Northside SF
Weekend Getaway
Exploring California’s historic Gold Country
Placerville’s historic bell tower rises above the farmers’ market (photo: Patty Burness)
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada’s historic gold rush region, El Dorado (Spanish for “The Gilded One”) County is a year-round playground – ski and snowboard in the winter, raft white water and pick luscious fruit in the spring and summer. Pan for gold whenever you’re feeling lucky. And enjoy delicious wine every month of the year. Often people head straight for Lake Tahoe and miss the rest of what the county has to offer. Placerville, known in the mid-1800s as Hangtown (named for the fate of Gold Rush murderers), sits in the foothills and is the starting point for many visitors.

Built in 1857, the Historic Cary House Hotel (400 Main Street, Placerville, 530-622-4271, is an attraction unto itself. It’s a mix of antique, vintage and modern; it can be noisy with the sounds you might hear from the spirits who haunt the hotel, and the amenities are limited. But the wood lobby and its beautiful stained glass windows are worth a visit.

We opted for one of the many B&B’s throughout the county. Lucinda’s Country Inn (6701 Perry Creek Road, Fair Play, 530-409-4169, about 30 minutes southeast of Placerville. As the name implies, it’s a comfortable retreat with modern and spacious guest rooms and numerous amenities, including a sumptuous home-cooked breakfast with the other guests. We liked the country eggs Benedict, scones, fruit, and dark-brewed coffee. Each evening, kick back and share stories and local wines and hors d’oeuvres. Fair Play is within easy driving distance of many attractions.
Find olive oil and more at Winterhill (photo: Patty Burness)

If farm trails are your thing, visit Jollity Farm (5314 Marigold Mine Way, Garden Valley, 530-333-2311, ), a goat dairy, creamery and lavender farm where you can feed the goats and of course, buy delicious cheeses and fragrant lavender. Apple Hill Scenic Drive is loaded with orchards and farms where, depending upon the season, you can cut down a holiday tree or pick your own vegetables and fruits – we picked blueberries at Rainbow Orchards (2569 Larsen Drive, Camino, Farmers’ markets run from April to November throughout the county.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, the rapids of the south and middle forks of the American and Kaweah Rivers offer some of the best white-water rafting in California. No matter your skill level, you’ll find a trip that fits.

If you’re excited by the Gold Rush, head straight to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park ( for Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush began. Explore the first settlement and pan for gold – entertaining for all ages.

Close by in Gold Hill is the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm (530-621-1224, established in the late 1800s by the first Japanese to settle in North America. The area is in the process of being restored to its original glory. It is fascinating to learn how traditional Japanese horticulture began here – silk worming and tea and rice cultivation.

Enjoy Boeger Wines
Picnic at Gold Hill Vineyard
Wineries abound throughout the mountains and hillsides, and you’ll find vibrant and flavorful vintages. We especially liked the stunning setting of David Girard Vineyards (741 Cold Springs Road, Placerville, 530-295-1833, and their 2006 Coeur Rouge Estate Rhône Blend and 2008 Syrah. Lava Cap (2221 Fruitridge Road, Placerville, 800-475-0175, in the Apple Hill region farms sustainably and produces a number of excellent reserve wines including both the 2007 Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, the 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Barbera. Boeger Winery (1709 Carson Road, Placerville, 800-655-2634,, with its original house, cellar and distillery still in use today, makes a delicious 2008 Reserve Meritage, 2007 Reserve Sangiovese and the blended Hangtown Red. Take a picnic to Gold Hill Vineyard (5660 Vineyard Lane, Placerville, 530-626-6522,, pop the cork on a bottle of their NV Champagne and relax. (They also make great still wines.) If it’s beer you crave, enjoy fresh ales like Blackberry Abbey Ale and scenic vistas at the Jack Russell Brewery (2380 Larsen Drive, Camino, 530-647-9420, In January celebrate at Gold Discovery Day, Bring Out the Barrel, and The El Dorado Epicurean.

Placerville’s Main Street offers visitors a glimpse into everyday life in El Dorado’s foothills. When a farmers’ market is in full swing, it is right beneath the historic bell tower, built to honor the town’s volunteer firemen.

During the Gold Rush, Main Street was an important supply source, and today it is lined with shops, restaurants, galleries, and more. If you’re there on the third Saturday, join the monthly Art Walk. The Placerville Hard-ware Store (441 Main Street, 530-622-1151,, stocked with everything imaginable, has been a community tradition for over 150 years; it’s the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. At Winterhill (321 Main Street, 530-626-6369, tasting room find delicious olive oil and wonderful cookware.

Across the street, don’t miss The Wine Smith (346 Main Street, 530-622-0516, with live music some nights and Synapse Wines (304 Main Street, 530-626-9463, And when you’re ready for sweets, savor Zia’s (312 Main Street, 530-642-9427, house-made gelato at her Italian coffee bar.

The Town Center shopping area (like others with a similar name) has more restaurants, shops and offices. Don’t forget as you tour the county, shop locally at the many gift shops, wineries and orchards along the way.

El Dorado County is a food lover’s delight. Wonderful small restaurants are tucked off Placerville’s Main Street and in small storefronts along picturesque roads.

Family-owned, local favorites like Hey Day Café (315 Main Street, 530-626-9700,, Café Luna (451 Main Street, No. 8, 530-642-8669, and Cascada Restaurant & Cantina (384 Main Street, 530-344-7757, www.cascadaon are in downtown Placerville. Both Hey Day and Café Luna offer delicious California cuisine, with spicier food at Café Luna. Cascada features Mexican dishes served with upscale ambience and Latin flare. One night we nibbled at the downtown farmers’ market then went to the Sequoia Restaurant (643 Bee Street, 530-622-5222, www.sequoia for dinner. Located in an historic old mansion, it’s for those who like hearty portions.

For something quick to take on the road or for an El Dorado picnic, try Smokey Ridge Charcuterie (2160 Carson Road, 530-626-5078, or the gourmet potpies from Z Pie’s (3182 Center Street, 530-621-2626,

Around Fair Play, neighbors and friends seeking good food and a casual atmosphere eat at the Gold Vine Grill (6028 Grizzly Flat Road, Somerset, 530-626-4042, Try small bites like the ginger shrimp ravioli. And for the main course, grilled pork chops topped with date chutney. Pair each with your favorite El Dorado wine.

El Dorado County Visitors Authority: 800-457-6279, Placerville Downtown Organization: 530-672-3436, Farm Trails Association: Apple Hill Growers: 530-644-7692, Apple Hill Wine Trail: 530-644-7692, El Dorado Winery Association: 800-306-3956, www.eldora
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb or reached by e-mail at

March 2012
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