A road trip on historic Highway 49 doesn’t simply take you from point A to point B—it also transports you to the past. Begin in Old Town Auburn with a stop at cozy Auburn Coffee Company for a chai latte or kombucha poured straight from the tap. Then head to the Joss House Museum, a boardinghouse and school that served hardworking Chinese settlers during the Gold Rush.
Next, cruise south 29km to Coloma, where the South Fork of the American River runs through Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Here at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, James Marshall spotted glittering flecks in the ground that changed the course of California’s history. Try your hand at gold panning on the river’s east bank, then stretch your legs with a hike up the monument trail past antique mining equipment.
Back on the road for 10 curving miles, you’ll come to Placerville—affectionately called “Old Hangtown” for its Wild West–style of justice. Well-preserved Main Street boasts the town’s oldest building, the rustic stone Fountain & Tallman Soda Works, built in 1852. Its 60cm-thick walls and underground rooms insulated the ice used for bottling soda water, which quenched the thirst of local miners. Now a museum run by the El Dorado County Historical Society, the building houses artifacts from Placerville’s colorful past, including the original Soda Works carbonation machine.
Grab lunch under the stamped-tin ceiling at The Farm Table, a charcuterie and bistro serving artisanal house-cured meats and farm-fresh produce, then meander south on State Highway 49 to the heart of Amador Wine Country. Sip Rhone varietals in the barn-style tasting room at Plymouth’s Helwig Winery, then take in the hilltop views, tour the wine caves, or attend a summer concert at the outdoor amphitheater.
Afterward, plan to arrive at Sutter Creek’s elegant Hanford House Inn just in time for an evening glass of wine. Walk to downtown Sutter Creek for dinner, but keep it light—you’ll want to conserve your appetite for breakfast at Element. Best bets? The Hanford House soppressata benedict or challah French toast with a side of caramelised bacon.
Bumping up against the west side of the Sierra Nevada Range, on California’s eastern side, the Sierra foothills that make up the Gold Country are California Classics.
Discovery of gold in 1848 sparked the largest mass migration in U.S. history, with more than 300,000 pioneers heading west.
Here, the state’s past, present, and future merge into one unforgettable destination. Pan for gold like a 49er, bike through meadow-and-oak countryside, and raft a rapid-filled river, then explore historic towns with Old West architecture and a new generation of pioneers, opening up outstanding wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, inviting shops, and charming B&Bs.
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 ...
Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....
Pluck a bit of gold from a riverbed scoured by the original ’49ers. Descend deep into the earth to check out unusual rock formations. Get your heart racing with a ride down whitewater rapids. For...