California Road Trip: Gold Rush Country
In the center of Auburn lies a deep history of the California Gold Rush. This charming, traditional—yet with-its-modern-quirks—town lies high up in Placer County, just outside Sacramento. Here dingy saloon happy hours meet cute vintage clothes, record and bookstores and quite possibly the world’s friendliest tourist center.
Auburn has cuisine ranging from soul food to Tibetan fare to sushi, and an atmospheric county jail turned courthouse and museum containing the head of a saber-toothed tiger. If that’s not enough, then there’s plenty more in and surrounding the town.
After Greyhound bussing it from Los Angeles via Sacramento, I decided to spend a few days here before going on to Lake Tahoe and finally The City by the Bay aka San Francisco. It was odd but a delightful welcome to rest somewhere so quaint and inviting after the madness of the City of Angels.
Summers in Auburn are hot and humid; and so was the country house I was staying at further up in the hills. After wandering the streets of the town’s center, I took shade in the 1983-opened Cherry Records shop for a browse and a spin of some vinyl. The owner’s knowledge was encyclopedic, and there was everything from classic rock and blues to jazz and soul was in stock at unbeatable Cali prices.
If you plan on visiting Auburn, browse Airbnb for a special place in the hills and hire a car. Alternatively, crash at the orchard-set Flower Farm Inn, the pretty chic and newly renovated Auburn Holiday Inn or the exquisite Enchanted April Inn located in the scenic area of Pilot Hill. Watch out for resident bears!
Aside from Tahoe, there are scores of nature parks, reserves, forests, valleys, falls and lakes to explore. The state recreational park, some 64 km along the American River is in the heart of the gold country. Nature is magnificent with activities for everyone as long as you’re daring and not afraid to get wet or dirty. There’s trail running, hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, mountain biking, gold panning, horseback riding, road bicycling, and off-highway motorcycle riding. Whitewater recreation is also very popular here. Contact the ever-helpful Logan at WET River Trips and be stunned by the magnitude of the rapids and their cooling effect on a hot summer’s day.
For a swim, pack a picnic and hike the Lake Clementine trail up to the reservoir, or if you’d rather, drive out by the Folsom State Prison made famous by Johnny Cash’s celebrated performance there in 1968 following his 1955 hit Folsom Prison Blues. You’ll pass hundreds of meters of “Warning: No Stopping” signs along high electricity and barbed fences and eventually be back in the recreational area where a stunning man-made Folsom Lake lies. The water is clear and refreshing, and you can see the snowcapped tips of the Sierra Nevada as you bask to sounds of birds.
Well connected on AMTRAK, you can depart your gold rush country adventures with ease and be in San Fran for more city madness in under two hours, but take time to check out Sacramento en route as you go, especially if you’re driving.
Words: Alexandra Pereira