The historic gold-mining town of Jackson, Calif., glows amid the greenery of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Near a rust-colored plateau just north of Jackson, Highways 88 and 49 intersect, then ease past oak-shaded hillsides toward town. Pull into a scenic overlook on the down slope and look north to see a skeletal iron-and-steel head frame towering like a fire lookout over the Kennedy Mine. Toward the south note the gilded cupola of St. Patrick’s Church. Finally, follow signs into Jackson’s historic center—a gentle 2 1/2-block curve of brick storefronts and wooden balconies. The three-story whitewashed facade of the National Hotel—long defunct but now being refurbished—presides over Main Street, and wherever you walk, from the Wells Fargo Club bar to the Pioneer Cemetery, you encounter reminders of Jackson’s gold-digging past. Amador Council of Tourism: 115 Valley View Wy., Sutter Creek, (877) 868-7262, touramador.com. Area code is 209 except as noted.
Antiques reign on Main, but a few shops hold a remarkable range of modern goods in nostalgic settings. The little yellow Biggest Little Kitchen Store, beside the highway, is stuffed with a smorgasbord of culinary accessories: cookbooks, handmade aprons, novel teapots, and serious knives. 165 Main St., 223-0264, biggestlittlekitchenstore.com. Surface tours at the Kennedy Mine illuminate its historical importance: Once the nation’s deepest, the mine was at least briefly the most productive in the state, yielding more than $34 million in gold. Above ground, a path winds around tailing wheels dozens of feet tall. Kennedy Mine Road near the intersection of Highways 49 and 88, 223-9542, kennedygoldmine.com. A few doors down from the kitchen store, Wierschem’s Train Town Candies boasts saltwater taffy in train cars—in flavors like sliced apple and Holly Holstein (a vanilla-and-licorice combo that looks like a cow)—plus chocolate blackberry brandy cordials, an ice cream bar, and a cache of model-making kits. 139 Main St., 223-0250.
A knee-high penguin statue guards the door to Fat Freddy’s, where wooden-legged stools line the counter and sausages are served “in the style of the early California settlers”—with onions, mustard, relish, and tomatoes. 4 Main St., 226-2525. At Mel & Faye’s Diner, a biscuit moored in sausage gravy defines the Country Breakfast, and a side of hash browns comes as a crispy, skillet-size heap. 31 Hwy. 49/88, 223-0853, melandfayesdiner.com.
Red-tile roofs, adobelike walls, and olive and magnolia trees lend a ’40s rancheria vibe to the clean, simple rooms at El Campo Casa, nearly two miles west of Main Street on Highway 49. From $48. 12548 Kennedy Flat Rd., 223-0100, elcampocasa.com. The family-friendly Jackson Lodge offers standard motel rooms plus eight two-room cabins that sleep up to five. From $60. 850 N. Hwy. 49/88, 223-0486, thejacksonlodge.com. To find a place to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels.
Photography by Sean Arbabi
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
Angels Camp: More than Mark Twain
Murphys: Tasting rooms and gold lore
Plymouth: Top-notch eats and wines
Sutter Creek: A handsome Gold Country base camp