Guide to Gold Rush Getaway and Wine Tasting

About 2 1/2 hours' drive west of Reno, NV is a charming California gold rush town called Placerville (named after the placer gold deposits found in its river beds and hills in the late 1840s). It is also known by its historical name, "Hangtown", which was earned in 1849 because of the "numerous" hangings that had occurred there (even though there really was not that many). The California historical landmark is also close to Apple Hill, an area of fruit farms, petting zoos, bake shops, wineries, and Christmas tree farms so there is plenty to see and do.

My husband and I wanted to get away for the weekend for some wine tasting AND still be able to ride our bicycles. So we loaded our commuter bikes on the roof of the car and drove west to Placerville!

GETTING THERE

From Reno or Sparks, NV, you can drive on the I-80 West to the US-49 South which is faster or US-395 South and Highway 50 West which is more scenic but can be slower depending on the traffic. Flying to Sacramento International Airport (SMF) will put you an hour's drive away from Placerville and then you can rent bicycles from the Placerville Bike Shop. There are also smaller regional that are closer.

Ready for a bicycle adventure trip with our commuter bikes loaded on the roof of our car.ย 

LODGING

1. Cary House Historic Hotel

If you prefer to stay in the heart of Placerville, there are several places to choose from including the Historic Cary House Hotel. This quaint hotel is furnished with antique furniture and period pieces dating back to 1857. There is also an original passenger elevator to transport guests between the four floors. Rooms start about $140/night for weekends and you would be within walking distance to the shops and restaurants located in downtown Placerville.

2. Best Western Placerville Inn

We chose the Best Western Placerville Inn because proximity was not an issue for us since we had our bicycles. Our room was plenty large and easily accommodated the storage of both of our bicycles. There's also ample parking at the hotel and the rates were more affordable (we paid $110/night on a pretty busy summer weekend). In addition to the complimentary hot breakfast and amenities, it was less than a mile from the El Dorado Trail head, where the paved portion begins which was primarily why we chose this hotel.

Tips: #1 Pack a bathing suit if you wish to use the pool and cool off at the end of the day. #2 Request rooms #222 to #234 which are on the parking level if you would like to have the ease of rolling your bike through the patio door to go in or out.

DINING

1. Casa Ramos Mexican Restaurant

On the first night of our visit, we ate at this restaurant which was conveniently located next to our hotel. They have excellent margaritas (go for the small vs. the large size)!

If you are looking for something more upscale with a little more ambiance, try Cascada Restaurant & Cantina at 384 Main Street. They serve the usual Mexican favorites and a fusion of California cuisine with a Latin flare.

2. The Independent Restaurant and Bar

This is one of my favorite places in Placerville to dine so far! The day we drove in, we rode from our hotel to 629 Main Street in Placerville and stopped there for lunch. They have a beautiful patio, excellent cocktails, delicious food and great service. There's no bike rack (which Placerville lacked in general) so we parked in the back and locked our bikes together where we could see them from the patio.

I ordered the Ahi Niรงoise (Ahi Seared Rare over Mixed Greens with Egg, Tomato, Olives, New Potatoes, Blue Lake Beans, Fried Capers, Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette for $13). I've found some Niรงoise salads to be bland but this one was delicious! Great dressing and the tuna was seared to my liking. My husband had the French Dip (Prime Beef, Caramelized Onion, Gruyere, Horseradish Crรจme Fraรฎche, Au Jus for $12) and he enjoyed it very much.

Tip: #1 If you enjoy beer, go for the Full Tap Sampler which are 5 oz. pours of all the beer on tap for $11.00. Dare I say this but between the two of us, we couldn't finish it.

3. Main Street Melter's

If you just want a casual place to eat, Melter's at 589 Main Street is for you which has reasonably priced sandwiches, grilled cheese, soups and salads. You can also grab an ice cold pint of beer, perch at one of the stools on the AWESOME patio and have an unobstructed view of people going by on Main Street.

4. Sweetie Pie's Restaurant & Bakery

A couple doors down from Melter's, you can dine in a restored Victorian house built around 1865. It was believed to be the home of the sheriff of "Hangtown" and also has a cute outdoor patio. If you don't mind standing by for a seat, many of the items made from scratch would surely be worth the wait.

5. Placerville Coffee Depot

Get your morning jolt on and pastries by stopping at the Placerville Coffee Depot located at 70 Main Street. The little yellow renovated train depot will be one of the first structures to your right as you get off the trail towards town from the west side. There's a small outdoor patio to sit at, a wall outlet to charge your electronics and a bike rack to park your ride!!

6. Pizza Benne

Not just any pizza joint, this place on 423Main Street serves them the Napoletana way! Just look for the historic Bell Tower. You can sit inside watch the pizza bake in the ceramic oven or sit outside on the small patio and be smack dab in the middle of historic downtown. My husband and I enjoyed our lunch of pizza and wine while watching all the activities happening around us.

7. Powell's Steamer Co. & Pub

Next door to Pizza Benne is an oyster bar and pub at 425 Main Street. You can karaoke on Friday night, enjoy the musical appearances on Saturday night and listen to live music on Sunday between 1 to 4 p.m. while you eat BBQ oysters.

RIDING

One of the best features of our trip is The El Dorado Trail; a 28-mile transportation corridor through the El Dorado County Line on the west end to Placerville and Camino on the east side. However, only 10 miles of that is paved but the dirt and gravel portion is still a lot of fun to ride on! Skinny road bike style tires will be able to do just fine on this Rails-to-Trails Conservancy project.

