Auburn, CA has been our favorite half way stop from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and beyond. From their Shell gas station, Ikeda’s market, Holiday Inn Express, In-N-Out, and awesome location we’ve already deduced that Auburn is pretty great. Auburn is one of the last places to stop before the drive through the Tahoe National forest, so it’s also a well-known and sometimes very popular place. Recently, we got to spend the day in Auburn thanks to my daughter’s volleyball tournament at the local high school. We got to see a whole other side of Auburn and couldn’t believe how much we’ve been missing.
I’ve seen the giant statue of the man panning for gold many times when we drive through Auburn on Hwy 80. So, I wasn’t too surprised to find out that Auburn is registered as a California Historic Landmark because of its gold mining history. I’ve always been interested in California’s Gold Rush era when hundreds of thousands of people came out west, some overcoming incredible hardships, in search of gold. I loved learning about the stories of the brave (or a little bit crazy) individuals who chose to leave their loved ones and head out on a long and arduous journey for a chance to make a better life for themselves.
In 1848 a young Frenchman by the name of Claude Chana and two of his friends had heard of the gold that was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma and were on their way there when Claude found gold in the Auburn Ravine. They made the fortunate decision to stay and mine instead of continuing on. Their gold mining operations were a big success and eventually developed into a mining camp, which was offically named Auburn in 1849. The Central Pacific Railroad reached Auburn in 1865 further contributing to the growth of the town.
There are two plaques near the statue that explains that gold was found in Auburn by Claude Chana in 1848. I liked how he is described as an “Adventurer and First Fruit Farmer.”
The Old Town section of Auburn has many restored houses and buildings from the mid ninteenth century, some actually being from the Gold Rush years (map of Old Town). Although Old Town Auburn is on the smaller side and, on a Saturday, was packed with cars, there was a welcoming feel. Maybe it was the ‘Welcome to Old Town Auburn’ sign right when you get off the freeway, or the noticeably slower pace of the visitors strolling around. Whatever it was, it made me want to sit awhile and take it all in. There are also four museums in Auburn, all with free admission if you want to learn more about their history.
I’ve included a few pics of the town to give you a feel of the place. There are many stores and restaurants to peruse as you stroll along.There were many historical points of interest scattered throughout the town, like the Auburn Fire House, each with their own plaque, of course.
Auburn has the “oldest continually operated Post Office west of the Mississippi.”
After walking around and poking our heads in all the stores and alleyways, we stopped by Auburn Coffee Company and picked up an iced latte made with coconut milk and a fruit smoothie. Delicious drinks and super friendly workers! This is now our go to spot if we need caffeine on the way to Tahoe. They have plenty of parking on the back side of the coffee place, too (on Auburn Folsom Rd).
After our pick-me-up drinks we walked over to School Preserve Park, which was across the street on College Way. This is a great little park to stretch your legs and have a picnic. Now when we’ve been cooped up in the car, and need to get some fresh air and stretch our legs, we can make our way to Auburn Coffee Company and School Preserve Park (Ikeda’s is still a must).
This sign (below) that we saw at the School Preserve Park shows that there is much more to this region. The Auburn Recreation Area looks like a great place for further exploration.
It’s interesting to think that Auburn is here today because lucky Claude found gold nearby. I thought I’d mention that Auburn State Recreation Area is said to be one of California’s best gold panning locations. You are allowed to pan for gold in the same river waters that the gold miners did during the Gold Rush. The two forks of the American River is a popular place where people try their luck. Geologists believe that the Gold Rush uncovered only 20% of California’s gold, so that means there is still 80% of the gold left! Hmmm….
If you’re interested in how gold was discovered in California, a 30 minute drive from Auburn will get you to Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. It’s an incredibly significant site when you think about how the discovery of gold there was responsible for one of the largest mass movement of people in history, shaping the development of the state of California. The state park built a replica of Sutter’s Mill where flecks of gold were found and visitors can view not only the mill, but many buildings of the ghost town of Coloma, around 20 ruins and preserved buildings. When we visited many summers ago, the blacksmith was open and functioning, the nature center was a fun place to explore for kids, and the Gold Discovery Musuem was a must-see before walking around the town. It was a fun place to explore and learn about California’s Gold Rush for both adults and kids. I love places that educate kids without them even knowing. 🙂
I can’t finish this post without mentioning why we visited Marshall Discovery State Historic Park in the first place. This park is found along the South Fork of the American River and this river is well known for white water rafting (mile-by-mile description). Only a few minutes from this state park is Camp Lotus where the O.A.R.S. river rafting company ‘puts in’ for rafting on the Upper South Fork of the American River. With Class III rapids called Meatgrinder, Troublemaker and Triple Threat, how can you resist? This year the wet weather is making it an epic year for the river. So, if you are in the area, this would be the year to do some river rafting on the American River. Just be sure to hang on for dear life!