Home to the 1849 Gold Rush, California’s Gold Country region once attracted more than 300,000 hopeful miners with dreams of striking it rich. In the third episode of California Pop, friends Anthony and Shikira road-trip around the region and discover local artists, historical impersonators, winemakers, and even a prospector trying his luck panning for gold.
Spanning nearly 300 miles from Madera County to the south and Sierra County to the north, Highway 49 (also known as The Golden Chain Highway) beckons thousands of road-trippers every year to experience majestic scenery and Old West charm. Here’s where to find some of the region’s under-the-radar stops.
Visit this sweet Gold Rush town for a little literature lesson: Mark Twain overheard a story here while imbibing at a bar which later became “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Stroll down Main Street to shop in modern boutiques housed within historic storefronts. Don’t leave without ordering a cold one at the Gold Diggers Saloon.
Nicholson Van Altena Blown Glass
Head to Auburn to see art in action at Nicholson Van Altena Blown Glass. Visitors can make an appointment to watch members of the multi-generational glassblowing family create experimental pieces that have been displayed in high-end hotels and galleries across the world.
Pan for Gold
Try your hand at prospecting with local guide Mike Darby, founder of Gold Rush Originals. With headquarters in Angels Camp, your three-hour adventure may also take you to Murphys, the site of one of California’s most productive mines during the Gold Rush.
Walk 16 floors down a narrow staircase to explore the largest single cave chamber in California. Years ago, the tour consisted of a human-sized bucket and a rope, but today, a professional guide will show you the incredible stalagmites and flowstones, as well as the “moaning holes” that produce the cave’s famously eerie sound.
Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary
With a mission of teaching responsible behavior toward all animals, this sanctuary is a safe haven for wildlife in need of care. Learn about local Folsom fauna while meeting the zoo’s bears, cougars, deer, reptiles, and more.
Folsom Prison Museum
Visit the historic Folsom Prison, where Johnny Cash recorded his 1968 live album, to learn about the facility’s storied past. See intricate and unusual art created from found objects by former prisoners—think a purse fashioned from a potato-chip bag, a bouquet of toilet-tissue roses, and a giant Ferris wheel made entirely of toothpicks.
Twisted Oak Winery
Taste Tempranillo, Grenache, and Viognier at the family-owned Twisted Oak Winery in Vallecito. This beautifully quirky spot features a rubber chicken collection and a wine cave where you can taste straight from the barrel.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
The charming mountain town of Arnold is home to some of the largest and most spectacular living things in the world. Hike to the North and South Groves in Calaveras Big Trees State Park to find 2,000-year-old giant sequoias with 30-foot-wide trunks.
Explore the ancient art of sake-making at the Gekkeikan factory in Folsom. The California outpost of this Japanese company uses traditional techniques along with water straight from the American River. Stay for a tasting to sample the goods.
The Red Apple
Established in 1890, Red Apple Ranch and its classic country store in Murphys have been owned and operated by the Darby family for over a century. Browse the bakery case to find doughnuts, turnovers, and fresh pies baked daily—best washed down with a freshly pressed glass of apple cider.