Spending a weekend away and looking for the best things to do in Nevada City, California? I’m sharing all my top tips, itinerary inspiration, and favorite things to do in this little historic western town.
Tall, evergreen pine trees, crisp mountain air, and a laidback historic downtown. That’s Nevada City in a nutshell. And it’s downright glorious. My recommendation — get there ASAP, because I have a feeling this little town is gonna blow up like there’s no tomorrow. It is the best preserved Gold Rush Town in all of California!
If you’re longing for a trip to the mountains (and wanna escape the crowds of popular Lake Tahoe and Big Bear Lake), head on over to Nevada City! This Gold Rush Town is one of Gold Country’s prettiest towns, and I promise you’ll fall for it the first time you visit. It’s full of artists, hipsters (and full-on hippies), and those just looking to escape the over-crowded Bay Area.
Not only are there pine forests, fresh air, rolling hills, and streams and creeks, but it’s super historic and artsy. There’s small town charm and friendly locals. It’s hippy dippy and historic, all-in-one! Meaning, something for everyone! And there’s about a million Dutch Bros around, so ya know… that’s more than a few points in my book.
You’ll find rock shops filled with moonstones, pyrite, and other magical crystals, herbal lounges with healing teas, and lots of great food and art galleries. There’s also an emphasis on eco-friendly practices and sustainability, which I absolutely love. People don’t say it’s Sierra Nevada’s friendliest and liveliest Gold Rush town for nothing!
Nevada City makes for a perfect weekend trip from San Francisco. And it’s only 2 ½ hours from the Bay Area (although avoid rush hour if you don’t wanna sit in traffic for extra hours). We’ve been there and it’s not fun. You can always stop at Fentons in Vacaville for some ice cream.
Some History of Nevada City
The town of Nevada City began in 1849, right as the California Gold Rush was thriving. And it was actually called Nevada until the neighboring state (Nevada!) took the name for itself!
Since Nevada City was one of the richest mining communities during the Gold Rush (along with nearby Grass Valley), the business district really grew! As did the Victorian neighborhoods.
A lot of cool stuff actually happened here back in the day!
- Former US President Herbert Hoover lived and worked in Nevada City as a gold miner when he was younger. Former US senators lived here as well.
- PG&E’s first general office was located here in Nevada City at the National Hotel (which you can still see today in downtown Nevada City).
- Lots of inventions were started here, like those in the mining, water, and electricity fields.
- The College of California, which later became the UC Berkeley was incorporated in Nevada City!
Since there’s so much historical significance, the entire downtown district is now a National Historic Landmark (and has been since 1985)! The little city still holds its old mining town appearance and retains its old-fashioned charm. I like to think of it as a unique blend of yesterday and today — and you’ll see exactly what I mean wandering around the town! There’s tons of gold mining history — way more than other Gold Country towns.
So, where is Nevada City?
Nope — it’s not in the state of Nevada (and nowhere near Las Vegas)! I could’ve fooled you, right?! Nevada City is actually found in thick pine forests in Northern California (about an hour from Lake Tahoe, and actually the gateway to Tahoe National Forest)! Yes, it can get confusing, I know. :p
To be more specific, Nevada City is located within Nevada County on State Route 49, “The Golden Chain Highway”, right between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. It’s actually right on the border of the Tahoe National Forest, and only 80 miles west of Reno, Nevada. Because of this, a weekend in Nevada City makes for super easy weekend getaways from Reno, Sacramento, and the Bay Area.
Since it’s on the western slope of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range, there’s lots of lakes and rivers nearby! And of course tons of green, pine-covered hills.
How to Get to Nevada City, California
No matter where you’re coming from in Northern California, Nevada City isn’t terribly far. If you’re visiting from farther away, you’ll wanna book flights into either San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), Reno (RNO), or its closest airport, Sacramento (SMF).
Here’s some popular spots and how far they are from Nevada City to give you an approximate idea of travel time:
- Truckee: 50 miles (1 hour)
- Sacramento: 60 miles (1 hour, 15 min)
- North Lake Tahoe: 65 miles (1 hour, 15 min)
- Reno, Nevada: 80 miles (1 ½ hours)
- South Lake Tahoe: 95 miles (2 hours)
- Napa Valley: 130 miles (2 ½ hours)
- San Francisco: 147 miles (2 ½ hour)
- San Jose: 180 miles (3 hours)
When to Visit Nevada City
My sister-in-law and her little family ended up moving to Nevada City not too long ago, and we’ve loved visiting ever since! Because of that, we’ve gotten to experience the little mountain town in all four seasons, and can honestly say, there’s no terrible time to visit (although fall will always be my favorite — those leaves are like no other)!
