California arguably offers more for the intrepid explorer than any other state. Though populated by those rushing west for gold, it now lures visitors and immigrants with its colossal economy, Hollywood, liberal politics, and diversity in land and culture. The gold rush has long been forgotten in the metropolises, but in some parts of the Sierra foothills, the mining industry survives. Though not the thriving business it once was, its presence in Nevada County is unavoidable. Many mines have been converted to state parks and are now open to the public (Empire Mine), some sit disintegrating into the hillsides, and some are still operating (Underground Gold Miner’s Museum). Wooden sidewalks, gaudy facades, and fur and leather shops give these towns an old-west feel. But if you peer into the shop windows, behind the faux shutters, you’ll find hookahs, didgeridoos, incense, and hemp garments. Nevada County has become a conglomerate of conservative individualists and progressive eccentrics. Gun carrying cowboys live beside bumper sticker flaunting hippies—happily. Grass Valley and Nevada City lie on highway 49, a short drive off interstate 80 between Tahoe and San Francisco. Here you can spend the day on the Yuba River or tour the Empire Mine. Have breakfast at the Pine Street Café before perusing the shops along Broad Street. Have dinner at Diego’s, a charming Chilean restaurant in Grass Valley, before seeing a play at the Nevada Theatre. There are a number of Victorian bed and breakfast places to stay the night and always a jam session or poetry slam at one of the local bars or coffee shops. Hidden in the foothills, far from the lime light of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Nevada County should be just as sought after by the offbeat adventurer. The fusion of old and new lifestyles, seemingly contradictory, creates an interesting atmosphere and has been home to local legends like slide guitarist Roy Rogers and the late Utah Phillips. California is not all hippies and Hollywood; it is first and foremost, the Golden West.
By: Allison McCormick