Small Town California Charm


September 26, 2023
Words by John Roark
Photos courtesy of various

If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping inside the warm and fuzzy, true-love-finds-a-way storyline you’ve seen in romantic comedies, neighboring Nevada City and Grass Valley, California are must-consider destinations, just about an hour’s drive northwest of Sacramento. Framed by the Sierra Nevada mountains and brimming with the small-town authenticity you’ve swooned over in countless Hallmark Channel movies, these two charming, beautifully preserved Gold Rush towns are like postcards that have come to life. Beautifully preserved Victorian houses and friendly, laidback neighborhoods—where you’re likely to be greeted with a friendly “Howdy!” wherever you go—are the backdrop for main streets dotted with art galleries, theaters, mom-and-pop boutiques, fine dining, wineries and tasting rooms—surrounded by stunning national parks, trails, golf courses and historic sites. Perfect for small to moderate-size celebrations, the area is an undiscovered gem free of tourists and big-city hustle and bustle.

Photo Op: While the weather in the region is moderate year-round, spring heralds an unbelievable abundance of wildflowers peaking in March and April. 

Above photos courtesy of Kat Alves

Above photos courtesy of Ingrid Nelson/Myrtle and Marjoram

Holbrooke Hotel

Blending rich history with modern luxury, the 28-room Holbrooke Hotel is Grass Valley’s most storied and treasured destination—and the state’s longest continuously operated inn. Built in 1853, declared a California State landmark in 1974 and meticulously renovated in 2021, the Holbrooke embraces the present and future with one foot reverently in the past. Natural stone, exposed brick, original wood floors and comfy leather club chairs create a warm and welcoming ambiance, while guest rooms effortlessly bridge classic and modern. The hotel has a palette of five indoor and outdoor event spaces for celebrations of as many as 150 people. The well-appointed 11-room Purcell Carriage House offers additional detached onsite lodging. The venue’s historic Golden Gate Saloon serves organic, locally sourced seasonal fare and classic cocktails, international and regional wines and beers. 

Don’t miss: No stay is complete without hand-crafted libations at The Iron Door, Holbrooke’s cool, clubby subterranean watering hole that has a colorful history of its own.

Above photos courtesy of Kat Alves

Above photos courtesy of Ingrid Nelson/Myrtle and Marjoram

National Exchange Hotel

Originally built in 1856 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the National Exchange Hotel embarked on an extensive three-year renovation in 2018. Still the hub of gold country, this LGBTQ-friendly jewel in the crown of Nevada City hosts weddings of up to 80 guests in three unforgettable indoor and alfresco event spaces. Two onsite venues are poised to host your event: Lola serves up distinctive modern food using locally sourced ingredients, and the National Exchange Bar features distinctive cocktails, beers, cask ales, wines and spirits. 

Don’t miss: Every third Wednesday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., Drag Queen Bingo is a raucous evening hosted by the most fabulous cross-dressers southeast of the Yuba River. Tickets go quickly; reservations are encouraged. 

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Tucked into the Sierra Nevada Mountains 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, the Empire Mine State Historic Park was California’s largest and richest working gold mine. From 1850-1956 it produced 165 tons of gold, and today stands as a fascinating look back at life during the Gold Rush era. Built-in 1897 and sparing no expense, the stately Bourn Cottage is a picturesque location for a celebration. Set like a jewel amid 13 acres of verdant English gardens, the venue offers elopement packages for up to 25 people. Email for more information. 

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