The Gold Country is a historic region in the northern portion of California, primarily on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. It’s famous for the mineral deposits and gold mines that attracted waves of immigrants, known as the 49ers, during the 1849 California Gold Rush. It’s under-visited, in my opinion, a great place for camping and outdoor activities. There are also lovely roads – we especially like the **Sonora Pass. Well maintained, great scenery, super windy. 

Amador City 

A very tiny, cute town. We’d like to stay there for a night at the Imperial Hotel. Affordable, 6 rooms, has a restaurant (dinner nightly, Sat/Sun lunch). 


The **Timberline Lodge in Arnold was perfectly acceptable (rustic). Galen competed in a Tough Mudder in the adjacent ski area and had a lot of fun – a pretty, not incredibly steep hillside.


  • **Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: We stumbled on this and were very pleasantly surprised. You can ride the train on Sundays (and most holidays) and tour the original roundhouse and metal shop. Our guide (a volunteer) was so excited to talk about the trains, the machine shop, etc.
  • **Woods Creek Cafe, 18256 State Hwy. 108. Good breakfast – not great, but certainly good enough. The service is friendly and the setting (cow themed!) is charming.
  • Kirkwood

Most of my memories of this area are associated with ***The Hideout ( – a truly special place, on parkland several miles in from the road, accessible on foot in the summer and via snowcat in the winter. It has room for multiple families (more in the summer if people camp), and has great sledding, snowshoeing, even ice skating some years. 

Mokelumne Hill

Cute, tiny little gold rush town. Leave 20 minutes for exploring and have lunch.

  • **Hotel Leger: a little grungy, but the food was excellent. Known for fish and chips. Open for lunch Fri-Sun, Dinner every day.


Historic Gold Rush town. Several wineries and quality restaurants.


Of note for Cal fans, Pinecrest on the Sonora pass is the location of the **Lair of the Bear. Beautiful spot.


  • [Haven’t Been] Taste Restaurant: Note that lunch is not served on weekdays. Fairly high end, good reviews.


  • *Sloughhouse Inn: Appreciate from the outside – it’s cute and historic – but skip eating there, the food is pretty sub-par and the overall feeling is more rundown than quaint.


*NO. 138 MARK TWAIN CABIN – This is a replica of Mark Twain’s cabin, with original chimney and fireplace. Here on Jackass Hill, young Mark Twain, while guest of the Gillis Brothers in 1864-65, gathered material for The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which first brought him fame, and for Roughing It. Location: 1 mi NW of Tuttletown off State Hwy 49 (skip this – it’s surrounded by a tall metal fence and not worth the drive).

Sutter Creek

Very cute historic town full of antique shops. Fairly limited breakfast options, more for lunch/dinner. Good for a meal and a pleasant walk, potentially a stopover night on the way to somewhere else. 

  • **Sina’s Backroads Cafe: right on the main drag. Friendly and cute, inexpensive, large menu. Not amazing but perfectly fine.
  • **Hotel Sutter: historic and fairly charming. It’s renovated, but only lightly. Rooms are very tiny but clean. Reasonable prices. Hotel Sutter Restaurant serves burgers and steaks, pretty good, casual.

Twain Harte

[ Have not tried ] The Rock of Twaine Harte. This down-home joint fills the tiny town of Twaine Hart with the irresistible smell of barbecue. The meats are all flavored with homemade rubs and brines, and the fish and chips are also a favorite. 23068 Fuller Rd., (209) 586-2080,


Volcano is one of the Mother Lode’s most picturesque towns. The town is named for its setting in a bowl-shaped valley which early miners thought was caused by a volcano (it wasn’t). The town dates back to the late 1850’s and was originally nicknamed “Crater City”.

In 1851 a post office was established and by April 1852 there were 300 houses, and by 1853 there were 11 stores, 6 hotels, 3 bakeries, and 3 saloons. In 1858 two mills with 8-stamps and six arrastres were in operation. Hydraulic operations began in 1855 and by 1867 most of the mining operations were idle.

Tiny and very cute, well preserved. It’s worth a lunch or dinner, not a whole weekend.**Volcano Union Pub and Inn: Originally built in 1880 to house miners, this venerable spot serves seasonal dishes and vaguely Southern pub food like fried chicken and mac and cheese. Open for lunch Sat/Sun, dinner Thursday – Monday. Worth going out of your way to eat here, definitely the best in the area.

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