There's definitely gold in the hills of California's gold country, and you don't have to pan the pristine streams of the Sierra Nevada to find it. There's plenty of treasure for everyone to enjoy from historic ghost towns to awe-inspiring scenery, from antiques to romantic hotels and craft breweries.
Located between Sacramento and Fresno, Gold Country is comprised of a variety of small, eclectic towns, each with their own charms and attractions. Route 49 - named in honor of California's '49er gold rush miners - rolls through the region, with plenty of sights to see along the way.
Stay and Play
On the southern end of the region, Jamestown is packed with colorful, creative shops, charming restaurants and is home to the antique-filled 1859 Historic National Hotel. Two wooden buildings contain nine delightfully decorated rooms with claw foot baths. The nightly rate includes a delicious breakfast buffet, and the full-service restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine at dinner, featuring fresh herbs and vegetables grown in the hotel's garden.
Hotel Sutter, located in the center of the region in downtown Sutter Creek, is another strong choice. 21 attractive rooms, each individually appointed with handmade quilts on the comfortable beds, make up this historic hotel. The balcony overlooking Main Street is a great spot for a drink before dinner at the hotel's restaurant; there's usually live musical entertainment in the basement lounge.
The Jamestown Railtown Historic Park is a great place to start exploring the Gold Country. The railroad here once carried passengers and freight from this station throughout Gold Country beginning in 1897. Today, visitors take an enjoyable hour-long ride to a turn-around point, where the engine switches to the back of the train. The passenger car's seats are flipped back to front so no passenger is facing backward for the return trip.
Ghost Town Glamour
Columbia is a preserved gold rush town under the auspices of the state park service. Visit a blacksmith's shop, General Store, hotel, schoolhouse, bank and barber shop, some with historical exhibits, others offering crafts to buy and dining options. A boom town once known as the Gem of the Southern Mines, Columbia is a walk back in time. Sip the locally made Sarsaparilla.
Going Under Ground
In a region rife with caves, caverns and mines, one top attraction is Moaning Caverns in Vallecito. Unlike many caves with horizontal entrances, this is a vertical cavern, which means an exciting descent of over a hundred and sixty-five feet, mostly using a spiral metal staircase. Or choose the ultimate thrilling option and rappel into a fairyland of stalagmites.
Mercer's Caverns just outside of Murphy's has hosted cave tours since the 1800s, when visitors were led through the cave rooms by lantern light.
Springtime finds Daffodil Hill outside Sutter's Creek blooming with the yellow flowers for which it's named. But the scenery in the area is sublime any time of year. Near the town of Murphys, trails through Calaveras Big Trees Park pass massive Sequoia trees. The Stanislaus National Forest offers gorgeous river views.
After a day of exploring, quaff a cold microbrew at Knee Deep Brewing Company in Auburn or the Auburn Alehouse Brewery and Restaurant. In Placerville, check out the Jack Russell Farm Brewery which grows acres of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries used in some of its beers, mead and hard cider.