Jaded San Franciscans will turn their noses up at the mere mention of Gold Country and sneer, "why would we want to go there?" However, if you give the rustic and under-the-radar Nevada City--the region's epicenter--the chance, you'll find it offers much-needed R&R with an authentic Western backdrop.
Snooze in a former brothel. While it may not sound charming when phrased that way, the new-ish Bella Rosa Inn is every bit as quaint and peaceful as its name suggests. The establishment was once owned by a prominent mining family, the Downings, and was renovated into a stately B&B in 2007. With just six units, each with their own color scheme, Bella Rosa offers the amenities of a five-star hotel--like a massage room, sauna (outfitted with a TV and iPod hookup) and outdoor hot tub--in a serene setting just off of Nevada City's main square. Touches like a Godiva chocolate bar and bottle of liquer left on your bedside table at night make this inn someplace worth writing home about. Fun fact: The upstairs hallway of the one-time brothel is curved so that men could peek around the halls and see who was coming as they snuck out after a “visit.”
Nosh on world-class cuisine. Even the New York Times found Nevada City worthy of a mention when Citronee Bistro and Wine Bar rolled into town several years back. With a menu full of comfort-food favorites like meatloaf and mashed potatoes offsetting more complex dishes like sautéed duck on a bed of red cabbage, with pommes puree, cranberry ginger lime compote and orange port sauce--not to mention to-die-for desserts and an extensive wine list--you really can't go wrong with a night out at Citronee. The other top-notch restaurant in town, New Moon Cafe, is helmed by local celebrity chef Peter Selaya and is popular for its free-range, organic and antibiotic-free poultry and meat.
Throw one back. There are quite a few old-fashioned saloons dotting Main Street; however, one of the most famed in the area is the bar at the National Hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gold Rush–era vintage saloon serves up one mean Bloody Mary, so indulge accordingly. One patron said, "There is no better place to stop in and have a homemade whiskey sour next to a Civil War re-enactor." There's dancing on weekends and the occasional live music or karaoke performance during the week if you hit it up on the right night.
Get out of the "city." If you want a better taste of the days or yore, head 23 miles northeast of Nevada City to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. It's one of the world's largest hydraulic gold mines and boasts a 600-foot-deep canyon of exposed rock. Encompassing 3,000 acres, Malakoff Diggins is chock full of hiking trails, swimming holes and campsites, should you be enjoying yourself so much you don't want to head back home once nightfall arrives. Just be sure and head six miles further up the road to the Pleasant Valley turnoff; this will lead you seven more miles to the covered bridge, built in 1862, which is one of the most impressive of its kind and saw many a stagecoach back in the day.