We love coming up here to not only visit our family, but to experience the changing seasons in California (since we kinda get perpetual spring in the Bay Area). Finally – a place in California that actually gets all 4 seasons (although there’s no palm trees — guess we’ll have to keep going to Palm Springs and San Diego for those)!
In the winter the town is covered with fluffy white snow, fall sees beautiful foliage, and there’s loads of flowers blooming in spring. Summer can get pretty hot, but thankfully there’s a bunch of watering holes to cool off nearby.
Honestly, there’s no horrible time to visit Nevada City, but it just depends on what you’re looking for! This is partially due to its perfect elevation at 2,500 feet. Not too high, and not too low!
Its high elevation offers an escape from the valley heat in the summer, yet low enough to avoid the surprising winter snows in California (which do happen at higher elevations more than you think)!
- Summer: July and August are honestly way too hot, but temps are about 10°F cooler than the steamy Sacramento Valley. And plus, there’s a few watering holes to cool off in if you do find yourself visiting during the hot summer months. This is also when you’ll find most of the town’s festivals and events, like First Friday Art Walk, Nevada County Fair, Nevada City Film Festival, and Movies Under the Pines. Be sure to check out the Nevada City events calendar to see what’s happening when you’re in town!
- Fall: OMG the foliage is so pretty in Nevada City in the fall. If you can get over here then, 100% do it. Not only does the town get such gorgeous fall colors in October and November, but the air is cool and fresh. The foliage is so spectacular here that the tourism board even has a DIY tour of all the top foliage spots in town!
- Winter: Looking to visit the festive Christmas markets and (possibly) some snow?! Head on over around the holiday season! It’ll be pretty cool and wet (fingers crossed the rain turns to snow), but just bundle up and you’ll be good to go! While you can’t count on snow all the time from December to February, the little town sure is a winter wonderland when it does!
- Spring: Wildflowers galore! Especially on the Buttermilk Bend Trail from March to May. This is also when you can frolic in the spring tulips at Crystal Hermitage Garden!
Where to Stay in Nevada City
There’s so many cute bed and breakfasts in Nevada City, it’s hard to choose which one to book!
When we visit the historic little town, we typically stay with family. BUT we’ve spent a night at The Holbrooke Hotel in nearby Grass Valley, and can 100% recommend that charming little spot. I mean, our room even had a clawfoot tub — yup, it’s pretty spectacular.
I also have my eye on glamping at the Inn Town Campground, which looks absolutely dreamy. A few others that sound right up my alley:
- The National Exchange Hotel: Newly renovated, combining Victorian opulence with modern comforts
- Broad Street Inn: there’s only 6 rooms (including a 700 sq ft carriage house that looks so charming and cozy, originally built in 1870), so book early! You’ll find a peaceful garden on property as well.
- Gold Creek Inn: On our first visit to Nevada City (when my sister-in-law was thinking about moving here!), we stayed at the cutest little inn right outside of town – Gold Creek Inn. There were creeks and waterfalls in the backyard and a firepit and string lights for nightly s’mores — plus, its location was a super easy walk to town and even within walking distance to the suspension bridge hike (more details below).
- Harmony Ridge Lodge: Rustic luxury in a stunning natural setting, with tended gardens and 3 1/2 acres of private woods.
- The Madison House: Want a historic Bed & Breakfast with Victorian rooms, hearty breakfasts, and gracious hospitality? You’ll find that over here!
My Favorite Things to do in Nevada City (and beyond)
1. Wander around the Historic Downtown
No visit to Nevada City is complete until you’ve spent a morning walking on Broad Street (the main street in town). You’ll find narrow streets and century-old buildings, old mining apparatuses with plaques explaining the history, red brick storefronts, and white church steeples. If it sounds like a historical dream come true, that’s because it is!
Despite all its history, the city has retained an artsy, bohemian flavor that just adds to its appeal. The shops downtown have everything you could want — from clothing, homemade local jewelry, wine, gems, and other fun goodies! We love wandering around and perusing the eclectic shops. My favorites are: The Earth Store, Mama Madrones, Solstice, and Kitkitdizzi!
