State Park Escapes: Empire Mine

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The lush grounds surrounding Empire Cottage. Photo: Craig Cozart.
The lush grounds surrounding Empire Cottage.

Photo by Craig Cozart

The Empire Mine State Historic Park features one of the oldest and richest mines in California. The mine produced 5.6 million ounces of gold during its run from 1850-1956. The park grounds offer a study in contrasts: luxury digs and beautiful gardens at the Empire Cottage, and the high-end Empire Clubhouse, where mine managers and guests were entertained, versus the sparse, desolate area where miners toiled in 367 miles of shafts and tunnels.

Wild words: “Gold! Gold! Gold from American River!”
—Storekeeper Sam Brannan shouting through the streets of San Francisco in May 1848

Getting There: Empire Mine is in Grass Valley, at the intersection of Highways 49 and 20, about an hour northeast of Sacramento.

Eat: Locals suggest the South American food at funky, family-run Diego’s, nestled in a residential area full of Victorian homes. Try the Panqueque, your choice of protein wrapped in a crepe with grilled vegetables and baked with red pepper sauce, feta, and mozzarella cheese ($17). Or head downtown to Cirino’s at Main Street, where the space is inviting, the service is personal and attentive, and the extensive menu features every Italian classic you can imagine, such as the delicious Pork Chops Milanese ($24). If you crave margaritas and a relaxed outdoor dining patio, try Maria’s Mexican Restaurant downtown, but beware of limited parking.

Photo: Aurora Photos/ Alamy Stock Photo

Aurora photos/Alamy stock photo

Rest: There’s no campground at Empire Mine State Park, but Grass Valley has plenty of lodging. Sierra Mountain Inn ($100 to $170) sits in the historic district and holds onto its charm while offering modern amenities such as Wi-Fi and kitchenettes. There’s also a separate cottage available. Lamb’s Victorian Inn ($155 to $215) offers four rooms, two with jet tubs, for a charming stay at a bed-and-breakfast in the historic district.

Nearby: South Yuba River State Park is 25 minutes from Grass Valley and worth every second when the weather is hot. It offers multiple places to wade into the river and enjoy swimming holes, which can be packed on summer weekends. The park also features Bridgeport, the longest single-span covered bridge in the world, undergoing renovation for more than a year. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is about an hour south of Grass Valley on Highway 49. It’s the spot where James Marshall discovered gold in the American River in 1848. If you want endless beauty and great camping, head east for about two hours and you’ll hit Emerald Bay State Park and D.L. Bliss State Park at Lake Tahoe. The camping at D.L. Bliss is in high demand, with 150 family campsites available in the summer, some next to the water ($35 to $45). A trail leads from D.L. Bliss to Emerald Bay, where you can check out Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian-style castle overlooking the lake.


Save money! Get a discount for Moro Cove Campground at Crystal Cove State Park until March 18. Sunday through Thursday is 40 percent off, and Friday and Saturday is 25 percent off. Go to the Reserve America page and enter the code SWEETBEACHDEAL when making your reservations.

Tips: Click here for some tips for visiting the state parks.

Parks close to home: Click here to find out about state parks in Orange County.

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