Nevada City is nestled in the foothills above Sacramento where the gold rush of long ago still lingers. There’s so much more to this exciting city than glittery rocks, however. It has long been known for its cultural appeal, lively arts community, live theater, wonderful old town, and in more recent times, as a bicycling paradise. Escape from Sacramento this weekend to discover what all of the fuss is about.
From Sacramento, take U.S. Highway 80 east to Auburn, a drive of about 32 miles. From Auburn, take Highway 49 to Nevada City, which is another 28 miles. Expect this 60-mile journey to take about an hour. From El Dorado County, take Highway 49 through Auburn to Nevada City. It’s 55 miles, but should take 1.5 hours.
Stops Along the Way
Bernhard House Museum Complex
291 Auburn Folsom Road
Auburn, CA 95603
Because your trip will take you through Auburn, take some time to explore Old Town Auburn. It’s one of those gold rush towns that survived the years with a mix of business and fun. The Bernhard House Museum Complex was a stage stop in 1851. Originally known as Traveler’s Rest, it morphed into a home, and was then purchased in 1868 by a Bernhard. The Bernhards lived here for a little more than 100 years. Fortunately, the complex is now open to all. It’s a great look into the past, complete with a tunnel leading to a wine cellar.
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Empire Mine State Historic Park
10791 E. Empire St.
Grass Valley, CA
Price: $7 adults/$3 children (ages 6 to 16)/free children younger than 6
The largest, oldest and richest gold mine in California, Empire Mine, closed as an operating mine in 1956, after it produced 5.8 million ounces of gold. Supposedly, this is only about 20 percent of what is still there. The mine is part of the California State Park system, and has been well preserved. Take a short break here and take a look at some deep history of the area. The park includes a visitor’s center, store, historical tours, and of course, the lure of turning into a certified gold bug by the time you leave.
What To Do
Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
5 Kidder Court
Nevada City, CA
Railroad fans simply must stop here. The company engines here chugged out of the barn for the first time in 1876 and continued hitting the rails until the start of World War II. For 66 years, the trains huffed and puffed along, carrying gold out, $200,000,000 worth, and bringing in timber, mining supplies, and all sorts of other goods needed by the citizens of Nevada City. The museum offers a fine collection of old train cars, and the fantastically beautiful Engine 13, a fully restored narrow gauge steam locomotive. Add to this the Sarah Kidder rail bus, quite a few other bits of history and a gift shop, and you’ve filled your conductors cap with a train’s worth of history and memories.
The Earth Store
310 Broad St.
Nevada City, CA 95959
Because you’re out and about in the country, and the kids are with you, perusing the eclectic menagerie here is a natural stop. Don’t tell the kids, but this stuff is educational too. In addition to the Brainquest Series, bug catchers and colorful flash cards, a good bird house, children’s binoculars and science sets await, ready to engage your young learners all year. Books, local, national and international, may fill those holes in your home library. Clothing, gifts for the home, rock bookends and minerals offer families opportunities to take home the memories. This cozy store promises to take your imagination to new places pretty quickly.
Broad Street Inn
517 W Broad St.
Nevada City, CA
Price: $110 to $120
Elegantly restored and maintained, this inn was built in 1870. With just six rooms, this lovely Victorian offers quiet days away from the hustle and bustle of your daily routine. Each of the rooms is individually decorated and all are as comfy as it gets. Located in the heart of Nevada City, a short walk puts you into the historic old town. When your day of exploring is over, relax in the garden before exploring further.
575 E. Broad South
Nevada City CA 95959
Price: $79 to $200
For a different, and pleasurable stay, this 1930s-era motor court boasts 16 themed rooms, some with kitchenettes, all with a mini-fridge and coffee. Exceptionally family friendly, the rooms are non-smoking, and dogs are allowed in 13 of the them. The court is a haven for anyone interested in the great outdoors. Staff will arrange a variety of climbing, cycling, kayaking and hiking expeditions perfect for any traveler. If your idea of the great outdoors is exploring Nevada City, it is within a short walk to the beauty of Nevada City. The old motor courts were, and are, wonderful places to stay.
221 Broad St.
Nevada City, CA 95959
While billed as a grill, Lefty’s is anything but traditional, run-of-the-mill American fare. It is comfortably elegant, without the snoot factor built in. The menu here is for the discerning lunch and dinner palate with everything from burgers and pizza to ahi poke, calamari, seared rib eye and cedar-plank roasted salmon. Everything on the menu is prepared from scratch. All of this is complemented with an exceptional wine list and fine service, right in the heart of Nevada City.
The Old 5 Mile House
18851 Highway 20
Nevada City, CA 95959
Just a few minutes out of Nevada City, The Old 5 Miles House boasts an old-time feel, friendly staff, reasonable prices, music and hearty food. The fare is fun mix of pizzas, burgers, salads and great desserts, with a little bratwurst, ahi and steak thrown in. Dine outside on the patio when the weather permits. The little ones will have their own kids menu here. Live music and a great bar complete the experience. The setting is superb, nestling in a quiet wooded haven, with a built-in-the-forest appeal.
Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. He retired from teaching after 36 years in 2010. He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at Examiner.com.