You might not expect to see women in bonnets and hoop skirts or horse-drawn carriages moving through the single main road into town, but you will step back in time when you walk down the classic "Main Street USA" of Sutter Creek, the historic city on Highway 49, known as "Jewel of the Mother Lode."
Named after John Sutter of gold-discovery fame in 1848, by the fall of 1849, gold fever had spread worldwide, setting off the gold rush. Now California is proudly proclaimed "The Golden State" for more than a single reason. Known for year-round sunshine and a rich and colorful history of gold-mining, the beginning came with the serendipitous finding of a few nuggets in the American River where a saw-mill was being built for John Sutter near Colma. Over the years, an estimated $2 billion in gold was mined.
Nestled in Amador County, amid the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, between Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, the quaint hamlet of Sutter Creek and the delightful surrounding rural towns take pride in having maintained their original authentic presence.
Below the snow line and above the fog line at 1,200 feet elevation, many attractions draw the interest of year-round visitors. From the awesome oak-studded hillsides and back road trails for hiking and bicycle rides, to the city’s rich history, a tapestry of early American culture has been woven and preserved for residents and guests alike.
Here are ten things to do and see in Sutter Creek:
1. Take a walking tour: Becoming acquainted with the veritable "treasure trove" of places to go and things to see, is easy on the free, self-guided walking tour. This includes visits to 62 historic buildings and sites, including the Knight Foundry on the Register of Historic Places. Built in 1873, it is the last remaining water-powered foundry machine shop in the U.S. crafting specialty mining tools and machinery. Pick up a map at the Sutter Creek Visitor’s Center.
2. Snoop through the Sutter Creek Gold Mine: Daily one-hour tours depart for a trip underground on the Boss Buggy shuttle, with hard hats provided. Troughs are embellished with gold sprinkles for treasure seekers to try their luck at panning. A video provides the history of mining and geology of the area and a find in the gift shop may add a keepsake to your souvenir collection. The cost is $17.50 for adults and $11.50 for children.
3. Check out the Caverns: If you’re into even more adventure, you may want to check out the California Cavern State Historic Park or Black Chasm Cavern, where hourly guided tours take you into complete darkness, still coolness, a chance to try spelunking (the adventure of studying and researching caves and caverns, sleuthing for stalagmites and stalactites) and finally views of quartz rock walls threaded with brilliant veins of real gold.
4. Go Antique Shopping: I'm always looking for that stray piece of Adam pattern pink depression glass dinnerware, and did find the sugar bowl, to my delight. Some of my favorite places to ship are: Old West Antiques, Cozy Collectibles and Columbian Lady. Replete with fabulous finds, from the smallest of treasures, coins, hatpins or ink bottles, to fine vintage furniture, the possibilities are prolific.
5. Sleep tight at the Sutter Creek Inn: The first bed and breakfast in the West, the Sutter Creek Inn was built in 1859 before the Civil War. It’s a 17 -room, New England style paradigm of relaxed hospitality. Owned since 1966 by the Way family, matriarch, Jane resides on the property as well as her daughter, Lindsay, the property manager. My personal experience over the years has been genuinely "enchanted." The lush gardens, arbors, hidden alcoves, hammocks and myriad resting retreats outdoors are matched with an interior ambiance of complete relaxation and consideration for creature comforts.
Every room has a sitting area, outdoor patio or hideaway. Fireplaces, filled bookcases and swinging beds are some of the many options. Wake up hungry and ready for a breakfast of mouth-watering, hearty creations at 9 a.m. The menu is varied each day, including a bounty of fresh fruit platters, omelets, meats and home-baked breads and muffins. Requests in advance are always considered, such as chili eggs, artichoke casserole or berry bread. Robert Burdette, a returning guest over 40 years, reports "It’s like coming home, when I walk in the back porch.
6. Stop for ice cream: The Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium features fresh fudge and live ragtime piano in the ambiance of retro, small-town charm. Complete with a squeaky front screen door, counter stools, small table sets and memorabilia of a simpler by-gone era, the single-scoop waffle cone will surpass your greatest expectation.
7. Visit Amador City: A short drive away is Amador City, population 1200, where you will find an old-fashioned soda-fountain shop within view of an outdoor, miniature railroad display. On the corner of the diminutive street is an eclectic garden/decorative-finds shop, Bellflower. My finds have included a stained glass hanging, antique drawer knobs, a wooden bench and an iron plant stand.
8. Peruse the Monteverde General Store. A typical turn of the century emporium, the store that was built in 1898 houses a free museum staffed by volunteers, stocks vintage goods of a by-gone era and even has a pot-belly stove.
9. Enjoy some good food and wine: . There are 21 wineries in the area and the Shenandoah Valley Wine Country is within an 8-minute drive from Sutter Creek, offering many opportunities for tasting.
If you’ve worked up an appetite, consider an Italian-themed gourmet meal at Twisted Fork restaurant, located on Main Street in Sutter Creek in the historic American Exchange Hotel. The place has a classy, but casual atmosphere. On the lighter side, Back Roads Coffee Shop and Deli serves sumptuous salads, sandwiches, desserts and more. This is a friendly meeting place where I first encountered a dear 99 year old lady. This is a true story. She was with a group of younger "girls" discussing the quiche she had made that day. She drove up in a Mini Cooper convertible.
10. Take in the theater: The only remaining original former silent movie house in the region hosting live performances, concerts, film and dance events is the Sutter Creek Theatre. In the very heart of Main Street, featuring Caffe Intermezzo, as the name reflects, aficionados of the event may avail themselves of espresso, meals, delicacies and gelato. A wine bar is located adjacent to the theater.
Worth every minute of the short journeys to neighboring towns are the unique attractions each has to offer. Amador City, Jackson, Volcano, Plymouth, Fiddletown and Ione are all within a few minutes drive. A castle, a casino, historic churches and cemeteries, river rafting, skiing, golf, fishing, and many seasonal events offer adventure for every preference. –KRB
Karen Balch is a San Ramon writer, traveler and retired nurse. She writes about travel, health and community events for allnewsnoblues.com.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 22 December 2010 03:47)