Exploring California’s Gold Country
As much as I love Southern California I’m eager to explore as much of the state as I possibly can. This past Fall my family and I decided to tackle its Eastern portion and explored both sides of the Sierras. One of the areas we were most eager to visit was Gold Country and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
After a day in Yosemite we headed north along Highway 49 to start our explorations. Our first stop was the tiny town of Jamestown, founded in 1848.
Its small main street was lined with historic buildings and several were home to antique shops. I’m a sucker for a good antique store and the ones in Jamestown did not disappoint. I ended up with several more pieces for my classic film memorabilia collection. Speaking of classic film – several famous movies were filmed in the town from High Noon to Back to the Future III.
In fact, the local state park Railtown 1897 features several film props but unfortunately it was already closed by the time we arrived.
We soon headed north passing through the historic towns of Columbia and Sonora before stopping for the night in Angels Camp. We found inexpensive lodging at the local Best Western which proved to be a quaint, clean place to rest our heads. We headed into the nearby town of Murphys for dinner and discovered a cute main street filled with trendy restaurants and businesses. We discovered a small ice cream shop, JoMa’s Artisan Ice Cream, and had to stop for a cone. I opted for the Black Bear-y which was absolutely delicious.
The next morning we decided to spend some time exploring Angels Camp before continuing north.
Angels Camp is also known as the Home of the Jumping Frog due to Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” It’s said that he heard the story at the Angel Hotel and it proved to be his first literary success.
Angels Camp is very proud of its literary heritage and you can find the frog motif throughout the town. My favorite was the Jumping Frog Walk of Fame lining Main Street which highlighted the champions from each year’s contest.
Soon it was time to leave town and we continued up Highway 49. Our next stop was the slightly bigger town of Jackson, which was home to one of the most surprising finds of our trip.
Located on Main Street is the quaint Hein & Co. Bookstore which offers an array of both new and used books. As delightful as the shop is the true treasure is found on its second floor – Baker Street West. Linda Hein, co-owner of the bookshop, is a true fan of Sherlock Holmes and decided to turn the second floor into an homage to her favorite character. Here you’ll find a recreation of a quaint English village complete with shops selling various sundries and a small pub. There’s also a detailed recreation of Sherlock’s residence – 221 Baker Street. Ms. Hein was kind enough to give us a tour and it was a wonder to behold.
The details in the apartment are incredible with several homages to various Holmes stories and there’s even a secret passageway! I would have never expected to find such a place in a small Gold Rush town but I’m so glad it’s there. It’s truly a must stop for any visitor to the area.
Soon we were back on the road and headed to Placerville.
We took a stroll along Main Street but our main destination was just outside of town – Apple Hill.
Apple Hill is an area filled with over 30 apple farms and we happened to be visiting at the height of the season. We spent most of the afternoon driving from farm to farm and stocking up on the seasonal fruit. We also enjoyed delicious apple desserts, apple cider, apple beer…so much good stuff. The farms varied from large operations to small mom and pops and its was fun to visit as many as we could. My favorite was Larsen Apple Barn founded in the 1860’s. On the property was small museum dedicated to the family history that was a joy to explore.
Once we had our filled of apples we continued north and came to the spot where everything started – the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Located in the tiny town of Coloma it’s the home of the famed Sutter’s Mill.
The original mill is long gone but on the site is a faithful recreation.
Located on the bank of the American River it’s a humble spot marking the location of one of the most significant events in our state’s history.
As it was approaching evening we headed back on the road to our intended destination, Grass Valley.
Grass Valley is one of the larger Gold Country towns and quickly became my favorite. With a bustling downtown filled with beautifully restored historic buildings it was a delightful place to stay the night.
Filled with history the town and its surrounding area were ripe for exploring the next day. We began at the Empire Mine State Historic Park – home to one of the largest and most prosperous gold mines in the country.
Encompassing almost 850 acres the park is home to several hiking trails, the historic mine and the beautiful Empire Cottage – once home to the mine’s owner.
The cottage and its surrounding garden was a beautiful spot to wander around and gave little evidence of the subterranean world lying just under its fit.
With tunnels reaching over two miles into the earth it was a truly mind boggling place to visit. Shuttered since 1956 it’s a well preserved glimpse into a world so foreign to my own.
Just outside of town is another historic site – the Bridgeport Covered Bridge.
Crossing the Yuba River the bridge is the longest single-span wood-covered bridge in the United States.
Located in the South Yuba River State Park it was one of the most peaceful spots on our entire trip. While there we came across a friendly deer and a not so friendly snake that was, thankfully, not poisonous.
The park is also home to a restored historic gas station that was a delightful surprise.
Our final Gold Country stop was the neighboring town of Nevada City. The incredible quaint town is filled with shops, restaurants and the cutest fire station I’ve ever seen.
A small museum is located inside and it was an enjoyable end to our visit to Gold Country. An incredibly historic area filled with quaint towns and unique attractions visiting it was more delightful than I could have ever imagined. I can’t wait to return and explore more of its hidden gems.