When the term 'gold rush town' is mentioned, one of two things usually comes to mind: the first is an abandoned town, rife with wooden, dilapidated buildings and tumbleweeds. The second is a town that's historical, has been restored, and is bustling as a living museum should be. However, there are some former 'gold rush towns' that are neither, and they make for the perfect California getaways.
Many of these towns do still sport the same wild west-type architecture and layout that they did some centuries ago, but they're far from being museum-like. They're towns that have become a home to many, with modern-day boutiques and dining establishments, all while maintaining the charm that you would expect from a restored western town or museum. And since that charm is so hard to manufacture, you know that it's authentic the second you walk into town.
This small town is located not far from Placerville, which is another former gold rush town. For those who want to see both in one day, it's totally doable with a 45-minute-drive and while they're both worth seeing, Sutter Creek has an antique appearance that's itching to be explored. The second visitors walk into this town, they're greeted with buildings that appear, at first, as though they haven't changed one bit from what one might imagine a wild west town to be. With high balconies and traditional architecture, this town beckons one to explore its numerous antique shops, boutique stores, outdoor sidewalk sales, and dining establishments.
Even the shops in Sutter Creek are situated in antique-looking buildings and houses, with each one sporting a unique theme or item offered. It's worth checking out every square inch of this town, because the one corner of Main Street you don't check may just have been your new wine tasting room or boutique clothing store. Many of the dining establishments, such as Hotel Sutter, date back to the 1800s and will make you appreciate them and all their history as you chow down or stay in one of their many gold rush-era hotel rooms.
If you're noticing a trend at this point you'd be correct; not far from Sutter Creek - exactly ten minutes south of it, in fact - is the small town of Jackson. During the gold rush, it wasn't surprising to have towns situated fairly close to one another with short distances in between. While this meant easier access to multiple gold mining points back then, nowadays, it means plenty of charming towns to see, even if you're only booked for the duration in one of them.
Jackson faced tragedy in 1862 when much of it was burned in a fire, according to Epic 7 Travel. Its buildings were rebuilt with brick rather than the more traditional wood construction. Similar to Sutter Creek, Jackson also has a hotel, National Hotel, which was built in 1852 and is worth exploring for its history and style. This is one town where visitors will want to explore side streets, as some gorgeous Victorian homes can be found not far from the main streets. The main cathedral in town, St. Patrick's Cathedral, was also built in 1868 and features stunning stained glass details.
An hour from Jackson, visitors can find Murphys, yet another small gold rush town that truly embraces its history. Murphys is also only two hours away from San Francisco, which is surprising considering how vastly different it is from a city that's so close to it. One of the first stops in Murphys, says Epic 7 Travel, should be the Angels Camp City Museum and Carriage House, which currently holds the title of being the largest carriage house in the country. There, visitors will find the stagecoach that transported famed author Mark Twain, and he's not the only famous figure to have a history with this town.
Not far from that is Murphys Historic Hotel, and visitors have the chance to see the room where former president Ulysses S. Grant spent the night. The room itself still looks just as it would have back then, which makes quite an impression when walking Grant's footsteps. Murphys Historic Hotel is also home to a saloon-style restaurant which is definitely worth checking out for the experience.
One of the most exciting things about Columbia, besides the fact that it's home to the most historic buildings of any gold rush town in the state, is that visitors can ride in a real stagecoach. This town sits just 20 miles south of Murphys, making it yet another easy stop. Columbia also resides in Tuolumne County, which is gorgeous on its own, history aside.
While the town is a living history museum, it's also home to more than 100 shops since its founding in 1850. It was also once the largest gold mining town in the region, making it even more of a hidden gem for those looking for authentic gold rush-era history. A blend of living history and modern boutique shops and dining establishments, including a few cozy coffee shops, make Columbia one of the best towns on the list.