California Gold Country stretches east of the state’s capital city of Sacramento. Natural beauty defines the area, and it is rich in history, art, and culture.
We sped down a highway past numerous road signs to small cities on Highway 80. Thanks to Visit Gold Country, I had the opportunity to slow down and explore the California Gold Country east of Sacramento. You cannot help but wonder how many Sacramento residents don’t know what beauty there is to explore in such proximity to the city.
Gold Country Surprises at High Hand Nursery
My host suggested I stop at the High Hand Nursery in Loomis, California, an unexpected recommendation. Little did I know what a marvelous experience I would have on this sunny, cloudless California morning.
Google Maps took me to their parking lot behind the nursery. I began my tour near the loading dock, which had wrought iron gates, fences, and trellises waiting to find a home.
As I walked through the door of the greenhouse, soft music played. I turned the corner, and before me was a scene reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Arches laden with blooming vines and flowers overflowing in pots strategically lined the walkways.
On one of these walkways, I noticed a long line of people standing in front of a doorway. I realized they were waiting to be seated in the gardens for lunch. Not to be left out, I decided to dine at the café. They seated me at a table under a giant tree. Large plants in dividers provided a sense of romantic intimacy.
I ordered a satisfying tri-tip sandwich. Since it was my first time here, my waiter suggested I explore the shed, which was formerly an old produce packing plant. It is now home to garden décor, a florist, a wine tasting room, an olive oil and vinegar tasting room, a jewelry designer, and a local artists’ gallery. At the far end of the shed, they are building a distillery.
A Quiet Refuge Off the Highway
I was delighted to discover the Springhill Suites by Marriott Auburn, my hotel during my stay, was easily accessible off Highway 80 and exceedingly quiet. Its bathroom was much larger than my condo kitchen, and everything was pristine. I knew this was the perfect place to settle in. I opened the drapes and took a deep breath as I looked at the Sierra Foothills spreading out for miles before me.
Learning the History of California Gold Country
I stopped at the Placer County Museum, housed in the majestic County Courthouse that overlooks the town of Auburn. The courthouse, built in 1898, is still used and meticulously preserved. Its entire first floor is dedicated to the area’s history.
From the museum, I learned that very few people who came to California for gold became wealthy. One exhibit illustrated how the newcomers created ways to support the giant influx of miners. Another display explained how technology slowly changed the character of this small community.
Dining in Downtown Auburn
Need a coffee break? Try The Pour Choice, and make sure you also have a breakfast pastry. This unique place in California Gold Country is Auburn’s first and only craft coffee bar and taproom.
At Restaurant Josephine, the feeling of old-world charm immediately caught my attention. It is in one of downtown Auburn’s historic red-brick buildings, and I admired its French-style decor. The restaurant’s three owners blended their culinary and architectural talents to create this bustling restaurant. The menu boasts farm-fresh foods combined with a dash of French and Eastern European flavor.
Shopping Downtown Auburn
The best way to describe shopping downtown is “up close and personal.” Do not expect any name-brand stores on this beautifully preserved street. Shopkeepers welcome you with broad smiles and are ready to help you select a gift or souvenir. In my case, the silver shop worked with me to find just the right size ring.
Auburn Old Town Gallery‘s bright modern space is the perfect location to showcase the area artists, many of whom are nationally and internationally known. The 50 artists who make up this art cooperative use a wide variety of art media. Prices vary, so you are bound to find that perfect souvenir.
Another point of historical interest in downtown Auburn is the oldest continuously operating post office west of the Mississippi River. It still serves the town’s citizens from its prominent corner.
Wine Tasting in California Gold Country
Next, I headed to Placerville in El Dorado County. The 28 miles of winding roads through the mountains initially concerned me, but then I relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
My exploration started at Myka Estates, a secluded winery on Apple Hill. It is a must-stop on a sightseeing adventure among the verdant, tree-lined hills. Not only do you learn about wine, but they meticulously pair the wines with a delicious lunch menu.
Earlier, I mentioned that many prospectors made more money by providing services and food for the gold miners. The Fossati-Lombardo family was no exception. They built a homestead in 1849, where they grew grapes with cuttings from nearby Mission vineyards. They also planted a variety of nut trees. The winery closed during prohibition, but in 1972, Greg Boeger and his wife purchased the estate and began winemaking again. Greg’s talents and experimentation have resulted in Boeger Winery, now considered the longest-running post-prohibition winery in El Dorado County.
Placerville is a Haven for Artists
Placerville residents proudly share that their town was artist Thomas Kincade’s hometown. Scenes of the area inspired many of his paintings. Placerville is filled with stunning views and historic buildings that provide numerous subjects for artists’ canvases. The Thomas Kincade Art Gallery is located on Main Street.
Also, stop at the Placerville Art Gallery for an excellent showcase of local artists, many of whom are internationally recognized for their works. The curators at this well-lit, spacious gallery understand how to display the art to allow the observer to appreciate the craftsmanship. Take time to explore and shop; there are many more galleries in Placerville than the two listed above.
Abundant Fresh Produce
Boa Vista Orchards is where you stop to get the exact quantity of produce you want. You will also want to check out the section where canning jars stand like soldiers, showing off their contents in light green to bright orange shades.
I discovered long ago that peaches that have not been refrigerated are often the juiciest, most flavorful, and have the best texture. One bite from a Boa Vista peach proved that my theory is still intact. Unfortunately, I had to leave behind many kinds of fresh produce I would’ve happily purchased if I were going home soon.
Dining in Placerville, California
Smith Flat House, built in 1853, has served as a hotel, stagecoach stop, and post office. Today, it serves as a lovely dining and gathering spot for locals. It is considered one of the oldest frame-structure buildings in California Gold Country. After one of their farm-to-table meals on the outdoor patio in the summer, check out the cellar with its local multi-colored stone walls. It was once an opening to a lead mine.
A Quiet Evening in California Gold Country
With my head full of new information, I turned into the driveway of my “home” for the night, Apple Hill White House. This Airbnb enchanted me when I first saw its expansive yard surrounded by a forest. Its large patio with rocking chairs and a fire pit was the ideal place to stop for the day. Once a miner’s cabin, this well-appointed space had everything I needed, including coffee, to make me feel at home.
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My Visit to California Gold Country
Alas, it was time for me to drive the 50 miles to Highway 5 and head back to my home in Palm Springs. Three days filled with history, art galleries, and good food had flown by. I knew I had only scratched the surface of California’s Gold Country. I hope to return to the area when the apples ripen and attend musical events at the various wineries at the end of the harvest season. Check out Wander for more ideas on great road trips and other places to see when you visit Northern California.