It’s no coincidence that the state highway running through the Sierra Nevada foothills is number 49. This is Gold Country, where, starting in 1849, a reef of gold-bearing quartz called the Mariposa Formation—though many people know it better as the Mother Lode—lured hundreds upon thousands of fortune seekers to California and then to the rolling, oak-flecked hills of what would become El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras counties.
Today, fortune seekers still head to Gold Country, although modern-day forty-niners are looking for less tangible treasure: rest, relaxation, a weekend away from the kids—or even a weekend away with the kids. And now, instead of gold flakes, the most common currency is liquid gold. That is, the Zinfandels, Barberas, Syrahs, and Tempranillos of the Sierra Foothills wine appellation. “There are over 100 wineries within an hour’s drive of us,” says Mark Hamlin, owner of Placerville’s Eden Vale Inn. “Over half our guests go wine tasting.” One great way to explore Gold County is to take that twisty, curvy Highway 49 from El Dorado County’s Placerville and make your way down to Murphys. Here are five great B&Bs along the way, where you can soak up the local history in distinctly more comfort than those prospectors ever experienced.
Eden Vale Inn, Placerville
The gold-seeking prospectors of the 19th century might find Eden Vale Inn, 15 minutes outside Placerville, a little puzzling: Why are these folks living in a barn? It’s true—the inn did start out as a hay barn, built in 1919 out of sturdy old-growth timbers, though Mark and Gayle Hamlin converted it into a residence in the 1980s and, in 2009, into a seven-room B&B. Then again, the old timers would find much about Eden Vale familiar: its reliance on passive solar heating in winter, the organic vegetable garden, even the chickens that supply eggs for your breakfast. The gas fireplaces, the flat-screen TVs, the hot-stone massage going on in the spa, though…those might take a little more explaining. As you pass through Placerville itself, filled with antiques shops and tasting rooms, don’t miss one store that’s an antique itself: Placerville Hardware, founded in 1852.
Bella Vista Bed & Breakfast Inn, Placerville
Certainly, the Tesla charging station at Bella Vista Bed & Breakfast—a neo-Tuscan inn that sits high above the Coloma Valley—would utterly stump those original prospectors. No matter; this five-suite Coloma County inn has staked its claim largely on romantic ambience, like the heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the Bella Vista Suite, the Italianate fountain out on the lawn, and the bridal parties that tend to gather around the fire pit with glasses of bubbly at sundown. The inn’s landscaped grounds offer five different locations for a scenic ceremony, making this a popular spot for weddings. The Bella Vista also makes a nice launching pad for rafting on the nearby American River, autumn apple-picking at Apple Hill, and El Dorado County wine tasting. The Bella Vista has not forsaken the gold-rush atmosphere, however: You’ll find antiques throughout the property and Victorian furniture—including a classic fainting couch—in the living room.
The Foxes Inn of Sutter Creek
Although the Amador County town of Sutter Creek was indeed named after John Sutter—the man who owned the land where gold was first discovered—that discovery didn’t take place here, but rather back in Coloma. Still, plenty of gold flowed through Sutter Creek, lining the pockets of its merchants, barkeeps, and hoteliers, and leaving behind plenty of charming Victorian storefronts and houses. One of them is now The Foxes Inn of Sutter Creek, a B&B of the old school: silver coffee service and doilies in the breakfast room, patchwork quilts and matelassé coverlets in the seven bedrooms, and wicker, gingham, and chintz throughout. The family that owns the B&B also owns Helwig Winery, about 15 minutes north in the Shenandoah Valley, and inn guests can reserve a Wine Country package that includes a tour of the winery’s caves, wine tastings, and a picnic basket with nuts, cheese, crackers, and more.
Hanford House Inn, Sutter Creek
If you prefer touring history to living in it, then the Hanford House Inn is the place for you. Its brick buildings face the main street of Sutter Creek, which looks like your typical frontier town: wood frame structures with balconies and a covered sidewalk beneath. The interior of the inn, though, evokes contemporary chic more than the Old West. Its 16 bedrooms are painted in soothing earth tones and outfitted with white duvets and linens, vaguely Deco-ish armchairs, and flat-screen TVs. The bathrooms are equally sleek and modern: vertical subway tiles, rainfall showers, and modern flat-bottomed sinks. (One nod to the past are the rooms’ headboards, made with salvaged wood.) Warm scones arrive at your door each morning to fortify you for the brief walk to the inn’s Elements restaurant, where the rest of breakfast is served. Choices include the challah French toast Pan of Gold or the three-egg Motherlode omelet, with crispy lardons, spinach, caramelized onion, and goat cheese.
Victoria Inn, Murphys
One of the boomiest boomtowns in Calaveras County, Murphys was named for the brothers who founded a trading post here in 1848, beating the actual rush. (They did quickly diversify into mining, to the tune of about two million dollars’ worth of gold in a single year.) Looking at the shingled, rambling Victoria Inn, on Murphys’ Main Street, you’d think it might have been a onetime haunt of the Murphys—but it was built in the 1990s, not the 1890s. From the inside, too, you’d have difficulty guessing its age. The décor in the main building’s 12 bedrooms (plus two in an adjacent cottage) veers toward the traditional: Think window seats, four-poster beds, and flow-blue china on the mantelpiece—and no TVs, Wi-Fi, or even telephones. That said, you still get modern comforts like a whirlpool tub in your bathroom and a breakfast of stuffed-croissant French toast or polenta cake Benedict. If you just can’t bear to unplug, the inn does offer an additional 10 condos and houses in the area, many of which are equipped with all the requisite devices.