Sacramento is one of the most leafy cities I’ve ever visited. I was told that only Paris has more trees than this Sycamore bedecked city. Street after street had huge Elm or Sycamores running their length, providing a green cover from the sun. It is on one of these shady wide streets that the opening aerial scene in American Beauty was filmed. I can just see it now, the runners and the trees.
The city is also famous as the home of state government. Yet despite this distinction, there is no governor’s mansion here. There was one for a brief three months, the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s term, but after that Nancy insisted on moving to a larger house in a better neighborhood, and no governor has lived in his own mansion ever since here in Sacramento.
I got in my rental car and drove up the freeway to the little town where gold was first discovered by James Sutter. The spot on the American River is marked by a giant stone monument, and not far away is a replica of the contraption once used to dig up the silt and sift through it. We bought a pan and went down to the river ourselves to see what we could find. Like fishing, this popular pasttime is addicting; you keep swirling that pan around and carefully looking over the tiny grains, hoping to see a flashing speck. We found a few, and according to Jody my guide, more than 80% of the gold from the big vein is still here.
After our panning (I kept the pan filled with oh-such-potential gravel with me in the car), we met a man who works in the tasting room at Gold Hill Vineyards. Unlike any other winery I’ve ever been to, this one also makes and provides tastes of their own beer. So it was first beer, and then some very buttery delicious reserve Chardonnay that we savored. Then we followed the winding roads to the small town of Placerville. I kept pronouncing it wrong–it’s plah-sir-ville–not place-er-ville. The town was once known as hangtown, since three famous bad guys were hanged here in 1849. There was once a bar with a tree limb sticking out of it right on the spot of the former oak tree where the men died. Today, this historic relic is fenced off; it turns out the bar has been condemned and so there is no more commemorating the source of the town’s former name.
Another special feature of Placerville is also harder to find. It’s the hangtown fry, a concoction of smoked oysters and eggs that was once the ultimate miner’s reward for a good gold find. Today, there is only one place in Placerville where you can order it.
Placerville has one very famous former resident, besides those three bad guys who died in the noose. The Painter of Light, Thomas Kinkaid, grew up right here.