Travel Guide to California

2015 Travel Guide to California

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164 2 0 1 5 T R A V E L G U I D E T O C A L I F O R N I A B Y J O H N F L I N N I t was a flash in the pan—literally—that changed world history. The glit- tering gold nugget that caught the eye of James W. Marshall as he tended a sawmill in the Sierra Nevada foothills in January 1848 set off a gold rush that drew more than 300,000 would-be prospectors the following year from the eastern U.S., South America, Europe, even China. They were known as the 49ers. Overnight, the Gold Rush transformed San Francisco from a sleepy port to a rollicking city and persuaded Congress to put California—wrested from Mexico by war just two years earlier—on the fast track to statehood. Most of the gold was found in a 300-mile belt that extended through the Sierra foothills, from Downieville in the north to Coarsegold in the south. Miners called it the "Mother Lode." In a state working tirelessly to invent the future, the Gold Country remains the most visible manifestation of its not-so-distant past, with towns sporting wood-plank sidewalks, swinging saloon doors, hitching posts and red-brick buildings. (You'll quickly discover that the best preserved of these belonged to Wells Fargo and, oddly, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.) Today you can still pan for gold—it's often said there's more left in the ground than the original 49ers ever took out—but you can also raft some of California's frothiest rivers, explore caverns and sample Chardonnay and Syrah in a number of uncrowded, up-and-coming wineries. ERSLER DMITRY/SHUTTERSTOCK; OPPOSITE: ALAN BEYMER/GOLD COUNTRY VISITOR'S ASSOCIATION GOLD COUNTRY TOP CITIES Sacramento, Sonora, Placerville, Auburn, Downieville, Sutter Creek, Nevada City, Jackson, Columbia, Murphys, Jamestown, Angels Camp INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY Sacramento International Airport (SMF), 13 miles (21 km) from the city center TOURISM WEBSITES POPULATION 650,000 GOLD COUNTRY The land of the "Mother Lode," source of California dreams

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