Entering the paved trail at the Missouri Flat Road parking and access point.ย 

If you stay at the Best Western Placerville Inn, the El Dorado Trail parking area and trail access point is less than a mile from the hotel. A bike lane runs from the hotel to where the paved portion of the trail begins. Plus you get to ride over the neatest wooden-decked, rail-to-trail deck plate girder bridge with truss piers 100 feet above Weber Creek and have a sweeping view of the surrounding trees and valleys. It's simply breathtaking!!

Standing on a railroad trestle that dates back to the year 1903, 100 ft. above Weber Creek.

If you ride from the access point at Missouri Flat Road to the end of the trail, it is about 11.6 miles with 1,421 feet of elevation. Mostly flat with 3% to 5% average road grade. As I mentioned before, the last 1. 6 mile is on dirt and some gravel until it dead ends into the U.S. Highway 50 and yummy blackberry bushes! You can view a map of the 11.6 mile El Dorado Trail route.

Part of the El Dorado Trail includes Placerville's Main Street. Have no fear of riding on the street! Even though the streets through downtown are narrow, shared-lane markings (or sharrows) alert motorists that bicycles are likely to occupy the travel lane. Since the traffic speed is very slow, both people driving and people riding bicycles can travel on Main Street comfortably and safely.

Additionally, you only need to travel less than a mile on Main Street and will have opportunities to get back on the trail at various cross streets (Bedford Avenue just after the El Dorado County Superior Court, Clay Street just after Main Street Melter's, or Locust Avenue just after Independent Restaurant & Bar). My husband preferred riding through town so we could see all of the shops and restaurants.

WINE TASTING

There are 40 wineries to explore in the El Dorado, Pleasant Valley, FairPlay, and Apple Hill/Camino region and you can get to many of them by bicycle. We received recommendations to the ones we ultimately visited and it was a plus that they were conveniently located off of the El Dorado Trail. The only caveat is crossing U.S. Highway 50 and there's a little climb through a neighborhood from the trail. Alternatively you can take Carson Road.

Carson Road runs through the wineries and vineyards of the Apple Hill/Camino region.

To get to these wineries, you can start from the El Dorado Trail at Missouri Flat Road, ride about 10 miles to where the paved portion ends and becomes dirt. Turn left onto the gravel road (Los Trampas Dr.) and ride through neighborhood streets (Camino Heights Dr.) Turn right at the Valero gas station (Sierra Blanca Dr.) and you'll come to the intersection to cross U.S. Highway 50. That was the only point during our entire bike adventure weekend that we felt slightly uncomfortable riding on the road. Use caution and wait as long as you need to cross the highway. Use the center median as a refuge point. This is the route from Missouri Flats Road to Jodar Winery and the other two wineries are a jog away.

1. Jodar Winery

Prepared to be entertained by Mitch and Susan and get the scoop on the estate wines as they guide you through focused food pairings. An appetizer tray of meats, cheeses and crackers come with the private tastings followed by chips and salsa and the finale, a taste of cheesecake with a dollop of spicy sauce.

Of the wines we have tasted, we enjoyed these so much to take bottles home:

  • 2012 Jodar Petite Sirah Estate Reserve
  • 2012 Jodar Barbera
  • 2012 Jodar Black Bear Port Estate Bottled
  • 2012 Jodar Athena's Muse Private Reserve

3405 Carson Road, Camino, CA 95667 - www.jodarwinery.com - (530) 644-3474

2. Chateau Davell

A truly family operation, the owners are on site serving customers. You can purchase a glass of wine to sit on the patio and enjoy the view. And if you have children, the boutique winery is always family-friendly.

Since the family-owned vineyard produces extremely small lots of handcrafted wines, we took home a bottle of each of the wines we had enjoyed a glass of to open later:

  • 2012 Cuvee Imperiale de Charlotte (their flagship Estate Red Blend aged 32 months in French Oak Barrels
  • 2012 Marguerite (a blend of syrah, mourvedre, and grenache, aged 28 months in French Oak)

3550 Carson Road, Suite E, Camino, CA 95709 - www.chateaudavell.com - (530) 644-2016

3. Bumgarner Winery

A walk up from Chateau Davell, there's a hidden treat! A fig tree you can rest under and eat from that is over 100 years old! Taste from the wine-on-tap, grab wine-by-the-glass or their Hard Cider (if you are lucky to have a pour before it's gone for the rest of the season) and chill out on the green lawn.

Join the Silver Fork Wine Club and you can take home the small-lot, locally grown wines served on-tap in flip-top sustainable bottles. These were our picks:

  • 2012 Touriga
  • 2012 Tempranillo (awarded "Double-Gold, Best Tempranillo" at San Francisco Int'l Wine Competition)

3550 Carson Road, Building B, Camino, CA 95709 - www.bumgarnerwinery.com - (530) 303-3418 or Toll Free (888) Wine-Bum

SIGHTSEEING

In my opinion, everything in Placerville is a sight to see but since we were limited on time, we visit these places:

1. Placerville Historical Museum

2. Hangman's Tree

3. BellTower

4. Pearson's Soda Works Building

One of Placerville's oldest and most beautiful historic treasures houses the current Cozmic Cafe & Pub. The building has an authentic, historical gold mine in the back of the building. Once used to store ice, butter, vegetables, beer, wine, etc., guests can still explore the mine and enjoy its cool temperature all year round.

I hope this guide is helpful should you visit El Dorado County. We try to incorporate bicycling into our getaways because bicycling is a huge part of our lives. I am always on the lookout for the next trip we can take and would love to hear about where you've gone to! If you have any bike-friendly cities you've visited or bike-friendly hotels you've stayed at, please let me know!!