“An iconic part of visiting California is road-tripping… it gives you a different kind of freedom,” says Jessica Wright, travel blogger and creative force behind Bon Traveler. After relocating from San Francisco to Sacramento, Wright found herself craving a deeper understanding of her new backyard. The perfect solution? A Gold Country road trip.
On the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Wright discussed her vacation with host Soterios Johnson. “I wanted to discover the history… why it is Gold Country,” she explained. After a four-day trip marked by horse-drawn carriages, e-bikes, white water rafting, and farm-to-fork dining, Wright emerged with a deeper understanding and love for the region. “You get a sense of what was… as well as what's happening, which I think is a really cool juxtaposition,” she says.
Starting Point: Sacramento
Sacramento was a natural starting point for this trek and is an easy first stop for any traveler. Dive into California Gold Rush history by exploring the Old Sacramento Waterfront. The site marks the state’s first true business district and the former last stop on the Pony Express. Walk past 19th-century storefronts and old-timey saloons as carriages roll past. Don’t miss the California State Railroad Museum, which features locomotives dating back to 1846. If you’re feeling peckish, Wright recommends Localis for a fresh take on farm-to-table cuisine, or Beast + Bounty, where the breakfast pizza “absolutely blew [her] mind.”
Cycle Around Folsom
Drive east on Highway 50 for just over 20 miles and you’ll hit the little city of Folsom. Wright rented e-bikes from Practical Cycle to explore the Johnny Cash Trail. The 2.75-mile trail cuts through the historic district, winding by the second-oldest prison in the United States, and the location where Cash recorded his famous album At Folsom Prison. Look for Folsom Dam, Folsom Lake, and Robbers’ Ravine Bridge, as you wind along the American River.
Explore Placer County
Drive north on Folsom-Auburn Road to Loomis in Placer County. Stop in High-Hand Nursery & Cafe for a tour of the lovely grounds before finding a table right inside the greenhouse. Before you leave, visit the fruit shed, art gallery, and olive-oil tasting room. Wright recommends spending the night at the Flower Farm Inn. A working farm, the inn “has these really charming suites that sit within the garden,” says Wright.
Strike Gold in Eldorado County
The next morning, drive a few miles northeast, stopping in Auburn before turning onto Highway 49 toward Coloma. The historic heart of Gold Country, Eldorado County marks the site where James Marshall first found gold in 1848, sparking the rush. See the “Yureka” spot for yourself at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. For an exhilarating historical tour, try a rafting trip. Wright says guides will take you through class 4 rapids while sharing interesting facts about the forty-niners. Fuel up in one of Wright’s favorite lunch spots, The Argonaut in Coloma, offering sandwiches and homemade ice cream made with produce from nearby Bee Love Farms. For dinner, The Farm Table in Placerville grills a “killer steak.” Don’t skip Midnight Kin down the street for the perfect souvenir.
Relax in Amador County
This under-the-radar wine region makes for the perfect final destination. Amador County is known for Zinfandels and Chardonnays, and Wright says the area “feels really intimate.” Popular tasting rooms include Bella Grace Vineyards, where guests can relax on 1860s-era couches, and the family-friendly Vino Noceto, marked by a statue of a dachshund wearing a chef’s hat. Wright cites her favorite as Iron Hub, which offers panoramic valley views: “It’s just an idyllic way to sit there, enjoy a glass of wine, and soak in all that Amador is.”