. It takes just a few minutes to walk between the garage and the hotel.
El Capitan Hotel offers not one, but three exceptional spots for dining onsite. This includes Native Son bar-coffee shop and the beautiful EC outdoor patio. Native Son is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a full bar serving premium beer, wine and craft cocktails. Among the dishes you may like are a charcuterie board ($22) and Atlantic salmon ($21). As for cocktails, standouts include EC colada ($14) and blood orange margarita ($14). If you prefer wine, El Capitan offers a great selection of regional and international wines. For instance, you can order a rosé from Provence, sauvignon blanc from Monterey County and a Syrah from Sonoma County. EC is open from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and offers similar food and drink menus, along with choices like Mariposa Ranch New York steak ($38).
Although each of the dining spots at El Capitan Hotel are truly exceptional, you will find the ultimate dining experience at Rainbird. After all, it offers world-class dining with items sourced from local purveyors, along with premium cocktails and wine. Yet what takes this restaurant to a higher level in the Central Valley is its emerging chef Quentin Garcia. In the first place, Chef Garcia has a resume that includes work with Claus Henriksen, one of Denmark’s top chefs. Secondly, another highlight from his resume is work with renowned chef Christopher Kostow at Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood in the Napa Valley. As a result, you can expect a Michelin-caliber dining experience at Rainbird. The leading Merced restaurant has a Tasting Menu ($85) or Vegetarian Menu ($85). Of course, an optional wine pairing is available, with sample selections from New Zealand, France, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County.
Brunch at Rainbird
Rainbird also offers a exceptional Sunday brunch between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. However, this isn’t your ordinary Sunday brunch. To illustrate, you have a Three Course Tasting Menu ($38) with ingredients provided by primarily local and regional food makers. For example, you have selections like Strauss yogurt mousse, Anson Mills grits and beef from Niman Ranch. To top off your brunch, you have to choose between delectable Dutch stroopwafels or malted beignets. That’s not to mention supplemental sides like fruits and potatoes. As for drinks, you have choices like gourmet coffees, freshly squeezed juices and selections from the bar.
During your stay, you might want to take time to visit the hotel’s upscale convenience store. You can find Bobby’s Market around the corner from the hotel entrance on M Street. As a matter of fact, if you decide to self-park, you’ll walk right by. At Bobby’s you can purchase on-the-go foods and drink as well as souvenirs, clothing and more. You may also like one of the stuffed animals complete with the El Capital Hotel brand. Lastly, don’t forget to take a closer look at the honeycomb-like tile flooring. It’s the same type of high-end tile that you see in your room’s bathroom.
Adjacent to EC on the main level is the hotel’s fitness center. Open 24 hours daily, the fitness center features state-of-the art equipment like a rowing machine, treadmills and elliptical trainers. In addition, you have free weights, workout benches and a set of Peloton stationary bikes. You just simply scan your keycard to access the center.
Business Center/Communal Space
You can find the hotel’s business center in a section that connects Arbor Lane to the newer Main Street Wing. Available for your use are several workstations with wood furnishings and contemporary lighting. Alongside and behind the business center are elegant lounge spaces with comfortable furnishing and local artwork. In fact, all of the hotel’s rooms and interior features local artwork, as well as inside the Mainzer. In addition, you will notice your room’s wallpaper, with inspiration by Merced’s connection to railroads, its rich agricultural resources and Yosemite.
El Capitan is clearly home to the best hotel event space in Merced and entire Central Valley. Available in the historic Arbor Lane portion of the hotel, it’s perfect for weddings, birthday parties, business meetings and other social occasions. You can choose from two spaces suitable for business meetings that can accommodate about 10 or more people. In addition, you can choose the much larger ballroom or the EC for receptions, weddings etc. In all, the hotel has nearly 5,550 square feet of space onsite.
Another El Capitan Hotel- JdV by Hyatt property you should absolutely visit is the historic Mainzer. Just a brief walk from the hotel entrance, The Mainzer was part of the extensive revitalization project for El Capitan Hotel. Built in the 1920s, The Mainzer was one of two magnificent Art Deco movie theaters in Merced. Today, The Mainzer serves as a live music venue and contemporary movie theater with leather chairs and couches. The historic venue features local and regional music acts, like Country Express, Boone’s Farm Acoustic Trio and rising star Joe Peters. Among upcoming events are a Friendsgiving Drag Night, World Cup soccer and holiday movies like Elf and Christmas Vacation. That’s to say nothing the full bar in an adjacent space, with indoor and outdoor seating for drinks/dining. If that’s not enough, there is also a recreation center with Skee-ball machines, foosball table, dining space and TVs.
Although historic The Tioga building isn’t part of El Capitan Hotel, it’s worth mentioning. Besides, you can’t miss seeing this enormous structure across from the Mainzer. Furthermore, it’s the largest building in the city and a clear example of early railroad hotels. That’s because it stands at the then connecting routes of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Yosemite Valley Railroad. Built in 1928, The Tioga Hotel has had a rich history over the years. One of the grandest hotels in the Central Valley, it hosted presidents like Calvin Coolidge, Hollywood royalty like Marilyn Monroe and dignitaries like Eleanor Roosevelt. At the top of the hotel is the iconic neon sign, the city’s first and certainly a beacon to the community. The Tioga was part of the downtown revitalization project and now serves as an apartment complex for students and business professionals.
Related: America’s Best Train Station Hotels
About The Author
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. Additionally, his stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com and Radio.com. He earned a Media Fellowship from Stanford University in 2012.