There's still gold in these hills - but these days, it's the cultural, foodie, and blissful vacation gold that draws visitors from around the U.S. to this former mining hot spot, recently named one of California's official Cultural Districts.
Nevada City, CA, is no. 3 on Budget Travel’s list of the 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017.
When I visited Nevada City in July, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, I loved strolling up and down Broad Street, where cool boutiques and unique shops rub elbows with local ice cream, BBQ, and historical sites. When I mentioned to locals (who range from families who trace their roots here back several generations to recent transplants and weekend warriors from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley) that Budget Travel has named their town one of the coolest in America, I generally got one of two reactions: A high-five and a thanks, or a whispered, “Please don’t tell everybody about us.”
Well, the secret is out. Nevada City and its surrounding area are definitely having a moment. Just a few days after my visit, the California Arts Council named the region the Grass Valley-Nevada City Cultural District, honoring its evolution from a gold-mining hub in the mid-19th century to its reinvention, starting in the 1960s, as a cultural hot spot that draws artists, writers, and technology innovators. Where gold-hungry miners once panned, culture now thrives.
We love Nevada City for its music and art, food, and the surrounding rivers, lakes, and nearby mountains. I found perfect burgers and wings at Bistro 221, along with local craft beer and lively conversation. Up the street, the Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe serves heaping scoops of great ice cream made by locals with deep roots in the community. Music lovers flock to the Miners Foundry for live acts, the town is the epicenter of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, devoted to nature and adventure filmmakers, and with incredible hills, switchbacks, and scenery, the Nevada City Classic is one of the, well, coolest bicycle races in the U.S.
The Miners Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, in nearby Grass Valley, pays homage to the region’s history with a decidedly more upscale welcome than those 19th-century miners ever got. A grand lobby hosts cocktail events for guests, and the hotel’s beautiful woodwork and comfortably appointed rooms are a real treat. My wife and I really enjoyed our gorgeous room, and we loved chatting with the staff about the Grass Valley-Nevada City area, its history, and their recommendations about food and fun.