Destination California: Exploring Auburn, the heart of Gold Country

Destination California

AUBURN, Calif. (KTXL) – Welcome to California’s Gold Country.  

Auburn is only 45 minutes from Sacramento and driving along I-80 toward Reno, you might miss it if you blink.

But when visitors see the miner statue and Old Town, they’ll feel hundreds of miles if not years away.

Like a beacon, the dome of the historic courthouse calls to curious travelers.

“The iconic staple of our community. As you walk around the building you start to see some of the history,” Auburn Mayor Daniel Berlant said. “The fact that the county’s first jail sits under the stairs of the courthouse, this building alone is an outdoor museum.”

Berlant is tasked with guiding the future of this foothills community while managing its pandemic present. But he feels Auburn’s rich past actually makes it an ideal destination during a time of physical distancing.

“Here in Old Town alone you can see dozens of historic buildings and all of that from the safety of the outdoors,” Berlant explained.

The walking maps made available online and around town will make sure visitors don’t miss the 130-year-old firehouse, the oldest running post office west of the Mississippi and what used to be the Shanghai Restaurant — which along with much of Old Town was the backdrop for the John Travolta movie “Phenomenon.”

Another of the city’s phenomena include the giant statues.

The miner statue is a fitting tribute to the city where gold was first found in Placer County in 1849.

The same sculptor, a local dentist, also has some quirkier pieces including Amazons and a man in chains. 

And while those nudes have no apparent connection to Auburn, the statue of a Chinese worker pays tribute to the large Chinese community whose work building the Transcontinental Railroad literally put Auburn on the map.

“The Gold Rush also really destroyed the land. It did a lot more damage to people who lived here, so we kind of struggle as all of America does with identity,” Berlant explained.  “But having these huge statues that have cultural representation of what has created Auburn is important to us.”

Lastly, one of Auburn’s biggest draws is the American River confluence, just below the Foresthill bridge, surrounded by miles of distanced diversions.

“Spend the day at the river, spend the day hiking the canyon and then get lunch, get dinner and head home,” Berlant said.

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