El Dorado County is centrally located between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. El Dorado can be reached via two major highways: Highway 50 and Highway 49. Highway 50 was the first official U.S. highway in California, and it separates the county from the west in El Dorado Hills to the east in South Lake Tahoe. Highway 49 is the oldest highway in the western United States, and it winds north and south through the county. At the crossroads of these two highways is the historic Gold Rush city of Placerville.
El Dorado‘s diverse Sierra scenery is nothing short of spectacular, spanning more than 1,800 square miles with elevations ranging from just a few feet to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. These elevation ranges assure visitors a wide range of four-season fun.
The discovery of gold in Coloma in 1848 touched off the largest Gold Rush in history. Today the area is much more than rustic mining towns and historic sites. It is a year-round vacation destination, abundant with outdoor adventure, a world-class wine, craft beer and spirits scene, plentiful agriculture, fun and educational family activities and a proud Gold Rush history.
James W. Marshall discovered gold on the banks of the South Fork of the American River in Coloma on January 24, 1848. Soon, the population of California, and what would become El Dorado County, exploded with miners hoping to strike it rich. El Dorado, Spanish for “Golden One,” was one of the original 27 counties of the State of California, established in 1850. Coloma was the first county seat of El Dorado County, but when its gold deposits began to dwindle, the county seat was moved to Placerville in 1857. During the area’s Gold Rush, vineyards and wineries began springing up to provide wine for the miners and ancillary populations. By 1855, more than 5,000 acres were under cultivation.
Placerville — Placerville is a charming California Gold Rush town named after the placer gold deposits found in its riverbeds and hills in the late 1840s. Its treasured heritage can be seen in the 19th-century architecture of its downtown core. An important historic landmark on Main Street is the Bell Tower, which still stands as a monument to the city’s volunteer firemen. Today, the Bell Tower serves as a gathering place for parades, celebrations, and other Historic Main Street events. Placerville is the county seat and the center of financial, commercial, civic, and government activity.
South Lake Tahoe — South Lake Tahoe is the most populous city in the county. Incredible outdoor adventure, ski resorts and lively entertainment draw millions of guests each year to the southern shores of Lake Tahoe. The area’s quiet attractions are its forested wilderness areas and lakes. The largest of these is Lake Tahoe, a pristine, natural jewel surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains.
El Dorado Hills — El Dorado Hills is the western gateway to El Dorado County. This upscale foothill community is anchored by The Town Center, which features boutique shopping, dining, and entertainment, including outdoor concerts and activities alongside a man-made lake.
Coloma – The Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is open year-round and features a replica of the original sawmill where gold was first discovered here by James Marshall. A museum, guided walking tours, gold panning, and a working blacksmith shop help demonstrate the region’s rich history. Situated along the South Fork of the American River, Coloma is known for outdoor adventure, including white water rafting and kayaking. Year-round hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping and wine tasting are among the area’s highlights.
Fair Play— Once there were mines, now it’s fine wines. Fair Play is tucked away in southern El Dorado County and its beautiful byways are dotted with wineries, farms and ranches. At elevations of 2,000 to more than 3,000 feet, this visitor-friendly community boasts of “wines with an altitude.” Fair Play was once a thriving mining, agricultural and timber outpost of the Gold Rush.
Georgetown — Once a 19th-century gold camp, downtown Georgetown (pop: 962) looks much as it did long ago with its wide streets and historic buildings. Once a year, in July and August, 15,000 people descend upon Georgetown for the Jeepers Jamboree. They come with their jeeps to ride the Rubicon Trail in the Desolation Wilderness and to test their driving skills in its rocky and challenging terrain.
Placerville is an easy drive to 5 major airports:
- Sacramento International Airport (one hour)
- San Francisco International Airport (2 hours)
- Reno/Tahoe International Airport (2.5)
- Oakland International Airport (2.5)
- San Jose International Airport (2.5)
By bus, train and car:
Amtrak & Connecting Bus Service: El Dorado Transit offers one daily round-trip motor coach to the Amtrak train station in Sacramento, making stops in Cameron Park, Placerville, South Lake Tahoe and the Stateline Transit center
Rental cars are available locally from Enterprise, Hertz, Avis & Dave’s Rent-A-Car, as are taxi, limousine, and shuttle services.
Private tours and drivers are available for wine tasting excursions.
Average Summer Temperature: 75 – 95 degrees F/24 – 35 degrees C
Average Winter Temperature: 30 – 50 degrees F/-1 – 10 degrees C
Average Annual Rainfall: 39.50 inches/1000 millimeters
Things To Do
In the wintertime, snow skiers and boarders hear the call of the mountain from no less than 16 world-class resorts around beautiful Lake Tahoe. Ice skating, horse-drawn carriage rides and cross-country ski trails offer further adventures in the high Sierra. During spring, summer and fall, Lake Tahoe and other alpine lakes throughout the region become playgrounds for boating, kayaking, fishing and camping. Guided river trips along the American River provide thrilling whitewater adventures, while several other rivers offer opportunities for easy floats and water play. Hiking, mountain biking and golf are other favorite warm-weather activities. And there are plenty of state and local parks to explore.
