Enjoy the Bounty of El Dorado County
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 the winter; raft whitewater and pick luscious fruit in the spring and summer. Pan gold whenever 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. 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 visitors.
Built in 1857, the Historic Cary House Hotel is an attraction unto itself. If you stay, remember: It’s a mix of antique, vintage, and modern; it can be noisy with the sounds you might hear 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. Even if you stay elsewhere, make sure you experience the charm of Main Street during your trip.
Opt for one of the B & Bs spread around the county. Lucinda’s Country Inn in Fair Play (about 30 minutes southeast of Placerville) is as the name implies – a comfortable retreat. The guest rooms are modern and spacious with numerous amenities. In the morning, rise to a sumptuous home-cooked breakfast with the other guests. You’ll like the “country eggs Benedict,” scones, fruit, and dark-brewed coffee. Each evening, kick back and share stories and local wines and hors d’oeuvres. Fair Play is within easy driving distance of many attractions.
It’s always fun in El Dorado County. If farm trails are your thing, visit Jollity Farm, a goat dairy, creamery, and lavender farm where you can feed the goats and of course, buy the delicious cheeses and the fragrant lavender. And don’t miss the Apple Hill Scenic Drive loaded with orchards and farms where, depending upon the season, you can pick your fruits and vegetables. Try blueberry picking at Rainbow Orchards or cut down a holiday tree. Farmers’ markets run from April to November throughout the county.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, the rapids of the South and Middle forks of the American and Kaweah Rivers offer some of the best white-water rafting in California. No matter your skill level, you’ll find a trip that fits your schedule.
Steeped in history, El Dorado County has lots to see. If you’re excited by the Gold Rush, head straight for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park where you’ll find Sutter’s Mill (the spot where the Gold Rush began). Explore the first settlement and pan for gold – it’s entertaining for all ages.
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.
Wineries abound throughout the mountains and hillsides, and you’ll find vintages that are vibrant and flavorful. Enjoy the stunning setting of David Girard Vineyards and their 2006 Coeur Rouge Estate Rhône Blend and 2008 Syrah. Lava Cap, in the Apple Hill Region, farms sustainably and produces a number of excellent reserve wines including both the 2007 Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, the 2009 Chardonnay, and the 2008 Barbera. Boeger Winery, with its original house, cellar, and distillery still in use today, makes a delicious 2008 Reserve Meritage, 2007 Reserve Sangiovese, and the blended Hangtown Red. Take a picnic to Gold Hill Vineyard, pop the cork on a bottle of their NV Champagne and relax. (They also make great still wines.) If it’s beer you crave, enjoy fresh ales (like Blackberry Abbey Ale) and scenic vistas at the Jack Russell Brewery.
Placerville’s Main Street offers visitors a glimpse into everyday life in El Dorado’s foothills. The farmers’ market is held beneath the historic Bell Tower, built to honor the town’s volunteer firemen.
During the Gold Rush, Main Street was an important supply source and today it is 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 more than 150 years; it’s the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. At Winterhill Tasting Room, find delicious olive oil and wonderful cookware.
The Town Center shopping area (like others with a similar name) has more restaurants, shops and offices. Don’t forget, as you tour the county, shop locally at the many gift shops, wineries and orchards along the way.
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 Cafe, Café Luna, and Cascada’s are in downtown Placerville. Both Hey Day and Café Luna offer delicious California cuisine (spicier food at Café Luna). Cascada’s features Mexican dishes served with upscale ambience and Latin flare. One night, we nibbled at the downtown farmers’ market, then went to the Sequoia Restaurant for dinner. Located in a historic old mansion, this is best for those who like hearty portions.
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 date chutney. Pair each with your favorite El Dorado wine.
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