Fan of old-school candy shops? Don’t miss Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe – there’s old-fashioned caramel apples, chocolate covered drumsticks, milkshakes, even homemade fudge! And definitely head to Treats for some ice cream! Want something more substantial? We love the fresh and local organic fare from Heartwood Eatery, right in town.
And if you’re super interested in learning about all the history (it’s quite fascinating), sign up for a historic walking tour!
2. Cool off at the South Yuba River
A stunning blue river with boulders in the middle of the forest? Yes, please! Sounds like pure mountain paradise to me!
If you’re visiting in the sweltering summer months, get your butt over to the South Yuba River. I can promise you’ll need this little cool down session in between wandering the town and doing some hiking.
It is a bit outside town (about 25 minutes or so), but I can promise you it’s well worth the short drive. There’s a few different spots to swim in the Yuba River, but we went to the South Yuba River Bridge and loved it. The water is so-super pure and ridiculously clear, kinda like the water in Lake Tahoe! However, it’s very, very chilly — you’ll probably need a few minutes to adjust to the cold water temps! But it’ll feel good in the hot sun!
Bring your camera – the entire area is super scenic! There’s gigantic rocks surrounding the river pools, making for great photos and jumping spots (if you’re not as chicken as me). Hurl yourself up a rock, lay out a towel, and spend a few hours sunbathing and relaxing! Sounds like my kinda summer afternoon!
Note that there’s not tons of parking and the small lot gets filled up fast. We typically park on the side of the road leading to the bridge and walk in. There’s some rocky steps to get down, but if my 6-year-old little nephew can do it, you can too. Just be careful and wear sneakers!
If you want more of a hike, head to Hoyt’s Crossing. It’s about 1.5 miles down to the pristine water (be careful and watch out for rattlesnakes). Just be aware you’ll probably see a lot of naked men near the water, as this is a pretty secluded spot, and many people treat it as a nude beach! It’s been a nude beach for nearly 50 years, so don’t be surprised if you see naked people. Be prepared for some nudity!
3. Go Hiking!
Nevada City is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and the hikes do NOT disappoint. With tons of fresh air and towering evergreens, what’s not to love? A few of my favorites:
- Deer Creek Tribute Trail/Nisenan Tribute Site Trail
How does hiking to a suspension bridge in the middle of a forest sound? We did this with my nephew and it was so much fun, despite getting lost once or twice! :p You’ll be walking through the forest (with great scenery I might add), and it’s super peaceful! We hardly saw anyone on the trail — that is until we got closer to the suspension bridge!
Along the way, you’ll pass by a cute little stream, and then you can walk along the suspension bridge over Deer Creek! And be careful — the bridge is pretty wiggly (especially if people are jumping on it!). Why? Just why?!
The hike isn’t hard per say (maybe about 3 miles or so), but there’s some gentle ups and downs. There’s actually a few different trails which lead you to the suspension bridge. I do wish the signage was a bit better as we got slightly lost, went the wrong way, and accidentally turned our short hike a bit longer (whoops!). All part of the fun!
- Cascade Canal Trail
If you wanna get some fresh mountain air without expending too much exercise, head to the Cascade Canal Trail. You’re literally walking alongside a canal with fresh running water — what could be better? The trail is a bit out of town, and you’ll pass by some rustic houses, but it still feels extremely peaceful, especially in the cool morning air.
The trailhead actually starts just a few minutes away from my sister-in-law’s house, so we end up going for a short hike on the Cascade Canal Trail whenever we need a bit of fresh mountain air. We’ve never walked the entire length of the trail (4.5 miles one way), but go for it if you’re looking for a longer hike with hardly any elevation change.
- Buttermilk Bend Trail Along the South Yuba River
Wanna get your hike on before/after hanging out at the South Yuba River?! Head on over to the Buttermilk Bend Trail. The trail starts right across the river from the Visitors Center, so it’s not hard to find. Since it’s only 2 miles out and back, it’s not a difficult trail, and I’d rate it easy to moderate. And it’s beautiful!
Expect to pass plenty of waterfalls, Kneebone Beach, a raging river, tons of wildflowers, especially in spring! There’s tons of poppies and lupines in the spring (and actually more than 100 wildflower species, making it one of the best things to do in Nevada City in springtime). There’s even wildflower walks from mid-March to early May with a docent!
Oh! One more semi-quirky thing! Don’t miss the giant frog-shaped rock when looking down from the bridge over French Corral Creek – I swear, it looks just like a frog!
