Along the northern stretch of California's Highway 49 as it follows the Yuba River into the Sierra, five Gold Country towns—with populations ranging from around 239 (Sierraville) to 14,016 (Grass Valley)—rival one another in Gold Rush–era attractions and outdoor splendor.
Grass Valley's architecturally rich downtown is great for shoppers. First stop: Lazy Dog Chocolateria, known for its hand-dipped ice cream bars. Bibliophiles can choose between the Book Seller, with its curated selection of new releases, and Booktown, housing 14 vintage and used sellers under one roof.
Victorian homes, iron-shuttered brick buildings: Nevada City lives up to its early name, "Queen City of the Northern Mines." Relics include the Firehouse No. 1 museum and the restored Nevada Theatre.
At the confluence of the Downie and Yuba Rivers, Downieville boasts picturesque bridges and swimming holes. Pick up a walking-tour map and follow the plaques detailing the town's raucous history.
With the Pacific Crest Trail and Yuba nearby, Sierra City is your supply stop for outdoor fun. Fuel up with a three-inch-thick BLT from the Sierra Country Store.