In the folded foothills of the Sierra Nevada, California's Gold Country, autumn lingers long into October, offering blue skies, tawny hills, and grapevines tinged fierce red.
Once beautiful but sleepy, this region is now beautiful but sophisticated. Good new restaurants are popping up in unexpected places. Even more strikingly, an influx of creative new winemakers has made the Gold Country one of the most fascinating wine regions in the West.
Our Gold Country route runs 70 miles from Placerville south to Murphys via State 49 and State 4. For information, visit:
WHERE TO EAT
Alchemy Market & Wine Bar. Great soups, sandwiches, nice selection of local wines. $$; open daily; 191 Main St., Murphys; 209/728-0700.
Cafe Luna. In downtown Placerville, a shady retreat for eclectic California cuisine and area wines. $$$; open Wed-Sun; 451 Main St.; 530/642-8669.
Grounds. $$; open daily; 402 Main, Murphys; 209/728-8663.
Taste. $$$; open Thu-Mon; 9402 Main St., Plymouth; 209/245-3463.
Tomei's. Manhattan supper-club feel in downtown Placerville. $$$; open Tue-Sun; 384 Main; 530/626-9766.
V Restaurant and Bar. Ambitious, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. $$$$; open Wed-Sun; 402 Main, Murphys; 209/728-0107.
WHERE TO STAY
Best Western Placerville Inn. Large, newly renovated motel with pool and Internet access. 6850 Greenleaf Dr., Placerville; www.placervilleinn.com or 530/622-9100.
Dunbar House, 1880. Beautiful home right downtown. 5 rooms from $175; 271 Jones St., Murphys; www.dunbarhouse.com or 209/728-2897.
Hanford House. Handsome redbrick inn on the edge of downtown Sutter Creek. 10 rooms from $109; 61 Hanford St. (State 49); www.hanfordhouse.com or 800/871-5839.
Hotel Léger. Pretty, balconied hotel dates from Mokelumne Hill's 1850s boom days and - naturally - is said to harbor a ghost or two. 13 rooms from $75; 8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill; www.hotelleger.com or 209/286-1401.
Murphys Historic Hotel. California's oldest continuously operated hotel offers shared-bath rooms and newer motel units. Good restaurant. 29 rooms from $59; 457 Main, Murphys; www.murphyshotel.com or 800/532-7684.
Querencia. 4 rooms from $275, breakfast included; 4383 Sheep Ranch Rd., Murphys; www.querencia.ws or 209/728-9520.
Victoria Inn. A modern inn that sits nicely in downtown Murphys. 15 rooms from $115; 402 Main; www.victoriann-murphys.com or 209/728-8933.
WHAT TO DO
Apple Hill Growers Association. This month is the peak season for the apple lover's paradise near Placerville. Dozens of growers offer fresh apples, pies, jellies, and more. Off U.S. 50, just east of Placerville; www.applehill.com or 530/644-7692.
Boeger Winery. Historic winery with lovely picnic area (buy snacks in the winery store). Open daily; free tastings; 1709 Carson Rd., Placerville; www.boegerwinery.com or 530/622-8094.
C.G. Di Arie Winery. Next open houses set for Oct 7-8, Nov 11-12, and Dec 9-10. Open by appointment; free tastings; 5200 Di Arie Rd., Mt. Aukum; www.cgdiarie.com or 530/620-6500.
Holly's Hill Vineyards. Open Fri-Sun; free tastings; 3680 Leisure Lane, Placerville; www.hollyshill.com or 530/344-0227.
Sobon Estate. 150-year-old winery with charming museum. Open daily; free tastings; 14430 Shenandoah Rd., 6.5 miles east of Plymouth; www.sobonwine.com or 209/245-6554.
Twisted Oak Winery. Open daily; free tastings; 4280 Red Hill Rd. (at State 4), Vallecito. Additional tasting room (open Thu-Sun) at 350 Main St., Murphys; www.twistedoak.com or 209/736-9080.