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California’s Gold Country for Families

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Gold digging, swimming holes, and more family fun in the Sierra Foothills

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Northern California’s Sierra Foothills boast a playground for families. Uncrowded natural spaces, kid-friendly restaurants, panning for gold, and fun historical experiences are sure to shake up even the most angst-ridden tween.

Most travelers pass through on their way to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite. The lucky few who budget a week, or a weekend, romping through Gold Country find much to adore. Explore caves. Pan for gold. Hit up family-friendly wineries. Set out on a redwood hike.

For this itinerary, start in Jamestown and travel north along Highway 49. Know that if you drove straight through from Jamestown to Coloma, the trip would take two hours.


Jamestown

Main Street truly takes you back in time. Historic restaurants and antique shops front the 1859 Historic National Hotel, where the resident ghost Flo occasionally plays silly pranks.

Jamestown has not been lucky enough to experience a modern-day boom like its neighbor city Sonora. However the town’s most tourist worthy destination, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is worth a visit, especially for families with little ones.


Sonora

Hippie culture, old school miners, and renegades uninterested in city living populate Sonora’s historic downtown. Check out the old fashion soda fountain in Legends Books and Antiques. Washington Street also houses wine bars for the parents, St. Patrick’s Church (1975),and the Tuolumne Courthouse (1898).

Grab burgers at the family-friendly Diamondback Grill.


Columbia

About 4 miles north of Sonora just off CA-49 is the Columbia State Historic Park. This car-free historic town is preserved quite well. In its prime, Columbia was the capital of the area, thriving with “working gals,” gunfights, and gold seekers. The William Cavalier Museum (Main and State Streets) offers a great historical lesson about this once rough town. Take a carriage ride around the town.

Grab a sweet scoop at the Fallon Ice Cream Parlor.


Murphys

The queen of the Sierra Foothills. Gourmet restaurants. Wine shops. Art galleries. Bakeries that would make an urbanite drool. A sweet town park with a river slicing through it that kids play in on warm summer days. Most travelers arrive and never want to leave.

Detour up CA-4 to Calaveras Big Trees State Park to wander along some of the planet’s tallest (and widest) trees. Soak up the rich mountain air as you hike to ancient groves along the creek.

Most families gather at Firewood for pizza. Kids dig the flaky pastries at Aria Bakery.


Jackson

The county seat of Amador County, California’s newest wine destination doesn’t offer much by way of the kiddos.

The amicable Mel & Faye’s Diner makes a good pit-stop before a visit to Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park. Teach the kids about Native American history in a hands-on learning environment.


Amador County Wine Region

If you ignore the modern cars and style of dress you can almost picture how Sutter Creek looked back in the day. Almost.

These days Amador’s wine vibe is creeping in. Poke around the antique shops, tasting rooms and galleries in town before sidling into Monteverde General Store to show your kiddos what life used to look like before disposable diapers and Spotify.

Take the kids for a little subterranean action to explore the rock formations at Black Chasm Caverns.

Dig Sutter’s vibe? Stay a night at the historic Hotel Sutter.


Placerville

“Old Hangtown” deserves a visit. Historically, like the other towns along CA-49, gold brought folks to the town. The combination of toughness, determination, and innovation kept Placerville on the map. Sure, its nickname alludes to a less ideal aesthetic. Yes, Hangtown’s famed judges were rather stringent on unsavory types.

Today you’ll find a surprisingly sophisticated town. Wine, art, live music, and plenty of spots to enjoy nature characterize the community.

Check out the Hangtown Gold Bug Mine and Park. Afterwards grab organic cafe fare in a former mine at Cozmic Café.


Coloma

The highlight of your gold history education will be Coloma’s Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Plan a half day to wander through the spot that literally put Northern California on the map.

Coloma may not seem like much at first glance—there is no real heart or Main Street like other Gold Country communities. Yet travelers will find much to keep them entertained.

Sign up for a kid-friendly white water rafting trip with OARS. Afterwards grab pizza and salad by the river at Marco’s Café.

Meander over to Gold Hill Vineyards for epic views with plenty of room for the kids to play.


Explore Another California Gold Country and Sacramento Itinerary

California’s Northern Gold Country in a Weekend … Off the beaten path, full of history and dramatic landscapes, in California’s Gold Country
California’s Southern Gold Country in a Weekend …. Explore California’s rough-and-tumble Southern Mines, bordered by vineyards and charming towns
Outdoors in California’s Gold Country … Swimming holes, cave spelunking and more fun in the Sierra Nevada foothills


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