Grass Valley is a historic gold mining town in the Sierra Nevada foothills that is home to two of the richest mines in California history. The town was settled by miners from Cornwall, United Kingdom in the 1850’s and still holds onto its Cornish heritage reflected in the architecture, cuisine and festivals. Located just an hour outside of Sacramento, California’s state capital, and 143 miles from San Francisco, Grass Valley makes for an excellent day trip for those traveling through California.
We recently visited Grass Valley for the grand re-opening of the historic Holbrooke Hotel in November 2020. You can read an in-depth review of the Holbrooke Hotel on my other website, hotelstolove.com.
In this article, I provide a list of things to do in Grass Valley to help you plan your next visit to California’s historic Gold Country.
Here’s what’s in this article…
Unique area attractions
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Grass Valley Attractions
Empire Mine State Historic Park
10791 E Empire St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Founded in 1850, The Empire Mine operated for over 100 years and is one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California, producing 5.8 million ounces of gold. Empire Mine State Historic Park is now a state-protected mine and park that can be visited and toured daily. Here, you get to learn the history of the land and mine, wander the beautiful grounds and trails, tour the historic buildings and sites, like the breathtaking Empire Cottage, and explore the depths of the Empire Mine. For more details, you can also check out our YouTube vlog about our visit to Empire Mine Park.
Northstar Powerhouse Mining Museum
933 Allison Ranch Rd, Grass Valley, CA 95949
If you are eager to explore more of Grass Valley mining history, check out Northstar Powerhouse Mining Museum. Here, you will get to explore memorabilia and original equipment from the mining days as well as learn about the industry’s impact on society.
Downtown Grass Valley Shopping and Events
125 Neal St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Step back in time while still enjoying modern shopping and dining as you stroll through downtown Grass Valley. These picturesque streets feature original 19th-century Victorian architecture that oozes quaint small town charm. In addition to taking a lot of photos, be sure to pop into the many unique shops and restaurants that line these historic streets.
132 Main Street, Nevada City, CA 95959
If you can’t get enough of California’s mining history, then take the short trip over to neighboring Nevada City which is located just a few miles from Grass Valley. Voted “Best Small Towns and Villages in California” by Frommer’s and “Best River Towns in America” by Outside Magazine, among many other awards and accolades, Nevada City is loaded with historic Victorian charm. Take an organized walking tour or download a map of historic sites for your own exploration.
Hiking Trails near Grass Valley
Union Hill Trails
These three trails are about one to three mile hikes known for the wildflowers that bloom during Spring. The Pipeline Trail starts at the Empire Mine and leads to the Northstar Powerhouse. The Indian Ridge Trail is an historic trail onced used by the native Nisenan/Maidu people. Finally, the Union Hill Trail is a loop from the Pipeline Trail to the edge of the park next to the town of Grass Valley.
This is an easy two mile loop through the Empire outback. This is the road the trucks used to move waste rock. Along this trail you will cross a little wooden bridge over Wolf Creek, view the Stamp Mill Foundation and the Cyanide Plant Site, the Orleans Mine and Stamp Mill, the Pennsylvania Mine, the W.Y.O.D Mine, Mule Corral and the Sand Dam. Along this trail you will also find the fork in the trail to the Osborn Trails.
Osborn Hill Loop Trail
This is a more demanding portion of the Hardrock Trail that leads to some awesome abandoned mines, like the Prescott Hill Mine, the Betsy Mine, the Conlon Mine and the Daisy Hill Mine. It is worth the extra effort for the adventurous hikers out there!
Wolf Creek Trail
This is a high elevation and difficult 9.9 mile trail. Sharing a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. It is known for being a beautiful hike that also features a lake. Since it is high elevation, check seasonally, because there can be trail closures during various times of the year.
Restaurants in Grass Valley
Golden Gate Saloon
212 W Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Located inside the Holbrooke Hotel, this historic restaurant and bar dates back to the 1850’s. Recently remodeled with a beautiful modern Victorian chic aesthetic, the restaurant features a cozy roaring fireplace and the original marble and mahogany Italian bar. This bar has been around so long that it has greeted patrons including Mark Twain and U.S. Presidents Grant, Harrison, Cleveland and Garfield!
302 W. Main St., Grass Valley, CA
There is no wonder why Tofanelli’s is a local favorite. A third-generation family owned Italian restaurant is a great spot to enjoy any meal of the day, but I highly recommend popping in for breakfast. Their award-winning breakfast menu features 101 omelets and they are delicious! Located in a historic 19th-century building, Tofanelli’s also has a large and lovely secluded patio with a secret garden vibe. In fact, they have won Best Patio Dining by Union Newspaper 13 years in a row!
Watershed at the Owl
134 Mill St Grass Valley, Ca 95945
If you are looking for fresh farm to table cuisine, aged steak and freshly baked bread in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere, then look no further. The Watershed at the Owl has a menu that changes daily and is seasonally rotated, but what really makes the Watershed at the Owl a must is the cozy, eclectic, 19th-century decor. This place is just begging you come in, grab a glass of wine and sit by the fireplace. While you nibble on your cheese plate, your eyes wander about the space taking in all the unique furnishings and wall decor.
Cirinos at Main Street
213 W Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
This popular Italian Main Street restaurant is known for great food and a rocking Bloody Mary Bar. It has a fun and cozy atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. With the aim to have guests eat delicious Mediterranean dishes while celebrating life, it is no wonder why it is a local favorite.
Humpty Dumpty Kitchen
1711 E Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Humpty Dumpty Kitchen is a fun and friendly family-owned restaurant. Open since 1960, this restaurant is famous for their gold hashbrowns and amazing specials. Hearty breakfasts, burgers, pastas and more, Humpty Dumpty Kitchen is comfort food to the max.
Hotels in Grass Valley
212 W Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Hands down the best and most intriguing hotel in town! This landmark hotel was built in 1852, making the Holbrooke the oldest continuously operated hotel in California. There is no doubt that the walls hold many stories and even more ghosts! Yes, the Holbrooke is said to be very haunted. Having been the site of various paranormal investigations the hotel has even been the subject of a few television shows and documentaries, including Dead Files.
Now under new ownership, the Holbrooke Hotel has recently undergone a major remodel and it is fabulous! Reopening in the fall of 2020, we were among the first guests to check it out and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The Holbrooke features beautiful modern rustic Victorian decor, breathing fresh life into the space while maintaining the wonderful historic feeling.
Onsite, you can dine in the historic Golden State Saloon or sneak downstairs for a sexy cocktail in the Iron Door speakeasy. This is a truly lovely hotel and I definitely recommend making an effort to stay and experience the Holbrooke Hotel. If you are curious about our stay at the Holbrooke Hotel or want to know if we experienced any paranormal activity, check out our YouTube vlog!
Sierra Mountain Inn
816 W Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Walking distance from Old Town Grass Valley shops and restaurants, the Sierra Mountain Inn is a charming boutique inn. With beautifully decorated rooms, kitchenettes and cottage-style accommodations, Sierra Mountain Inn offers tranquility and convenience.
Gold Miner’s Inn
121 Bank St, Grass Valley, CA 95945
Conveniently located close to neighbor city, Nevada City, Gold Miner’s Inn puts you in the middle of mining history. The hotel offers free breakfast, modern accommodations and family suites. It is perfect for family travelers looking for a moderately priced hotel with comfortable amenities and great location.
That’s a Wrap!
If you are planning a trip to Northern California to visit big cities like Sacramento, I urge you to make a point and stop to explore Grass Valley. This historic and charming gold mining town makes for a great day trip or, as we did it, an entire weekend adventure!
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