Flowstone formations mimic a mushroom patch and a chocolate waterfall at Moaning Cavern near Angels Camp, Calif.
As portrayed in Mark Twain’s 1865 story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Angels Camp is a hamlet where a local gambler gets outwitted by a cheating out-of-towner. Today, the entire enclave—from Main Street’s cluster of shops and restaurants backed by mossy trees and wood-frame houses to Bret Harte High School—is a designated “kindness zone” and has been since 1995. Starting at the visitors’ center, stroll the sidewalks—they’re inlaid with a “frog hop of fame” honoring winners such as Sugar, Beans, and Thunderbolt from as far back as 1928—or head for the hills, where river rafting is a popular pastime. City of Angels Camp: 584 S. Main St., (209) 736-2181, angelscamp.gov. Area code is 209 except as noted.
In addition to an exhaustive collection of mining tools and restored wagons, the Angels Camp Museum has mounted an insightful Mark Twain exhibit with help from UC-Merced professor Gregg Camfield and his students. Including a handwritten letter to a local lass, the display details the writer’s time in the region (88 days), revealing him to be a savvy 19th-century self-promoter. 753 S. Main St., 736-2963, angelscamp.gov. A 15-minute drive from town on Highway 4 takes you to Moaning Cavern. Named for the low, musical water sounds murmuring from its depths, this tricked-out attraction has a resident cockatoo, an interpretive nature trail, and zip lines above the treetops, all of it outshone by the 240-foot deep limestone recess itself, crowded with impressive calcite formations. Ask a tour guide to point out the chocolate waterfall and the cave piranha—both made of stone, of course. On Moaning Cave Road off Parrots Ferry Road, 736-2708, moaningcavern.com. Down the road about four miles, a short hiking trail at Natural Bridges leads to another cavelike wonder: a short cave with openings at each end that crosses Coyote Creek. On warm days, inner-tubers float beneath bulbous stalactites. Parrots Ferry Road, gocalaveras.com/natutral-bridges-hike. (The apparent typo in the URL is necessary.)
In the town’s less historic district, locals gather around wooden tables for beers and 'za at Mike’s Pizza of Angels. Try the greek goddess or two-cheese bacon burger pie. 294 S. Main St., 736-9246. The Pickle Barrel’s vaguely Western wooden sign and chalkboard menu belie its trendy selection of focaccia panini featuring artichoke aioli and olive tapenade. 1225 Main St., 736-4704, pickle-barrel.com. Homey fare—think chicken salad with farm greens and biscotti—is served under a metal roof alongside fair-trade handicrafts from around the globe at Angels Camp Mercantile, Cafe & Bakery, 1267 S. Main St., 890-7155, angelsmerc.com.
Morning muffin delivery to its 55 spotless and spacious rooms is standard at the Angels Inn Motel. 600 N. Main St., (888) 753-0226, angelsinnmotel.com. Modern amenities at the Best Western Cedar Inn & Suites include Wi-Fi, a workout room, and whirlpool tubs. 444 S. Main St., 736-4000, bestwesternangelscamp.com. To find a place to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels.
Photography courtesy Cave and Mine Adventures
This article was first published in September 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Gold Country package:
Amador City: Antiques and boutiques
Jackson: Main Street meets mining town
Murphys: Tasting rooms and gold lore
Plymouth: Top-notch eats and wines
Sutter Creek: A handsome Gold Country base camp