A short drive into the foothills takes you a world away and more than a century back in time. Communities and parks along and around Highway 49 beckon cou-ples to come for a morning of hiking, an afternoon of shopping, a romantic dinner and a night spent in a historic inn. Sleep in or wake up to watch the sun rise over the ridge, and revel in the fact that you’re only about an hour from home, but the landscape is green, the dirt red, the mountains close enough to touch.
A cute, history-soaked town 30 minutes from Sacramento, Auburn’s charm lies in its small Old Town area packed with shops and restaurants, with the gorgeous Placer County Courthouse reigning high on the hill.
Play: Wander around Old Town’s streets. Start with a fair-trade organic latte from Courthouse Coffee, then browse Serendipity for accent furniture and home décor. Laugh together at Marquis Etc., which sells vintage “junque,” including Bakelite jewelry, vintage buttons, and Disney and Star Wars collectibles. Commercial Street is a museum in itself, with storefronts and brick walls that harken back to the 1850s.
Eat: Devour a huge Breakfast Bomb omelet (stuffed with bacon, veggies and cheese, topped with salsa and sour cream) at Awful Annie’s, go lighter with a spicy Thai salad for lunch at Latitudes, then do duck breast for dinner at Monkey Cat. Or have your omelet at Edelweiss—45 grace the menu—then drink your lunch at the Auburn Ale House (order an Old Town Brown), and cozy up to an early dinner of small plates at Carpe Vino, where romance will bloom as you taste wine together and eat off each other’s plates. Try the popcorn with truffle oil.
Sleep: At Power’s Mansion Inn, a big historic home turned into a 15-room bed-and-breakfast, the honeymoon suite actually has a heart-shaped whirlpool tub for two. For something less kitschy, reserve the Power Room, which was the original master bedroom when the mansion was built in 1884. The four-poster bed, curtained bay windows and claw-foot tub elicit slower times, but don’t worry—there’s television and wireless Internet, too.
Famous for its position on the National Register of Historic Places—and its Victorian Christmas celebration—Nevada City lures lovers to catch live theater, explore its little stores and galleries, and venture into the wilds just beyond town.
Play: Broad Street’s charms include bookstores, gift and antiques shops, the Nevada Theatre and the National Hotel. It’s easy to fritter away the day in town, but every couple should take Highway 20 a few miles out to Penn Valley, where Pilot Peak Winery overlooks the mountains and wildflower, sprouting valley. From there, a 12-or-so-mile drive out Pleasant Valley Road to Bridgeport yields a romantic opportunity to smooch in the covered bridge that spans the South Yuba River. Hold hands while crossing the bridge, then go single file along the river-hugging Point Defiance trail, a 2.8-mile loop that passes Lake Englebright, then winds deep into the woods on its way back.
Eat: Go back to Nevada City for grub. Share a huge strawberry salad for lunch at Ike’s Quarter Cafe, then cuddle up over a bottle of wine and coq au vin at Citronee Bistro & Wine Bar for dinner. Another romantic option: Dip your forks into a pot of steaming fondue at Friar Tuck’s, where the lighting’s dim and the cheese thick.
Stay: The Red Castle Inn, itself on the National Register, looks like a gingerbread house, tucked up against the steep hillside a short walk away from the hustle and bustle of Broad Street. The bed-and-breakfast inn has seven period-decorated guest rooms. Reserve one on the ground floor unless you want to haul your suitcase up the stairs—there’s no elevator here, folks, and nothing halts romance like a herniated disk. Plus, you’ll want to be able to bend over and pet one of the resident cats when you’re approached in the garden.
It’s 27 winding, gorgeous miles from Auburn to Placerville along Highway 49, or you can approach the town via Highway 50. Either way, there’s romance to be found in Old Hangtown. Take a free stagecoach ride along Main Street (available most fair-weather weekends), then cruise the romantic back roads, stopping to buy farm-fresh produce, taste wine and admire the views.
Play: Stroll Main Street, wandering in and out of shops, wine bars and galleries. Great fun: Placerville Hardware Store, stacked to the rafters with stuff. Buy your sweetie a bird feeder, a length of pipe or a pair of pink rubber boots dotted with brown horse heads. Grab a chocolate cone at What’s the Scoop, a handful of taffy from Candy Strike. Outside of town, take a bike ride along the back roads—Carson Road and beyond—where you’ll discover wineries including Fenton Herriott, Lava Cap, Stone’s Throw (awesome views), Primus and Boeger.
Eat: The drive out Missouri Flat Road to Pleasant Valley Road (there’s one in every rural community, it seems) takes you to Zachary Jacques, a charming French restaurant. Order the three-course prix fixe dinner for $25—get one combo, your partner another and share. Start with an endive, pear and walnut salad, followed by quail stuffed with pork, mushrooms and spinach. Or opt for French onion soup, followed by salmon with tangerine butter sauce. All followed by dessert, of course. In downtown Placerville, hit Z Pie (the gooey chicken pot pie is perfect for a cold winter evening) or the lively Cascada Restaurant and Cantina, where the chips come with several choices of salsa.
Sleep: Blair Sugar Pine Bed & Breakfast, a Victorian inn close to town but removed from the madness of Main Street, has beautiful iris gardens and three guest rooms, including the romantic Blair Suite, with its brass feather bed and claw-foot tub.
Love in Coloma—About halfway between Auburn and Placerville on Highway 49, Coloma and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park might unearth memories of fourth grade history lessons, but the trail that runs along the American River makes for a lovely romantic backdrop. While the river rushes by, bring up that touchy topic that’s tripping up your relationship, and you may find the trouble washes away in the current. Or just hold hands and have a playful chat about what comes next. Or, in this pretty spot where the Gold Rush got its start, take some gold from your pocket and propose. Perhaps it’s time to make some history of your own.