How to Spend a Day or a Weekend at Gold Country

1897 Emporium in Jamestown, California Gold Country
1897 Emporium in Jamestown, California Gold Country. Kai Schreiber/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

California Gold Country is a big place, loosely defined as the Sierra foothills along California Highway 49. It's a place full of history, with lots of cute little towns and winding roads.

This getaway centers on the gold rush towns of Tuolumne County, including Sonora, Jackson, and Jamestown.

Why Should You Go? Will You Like Gold Country?

Gold Country is popular with families, those who enjoy the outdoors, history lovers and antique shoppers.

Best Time to Go to Gold Country

Gold Country weather is best spring through fall, and it can get a little cold in winter. The most popular time is summer, but spring and fall bring beautiful flowers and lovely colors.

Don't Miss

If you've only got a day, visit Columbia State Historic Park just north of Sonora for a quick trip back to Gold Rush Days. The restored 1800s commercial district is alive with shops, shoppers, stagecoach rides and gold panning (which is especially popular with children). 

River rafters on the Tuolumne River, California at Clavey Falls
Peter Essick/Getty Images 

6 More Great Things to Do in Gold Country

  • Railtown 1897 State Park: (2-3 hours) When the trains are running (April through October), a train ride from here is especially fun.
  • Tour a Gold Mine: Put on a hard hat and go underground to see how the miners worked. For something more breath-taking and above ground, try their zipline.
  • Antique Shopping: Any of the Gold Country towns has at least a few shops selling antiques, and you'll find several in downtown Sonora.
  • Whitewater Rafting: Sierra Mac and Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions offer rafting trips on the Tuolumne River.
  • Wine-Tasting: You might have thought all the California wineries were somewhere else, but Amador County is home to a burgeoning wine industry. Wineries are mostly east of Hwy 49. 
  • Take a Drive: Follow CA Hwy 49 north through Angels Camp for a scenic drive on your way home.

Annual Events You Should Know About

From mid-March through mid-April, Daffodil Hill's more than 300,000 bulbs and 300 varieties puts on a flowery display that's worth a stop.

Tips for Visiting Gold Country

  • Sonora is the area's largest town, with an excellent selection of shops, but a major highway runs right down the main street. Sadly, the resulting traffic noise and confusion dull its cuteness. 
  • If you're in downtown Sonora and looking for parking, there's a public lot on the left side of the main street as you're going north, about a block before you reach the big red church at the fork in the road. It's not well marked, which means a lot of people miss it.

Best Bites

One of the best ways to find a place to eat in Gold Country is tried and true: Go to the one with the most people inside. If you're in or around Groveland, you can't go wrong at the Groveland Hotel. They've got a great chef and extensive wine list.

Where to Stay

Tripadvisor can help you find the nicest places to stay in Gold Country. Search for Sonora, Jamestown or Groveland hotels and don't forget to click on the B&B and specialty lodging tabs.

On the south end of Gold Country, Groveland Hotel is a personal favorite, with a room named after resident ghost Lyle. If you're interested in the supernatural, the 1859 Historic Jamestown Hotel is also reported to be haunted by a friendly spirit named Flo.

Getting To Gold Country

You can get to Gold Country by taking CA Hwy 120 or CA Hwy 4 East to CA Hwy 49.

The nearest airport is in Sacramento.