A Family Gem in Gold County

With pine trees, rolling hills, a rushing river and a surprising number of cultural activities, Nevada City and its surroundings offer a great getaway in the Sierra for families.
Only a two-and-a-half hour drive east of San Francisco, Nevada City is in the northern part of California’s Gold Country, the region where gold was discovered in the mid-1800s.
Nevada City, like other Gold Country towns, can be reached by Highway 49. It has kept its distinctive Victorian homes and a vibrant downtown with shops, restaurants and cafes that offers more than you might expect for a community of 3,000.
Downtown, which includes Broad and Commercial streets, is a great place for a leisurely stroll and window-shopping. Stores sell clothing, toys, furs, ice cream, chocolate, coffee, books, home décor, antiques and more.
Check nevadacitychamber.com for events and performances. This is a city that loves to celebrate. Big summer events include Pioneer Park’s free picnic and pops concerts, which are dog friendly, and the Fourth of July celebration with a concert and parade. Afterward, families usually head a few miles south down Highway 49 to the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley for entertainment, food, refreshments and, when the sun goes down, fireworks.
The annual Children’s Festival in Pioneer Park is scheduled for July 21 this year. The event is described as a “lively Renaissance fair” with arts-and-crafts tables, strolling musicians, face painters and costumed characters including a troll, fairies and a queen.
Pioneer Park is a fun place to visit on its own right any old time. It offers plenty of space for picnicking and barbecues plus a playground, bocce court, horseshoe courts, tennis courts and a spacious swimming pool. The setting, surrounded by tall evergreen trees, makes for a pleasant place to spend a day.
Train fans won’t want to miss the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (ncngrrmuseum.org). Docents can lead you on a tour of the museum, rail yard and restoration shop, and you can check out photos and artifacts. If you like, you can pick up toy trains, whistles and other memorabilia in the gift shop.
A half hour’s drive to the east on Highway 20 will take you to the historic Bridgeport covered bridge over the Yuba River (southyubariverstatepark.com). This is a very popular swimming spot when the water is calm – but always check conditions before you go in. You can set up chairs and blankets on a sandy beach and the kids can splash around surrounded by rocky cliffs. Arrive early on the weekends as parking fills up quickly. Better yet, visit on a weekday.  
In Grass Valley, just south of Nevada City, music lovers may want to check out the California World Fest (worldfest.net), a celebration of sounds from around the globe. This year’s event is scheduled July 13-16 and features Austrian brass ensemble Federspiel, Jamaican singer Etana and American singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza. The event includes a teen-scene hangout area, a playground for younger kids and arts-and-crafts activities.
Other Gold Country Highlights
When you’re done exploring Nevada County, extend your travels to explore the rest of Gold Country. Here are some highlights to check out as you drive south down Highway 49.
Coloma – Here is where James Marshall first saw flecks of gold in 1848, setting off the California Gold Rush. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=484) includes the gold discovery site in Sutter’s sawmill. Take the Gold Discovery Tour, a guided walk, which covers the events leading up to the discovery and the history of the town. You can also try panning for gold in the American River or hiking or picnicking.
Sutter Creek – This town is located in the heart of Sierra foothills wine country. Download a free walking tour map from suttercreek.org and learn about the rich mix of immigrants from around the world who arrived to seek their fortune.
Jackson – Visit the Amador County Museum (amadorcountyhistoricalsociety.org), housed in a classic Greek Revival building that was once the home of an early resident. Check out the gold history exhibit, vintage fashions, a Native American collection, a Chinese American collection and more. You can also visit the Kennedy Gold Mine (kennedygoldmine.com), one of the deepest mines in the world at nearly 6,000 feet. The mine was active from 1860 to 1942 and produced $34.2 million in gold.
Murphys – The “Queen of the Sierra” is a lovely tree-lined community with art galleries, live theater, shops and restaurants. Ironstone Vineyards offers a range of pop performers at its lakeside park and amphitheater. Learn about places to bicycle and hike at visitmurphys.com. Go to Mercer Caverns (mercercaverns.com) to take a 45-minute tour beneath the earth. Be ready to tackle a total of 440 steps to get down and back up. Not far away is the gorgeous Calaveras Big Trees Park (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=551), which features giant sequoias. The grove includes the Discovery Tree, first pointed out by Augustus Dowd in 1852. The park offers peaceful walks and spacious campgrounds.
Columbia State Historic Park – This is a kid favorite with stagecoach rides, living history demonstrations and an array of shops, including ice cream parlors and candy stores. Check out visitcolumbiacalifornia.com for the schedule of special events. If you want to take a break from the summer heat, catch a live Broadway musical at Fallon House Theatre (sierrarep.com). Hidden Treasure Goldmine (hiddentreasuregoldmine.com) offers a chance to visit a working gold mine and learn to pan for gold.
Sonora – With a population of 4,900, this is the largest town in the area and offers a vibrant mix of restaurants, shops and Gold Rush history (sonoraca.com). Enjoy the beauty of the area by taking the 2.5-mile loop Dragoon Gulch Trail. The trail includes stunning views of the city and surrounding mountain range.
Jamestown – Climb aboard an old-fashioned steam locomotive and check out antique railroad cars in this town’s biggest attraction – Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (railtown1897.org). The roundhouse, a building that houses and maintains locomotives, is one of only two continuously operating steam train roundhouses in the country. The park was the site of the old Sierra Railway Company, which has been featured in many movies including High Noon, Back to the Future III and Rawhide.
 Lisa Renner is a calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.


This Month’s Top Family Activities

Have fun with your family with these March  events taking place around the Bay Area. For even more items, visit our online calendar. 1 “Beware: A Monstrous...

Cirque du Soleil Offers Thrills

The Big Top is back in San Francisco with “KOOZA,” Cirque du Soleil’s first show in the Bay Area under its trademark tent since 2019....

Free Museums, Live Music and More

With the price of groceries, gas and housing so high, many of us are short on cash to spend on fun family activities. We’ve got...

Best Play Spaces for a Cold or Rainy Day

Even in the rain, these indoor playspaces offer hands-on exhibits and other activities to burn off energy when kids can’t play outside. Acrosports – Kids run, jump,...

Follow us on Social Media


Most Popular