Strike It Rich
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North Star Mining Museum
by Sharon PennySure, you could try to find the best Gold Rush towns yourself. But everyone knows that to do it right you need A) delightful wordplay, B) fun facts, C) useful information, and D) puns. Coincidentally, we have this shiny mini-guide to Gold Rush towns—already packaged up and ready to go! Here’s five great towns all mapped out—just take your pick. (Pick? Get it? Gold Rush pun intended.) See? Puns already! Are we having fun yet?
COLOMALike Maria said in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” Located just 20 minutes from Placerville on historic Highway 49, this is where the Gold Rush began, when James Marshall saw “color” in the South Fork of the American River on January 24, 1848.
Must See: Marshall Gold State Discovery Park, of course! It’s not just any park—it’s also a ghost town (minus ghosts…or is it?). In a truly beautiful location like this you can learn some history and polish up on your Instagramming.
Get Your Grub On: Enjoy delicious food at the rumored-to-be-haunted, confirmed-to-be-delicious Sierra Nevada House.
Rest Your Eyes: Get a rustic night’s sleep at the Lotus Inn, just a few minutes from Coloma.
Fun Fact: The name Coloma derives from the Nisenan word “Cullumah,” meaning beautiful.
AUBURNIn May 1848 Claude Chana discovered gold in North Fork Dry Diggings (now Auburn). It was the third find in California and the first in what would become Placer County. Auburn is crammed with Gold Rush-era charm, overflowing with history, and inhabited by a giant(!) statue of Claude Chana.
Must See: Commercial Street’s original 1857 Gold Rush buildings and Old Town’s Firehouse, which was constructed in 1891 and is one of Auburn’s most famous attractions. Don’t miss a chance to see some living history.
Get Your Grub On: Dine in the historic Auburn City Hall building at Bootlegger’s Old Town Tavern and Grill.
Rest Your Eyes: Get your sleep on at Power’s Mansion Inn, a beautiful 1880s Victorian mansion located in the heart of Downtown Auburn.
Fun Fact: The Auburn Post Office is California’s oldest continually operating post office.
GRASS VALLEYThirty minutes from Auburn up Highway 49 is the jewel in Nevada County’s Gold Rush crown, Grass Valley. One of the richest gold mining districts, Grass Valley housed two of the largest and most productive gold mines, the North Star Mine and Empire Mine.
Must See: North Star Mining Museum, and Empire Mine State Historic Park. After your day in the mines, wet your whistle at the Holbrooke Hotel’s Golden Gate Saloon, the oldest bar in California.
Get Your Grub On: Marshall’s Pasties. You’re in Cornish country (see: Fun Facts), so you have to eat a Cornish pastie. It’s a rule. Rules are made for a reason. 530-272-2844
Rest Your Eyes: Just a shake of a lamb’s tail from historic downtown Grass Valley is Lamb’s Victorian Inn. Ewe’ll love it!
Fun Fact: In the 1890s, more than 60 percent of Grass Valley’s population was Cornish.
NEVADA CITYTen minutes up Highway 49 from Grass Valley is Nevada City. Once the third largest town in California, the whole of downtown Nevada City is on the National Register of Historic Places. You want history, you got it!
Must See: Nevada Theatre, California’s oldest original-use theater. Mark Twain lectured here in 1866. nevadatheatre.com
Get Your Grub On: Ike’s Quarter Café, featuring a delicious oasis of Cajun comfort food. ikesquartercafe.com
Rest Your Eyes: Emma Nevada House Historic Bed & Breakfast. Built in 1858, operatic soprano Emma Nevada boarded here as a child in the 1860s, and loved the town so much she took it as her stage name.
Fun Fact: Downtown, next to the National Hotel, you’ll find Ladies of the Evening Rock, which bears a plaque commemorating Nevada City’s shady ladies’ “essential contribution to the settlement of the West.”
DownievilleLast on our list but not in our hearts, Downieville is the “could’ve been a contender” Gold Rush town. Settled in 1849, fast-growing Downieville missed becoming the state capital by 10 votes. It’s described as a “semi-ghost town,” but there’s locals aplenty and Mayberry-esque charm…it’s far from spooky!
Must See: The original “Sheriff’s Gallows” used once and still standing; and the Methodist Church of Downieville, the oldest Protestant-denomination church in California.
Get Your Grub On: La Cocina De Oro, a popular taqueria featuring scratch-made Mexican cuisine. Two words: homemade flan. Call before you go as they are open seasonally. 530-289-3584
Rest Your Eyes: Sierra Shangri-La, the best-kept secret in the Sierra—two miles out of Downieville.
Fun Fact: Rumor has it, the largest gold nugget was found in Downieville in 1853. Weighing 5,009 ounces, it would be worth $3 million today.