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Folsom, Calif.: Short Stop

Take a stroll through the past on the old-fashioned streets of this gold country treasure.

Folsom, Calif.'s Sutter Street
Photo caption
The Old West still lives on Sutter Street.

As you cruise along California's stretch of Highway 50, it's easy to get pulled into Sacramento's expanding orbit and shoot right past the outlying city of Folsom about 20 miles to the northeast. But slow down and you'll discover that Folsom packs a generous slice of the state's colorful past and natural beauty into a short stroll. And during summer the town holds dozens of events, from a rodeo to a Greek festival.

Folsom's old downtown perches above the steep banks of Lake Natoma. The area sprang to life in 1849, when black miners found gold on the American River and established a settlement called Negro Bar. Seven years later the town was named for Captain Joseph Folsom. By 1856 the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the first passenger train service west of the Rockies, was carrying people and sacks of gold from Folsom to Sacramento. The town also became a western terminus of the pony express.

Saunter along Folsom's Sutter Street and you'll see reminders of its past, including the original Wells Fargo Assay Office and a locomotive turntable. The two-story wooden buildings and covered sidewalks still retain their old-time feel, though today Sutter Street is lined with restaurants, shops, and antique stores.

A short walk toward the river leads to the Folsom Powerhouse. Here, in 1895, the Natoma Water and Mining Company began sending alternating current to Sacramento to light street lamps and power streetcars—one of the world's first long-distance commercial transmissions of electricity. The power plant ceased operation in 1952 but is now open for tours.

A bit farther along, the graceful Truss Bridge crosses Lake Natoma. Built in 1893, the pedestrian span was dismantled and moved to the Klamath River in Siskiyou County in 1931. Then, when the county decided to replace it nearly 70 years later, history-minded Folsom bought it back. You can take the Truss Bridge to biking and hiking trails that lead all the way to Old Sacramento. Or drive over the Rainbow Bridge to Granite Bay for one of the best beaches on nearby Folsom Lake. Otherwise, amble through Folsom's old downtown and browse the many antique and gift shops that keep it vibrant and alive.

Catch the annual Indian Market at Pacific Western Traders, which features Native crafts and craftspeople. June 4–5. 305 Wool St., (916) 985-3851.

Photography by Terrence McCarthy

This article was first published in May 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.