The gold may be long gone, but an up-and-coming food and wine scene makes this Sierra Foothills town worth mining.
Placerville is easy enough for Northern Californians to visit: It's 44 miles east of Sacramento on U.S. 50, and 130 miles northeast of San Francisco via I-80 and U.S. 50. Sunset assistant researcher Alexandra Deabler points the way to five Placerville must-do's.
1. The gold standard breakfastBack when Placerville was in the middle of the Mother Lode, the town was a hodgepodge of bars, brothels, and factories. Many of Main Street's original buildings remain intact, including the two-story cobblestone Placerville Soda Works, now the Cozmic Café (594 Main St.), home to dharma talks, open-mic jams, and the healthiest breakfast menu in town: tofu scrambles with portabella mushrooms, and breakfast burritos wrapped in organic sprouted-grain tortillas. Take your fresh-squeezed beet juice to one of the hidden nooks in the back of the cafe, which are said to lead to a series of underground mining tunnels. The calories come more quickly at Sweetie Pies' across the street (577 Main St.), a brunch hangout known for its olallieberry obsession—they use it to make everything from muffins and pies to house-jarred syrups.
2. Eat your fudge, drink your wineOn the eastern edge of town, Fudge Factory Farm (2860 High Hill Rd.) lies among some 20 orchards. Most of the U-pick farms close to visitors when the apples stop dropping at the end of autumn, but triple-F keeps "em coming all year with homemade peanut brittle and 75 flavors of fudge, including thick blocks of peanut butter and chocolate swirl, best savored at nearby High Hill Ranch's fishing pond. Down the road, Boeger Winery (1709 Carson Rd.) sits smack in the middle of 85 acres of Sierra Foothills grapevines. Tour the winery, then settle in the remodeled tasting room with crisp complimentary Barbera.
3. Strike oilYou don't have to be an enophile to spend the day slipping in and out of tasting rooms. At Winterhill (321 Main St.), "the oils are the star of the show," says Annette Schoonover, owner of the olive-oil tasting bar and shop, where you can choose from about 10 cold-pressed selections to sample, all sourced from orchards in El Dorado County. Nearby, Dedrick's Cheese (312 Main St.) hosts daily tastings from its array of 200-plus cheeses. "When I first got here, you couldn't get a fresh loaf of bread," says Dedrick's owner Mary Frances Dedrick. "We had no choice but to create the food scene we wanted." The knowledgeable staff is quick with recommendations, but in a pinch, try the house favorite P'tit Basque, a delicate and mild sheep's-milk cheese with subtle nuttiness. You won't even miss the Pinot.
4. Wares from everywhereAmid the cluster of antiques stores on Main Street, new Eco Logical (320 Main St.) is one of those earthy-crunchy indie shops where the staff is friendly, the inventory is fair trade, and world music wafts from hidden speakers. Handwoven hammocks from Mexico hang beside displays of South African jewelry and shelves packed with organic soaps and candles. Up the block, you'll find Placerville Hardware (441 Main St.), the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. The 6,000-square-foot space is part gift shop, part hammer-and-nails hardware store. That means you might uncover everything from a traditional gold-panning sluice box and miniature soufflé dishes to the latest toaster models. As employee Sara Rebolcaba puts it, "You know that saying, "We've got everything you need and more"? Well, that's us."
5. The best new restaurant in townOver the past few years, Main Street's food scene has been improving, one locally sourced eatery at a time. New kid on the block, The Farm Table (311 Main St.), opened last year after winning over farmers'-market fans with its dried-cured bacon. "We try to keep it local, pooling a majority of our produce from El Dorado County and the Sacramento Valley," says co-owner Kara Taylor, who runs the deli/sit-down restaurant with her husband. The walk-up counter lays out a daily spread of treats like brie-and-ham sandwiches and a charcuterie platter with house-cured chicken liver pâté and Cajun-spiced tasso, while the mezzanine level delights diners with cassoulet, flageolet beans stewed with ham, bacon, and duck confit, and up-close views of downtown.