With throwback charm and a treasure trove of historic artifacts, Columbia State Historic Park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing color. Costumed docents do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved mother lode town in Tuolumne County—the state’s second largest city at the peak of the Gold Rush; they actually live and work here in a variety of period-appropriate shops and trades. Catch a ride on an authentic stagecoach, order a cold, locally made sarsaparilla soda in a Western-style saloon, or feel the heat in a working blacksmith's forge. There’s also a Wells Fargo express office and other relics of California's early mining days. The town even sounds authentic—no cars allowed here, though you will hear the clip-clop of horses.
Free historical tours of the park depart from the museum weekends at 11 a.m. (weekdays too, mid-June until Labor Day). Gold Rush Days take place on 2nd Saturday afternoons; costumed docents lead hands-on crafts and special tours, and kids can try gold-panning. Kids can also benefit from screen time while at the park by participating in the Agents of Discovery virtual scavenger hunt. Download the Agents of Discovery app, then the mission, and learn all about the Gold Rush while crisscrossing the town (learn more about the scavenger hunt on the park’s website).
Insider tip: Summer can get hot and weekends become crowded, so aim for early mornings during the week if you can. The park’s calendar is chock-full of events year round; check for holiday celebrations, music performances, art shows, and more.