A Day in Grass Valley, California — San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 17, 2016
Thirty minutes north of Interstate 80 on the Gold Rush Highway (Highway 49), the town of Grass Valley butterflies across rolling slopes above Yuba City and the Central Valley. For 106 years, between 1850 and 1956, workers from around the world drilled 367 miles of tunnels into the earth for Empire Mine. Their legacy lingers in the vintage ambience of Grass Valley’s historic downtown.
— Laura Read
After breakfasting on potato pancakes at South Pine Cafe, walk to Mill Street, the town’s treasure trove of vintage, art and collectibles shops. It’s possible the area has more used and rare books for sale per capita than any other American town. By itself, the cavernous Booktown Books, above, probably proves it. Prowl among stacks for a used “Diary of a Forty-Niner” by Chauncey Canfield or an old Grass Valley historical home walking tour guide, then go around the corner to the Book Seller, one of the many new-book stores, to find the latest by local writers like Beat poet Gary Snyder, whose “Danger on Peaks” shares moments of life and thought that occur in the depths of these forests.
At the funky Cousin Jack’s Pasties, in an old gas station that still smells of oil, munch on the same hearty potato-and-pork pasty that Cornish workers carried into the mines in triple-decker lunch buckets. (Jack is the large size; Jenny is the small.)
Catch afternoon breezes on the forested lawns around Empire Mine State Park’s Bourn Cottage, an 1897 Cotswold-style home designed by Willis Polk for mine owner William Bourn Jr., who also built Filoli mansion in Woodside.
See who’s playing live music on the patio at Diego’s, and sit down to an Electric Lemonade, made with rice-distilled vodka, and a dish of mahi-mahi Anticucho marinated South American-style in a fresh chimichurri sauce. At the Center for the Arts, you can get a seat for the live music, but you probably won’t need it if the audience does its usual thing: dancing like crazed buffleheads in front of the stage. Fall’s lineup includes singer-songwriter Laura Marling and dobro master Jerry Douglas. Arrive early for drinks among the comfy couches of the stage-side lounge.
Spend the night
Walk a few blocks to bed in the tiny but cute restored room at the 1930s Sierra Mountain Inn. There are one- and two-bedroom suites, some with kitchenettes; a detached cottage has a convenient living room and kitchen.
If you go
South Pine Cafe: 102 N. Richardson St., (530) 274- 0261. www.southpinecafe.com
Booktown Books: 107 Banks St., (530) 272-4655. www.booktownbooks.com
The Book Seller: 107 Mill St., (530) 272-2131. www.thebookseller.biz
Antique Emporium: 150 Mill St., (530) 272-7302. www.facebook.com/pages/Grass-Valley-Antique-Emporium/122563881134408
Cousin Jack’s Pasties: 100 S. Auburn St., (530) 272-9230. www.facebook.com/cjpasty
Diego’s: 217 Colfax Ave., Grass Valley, (530) 477-1460. www.diegosrestaurant.com.
Empire Mine: 10791 E. Empire St., (530) 273-8522. www.empiremine.org
The Center for the Arts: 314 W. Main St., (530) 274-8384. http://thecenterforthearts.org
Sierra Mountain Hotel: 816 W. Main St., (530) 273-8133. www.sierramountaininn.com