Built in 1857, the Historic Cary House Hotel (400 Main Street, Placerville, 530-622-4271, www.caryhouse.com 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, www.lucindascountryinn.com) 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.
If farm trails are your thing, visit Jollity Farm (5314 Marigold Mine Way, Garden Valley, 530-333-2311, www.jollityfarm.net ), 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, www.rainboworchards.com). 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 (www.coloma.com/gold/marshall-park.php) 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, www.arconcservancy.org) 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.
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, www.placervillehardware.com), 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, www.winterhillfarms.com) tasting room find delicious olive oil and wonderful cookware.
Across the street, don’t miss The Wine Smith (346 Main Street, 530-622-0516, www.thewinesmith.com) with live music some nights and Synapse Wines (304 Main Street, 530-626-9463, www.synapsewines.com). And when you’re ready for sweets, savor Zia’s (312 Main Street, 530-642-9427, www.ziasgelato.com) 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, www.heydaycafe.com), Café Luna (451 Main Street, No. 8, 530-642-8669, www.cafelunatics.blogspot.com) and Cascada Restaurant & Cantina (384 Main Street, 530-344-7757, www.cascadaon mainstreet.com) 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 placerville.com) 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, www.smokeyridgecharcuterie.com) or the gourmet potpies from Z Pie’s (3182 Center Street, 530-621-2626, www.z-pie.com).
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, www.goldvinegrill.com). 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, www.visit-eldorado.com Placerville Downtown Organization: 530-672-3436, www.placerville-downtown.org Farm Trails Association: www.edc-farmtrails.org Apple Hill Growers: 530-644-7692, www.applehill.com Apple Hill Wine Trail: 530-644-7692, www.applehillwineries.com El Dorado Winery Association: 800-306-3956, www.eldora dowines.org
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb or reached by e-mail at email@example.com