Murphys is a true golden child of the mid-1800s, when millionaire-making amounts of the precious yellow ore were extracted from surrounding hills. Today, white and red are the predominant colors, thanks to the area’s burgeoning wine industry. Perhaps that’s why dining options in this authentic Gold Rush town of 2,000, a scenic 90-mile drive southeast of Sacramento, have more sophisticated offerings like epicurean enclaves in the Napa Valley than nearby foothills towns—and why Northern California urbanites flock to shop its equally upmarket boutiques.
Attractions: Consider coordinating your visit with the Murphys Art Walk, which encompasses a half-dozen galleries on second Saturdays from 5 to 8 p.m. For less-edgy visuals, pop in to Murphys Old Timers Museum (470 Main St.), whose authentically musty smell is accompanied by small displays about the Gold Rush days and local lore. A mile north of town, stay cool and dry inside Mercer Caverns on 45-minute tours up and down the subterranean equivalent of 16 stories. Continue the cardio workout by walking about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, an awesome collection of giant sequoias 20 miles northeast of town off Highway 4.
Shopping: Start on the central district’s eastern side with Piazza (219 Main St.) and its delectable home décor. Villa Mia Antiques (237 Main St.) specializes in European country items, including French faience pottery from HB-Henriot in Quimper, Brittany. Knitters go nuts for the expansive collection of gorgeous yarns at Knit Knacks (281 Main St.). Nelson’s Candies (380 Main St., No. 4) puts a little sugar in your step with handmade chocolates and seasonal caramel apples. Kids will get a kick out of Murphys Village Toy Store (402 Main St., No. D). Find glitzy accessories (handbags, costume jewelry, tiaras) and locally made Escence body products at Express Yourself! (425 Main St.). Shop for upscale clothing and accessories at Kristine’s (426-A Main St.) and Mad About Shoes (426-B Main St.). Relax and rejuvenate at Jillian Day Spa & Boutique (488 Main St.). Get ideas for home-renovation projects at D.E.A. Bathroom Machineries (495 Main St.), where a vintage-style claw-foot tub caught our eye.
Eating: Start or end your day, or pack your cooler for a picnic, at Alchemy Market and Wine Bar (191 Main St.). Down complimentary doughnuts as you browse store shelves stocked with regional wines and an edited assortment of mouth-watering condiments, or visit the deli for made-to-order sandwiches, Thai orzo salad and Bloody Mary gazpacho. At Murphys Grille (380 Main St., No. 1), the outdoor patio was packed with beautiful people enjoying beautiful food and wine the day we visited. Funky Firewood (420 Main St.) cooks up wood-fired pizzas, burgers and burritos in a two-story-high space with an industrial-chic vibe. The nearby Grounds (402 Main St.), a 1990s groundbreaker in the town’s foodie renaissance, for years has been a locals’ favorite. Tiny and tempting, the bakery Aria (458-B Main St.) sells sweet treats including cupcakes and scones plus artisnal breads, sandwiches and arousingly aromatic coffee.
Drinking: Enjoy much of what Calaveras County wineries have to offer by visiting their individual wine-tasting parlors right in town. Or make short drives to wineries such as Ironstone Vineyards, where you can admire the original pipe organ from Sacramento’s long-gone Alhambra Theatre. The ambiance at Ironstone is rather corporate, with its landscaped grounds, outdoor amphitheater, humongous tasting room/deli and separate gift shop/museum, the latter of which houses (in a walk-in vault!) a 44-pound crystalline gold leaf specimen. For a more rustically pleasing experience, visit Stevenot Winery, a few miles north of town and site of a terraced outdoor theater that stages Shakespeare in the summertime.
Coming right up: Better step on it if you hope to attend the Oct. 6 Calaveras Grape Stomp, an intoxicating mix of feet-as-juicers competitions, live music and wine tasting in Murphys Park. Also that day, downtown: the Gold Rush Street Faire, with more than 100 crafts and food vendors. Admission to both events is free.
A little history—No visit here is complete without a gander at the Murphys Historic Hotel (457 Main St.). George Washington didn’t sleep here, but Ulysses S. Grant did, sometime after the joint opened in 1856. Having largely survived a town-razing fire four years later, the hotel still stands tall (two stories, actually) as a friendly resting spot for weary travelers.
How to get there: For the quickest route, take the Jackson Highway to Jackson, go south on Highway 49 to Angels Camp, and go east on Highway 4 to Murphys. For a more scenic route through Ione, take Interstate 5 south to Twin Cities Road, take that road (Highway 104) to Jackson, go south on Highway 49 to Angels Camp, and east on Highway 4 to Murphys.