Gold Country - where buoyant folks, trying to carve out a piece of wealth for themselves, landed in California and gave the Golden State its name. In the foothills of the Sierra mountain range lies a bunch of cute towns that are holding on to their old world charm. With quaint shops, decor, and memorials dedicated to the mining history of old, Gold Country lets you reminisce on the past while simultaneously enjoying an expensive cup of coffee in the present.
We ventured to the towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, which are part of the larger Gold Country area over Memorial Day weekend. This area was an incredible little hideaway - not crowded despite the holiday weekend, but with many of the same joys as being in Lake Tahoe, the bustling vacation destination next door. I couldn’t help but ask myself all weekend, how have I never been here before?
A weekend in Gold Country
Grass Valley and Nevada City are 134 miles from the Bay Area, which on a good day might take you 2.5 hours, but realistically more like 3 since most of the drive is shared with the Tahoe weekend traffic on highway 80. Make sure to check out delicious Ikeda's grocery before you leave Auburn for some fruit and home made pies.
Where to stay:
We stayed in an amazing yurt in the woods that we found on AirBnB, which also happened to be dog friendly called, “Yurt Living in Grass Valley”, and enjoyed the comforts of being outdoors without really being outdoors. There were even pet goats! For more traditional accommodations, check out The Holbrooke.
Day 1: Explore Grass Valley
Depending on when you arrive in town, check in to your accommodations and head out for lunch or dinner. Top picks:
- Sergio’s Caffe for some classy Italian food with sizeable portions. They have a patio which makes them dog friendly!
- The Restaurant at the Holbrooke for some traditional American fare.
- The South Pine Cafe for delectable breakfast and lunch meals.
- Lazy Dog Chocolateria for sweets of all kinds, but particularly, ice cream!
From left to right: Lazy Dog Chocolateria, Grass Valley mural, vineyard behind the yurt.
Things to do:
If you have the time, check out the Empire Mines State Historic Park, which allows you to explore a real mine from the Gold Rush era.
Day 2: A Day on the Yuba River
One of the main highlights of this part of California and a reason to visit in and of itself is the Yuba River. Though containing a strong current and dangerous in some spots, there are many small pools off of the river which allow for swimming and relaxing, a favorite among locals and visitors alike. We visited the part of the river in South Yuba River State Park, along highway 49 (also known as Hoyt’s Crossing). Park near the bridge and take a trail that follows the ridge line, and drop down into the river wherever you see fit. Some spots on the river were deep enough for folks to dive and flip into the water, where other parts were shallow and calm. The Yuba is also a “clothing optional” kind of swimming hole, so be aware. As always, take caution and be aware that any swimming is at your own risk.
Other recommended spots to spend time at the river (as provided to me by a local):
- Jones Bar Road - 4WD vehicles recommended
- Edwards Crossing - a local favorite
- Purdon’s Crossing - parking is difficult
From left to right: the bridge to pullover for Hoyt's Crossing on highway 49, view of some rapids at the river from the trail above.
Day 3: Explore Nevada City
Nevada City is a bit bigger than Grass Valley and has more of a hippie-yet-hipster vibe. Quaint streets with Westworld, cowboy style buildings make up the heart of the town. You can find chic shops selling candles, clothes, artisans soap, olive oil and of course, auspicious stones to align your chakras.
- Three Forks Baking and Brewing Co for appealing pizza, salad, and beer. They have a patio making them dog friendly.
- Kitkitdizzi for great gifts with a zen focus.
- The Curly Wolf Espresso Shop for expresso and tea, situated in a colorful aesthetic.
- Sopa Thai for a dose of asian cuisine with large portions.
- Wheyward Girl Creamery for cow, goat, sheep and buffalo milk cheese by the pound.
- Treats for ice cream including incredible flavors of basil and cherry.
- Cascade Canal Trail - a shady spot to walk along Nevada County's irrigation system. Put on bug spray beforehand!
Left to right, top to bottom: Tictures for sale at Kitkitdizzi, decor at The Curly Wolf, quaint arcitecture by Treats; the trail at Cascade Canal, tap room at Three Forks, and Three Forks beer.
All in all, Gold Country, specifically Nevada City and Grass Valley, offer an incredible getaway with small town charm, reduced crowds, and delicious eats. Check it out on your next trip out to the mountains!