Columbia State Historic Park
Latitude 38.035 Longitude: -120.4018
Gold was discovered in The Sierra foothills in 1848. News traveled fast, including the discovery of a 195 pound nugget. The Gold Rush attracted thousands from all over the world, but the easy pickings quickly ran out. About half of the gold rush towns are still around, and one of the most interesting is Columbia State Historic Park, about three hours from San Francisco. There is no admission charge, and parking is free.
On Veterans Day we wandered the streets, watched the candle maker, blacksmith, and talked with the docent in the park museum. She said the peak activity was between 1850 and 1858, after which most of the gold was extracted. All during our visit this harmonica player serenaded the tourists as he sat on a stool in the center of town. He wore a utility belt that held eight harmonicas, and after each tune he would switch to another instrument.
There are a number of traditional businesses where you can buy souvenirs of the era, eat, drink, pan gold, and have your photgraph taken. You can tour the firehouse, inspect all the patent medicines in the pharmacy, and view the 19th century dentists' instruments. There are carriage rides, and a theater for local plays. Because there were few crowds, the place seemed unrushed, and the warm afternoon sun combined with the music made it very relaxing.
The town of Sonora is three miles away. It was settled by Mexican miners. There are the typical stores selling Love Country wares, new antiques, two book stores, and at least six Mexican restaurants including Cinco de Mayo which had a very reasonably priced menu including a very tender chili verde pork burrito and a mole poblano enchilada. Nobody except the staff seemed to be Latino, and many of those around us seemed to be regulars, judging from the banter between the servers and the customers.