Embracing their heritage yet welcoming change
Grass Valley, a fascinating gold rush era town, is a delightful daytrip or mini-vacation escape. During one period of time during the wild and woolly gold mining epoch, it was recognized as the largest and most prosperous of all the mining areas. And it remains a thriving, friendly community today.
What to do and see:Anyone interested in this fascinating period of California history will be enthralled with tours of Empire Mine, the oldest and richest gold producer in California. Separate fact-filled mine and grounds tours, including the intriguing upscale Bourn Cottage should be on your must-list. Mind boggling stats: 367 miles of tunnel, some running under town; incline depth of 11,000 feed; 5.8 million ounces of gold removed; and 80 percent of the gold still remains. Could mining re-start if gold prices keep climbing? Now an 845-acre state park, it's one of that era's most popular attractions with twelve miles of hiking/biking/equestrian trails as additional lures. (empiremine.org)
Having visted the town many times, we know how popular their prominent holiday festival, Cornish Christmas, has become. This family-friendly event is a fun-loving homage to the thousands of miners who came from Cornwall, England, and is worth the trek during the holidays or even planning ahead for next year's merriment. (downtowngrassvalley.com) Three other enticing events to consider attending are the Nevada County Fair (August), Draft Horse Classic/Harvest Fair (September), and Celtic Fair (September or Octoboer). Be sure to make hotel reservations well in advance of any event.
Grass Valley still has quite a few remaining buildings dating back to the 1800s mining period. A walking tour past numerous 1800s homes will appeal to history buffs: Holbrooke Hotel, Mount St. Mary's Convent, St. Joseph's Chapel, and Emmanuel Episcopal Church, among others. Two favorite landmarks in town are the Carnegie Library, still housing a local library, and the art-deco Del Oro Theatre, which also remains an operating film house. Don't miss the iconic Del Oro's eye-catching 3D rear wall mural.
A few antique stores, art galleries, jewelry emporiums, and unique shops will tempt as you stroll the quaint downtown. Our favorite store is Yuba Blue, with an aclectic yet discerning selection of gifts that draws us in like a magnet. (iloveyubablue.com) Several outstanding wine tasting venues have arrived in town, and our personal recommendations include: Sierra Starr Vineyard (sierrastarrwine.com and Grass Valley Wine Company featuring three local wineries, Pilot Peak (pilotpeak.com), Bent Metal (bentmetalwinery.com) and Solune (solunewinery.com).
A short drive to South Yuba River State Park is a cool outing for swimming, fishing, hiking (independence Trail was the first wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail in the Country), picnicking, or viewing the beguiling Bridgeport Covered Bridge, thought to be the longest single span roofed bridge in existence. (southyubariverstatepark.org)
Where to stay and dine:Quite a few lodging options in town offer a pleasant variety and exceptional value. If you'd like a full-service, newer hotel, The Gold Miner's Inn is a first-rate choice on the edge of downtown. Accommodations and public areas are tastefully furnished, the staff is exceptionally friendly, and the complimentary evening cocktail hour and a special breakfast buffet are popular draws. (thegoldminersinn.com) If you'd like a smaller property just outside downtown but still within walking distance, our pick is the charming, twelve room Sierra Mountain Inn, a beautifully remodeled, yesteryear home away from home. We've checked in numerous times over the years and never left disappointed. (sierramountaininn.com) into historic lodging? The classic Holbrooke Hotel, one of the state's oldest lodging properties, is on the upswing and under new ownership. Holbrooke's restaurant was our most pleasant surprise this last visit. For a touch of local nightlife, don't miss their high-energy Golden Gate Saloon, known as the longest continually-operating tavern west of the Mississippi. (holbrooke.com)
Hungry, and looking for something tasty and local? Cirino's, offering Mediterranean cuisine, has been in the area since 1983 and is well-known for family-recipe italian dishes and their Bloody Marys. (cirinosatmainstreet.com) Kane's, serving a wide variety of entrees, offers al fresco dining, evening entertainment, and owner John Kane is a former Pacific Coast Chef of the Year. (kanesrestaurant.net) Tofanelli's Bistro is a popular place to drop in for an enjoyable breakfast, lunch, or dinner (tofanellis.com), while Maria's is perfect for this of us craving authentic south-of-the-border offerings. (www.mariasgrassvalley.com) Before you leave town, be sure to try a famous Gold Rush culinary staple, the meat/potato/onion filled, turnover-style Cornish pasty.Try the ones at specialty shop Marshall's Pasties.
Grass Valley's next-door neighbor, Nevada City, has a more expensive/upscale reputation and has fought modernization and hotel chains. Grass Valley, taking an opposite tact, preserves its history but has welcomed transformation. The result is a modern-day small town with all the charm of the Gold Rush days still intact.
For all things Grass Valley: gograssvalley.com and downtowngrassvalley.com