Not too many serious gold prospectors are left in Calaveras County today, but what you will find are avid golfers and grape growers. It’s the perfect time to plan a visit to this historic area.
Known for Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” this part of the Sierra Foothills hosts an annual frog-jumping contest to commemorate the prized story. Mining for gold began in earnest in 1848 in one of the areas that came to be known as Angels Camp, part of the Mother Lode.
The rolling hillsides, fertile land, historic landmarks, challenging golf courses, delicious wines, artisan purveyors, and chefs make this a go-to destination.
For this trip, we let golf resorts drive where we stayed. First up was Saddle Creek Resort. It’s located in Copperopolis, created when copper was discovered in 1861. The sprawling resort is set on 900 verdant acres. Our lodge bungalow was nestled on the edge of the course, just a few steps from the main lodge and restaurant. From inside or outside on the patio, we soaked in views of the foothills and the scenic golf course. High ceilings, contemporary furnishings, ample space (two bedrooms and two baths), fireplace, full kitchen and modern amenities make it easy to relax. At six the next morning, a cart was parked outside for the golfer’s (aka my husband) day on the links (800-611-7722, saddlecreek.com).
Closer to Angels Camp, perched at 1,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada (where Twain wrote his memorable tale) is the Greenhorn Creek Resort. With limited accommodations at the club, many guests stay in condos at WorldMark Villas located on the course’s tenth fairway. They are casual, comfortable, and convenient. In the morning, a family of deer munched grass outside our door (888-736-5900, greenhorncreek.com).
PLAY AND SHOP
The Mother Lode has terrific golf experiences (as related by my husband). First up was a round at Saddle Creek Resort. This course is big and bold, from the first tee to the 18th green. Designed by Carter Morrish, the course features breathtaking views and elevation changes that make every shot memorable. The championship layout measures just over 6,800 yards, but players have a wide variety of tees to choose from. At any distance, Saddle Creek is enjoyable for every skill level (saddlecreek.com).
The links at Greenhorn Creek Resort were designed by noted architect Robert Trent Jones II. Find imaginative bunkering, well-placed water hazards, rock outcroppings, strategic doglegs, and fabulous undulation. The course plays to a variety of yardages from five different sets of tees. Pick your personal sweet spot between the short tees (4,882 yards) and those designed for low handicappers (6,749 yards) and swing away. It’s both fun and challenging (greenhorncreek.com).
Calaveras County, in the heart of the Sierra Foothills AVA, has vines dating to the mid-1800s. The wines reflect the warm summer days and cool nights. We started our wine tasting adventure along the tree-lined Main Street of eclectic Murphys, dubbed the Queen of the Sierra. A trading post was first established here during the height of the Gold Rush. Today, historic buildings with stone walls, iron shutters, picket fences, and beautiful gardens are home to creative restaurants, shops, and some 20 tasting rooms. Next time, we’ll spend at least a day exploring Murphys; here’s a slice of our quick visit (visitmurphys.com).
Located in a sleek spot on Main Street (a fire destroyed the historic building that housed them previously), Renner delivers wines that are rich and complex. Recently purchased by the owners of Aloria Vineyards, Renner wines are still available, like these 2015s: Syrah and the Bonfire (a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah). And don’t miss the delicious estate grown olive oil (209-728-2314,
Just across the street, Lavender Ridge Vineyard specializes in Rhône varietals. The tasting room is consumed with the aroma of fresh lavender as well as from culinary products and lotions. Also find a unique assortment of hand-crafted cheeses to pair with the wines. We especially liked these 2016s: Mourvèdre and Roussanne as well as the 2017 Granacha Rosé (209-728-2441, lavenderridgevineyard.com).
Also on Main Street, Four Winds Cellars produces distinctive wines from local estate vineyards. They also sell wine merchandise and gourmet treats. Their 2015 Tempest is a balanced blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and Barbera. Don’t forget the 2013 Syrah (209-736-4766, fourwindscellars.com).
When it’s time to take in the picturesque scenery up-close, visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park (parks.ca.gov) with its giant sequoias, mammoth Mercer Caverns (mercercaverns.com) or go on a hike over the Natural Bridges (gocalaveras.com) by Coyote Creek.
Both resorts at Saddle Creek and Greenhorn Creek offer fitness centers, pools, and scenic hikes.
Angels Camp, host to the annual jumping-frog contest, is another historic gold rush town with antique shops, galleries, restaurants, and lore. It’s here we enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at the popular family-owned Crusco’s. We started with sweet jumbo tiger prawns sautéed in garlic, butter, and white wine. The grilled beef tenderloin was served over spinach and soft polenta and topped with Dungeness crab. The tasty chicken breast with Italian sausage and artichoke hearts was cooked perfectly. Desserts are all house made, so save room (we had the panna cotta) (209-736-1440, cruscos.com).
Camp’s is the restaurant at Greenhorn Creek Resort. Situated right next to the lush golf course, the interior boasts walls of windows and high ceilings with a rustic feel. We could only squeeze in breakfast when the menu features omelets, French toast, Belgian waffles, and huevos rancheros (greenhorncreek.com).
In the clubhouse at Saddle Creek, find the Copper Grille. With beautiful views of the foothills and the ninth green, it’s a relaxing place to enjoy a meal. We began dinner with smoked salmon cakes served with smoked paprika mayonnaise. Then we enjoyed the mahi-mahi with jasmine rice, baby bok choy and mango salsa, and the tender braised boneless beef short rib alongside mashed potatoes and gravy. The 2013 Hatcher Estate Zinfandel was the perfect accompaniment (saddlecreek.com).
Calaveras Visitors Bureau: gocalaveras.com
Calaveras Winegrape Alliance: calaveraswines.org