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Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 vc_ca101_roadtrip_goldcountry_josshousemuseum_videostill_1280x640

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49
Cruise along the Golden Chain Highway to discover gourmet eateries, classic inns, hilltop wineries, and all sorts of history

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 18 miles 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 two-foot-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 caramelized bacon. 

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 vc_ca101_videothumbnail_roadtrip_goldcountry_helwigwinery_1280x720_0
Gold Country Road Trip
This road trip through California’s Gold Country transports you to California’s Wild West past.
Valley in California's Gold Country
Laura Flippen

Central California

Discover Gold Country

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 vca_maps_goldcountry
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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.

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T3-Lorres Gold Mine tunnel_CTTC09111716003843
During California's Gold Rush, over 25 million ounces of gold were mined from the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 vc_spotlightsacramento_sacramento_st_rf_187559989_1280x640

Spotlight: Sacramento

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 vca_maps_goldcountry
Golden past, bright future

Like many cities, California’s state capitol is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this...

Farm-fresh produce, culinary adventures

Juicy heirloom tomatoes and just-picked strawberries. Super-sweet peaches shaped like mini Ufos. Artisanal cheeses, emerald-green olive oils, local wildflower honey—California’s farmers’ markets...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_SI_FarmersMarket_T4_CV_DavisFrmMkt1_Flippen_preview_686x885
Laura Flippen
A Shop Owner in the California Gold Country town of Nevada City,
Laura Flippen

Nevada City

Great food, wine and shows find a home in the Mother Lode

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From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T4_Auburn_Manley-1280x642
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing


Explore an ideally situated Gold Country town with a sporty side

History and modern culture merge with outdoor adventure in this appealing town on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. While Auburn has long been...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 James-Marshall-Monument1280x642

Marshall Gold Discovery

See where the rush for gold started

Driving the sleepy stretch of winding Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville, it’s hard to believe the region was the booming heart of one of...

Take on whitewater rapids, pan for gold and explore California history

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...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T12_MoaningCavern_Pfeiffer686x885
Rafters on the American River
Rob Brodman

The American River

Rush for gold, rush for adrenaline

The most popular whitewater-rafting river in the West, the American tumbles through the Gold Country, an inviting jumble of churning rapids, deep...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T7_WellsFargo_Columbia_Flippen_Webdam-1280x642
Laura Flippen

Columbia State Historic Park

Step into the 1850s in this Gold Country gem

With throwback charm and a treaure trove of historic artifacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed...

Elegant estates, relaxed wineries, urban tasting rooms

Elegant estates at the end of country roads lined with vineyards? Check. Low-key wineries housed in converted barns? Check again. Urban wine trails with hip in-town tasting rooms? Yup,...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 Preview_WineGlasses_686x885_1
Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen-1280x642
Laura Flippen

Sip Wine in the Gold Country

Sample vintages from old vines and new varietals

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T9_JennyMartin_IMG_7844-1280x642
Jenny Martin


Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T11_GC_AppleFarm_Pfeiffer_1280x642
Jenny Pfeiffer

Apple Hill

Wine, beer, a bliss-out spa—and juicy, sweet apples

Autumn in the Gold Country means clear blue skies, fiery red grapevines, and an invigorating snap in the air. It’s apple season too, with more...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T12_MoaningCavern_Pfeiffer-sized
Jenny Ella Pfeiffer

Moaning Cavern

Walk, climb, or rappel into a subterranean wonderland

Discovered by miners in 1851, this vertical chamber near Angels Camp is so massive it is the largest public cavern in California—big enough to...

Jamestown's Railtown 1897


Climb aboard majestic steam trains for a cruise through the Sierra foothills

It’s unbelievable but true: you can still wade into the shallows of the South Fork of the American River and find flecks of gold, just like the...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen
Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was the first permanent European settlement in the Central Valley.
Hands-on fun for all at farms, ranches, and fields statewide

From almonds and olives up north to avocados, oranges, and dates in South, the Golden State has a crop (or 10) for nearly every stretch of terrain. After all, ...

Road Trip: California’s Historic Highway 49 SC_Chaffin_Eliaschickens_TPS_preview_686x885
Tai Power Seeff