Enjoy life in the slow lane on this two-day trip through El Dorado County, California. Historic downtown Placerville sets the stage for your adventures, from panning for gold to wine tasting and outdoor fun. In fact, you can explore historic Main Street, a legendary gold mine, local shops, and so much more—all within a mile of Highway 50.
We suggest pairing this itinerary with our guide to two days in Lake Tahoe for a fun-filled, four-day Northern California road trip. Start in San Francisco and fly out of Reno or try it in reverse!
This story was created in partnership with Visit USA Parks.
Day 1: Pan for Gold, Find a Souvenir, and Sample Craft Brews
Kick off your time in El Dorado County by learning how this region got its name. (El Dorado translates to “The Golden” in Spanish, and it’s here that James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848.) Today, visitors can step back in time at Gold Bug Park and Mine. This amazing piece of American history is much more than a dusty tailing!
Located only five minutes from downtown Placerville, free admission to Gold Bug provides access to the museum, several presentations, and fascinating mineral displays. Family-friendly tours are only $12 per person and help answer any and all questions about what it must’ve been like to live in this era. After your tour, pan for gold or take a short hike on the dog-friendly trails on the property. You could really spend an entire day here!
Then, visit the Historical Museum. On certain days, this is where you can board the El Dorado Western Railroad for a truly unique open-air journey. Still have time to spare? The Fountain & Tallman Museum is the oldest building on Main Street and features a variety of intriguing exhibits, including how innovative settlers carbonated and chilled soda to perfection in the 1800s.
That afternoon, stroll historic downtown Placerville—or take a guided tour. Either way, you’ll encounter a wide variety of family-owned and operated shops, art galleries, and small-town charm. Be sure to visit the Placerville Hardware Store. Founded in 1852, they hold the title of being the oldest shop of its kind west of the Mississippi and offer a fantastic assortment of souvenirs!
Afterward, sample local hops on the El Dorado Ale Trail. Main Street Tap House is a favorite and serves up tasty cocktails and small bites in addition to craft beer. Dinner options are endless, but the historic Smith Flat House is one of the most unique–and delicious–spots in town. That evening, stay in one of Placerville’s cozy inns, such as the Historic Cary House or Ponderosa Ridge B&B.
Day 2: Splash in the Rapids, Sip Heritage Wines, and Dig into Dinner
The next day, it’s time to experience present-day Placerville and all of the excitement this area has to offer. Choose from one of several outdoor pursuits: mountain biking, hiking, or whitewater rafting. If you ask us, we’d opt for the river. While the El Dorado trails are excellent, there are over 20 whitewater outfitters within county lines. That says a lot about the favorite pastime in this part of California! The South Fork of the American River provides several options for river rats of all ages and experience levels. Work with a local guiding company to find the perfect excursion for your group.
Depending on where your morning outing takes you, you may decide to enjoy lunch at Argonaut Cafe in Coloma or pack a heaping sandwich to go from the quirky Timmy’s Brown Bag.
That afternoon, treat yourself at a winery (or two). There are even more local wineries than whitewater outfitters in El Dorado County! Start with Boeger Winery. As with most suggestions within this two-day road trip, Boeger Winery goes way back. A gold-seeking family established the estate during the 1850s, and some of their original grapes still produce varietals today. Enjoy a guided tasting in the shaded garden while leisurely reliving the morning’s adventures.
For dinner, dig into American-fusion fare at The Independent Restaurant. Or, choose Bricks Eats & Drink for an upscale, pub-like experience. You really can’t go wrong no matter where you land for farm-to-fork dining in downtown Placerville.
After 48 hours in historic Placerville, extend your journey by traveling along Highway 50 to nearby Lake Tahoe. For more ways to explore El Dorado County, try our 4-Day Road Trip itinerary.