On a Dark Delta Highway, Ryde Hotel’s Party Legacy Endures

With all the food, fun and spirits, guests may never want to leave

Back Article May 16, 2024 By Steve Martarano

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Isolated in the flatlands along the Sacramento River, its peach stucco facade, surrounded by palm trees, is a reminder of the bygone Roaring ‘20s. The four-story Ryde Hotel, considered one of the most haunted hotels in Northern California, has been a Highway 160 art deco beacon for almost 100 years. 

“Going back in time” is how Bay Area resident Tina Flores, who has served as the hotel’s event planner since 2010, describes the Ryde Hotel experience. “You can come from San Francisco, in the middle of traffic, where it’s boom, boom, fast life. You come here, and it’s the time of land forgotten. Slow down, relax, but it’s a nice place to have a really fun event without any noise restrictions.”

A gazebo in the backyard along with a 200-year-old Walnut tree where weddings and other events are held at the Ryde Hotel during the year.

The former speakeasy and bordello’s current compound was built in 1927 at the peak of Prohibition, featuring luxury amenities such as a beauty salon and barber shop. Located about 30 miles southwest of Sacramento, it was a popular destination for politicians, mobsters, bootleggers and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe (who would stay in room 312 during visits, Flores says), Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable, with guests often arriving via riverboats. Herbert Hoover announced his candidacy for president there in 1928. 

Meanwhile, tales of murders and suicides occurring at the Ryde over the years resulted in the persistent alleged presence of otherworldly beings. According to hotel lore, the Rolling Stones played for a private party there in December 1969 after performing at the infamous free Altamont Speedway concert attended by approximately 300,000, as depicted in the 1970 movie about the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter.” For a while during the 1980s, it was a local musical hotbed.

An original ornate wooden booth lines the dining room area of the Ryde Hotel.

Today, it’s a popular hotel Sunday brunch destination and wedding space, featuring 42 guest rooms, from $99 to $179 per night, with a spacious dining room and events center, water tower, lush garden gazebo surrounded by 200-year-old walnut trees and private dock for visitors arriving via the Sacramento River.

The original Ryde Hotel on the Walnut Grove property was built in 1886 by Paul Giusti and brothers, according to the Elk Grove Historical Society, the same family that eventually built and ran the nearby Giusti’s Place for over a hundred years before it was destroyed by fire in September 2021. 

The original Ryde’s run ended in 1918 when a fire that started in its kitchen wiped out the entire town. Built in its place that same year, a second structure continued on as a hotel and then grocery store until the 1930s, when it was torn down. That hotel was so successful that an additional building — the current Ryde Hotel — was built next door. 

As a well-known speakeasy and casino during Prohibition, the Ryde Hotel was frequently raided by law enforcement. A trap door leading to a sophisticated maze of secret underground tunnels that took escapees to a wine cellar and out to the river is still reportedly beneath the hotel.

“We had one of the water sprinklers break,” Flores says, relating how the hotel discovered some of the tunnels that created a scissors-like pattern beneath the floor. “They had to dig and dig and dig to get to the end of it.”

The Ryde has had several owners since 1927, including the family of actor Lon Chaney Jr., of Wolf Man and Dracula movie fame, who is said to be the reason so many celebrities frequented the Ryde.

Other original touches remain, such as peep holes to check out speakeasy visitors, its original black-lacquered bar, art deco-inspired columns and original ornate wooden booths, which you can see in a scene from the cheesy 1981 TV movie, “The Girl, the Gold Watch & Dynamite.”

A colorful peacock greets visitors in the parking lot of the Ryde Hotel, which faces the Sacramento River.

Flores says the hotel is slowly getting back to its pre-COVID bookings when it held around 50 weddings a year, in addition to hosting other events. The hotel restaurant, which essentially is closed during winter months, opens in May for Friday, Saturday and Sunday dinners in addition to Sunday brunches, she says.

The Ryde, however, is still considered prime haunted real estate, and numerous YouTubers and reality shows have documented paranormal occurrences, with companies like Central Valley Historical Ghost Tour Adventures regularly renting out the hotel to lead visitors into another world.

“I think it has a lot to do with their imaginations,” says Flores, who claims she’s also experienced unexplainable late-night encounters. “You know, if they’re looking for something, they’re going to find something.”  

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