- Hirschman’s Pond
Don’t wanna trek too far from the heart of Nevada City but itching for some tranquil scenery? Head to Hirschman’s Pond, a 5 mile round trip trail only about a mile from downtown. The pond was even designated a Nevada County Historical Landmark in 2021 to honor Leb Hirschman (a pioneer minor) who settled here during the Gold Rush!
Don’t worry, if you’re feeling sluggish you don’t need to hike the entire 5 miles. We simply made it to Hirschman’s Pond (maybe about half a mile or so in) and then turned around. The water is SO blue, and actually from hydraulic mining of the area in the 1800’s.
Along the way and at the pond you’ll see ducks, geese and heron, and probably some fish along the shore.
- Independence Trail
A revamped historic gold mining ditch is what brought Independence Trail to life. And it’s now one of the most popular trails in the area! Psst: there’s actually two separate sections – east and west! Both trails are out and back and roughly 5 miles roundtrip.
- East Trail: 2.2 miles each way, making it roughly 4.5 miles round (do note the last .2 miles are unmaintained, so be extra careful).
- West Trail: 2.5 miles each way, for a round trip of 5 miles
If you want a longer hike, you can combine the Independence Trail East and Independence Trail West!
Walk on shady paths and pass live streams, deep gorges, picnic areas, old flumes, rock arches, the South Yuba River, wildflowers, and even the Miners Tunnel, a mining artifact from the 1870’s! And thankfully, there’s plenty of parking at the trailhead.
Before heading out, I recommend checking the Bear Yuba Land Trust website to ensure the trail is open! Independence Trail West has been closed for quite some time, but Independence Trail East is OPEN!
4. Nevada City Farmers Market
One of my favorite things to do when traveling is heading to the local markets! They’re so full of life and color! And typically pretty delicious.
With that being said, visiting the Nevada City Farmers Market has got to be one of the top things to do in Nevada City. I mean, who doesn’t love loaves of fresh sourdough bread, organic pancake mix, gourmet rainbow popcorn, and delicate crystal necklaces? Yes, please!
Psst: the market doesn’t allow reselling, so you know all products are locally made or grown by the sellers themselves!
It’s made up of two seasonal markets; the Summer Market and the Winter Market (because let’s face it, it snows in Nevada City, and farmers markets and snow don’t really go together). So no matter what season you’re visiting in, you can be sure to find lots of unique treasures!
- Location: Union Street in downtown Nevada City
- Dates: May 1st through December 18th
- Open: Every Saturday from 8:30am – 1pm
- Location: 505 Main Street, Nevada City SAEL School Auditorium
- Dates: January 15th through April 30th
- Open: every Saturday from 10am – 1pm
The winter market is brand-spankin’ new, and how awesome does it feel to be supporting local artisans and producers year-round? Plus, we could all use a little more winter produce in our lives (think sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, and acorn squash). So hearty and oh so yum.
The Nevada City Farmers Market has been supporting local farmers, ranchers, and artists since 2008, and there are a wide variety of things you can find here! When you’ve had your fill of delicious food, start looking for something unique to purchase – you’ll be spoilt for choice. A few of my favorite vendors below:
- Gold Rush Cookie Company: They’ve been producing tasty cookies since 1969. Some of the mouth-watering flavors include chocolate mint chip, double chocolate, and of course, the classic chocolate chip!
- The Mushroom Barn: So many different types of mushrooms here (make sure to pick up one of their legendary mushroom grow kits and/or a Garden Giant mushroom block).
- Starbright Acres Family Farm: I just love small organic farms, so this one was right up my alley. Expect to find a combination of fresh veggies like cucumbers, eggplant, figs, basil, and melon!
- Soil Sisters Farm: All the pretty blooms by a women-owned business! What else can you ask for? They even do bouquets for weddings which look absolutely gorgeous.
- Two Moons Native American Art: Looking for unique necklaces, bracelets, and earrings? Head to the Two Moons stall! The jewelry here is made out of a variety of materials including sterling silver, gold, stone beads, and even leather.
Trust me, you won’t leave empty-handed if you visit the market! Bring a reusable tote bag so you can easily transport all your goodies!
5. Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
Californias got over 250 state parks, and there’s one right outside of Nevada City!
Looking to get outta town for a bit? Head on over to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park! It not only preserves the largest hydraulic gold mining site in all of California, but you’ll find tons more.
