Looking to visit a California Gold Rush town? Columbia State Historic Park’s Your Ticket!

Here’s another post related to travel.  Where is my mind these days?  Obviously in other places!

This post is for families looking for a great Gold Rush boomtown to learn more about California history.  My pick:  Columbia State Historic Park.  The first time I went there, I was in the 3rd grade or so.  (My mother was quite fond of historical re-inactment type places.)

During my own families’ study of California history and the Gold Rush (my son was in 2nd grade and daughter in 5th grade), I was arranging a 6-day trip to hit some California highlights — Sacramento, the Gold Rush area, and Yosemite.  As I was booking the Gold Rush portion, I remembered Columbia State Historic Park and was thrilled to see it was still around.

Columbia State Historic Park

Stagecoach depot

The most bustling time to see the town is the weekends, though it is open from daily from 10-5.  There is an awesome bakery (Columbia Kate’s Teahouse, Bakery & Boutique) that was open earlier than 10 (bakery open at 7AM!), a local Mexican restaurant (El Jardin Mexican Restaurant) and the Fallon Theater are open later than 5.  There may be a few other restaurants open, just be sure to check hours in advance!  Most gift stores close down at 5.  (Since we stayed in town, I enjoyed walking the town after hours and seeing the deer and rabbits in the surrounding oak woodlands and silently contemplating life in the 1800’s!)

Every Saturday and Sunday tours of the town are offered at 11 AM, year round.  Beginning June 15th through Labor Day, town tours are offered during the week as well.  Be prepared for hot days during the summer, and cool nights.  On my visit with my kids, we stayed 2 nights and visited Mother’s Day weekend and it was cool, but pleasant during the day.

Every second Saturday of the month they hold Gold Rush Days from 1-4.  We were there on this day, and my kids had fun playing with Victorian games and bubbles; highly enthused docents talked about life back then, and they even had animals to show.  It was really a lot of fun.  Click here for the special events calendar.   For true night life, see head to Sierra Repertory Theatre (Fallon House).  

The City Hotel

City Hotel, Columbia State Historic Park

One of the most memorable places I’ve ever stayed was the City Hotel — an 1800’s Victorian hotel with all of the bedrooms on the second floor, accessed through a tall staircase above what use to be a restaurant and saloon.  (Imagine below a restaurant tables and can-can dancers.)  As of the time of the writing of this article, the restaurant has reopened.  Have a meal there if you can! The second floor has guest rooms that will take visitors back in time.  And, true to the period, no TV’s are available!

Victorian charm in the City Hotel
Parlor, City Hotel

I stayed in the same room I stayed in as a child.  Our room had 2 double beds with a private bathroom.  On the dresser was a water pitcher and basin.  I can just think about how life must have been back then.  To think—that was the sink!  There are ten rooms in the City Hotel.  In the middle of the second floor is a parlor where guests can lounge, read books, and play board games.  My favorite part was going out on the balcony through the glass doors in the parlor.  Some of the rooms front guest rooms even open onto the balcony.  Sitting in chairs on the balcony and watching life in the town below was fun!

Other Accommodations

Visitors can also stay at the Fallon Hotel or the Columbia State Historic Park Vacation Cottages.  I have not stayed in these, but they look similar to the City Hotel and are run by the same group.

All of these rooms are reserved through the California State Parks website.  They are all reasonable, with service similar to a 2-star hotel; most feature a bathroom in the room, and the shower down the hall.  It should be said, this is not a luxury hotel experience—but rather a step back into time, with electricity and air conditioning.

Natural areas, Columbia State Historic Park

Notable Town Shopping and Events

Panning for gold

Panning for gold at Matelot Gulch Minning and Hidden Treasure Gold Mine: Kids will love being taught by locals how to work the pan in the long tom.  My kids must have spend almost two hours panning for gold!

Stagecoach rides

Stage coach rides at Quartz Mountain Stage Line:  Another favorite for kids.  Visitors can enter the Wells Fargo Bank building/museum and then wait on the board walk to ride the coach for a scenic loop that even involved an encounter with a bandit.

Parrott’s Blacksmith:  One of the places my kids really enjoyed was the blacksmith’s shop.  It’s a live shop, with active work going on.  The blacksmith was great at explaining the process.

Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen

Unique shops:  Some other favorites were the candy store Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen, Brown’s Coffee House & Sweets Saloon, Columbia Booksellers & Stationers (awesome old papers and prints), Columbia Mercantile (general store), and the western store Ebler’s Leather & Saddlery Emporium.  Grab a Sarsaparilla soda at Jack Douglass Saloon.

Historic sepia photo-op at Kamice’s Photographic Establishment:  One of the things I knew I needed to do with my kids was to take a sepia family photo (pictured at top).  This photo we took with my dad is one of my favorites.  They are very reasonable, and the couple that takes the photos does a quality job.

1800’s fire fighting
Columbia schoolhouse
Bowling lane
Historical furnace tiles

There are other historic areas around town: dentist’s office, old schoolhouse complete with an outdoor outhouse, firehouse with an old pumping wagon, Chinese store, other 49er-style cabins and tents (one even with a decorative Buffalo Bill tile), museum, jail, hall of justice, free old fashioned bowling alley, and MANY other interesting historical buildings.  Click on this map to see the historical attractions and exhibits.

To further go back in time, hit Railtown 1897 State Historic Park; 20 minutes away in Jamestown, it’s a fun place to take steam train rides.

On our 6-day, 3-legged journey, we began in Sacramento, hit Columbia, and then went on to Yosemite, each of these areas about 2 hours away.  Columbia’s location is ideal to head off to many other iconic California places.  I’ll write more about the other places in another post.

Fun, manageable, and memorable; a visit to Columbia State Historic Park will not be forgotten!




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