One of the true jewels of the gold rush towns, Grass Valley has evolved from its humble beginnings to a vibrant destination well worth the 6 1/2-hour drive from the Santa Ynez Valley.
Downtown oozes small-town charm with architecture of a distinctively Norman Rockwell vibe. It's pedestrian-friendly with an assortment of boutiques and antique shops. Be sure to stop by the Holbrooke Hotel, a favorite of Mark Twain, for lunch or dinner. Better yet, consider staying there.
Getting into the gold rush spirit is easy here. Start with a visit to the Empire Mine State Historic Park. One of the oldest, largest and most prosperous gold mines in U.S. history, Empire Mine continues as a legacy. Take a tour of the mine or a cottage, enjoy a hike and visit the blacksmith shop. It's an easy way to spend half a day. The Nevada County Historical Society operates the Northstar Mining Museum (a California Historic Landmark), acknowledged as the most complete hard rock mining museum in the state. This free museum (donations are always welcome) exhibits a blacksmith shop, stamp mill and dynamite-packing machine.
Just a few miles from downtown Grass Valley is the Yuba River. Go fishing in the morning and take a refreshing swim in the late afternoon. How about a picnic in between? It would be hard to find another river in California this beautiful that offers as much to do, and yet is so relaxing.
From July 14 to 17, Grass Valley becomes a contemporary gathering spot for the 20th anniversary California WorldFest. Music from around the world comes together with experiences in what organizers call "conscious living." Learn about beekeeping, canning and preservation at WorldFest's Global Village. Meet a wide array of musical artists, learn about traditional instruments, dance, costumes, crafts and indigenous cultures. Singer-songwriter Boz Scaggs is this year's big name performer. Nearly three dozen other acts will also be taking the stage, including Delhi 2 Dublin, Peter Mawanga and the Amaravi Movement, Earth Guardians, Dead Winter Carpenters and Banana Slug Stringband. For more information, visit worldfest.net.