Expect huge cliffs carved by mighty streams of water. Tons of fall foliage (in the fall, of course). A freakin’ ghost town! AND you can go panning for gold for completely FREE over here so that in and of itself is well-worth the time visiting.
A little background: The park was established in 1965 and covers an impressive 3,143 acres. It’s well known for its history and epic scenery, with the canyon here being 7,000 ft long, around 3,000 feet wide, and nearly 600 feet deep in certain areas. WHOA!
With over 20 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of walks to keep you entertained. Hiking is one of the top things to do in Malakoff Diggins and trails are available for people of all fitness levels. If you want to get your hiking boots dirty, then why not try a few of these awesome trails:
- The Rim Trail (3 miles)
- The Diggins Loop Trail (3 mile loop)
- North Bloomfield Trail (0.75 miles)
- The Humbug Creek Trail (6 miles out and back)
However, one of the BEST things to do here in Malakoff Diggins is to go on a tour of North Bloomfield Ghost Town. Now, I know what you’re thinking but this isn’t a spooky tour, so don’t worry!
This completely family-friendly tour takes you around North Bloomfield, to give you an idea about how mining came to the town, the people who lived there in the 1800s, and their way of life!
So, why is this place known as a ‘ghost town’ anyways? It’s not because of a haunted horror story, or even a friendly ghost!
It’s simply because the town used to be a huge mining hotspot until the 1880s and now it’s practically deserted. After hydraulic mining was officially made illegal, the majority of the residents departed town, leaving an eerie, silent, and deserted North Bloomfield!
6. Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
If you’re looking for some free things to do in Nevada City, then this one’s for you!
The Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum is dedicated to preserving artifacts from the narrow gauge railroad era, and during your visit, you’ll get quite the history lesson.
Now, at first glance, this attraction may not seem up your alley, but give it a chance! Not only is the museum one of the top things to do in Nevada City for families, but it’s also an experience like no other.
You’ll be offered a historical tour of the museum, rail yard, and restoration shop, and you may be thinking what’s so special about that? Well, let me tell you! The majority of the tour takes place on an actual railbus, where you’ll truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
You’ll wind through the forests around the track, but make sure you hang on tight! They go surprisingly quick around some of the tight bends. Maybe not as exciting as a rollercoaster, but for FREE who’s complaining?
During your visit, make sure you head to the Engine 5 exhibit. This steam locomotive has had quite the life, with it even starring as a Hollywood extra at Universal Studios!
7. Ananda Meditation Retreat
If you’re feeling stressed out, swamped at work, or simply in need of a refresh, then the Ananda Meditation Retreat is the place for you. It’s a place to relax and renew the body, mind, and spirit, and let’s be honest after the past few years – who doesn’t need some ultimate relaxation?
Whether you want to head to the Ananda for a full retreat or take part in one of their daily programs is completely your choice. You can also take online classes for yoga and meditation if you find your schedule is too busy! However, an in-person trip is the best way to make the most out of this place — trust me!
We all know that self-care is a MUST, and where better to come than a retreat that’s run by experienced yoga practitioners. They can help still your mind and rejuvenate your spirit, and we all need a bit more of this in our lives!
There are a variety of programs and retreats to choose from, and if you’re not comfortable in a group, you can also have your own personal retreat.
Here are all the details you’ll need for your trip:
- Address: 18443 MacNab Cypress Road, Nevada City
- Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm
8. Eat at Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.
Two words: ALMOND CROISSANTS. Okay fine, they have a bit more than that, but promise me you won’t miss one of their famous pastries on Sunday mornings.
If you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in all of Nevada City, then the Three Forks Bakery and Brewing Co. is a MUST visit. This place strives to source as much of their food from local organic producers as possible, so as you can only imagine their dishes are deliciously fresh, with the tastiest ingredients.
The menu changes weekly based on what’s available locally during each season, but the highlight is their mouthwatering wood-fired pizzas. Made with organic wild yeast crust (YUM!), there are a variety of options available including salami, house pancetta, and oyster mushroom & kale pesto.
Even their coffee and tea is organic, and fair-trade at that, so you know the farmers and workers are getting a fair deal. Where better to spend your money on coffee if that’s the case?
As if this place needed anything else to attract customers, but anyway, on to the best part. They have craft beer which is brewed in their own 7 barrel brewhouse! If you’re looking for a good ale on a hot California day, then this is the place to be. Why not try the ‘Mud In Your Eye Black Rye IPA’, the ‘Emerald Pool IPA’, or the ‘Oak Tree Pale Ale’. Such fun names I might add!
