Nestled in the Sierra Nevada’s historic Gold Rush region, El Dorado County (Spanish for “the gilded one”) is a year-round playground — ski and snowboard in winter; enjoy beautiful colors and fewer crowds during the fall; and at this time of year, go whitewater rafting and pick luscious fruit. Pan gold if you’re feeling lucky. And enjoy delicious wine every month of the year.
Often people head straight for Lake Tahoe and miss the rest of what the county has to offer.
Built in 1857, the historic Cary House Hotel in Placerville is an attraction unto itself. If you stay, remember: It’s a mix of antique, vintage, and modern; there can be noise from the spirits who haunt the hotel; and the amenities are limited. But the wood lobby and its beautiful stained glass windows are worth a visit (530-622-4271, caryhouse.com).
We opted for one of the B&B’s that are spread around the county: Lucinda’s Country Inn in Fair Play. The inn is nestled among the trees and the guest rooms are modern and spacious with numerous amenities. In the morning, they serve a sumptuous home-cooked breakfast, like “country eggs Benedict,” scones, fruit, and dark-brewed coffee, which you can enjoy with the other guests. The ambiance of the Great Room encourages guests to kick back and share stories at the end of an adventurous day. Fair Play is within easy driving distance of many attractions, including wineries, and about 30 minutes southeast of Placerville (530-409-4169, lucindascountryinn.com).
SHOP & PLAY
Placerville, known in the mid-1800s as Hangtown (named for the fate of Gold Rush murderers), sits in the foothills and is the starting point for many. Main Street offers visitors a glimpse into everyday life in El Dorado. When a Farmers’ Market is in full swing, it is right beneath the historic Bell Tower, built to honor the town’s volunteer firemen.
During the Gold Rush, Main Street was an important supply source. Today, it’s lined with shops, restaurants, galleries, and more. If you’re there on the third Saturday, join the monthly Art Walk. The Placerville Hardware Store, stocked with everything imaginable, has been a community tradition for over 150 years; it’s the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi (530-622-1151).
At Winterhill find delicious olive oil and wonderful cookware (530-626-6369). Across the street, don’t miss The Wine Smith (live music some nights) offers a great assortment of wines from the area (530-622-0516). The El Dorado Hills Town Center shopping area has more shops and restaurants (edhtowncenter.com).
Stop at Jollity Farm, a goat dairy, creamery, and lavender farm where you can feed the goats and of course buy the delicious cheeses and purchase the fragrant lavender (530-333-2311, jollityfarm.net). If farm trails are your thing, follow the Apple Hill Scenic Drive loaded with orchards and farms where, depending upon the season, you can pick fruits and vegetables or cut down a holiday tree (530-417-4887, applehillca.com). As you tour the county, shop locally at the many gift shops, wineries, and orchards along the way.
Steeped in history, there is much to experience in El Dorado County. If you’re excited by the Gold Rush, head straight for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park and Sutter’s Mill (the spot where the Gold Rush began). Explore the first settlement and pan for gold (530-622-3470, marshallgold.com).
Close by in Gold Hill is the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Farm, established in the late 1800s by the first group of Japanese to settle in North America. The area is in the process of being restored to its original glory. It is fascinating to learn how traditional Japanese horticulture began here — silk worming and tea and rice cultivation (530-621-1224, arconservancy.org/wakamatsu).
Wineries abound throughout the mountains and hillsides, and you’ll find vintages that are vibrant and flavorful. We especially liked the stunning setting of David Girard Vineyards and these 2016s: Grenache and Syrah, as well as their 2014 Okei-San Estate Mourvèdre (530-295-1833, davidgirardvineyards.com). Lava Cap, in the Apple Hill Region, farms sustainably and produces a number of excellent wines, including the 2016 Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2015 Nuée Ardente, a Rhone blend (530-621-0175, lavacap.com). Boeger Winery maintains its original house, cellar and distillery still in use today. Try the 2016 Primitive and the 2017 Barbera and the 2107 Pinot Grande/Pinot Noir Rosé (530-622-8094, boegerwinery.com). If it’s beer you crave, enjoy fresh ales (like Blueberry Pale Ale) and scenic vistas at the Jack Russell Farm Brewery (530-647-6222, jackrussellbrewery.com).
El Dorado County is a food lover’s delight. Wonderful small restaurants are tucked off Placerville’s main street and in small storefronts along picturesque roads.
Family-owned local favorites like Hey Day Café and Cascada’s are in downtown Placerville. Hey Day offers delicious California cuisine (530-626-9700, heydaycafe.com). Cascada’s features Mexican dishes served with upscale ambience and Latin flare (530-344-7757, cascadainplacerville.com). For something quick to take on the road or for an El Dorado picnic, try Smokey Ridge Charcuterie (530-295-8140).
Around Fair Play, neighbors and friends seeking good food and a casual atmosphere eat at the Gold Vine Grill. Try small bites like the ginger shrimp ravioli. And for the main course: Grilled pork chops topped with grilled Asian pears and an apple brandy reduction. Pair each with your favorite El Dorado wine (530-626-4042, gvgrill.com).
El Dorado County Visitors Authority: visit-eldorado.com
El Dorado Winery Association: eldoradowines.org
Placerville Downtown Organization: placerville-downtown.org
Farm Trails Association: edc-farmtrails.org
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter (@pattygb), Instagram (pburness) and reached by e-mail at [email protected]