What: Columbia is a preserved and recreated Gold Rush town located about three miles north of Sonora, California. There are exhibits displaying historical artifacts throughout the town, and some even provide hands-on activities for kids. You can also take a stagecoach ride or try your hand at gold panning. Some of the proprietors of the shops, restaurants and hotels are dressed up in period clothing.
Why: We were driving back from a trip to Yosemite National Park along historic Highway 49 and knew this was the perfect opportunity to introduce the kiddo to a slice of California history.
My Kid’s Picks: He didn’t let the lanky cowboy intimidate him while he tried panning for gold at the Hidden Treasure Gold Mine place in the town’s southern end. It took a few tries and some refinement of his technique, but he got to take a few “gold” flake home for show-and-tell. At the working blacksmith shop, he also got his named hammered into a horseshoe souvenir. We took an ice cream break at the Fallon Ice Cream Parlor and also bought a few bottles of sarsaparilla (looks like a beer bottle) soda. And of course, our kid-approved activities wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the ol’ candy shop.
Mom’s Verdict: This is one of the best sites along the Mother Lode highway for kids to get a feel for the Gold Rush era. It may not be the most historically important town, but its neatly restored buildings and living history component makes it the most enjoyable for kids. It was worth walking up a few blocks to check out the old Columbia Schoolhouse, where school is no longer in session, but you can take a peek at the rows of desks and dunce chair at the front of the room. You can also get a bathroom pass and check out the historical outhouses by the school. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s always good for kids to get a bit of perspective, so that they can better appreciate the bathroom at the at the next gas station pit stop.
Useful Tidbits: California’s Gold Country towns can get unbearably hot during the summer. Be prepared for the heat or plan your trips for summer or fall instead. Admission and parking are free. The museum open 10-4 daily, most businesses are open until 5. Gold Rush Days are held on the second Saturday of every month 1-4. Check the website for regular town tour times.