As noted earlier, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. is also famous for its delicious pastries. They only make the popular almond croissants on Sunday mornings, so plan your weekend with this in mind. You can thank me later! Almost as good as the massive ones in Big Sur… well, almost!
There’s other breakfast pastries (honestly, everything’s pretty good), but if you’re here for an almond croissant, plan to arrive early (they do sell out, and early at that!).
Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-intolerant, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. has something for everyone making it the perfect place to eat in Nevada City.
9. Browse Art Galleries
Nevada City is an incredibly artsy town, so if you’re a fan of art and culture you’ll be right at home. There are plenty of unique art galleries to visit, but some of the BEST ones to visit are Elixart, the Neighborhood Center of the Arts, and the Center for the Arts.
Elixart is truly a unique art gallery with a collaboration of creative works by local artists.
So what makes this art gallery so special? Well, the fact that they have a traditional tea bar on site! Yep, you heard me. Elixart serves flavorful rare specialty teas and health tonics so you can sit back and truly enjoy the art. It’s like an assault on all the senses!
There is also a special event area that shows educational films and has workshops taking place.
Another special art gallery is the Neighborhood Center of the Arts. It’s a non-profit center for artists that have developmental disabilities. The program gets individuals involved with a variety of art forms, so they can leverage art sales as an avenue for earning income. If you’re looking for some special art pieces but also want to help the community – this is your place!
The Center for the Arts is another popular one and hosts the Western Nevada County Open Studios Art Tour & Sale. Now if you haven’t heard of this event, you’re in for a real treat! It’s an annual event that features a variety of classic and contemporary art, and hosts photographers, painters, sculptors, woodworkers, and much more!
It’s the perfect opportunity to meet the artists involved, watch live demonstrations, and even learn about their processes. Going to this event is one of the best things to do in Nevada City, especially if you’re an art lover. You’ll get to experience a wide variety of art styles, and truly appreciate the work that goes into a great art piece!
10. Historic No. 1 Firehouse Museum
Way back when (we’re talking late 1800s to early 1900s), you could find horse-drawn fire wagons, handcarts, and motorized fire engines rolling out the doors of the firehouse.
Today, the building’s a museum — housing many of Nevada City’s hidden treasures!
This museum has a very strange combination of displays, however, it works! The exhibits are truly unique, and there are a wide variety of items on display.
The first display is of the Nisenan Indians of the Nevada City Rancheria — I know, what a mouthful! They inhabited Nevada City for thousands and thousands of years. Some of the exhibits include ceremonial feather dance collars, arrowheads, hand game bones, and an extensive photo display.
The Chinese exhibit is another of the museum’s displays and is home to house altars from the Hou Wang and Kuan Yin Temples. Opium pipes, cooking equipment, and school mementos are also displayed within the Chinese exhibit.
Any Donner Party fans out there?! You can see actual items from the Breen and Graves cabins here!
However, it’s not only the exhibits that are popular. The building is BEAUTIFUL and is
probably the most photographed building in Nevada City (it is grand and Victorian and all)! Make sure you have your camera on hand for this one, trust me you’ll need it!
Here are all the details you’ll need for your trip:
- Address: 214 Main Street, Nevada City
- Opening hours: Summer hours (May 1 – Oct 31: Wednesday – Sunday, 1 pm – 4 pm) Winter hours (Nov 1 – Apr 30, by appointment only)
11. Go panning for gold
A trip to Nevada City isn’t complete without panning for gold! How can you visit California’s best-preserved Gold Rush town without having a go at this AWESOME activity? Exactly, so let’s get into some of the best locations for it!
There are a variety of great gold-panning locations, and it can be hard to decide where to visit. However, some of the most accessible locations include Edwards Crossing and Washington, South Yuba River at Bridgeport, and the Middle Yuba River at Oregon Creek.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — how on earth do I pan for gold? Well, I’ve got you covered with a very quick ‘how to’ lesson.
So, since no digging tools are allowed, you’re going to need a 12 or 18-inch gold pan — both of which can be purchased in town. You’ll also need to pick up a small vial for any gold flakes you may find.
