GOLD RUSH COUNTRY/HIGHWAY 49
●COLUMBIA STATE HISTORIC PARK
Daily 10-5. Free.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
In her prime, with more than 6,000 people calling her home, Columbia was one of the largest mining towns in the southern Mother Lode. Her nickname, "Gem of the Southern Mines," was reference to the $87 million-plus in gold mined here (a figure calculated when gold was $35 an ounce).
This reconstructed Gold Rush town has been a state historic park since 1945. Streets are blocked off to all but foot traffic and an occasional stagecoach. A museum introduces visitors to the town's history, and more exhibits are scattered among the many restored historic buildings.
In fact, the whole town is basically a living museum, with private concessionaires operating modern versions of businesses that were here in the 1800s.
If it all looks familiar, note that High Noon and episodes of Little House on the Prairie were filmed here.
Victorian Promenade and Egg Hunts March or April; on Easter Sunday. Free. Participants don their best 1880s attire and fanciest hat for this historical Easter parade along Main Street. Children can participate in egg hunts (a golden egg wins a special prize), and a contest with prizes is held for the fanciest Victorian hat.
Fireman's Muster May. Free. Volunteer fire crews from the western U.S. test their skills in historical fire-fighting that includes hat races, a bucket brigade, and hand-pumping. A parade on Saturday is followed by a dance that night.
A Miners Christmas December; first 2 weekends. Free. St. Nick arrives by stagecoach each day, and roasted chestnuts, hot camp coffee, and hot apple cider are among the culinary treats.
Hidden Treasure Gold Mine Discovered in 1879, this mine still produces pockets of gold today. Visitors can tour this still-operating mine, and learn to pan for gold in a salted sluice.
Kamice’s Photographic Establishment Customers don Gold Rush-era clothing for portraits, which are taken with vintage camera equipment but developed with quick modern processes.
Martinez House Exhibit & Garden Pop into this unrefurbished house located on a side street. You’ll see layers of wallpaper from the past, and a docent is often on had to provide some history.
Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop The blacksmith here ekes out a living practicing his craft in a ramshackle shed.
Quartz Mountain Stage Line Ride in an authentic stagecoach and experience travel as many gold-seekers did years ago.
●Well’s Fargo Building The stage leaves from in front, so stop in to see the gold scale that was an extra in the movie Pale Rider.
Columbia House Restaurant 22738 Main St., (209) 533-3983. After burning to the ground a few years back, this town fixture has been brought back from the dead. It is a lot fresher now and serves up an extensive menu. Breakfast is available all day. Choose from the basic eggs with a side of delicious meaty bacon, an omelette cooked to order, housemade biscuits and gravy, buttermilk flapjacks, and even the famous Gold Rush-era Hangtown Fry—eggs, oysters, and bacon. Lunch items include soup with cornbread, sandwiches galore (served with house-made chips), and even country fried steak. Dinner brings on salad plates and hearty meals with all the trimmings, think pot roast, fried cat fish, and fried chicken.
Columbia Kate’s Teahouse, Bakery, and Boutique Columbia Kate’s has taken over feeding the town with a teahouse and bakery, and as if that isn’t enough--a sweet boutique is also part of the empire. More images.
●Columbia Kate’s Teahouse 22727 Columbia St. This sweet little teahouse operates within a historic 1880s barn just a block over from Main Street. Diners here are seated at tables named after real mining claims from Columbia's heyday. Choose from classic tea set-ups, or opt for just a scone or a few tea sandwiches. Regular lunch items are also available—salads, sandwiches, quiche, pot pies, and soups. Everything is baked fresh daily across the street in the bakery. Apricot scones (my favorite!) and praline-pecan-pear pie are particular popular, but don’t miss the breads, bread pudding, and other desserts.
●Columbia Kate’s Bakery 11256 State St. Famous around town for their cinnamon rolls, it is clear that anything you select here will be delicious. Do try the unusual "Runsas"—a popular pocket sandwich made with a yeast-bread bun and stuffed with egg, bacon, and cheese (the breakfast) or ground beef, cabbage, and Swiss cheese (the lunch). And don’t miss the cookies and cupcakes.
●Columbia Kate’s Boutique Next to the bakery. Located inside another converted house, this sweet shop purveys tea-time accoutrements along with a large selection of locally made crafts items. Buttons are a specialty and so you find them here in bulk—in drawers, in suitcases—as well as made up into delightful jewelry. Clothing is also for sale.
Jack Douglass Saloon Established in 1857 by John Douglass and one of the oldest saloons in the west, this popular spot pours cold mugs of beer and old-fashioned, root beer-like sarsaparilla. It makes a good stop for a light lunch or snack. The menu has a selection of sandwiches and sometimes offers a more substantial meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. The rustic interior features wooden floors and a large bar that runs the length of the room. A deer head is the center attraction above the bar, and off to one side is a collection of locally grown rattlesnake hides. Facebook page.
Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen 22726 Main St. This vintage shop uses 100-year-old recipes and antique equipment to turn out such old-time favorites as horehound, rocky road, and almond bark. New favorites include white-chocolate dipped apricots, chocolate-caramel-pecan turtles, and white-chocolate California bears. Sugar-free goodies are also available. This sweet shop has been in the same family for five generations and is rated as one of the ten top candy shops in the U.S. More images.
Columbia City Hotels Want to spend the night, see a delightful theater production, and/or indulge in an ice cream confection? Here you go. More images.
(800) 444-7275, (209) 532-1479. $50-$115/2; cottages $115-$155.
●The City Hotel 22768 Main St. 10 rooms; $$; closed 1st 2 wks. in Jan. No TVs; all shared baths. Restaurant. No pets. This 1856 hotel provides overnight lodging in keeping with the town's historic flavor. A steep staircase leads up to the guest rooms, where a large sitting room and outdoor balcony await. Spartan but comfortable guest rooms have high ceilings, sweet old-time wallpaper, lace curtains, worn wood floors, and are furnished with Victorian antiques from the collection of the California State Parks Department. They have no TV or phone, but do have free Wi-Fi. Each room has a private toilet and sink, but the shower is done the hall. To make the trek there more civilized, rooms are equipped with robes and a wicker basket packed with towels, soap, and shampoo.
Christopher’s at the City Hotel Restaurant serves elegant regional cuisine, and four-course seasonal dinners are an option. Adjacent and under the same management, the cozy What Cheer Saloon retains its original cherry-wood bar that traveled around the Horn from New England. A full-service bar, it features fine Cognacs, Armagnac, and single malt Scotches, as well as Sierra Nevada foothill wines, local beers on tap, and both foreign and domestic bottled beers.
●Fallon Hotel On Washington St. 14 rooms; $-$$; closed 1st 2 wks. in Jan. No TVs; many shared bathrooms. Continental breakfast; restaurant. No pets. This historic hotel, dating from 1857, is beautifully restored to its Victorian grandeur. Many of the furnishings are original to the hotel. Several large second-floor rooms with balconies are perfect for families. The hotel is operated in similar style as the City Hotel and is under the same management.
Located in the rear of the hotel, the Fallon House Theatre has been operating since the 1880s. The second-longest continually operating playhouse in California, it stages both first-run and classic dramas and musicals and employs both professional and student talent. The semi-professional Sierra Repertory Theatre stages eight major productions each year.
The Fallon Ice Cream Parlor dishes up chilled goodies on the main floor and is the perfect place for an intermission snack. Choose from sundaes, floats, and milkshakes, as well as espresso, hot chocolate, sarsaparilla, and cookies.