The old-timey main streets of 14 towns in the West let you glimpse the past in homes, saloons, shops, and museums.
“Now a state park, this is one of the best-preserved Gold Rush towns,” says Dale Swanberg of Atwater, Calif. “Have fun panning for gold, making candles, riding a stagecoach, or seeing a play. Don’t skip seeing candy being made at Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen.” (209) 588-9128, parks.ca.gov/?page_id=552.
“A favorite of Hollywood filmmakers,” says Amy Rodrigues of San Jose. “With many vintage storefronts and homes, the town is a step back in time. The Majestic, Outbreak, and Salem’s Lot were made here.” (707) 786-4477, victorianferndale.com.
“There’s something for everyone in the Niles District here,” says Swetha Kowsik of Fremont. “Antique shops, cafés and restaurants, and a train that runs to Sunol on a picturesque route. A small rail museum near the station is definitely worth visiting.” (510) 742-9868, niles.org.
“Founded in 1915 after a fire in the Chinese neighborhood of nearby Walnut Grove, this town has restaurants, shops, and a museum that recall the days when many Chinese people still lived here,” says Betty Chu of Morgan Hill, Calif. (916) 776-1661, locketown.com.
“Home of the oldest continuously operating hardware store west of the Mississippi and many Gold Rush–era buildings,” says Vicki Kissinger of Pollock Pines, Calif. “One, from 1852, houses a historical museum.” (530) 626-0773, placerville-downtown.org.
Santa Rosa, Calif.
“Fourth Street features two charming sites,” says Corey Mostafa of Santa Rosa. “There’s Old Courthouse Square, with its cobblestone streets, and Railroad Square, with Italianate stone buildings that predate the great quake of 1906.” (707) 578-8478, railroadsquare.net.
Virginia City, Nev.
“A feast for the senses,” says John Webster of Portland. “Boardwalks creak under your feet. Country music drifts out of bars with names like the Bucket of Blood Saloon. And you can breathe the same mountain air that Mark Twain enjoyed decades ago in this mining hub.” (800) 718-7587, visitvirginiacitynv.com.
Cottage Grove, Ore.
“This town boasts vintage buildings, cafés, bakeries, and murals galore,” says Kathy Moline of Creswell, Ore. “It even has a Western wear store that looks to be out of the 1800s, with wooden floors and a huge old cash register. There’s a gold-mining museum on Main Street.” (541) 942-2411, cgchamber.com.
“An old brick railroad town where it’s easy to feel lost in time,” writes Magi Hart of Roseburg, Ore. “Among the many well-preserved homes and businesses you’ll find the Oakland Museum, which highlights, among other things, the town’s former role as the nation’s turkey capital.” (541) 459-4531, historicoaklandoregon.com.
St. Helens, Ore.
“Right on the Columbia River, it’s full of cool old buildings and homes,” writes Samantha Katterman-Stekhuizen of St. Helens. “People have been doing a great job of reviving the atmosphere with fun, quirky shops and outdoor seating at restaurants.” (503) 397-6272, travelcolumbiacounty.com.
“Founded in 1908 after the Willamette Falls Locks were built, this town—long ago made part of West Linn—has kept its turn-of-the-century look,” says Rose Case of Wilsonville, Ore. “It has interesting shops, eateries, and pubs.” (503) 657-0331.
“This town got its name from the helper engines that would push trains up a 15-mile grade to Soldier Summit,” says Tami Jones of Logan, Utah. “Enjoy the Western Mining & Railroad Museum, walk by the river, browse art in studio windows, or knock down pins at the Gateway Lanes, then eat lunch at the Balance Rock Eatery & Pub.” (435) 472-5391, helpercity.net.
“I visit this Puget Sound town every year,” says Ann Staatz of Portland. “Main Street is walking distance from the ferry dock and beach. A travel store, art gallery, gift shop, cookware emporium, and family bookstore line the downtown streets, which fan out from a central fountain. And a 1910 Carnegie library houses a historical museum.” (425) 776-6711, www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/vguide.stm.
Photography by Gary Crabbe/Enlightened Images (Ferndale); Don Frank (Oakland, Ore.); David Monniaux/Wikipedia (Locke, Calif.); Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikipedia (Placerville); Vivaverdi/Wikipedia (Viriginia City)
This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.