Now on to the exciting bit. Simply put, gold panning is incredibly easy (although time-consuming). All you have to do is swirl some water, sand, and gravel in the gold pan, and slowly wash materials over the edge. Keep doing this until you’re down to the black sand at the bottom, and hopefully, you’ll have some gold in your pan! Fingers crossed, right? Don’t expect to make a fortune, but hey, maybe you’ll be able to afford your almond croissant from Forks after a few hours of panning, haha.
The gold is easily distinguishable because of its unique color, but mostly because of its weight. Other substances like Fool’s Gold or Mica are very light and often break down when touched. Real gold won’t crumble!
If you’re looking for unique and exciting things to do in Nevada City, then make sure you add gold panning to your list!
12. Go Wine Tasting
Nevada City has wineries? You betcha! Like so many other wine countries in California (think Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, etc), there’s plenty to choose from.
Who doesn’t love drinking a delicious glass of red with the beautiful backdrop of the Sierra Foothills? Can you think of anyone? No me either! Lucky for you, you’ll be spoilt for choice as there are some fabulous options in Nevada City.
One of the absolute finest is Nevada City Winery, which is the oldest operating winery in the Sierra Foothills. Aside from its flavorful wines, the winery has also partnered with a local gourmet restaurant and chocolate shop. They provide to-go orders that can be delivered right to your table at Nevada City winery. Now is that the perfect evening or what?
Another popular choice is Clavey Vineyards and Winery, which is a family-owned boutique winery. They believe in working with the richness of the Sierra Foothills and blending organic winemaking methods with old-world techniques to cultivate the fullest and freshest flavors. If you’ve not had your fill of wine, head here next!
Double Oak Vineyards and Winery is another great option if you don’t mind a 30-minute drive outside of Nevada City. Their tasting room is truly breathtaking and is filled with artwork from local artists.
13. Empire Mine State Park and Cottage
Empire Mine State Park and Cottage is the site of the largest, oldest, and richest gold mine in California. The mine opened in 1850 and was an active gold mine for nearly 100 years until it ultimately stopped production in 1956.
It produced a WHOPPING 5.8 million ounces of gold throughout the years, and that represents only 20% of the available gold in the area. So around 80% still remains, which is absolutely mind blowing!
The park is famous for its historical tours of Bourne Cottage, the mine yard, and ‘living history’ events, and is a great way to learn about the local area and the history of gold mining.
However, if you’re not really a tour person and prefer to wander around the grounds by yourself — you can! With 845 acres of forest backcountry and 12 miles of trails, you can definitely keep yourself entertained.
Within the park, you’ll find many of the original mine buildings, the owner’s cottages, and the restored gardens (we visited in the fall but I can only imagine the blooms in the spring/summer). You can also head to the visitor center, and step into the “Secret Room”, with blacked-out windows that houses a scale model of the mine’s network, which is pretty interesting too!
However, the highlight of this park is to see the entrance of the mine shaft itself. The mine covers an area of 367 miles (WOW!) and although you’ll get only a tiny glimpse into this underground maze, it’s very impressive! It was easily my favorite part of Empire Mine.
If you’re a fan of history, then visiting Empire Mine State Park is easily one of the best things to do in Nevada City. Even my 9-year old nephew loved it!
14. Spring Tulips at Crystal Hermitage Garden
Now if you’re a fan of nature, color, beauty (or anything else, really), this is a place you don’t want to miss during your trip to Nevada City.
Each year over 90 tulip varieties are planted in the fields, along with a variety of other flowers, including pansies, azaleas, peonies, and wisteria (among others). Getting interested? I thought so!
Once these flowers have bloomed, guests are invited to explore the gardens. This means you’ll have the chance to wander around this beautiful place, explore the upper terraced gardens, follow the paths by the pools and waterfalls, and visit the award-winning chapel.
However, the true highlight of Crystal Hermitage Gardens are the 17,000 tulip blooms that are found here. Whoa! They come in a wide variety of colors and are truly beautiful. If there was ever a time to wear a pretty dress and have your camera ready — well, this is it!
The Crystal Hermitage Garden is only open throughout the month of April (when the tulips are in bloom), and you must pre-purchase your tickets online in advance. This can be done at Crystal Hermitage’s ticket page.
The opening times for Crystal Hermitage are:
- April 1st to April 30th, 10 am – 5 pm.
15. Swim at Emerald Pools
Hiking to the Emerald Pools is without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Nevada City. One look at it and you’ll see what I mean – it’s downright gorgeous!