A tour of the El Dorado Wine Country introduces visitors to more than 70 award-winning wineries and no less than 50 varietals to enjoy. Craft breweries also are popping up in the region. Local farmers welcome visitors along the El Dorado Farm Trail with their year-round selections of fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees, pumpkins and specialty plants like Bonsai trees.
Historic Sites & Museums
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park — Located in Coloma, the park’s Gold Discovery Museum and Sutter’s Mill mark the spot where gold was discovered in 1848, triggering the California Gold Rush. Enjoy exhibits, buildings and artifacts relating to the Gold Rush.
Gold Bug Mine — This 362-foot hard rock mine just outside of downtown Placerville features a gift shop, stamp mill, Hattie’s Museum, hiking trails and gold panning across the park’s 60+ acres.
Historic Main Street Placerville — Historic Placerville is a charming destination with its 19th-century architecture, the historic Cary House Hotel, and the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. Fine art galleries, gift shops, antiques, restaurants, clothiers, and farm-to-fork shops round out a day’s experience.
Wakamatsu Tea & Silk Colony — This historic site near Coloma was settled by Japanese colonists from Aizu Wakamatsu (Fukushima Prefecture) in 1869, making it the first Japanese colony in North America. It’s the birthplace of the first naturalized Japanese American is the only settlement established by samurai outside of Japan. Educational tours are available throughout the year.
El Dorado County Historical Museum — This Placerville museum features displays and artifacts from El Dorado County’s past. The museum provides research resources, including genealogy assistance.
Fountain-Tallman Museum — Located in Placerville’s original Main Street soda works building dating to 1852, the museum contains artifacts and exhibits from Placerville’s history.
Lake Tahoe Museum —This South Lake Tahoe, California museum chronicles the development of the Lake Tahoe Basin from its earliest occupation by Native Americans through its 19th-century development to the present time.
Hattie’s Museum – Located in Gold Bug Park in Placerville, the museum shares historical artifacts and mining displays.
With its roots dating back to the Gold Rush era, El Dorado was the state’s third largest wine-producing region in the 1870s and flourished until Prohibition. A century later, a wine renaissance began when new wineries were established in the 1970s. Today, the El Dorado appellation has more than 2,500 acres of vines and is home to approximately 70 wineries. Vineyards, ranging in elevation from 1,200 to 3,600 feet, are planted in a diversity of microclimates ideally suited for growing more than 50 varieties of premium grapes.
El Dorado winemakers credit these hillside and mountain vineyards — and their intensely flavored grapes — for stylish renditions of wines like Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel and Barbera. These boutique operations provide up-close views of the winemaking process and an opportunity to visit with winemakers.
El Dorado County also is home to a growing number of craft breweries inspired by the region’s history, flavors, and natural beauty. Kick back with many styles from pilsners to hoppy IPAs, and delicate Kölsch to Belgian-style ales. With local breweries spanning the county from the foothills to Lake Tahoe, you’ll never be far from an authentically El Dorado microbrew.
El Dorado County has unique, affordable venues that range from funky to formal, including historic churches, sweeping views of vineyards and oak trees, golf courses, horse ranches, rustic barns, and a variety of shoreline venues. Wedding professionals assist with these as well as charming inns and hotel ballrooms to create dream weddings.
Olde Coloma Theatre — This historic theater in Coloma is where you can enjoy the rare art of melodrama —one of only three such theatres in California. Cheer the heroine and hero! Boo and hiss the evil villains! Interact with your actors — who reply in character. Five different shows are presented from mid-May through late December. All shows are family-friendly and appropriate for all ages.
Imagination Theatre — Located on the El Dorado County Fairgrounds, Imagination Theater brings quality, live community theater to Placerville and El Dorado County.
Red Hawk Casino — The casino offers gaming action, dining and lounges near Placerville, just off Highway 50.
Farms: The county’s tradition of agriculture dates back to the 1800s and is still an important contributor to the county’s economy and rural atmosphere.
El Dorado County Farm Trails Association – More than 100 members in the “Western slope” of the county operate farms, ranches and related enterprises.
Apple Hill™ is comprised of more than 50 family-owned fruit and veggie farms, wineries, Christmas tree farms, B & B’s and flower gardens just a few miles east of Placerville. Though fall is the most popular time to visit, farms, farmstands and wineries are open year-round. The namesake crop is usually ready to harvest on Labor Day weekend and visitors can enjoy the area through December with family-friendly activities and locally grown produce. In the fall the bountiful backroads are filled with bake shops and pumpkin patches, pony rides and hay mazes, unique gifts and handmade crafts, nature trails, and dozens of u-pick and just-picked varieties.
El Dorado County Christmas Tree Growers – More than 30 farms throughout the county offer diverse varieties of trees to choose from.