By Samantha Feuss • Tribune News Service

California tourists know the big city names.

A visit to Northern California offers more than one opportunity to enjoy the area. It’s a great place for a road trip.

Camino, Coloma, Columbia, Jamestown, Placerville, Sonora and Tuolumne counties are full of attractions just around the next bend — gas up the car and see what the area has to offer.


Sacramento is one of California’s largest cities and full of family-friendly attractions. Museums dedicated to transportation, art and history can be found here along with shops, restaurants and Old Sacramento, a registered national landmark and state historic park.

Sacramento is home to the California State Railroad Museum and California Auto Museum. Transportation and the area’s history are closely tied as the city was part of the transcontinental railroad and Pony Express.

The Railroad Museum not only displays restored locomotives and train cars, it also features 40 “one-of-a kind” exhibits. Here you can learn about railroad history from 1850 to the trains we ride today.

 A mile down the road, the Auto Museum is full of examples of more modern four-wheeled transport. The collection features cars from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, originals and restorations.

The Crocker Art Museum is a perfect stop. Opening in 1885, the museum is a part of history, too, the first public art museum in the Western United States.  There are live events, tours and classes for kids, adults or the whole family.

Old Town Sacramento Historic District is a living piece of the past. Shops that supplied miners in search of gold are historic buildings, house shops and eateries that appeal to new visitors in the area. 

The Sacramento History Museum will expand your local knowledge. If you want to go back before the city was founded, try the California State Indian Museum.

California gold rush

Gold brought the original settlers to the region, and you can learn about the history and recapture the experience at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. James Marshall triggered a massive migration when he discovered gold in 1848. With a museum, gold panning, candle and rope making you can spend the afternoon living history.

Hangtown’s Gold Bug Park & Mine combines education and nature. Whether you take advantage of the hiking trails or investigate the two hard rock mines in the park, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about history and enjoy the Placerville countryside.

Gold was becoming harder to find by 1852, this is what made mining become more popular. The only gold mines still owned by the state of California, you can take a tour into these two hard rock mines 362 feet into Gold Bug Mine, as well as visit the blacksmith shop, stamp mill, museum and more. 

Columbia State Historic Park provides full immersion into the time of the Gold Rush. Costumed tour guides lead you through the preserved Mother Lode town, once the second largest city in California.

Now home to an authentic stagecoach, locally made sarsaparilla soda, a blacksmith’s forge and saloon. Full-time residents live the 1850s lifestyle, practice the trades of the time, and you can join them to eat, drink, sleep, and be a part of living history.  

Shops keep regular business hours, and the town never closes. No driving through, cars are not allowed here. Visitors are hoofing it, by foot or horseback because this is the real-deal historical experience. You can even stay overnight in guest houses and hotels, right on Main Street. 

Visit Apple Hill

The ranches and farms that make up Apple Hill are a top destination for food and fun. They welcome visitors year round, offering apples, berries, pumpkins and pine trees for the holidays. Over 50 ranches and farms are part of Apple Hill.

Rainbow Orchard is known for their bake shop and produce. Their specialty are hot apple cider donuts.

A third-generation family farm, they grow apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and blueberries. Their farmers market is open in the fall.

Harris Tree Farm has been operating in the community for over 150 years and seven generations since 1857.

Open all year, this is the spot for fruits and vegetables, fresh flowers, or picking a pumpkin or Christmas tree depending on the season.  If you get hungry a visit to Irene’s Kitchen has pies, turnovers, jams and butters.

Abel’s Apple Acres combines beautiful views, hot BBQ, homemade fudge, candies, and, of course, apples. They are dog friendly, so if you are looking for a place for the whole family, two-legged or four, this is it. Pony rides, the pumpkin patch, and a walk through a maze add to the time spent enjoying all the edible goodies. 

They are open to visitors from Labor Day weekend until Christmas Eve.