No matter your fitness level, the hike is pretty accessible as it’s only around 0.7 miles (1.1km) in total. It takes you to one of the most breathtaking places in the area, and a tip — make sure you pack your swimsuits!
Now I know not everyone is a fan of hiking, so think of it as more of a leisurely stroll because this is a spot you don’t want to miss.
As the trail opens up from the trees, you’ll see the appropriately named Emerald Pools, as the pools are filled with crystal-clear emerald water. With a forested backdrop and plenty of areas to relax by the side, it’s the perfect place to chill out, take in the scenery, and enjoy a picnic.
However, the MUST-DO activity is taking a dip in the pools to cool down under the hot California sun. Although, I must say be prepared for an icy surprise. The water here is from snow run-off so as you can imagine it’s pretty chilly!
If you’re not a fan of crowds, then there is an accessible trail further along that follows the Yuba River. Once you get to the top, you’ll see a mini-gorge that’s incredibly secluded and usually very quiet. This is the perfect place for some me-time where you can relax and listen to the quiet sounds of the water running through the gorge.
The best time to visit the Emerald Pools? Late summer to early fall — when the river has had time to dry up. If you visit during spring, the water level may be too high for you to access the pools, which would be a real shame!
16. Check out Grass Valley, California
Grass Valley is oh so close to Nevada City, maybe like 10-15 minutes away with traffic, but the vibes couldn’t be any more different. Yes, it’s another living California Gold Rush-era town, but it’s got a lot of charm and even some style mixed in with all the history. I highly recommend you spend an afternoon here!
A few top things to do:
- Stroll down Main Street and go shopping – there’s lots of vintage and antique shops (don’t miss Sunchild’s Parlor and Cosmic Shark Clothing), boutique stores like Make Local Habit, and The Shops at the Nevada County Bank.
- Learn about Gold Rush History at the Grass Valley Museum (if you haven’t already done so in Nevada City)
- Get some sweet treats at Lazy Dog Chocolateria, an old-fashioned candy shop with the most delicious chocolate and candy or stop by Cake Bakery & Cafe for some dessert and coffee instead
- Explore the Bourn Cottage in Empire Mine State Park; you can even take a 45 minute tour if you’re interested!
- Listen to live music and sip a cocktail at The Holbrooke Hotel – the eclectic decor of this historic hotel is so fun! And Mark Twain and even some US presidents have been here!
17. BONUS! Victorian Christmas Markets
Visiting in December and looking for one of the best things to do in Nevada City in winter? DO NOT MISS THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS. The aroma of roasted chestnuts fill the air, hundreds of vendors line the city streets (with lots of holiday treats and warm drinks), and wandering carolers dressed in fun Victorian attire! It’s easily one of the largest Christmas markets in the U.S., and I can’t wait to visit!
I mean, what’s better than sipping on hot buttered rum (or hot mulled wine!) in a little city nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Sierra. Sounds like a lot of Christmas spirit to me! And plus, there’s a Walking Christmas Tree & Toy Soldier! There’s performances by the Scottish dancers, violinists, harmonic quartets, jugglers and magicians, and even the Nevada City High School band! Entertainment changes every year, but plan to be wowed regardless of when you visit!
Unfortunately this annual tradition only takes place on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons in December, making timing a little less than ideal if you wanted to take a weekend trip to Nevada City. I think they do this on purpose to make sure they don’t get too wild and crazy (and crowded). But who knows.
Other Things to do in Nevada City (Day Trips and More!)
Now, if you’re visiting Nevada City, I say — stay in Nevada City! But if you’ve got an extra day (or two!), definitely check out the surrounding areas!
- Lake Tahoe: Lake Tahoe is far from a secret (and it deserves way more than a day), but if you’ve never been, I highly recommend driving over for the day. Without traffic the west side is roughly an hour away, but expect some traffic, especially on the weekends. We love to drive around Lake Tahoe, stopping at our favorites along the way.
- Sacramento: California’s state capitol is only 60 miles away, so if you’ve never visited, now’s a great time to do so! You can really see a lot in a day — head to the stunningly white capitol building, Tower Bridge, the Old Sacramento Waterfront, and our favorite — Temple Coffee Roasters. There’s a lot of choices for brunch, and tons of colorful murals around town.
Have I convinced you to visit yet? Which of these fun things to do in Nevada City will you be adding to your weekend getaway?!
Looking for more California content? Explore my other California guides here!
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