As you will quite likely quickly notice, the common denominator between all the Sierras and Gold Country museums listed below is history. History buffs LOVE this fascinating California region.
Amador County Museum, Jackson – Built in the late 1850s as a private home, the 15 rooms now provide insights to Gold Rush life, including a exhibits on “Gold History,” sewing and quilting and fashions of the past, as well as a Victorian bedroom and parlor, a Native American collection, a Chinese American collection, an old fashioned school room and much more. (co.amador.ca.us/depts/museum)
Angels Camp Museum, Angels Camp – Located on the site of the now defunct Angels Quartz Mine, this three-acre museum includes numerous buildings in which visitors can explore and enjoy antique vehicles, ranching and farming related artifacts and exhibits highlighting Gold Country mining history. The museum is open Thursday to Monday, March through December, from 10am to 4pm. (angelscamp.gov/index.php/museum-top)
Calaveras County Museum, San Andreas – One of the area’s finest, this museum complex includes the historic county courthouse, hall of records and jail, and museum displays include Native American, pioneer, gold mining, mineral and the Chinese artifacts. (calaverascohistorical.com/museum)
California State Mining and Mineral Museum, Mariposa – Home to over 13,000 mining artifacts, gem and mineral specimens from California and around the world, including the Fricot “Nugget,” a spectacular 13.8-pound rare and beautiful specimen of crystallized gold discovered in the American River in 1864. The mine tunnel, assay office and working scale model of a stamp mill instructs how the precious mineral was found and mined in the mid-1800s. (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=588)
The Chaw’se Regional Indian Museum, Pine Grove – Part of the 135-acre Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, this gem of the Gold Country museums has an outstanding collection of Indian artifacts, including examples of basketry, feather regalia, jewelry, arrow points and other tools. (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=553)
El Dorado County Historical Musuem, Placerville – A tiny building filled with pioneer and Native American artifacts and a library with extensive Gold Rush-era archives. The grounds include steam engines, water wheels and more. (co.el-dorado.ca.us/museum)
The Firehouse Museum, Nevada City – Open May-September weekends, this museum houses Donner Party relics, an altar from a Chinese Joss House, Native American artifacts and 19th-century toys and clothing. (nevadacountyhistory.org/htmls/firehouse)
Grass Valley Museum, Grass Valley – An orphanage during the Gold Rush-era, this museum depicts the area’s rich history through 1930 with artifacts, clothing and Victorian era furnishings displays. Open afternoons Tuesday-Friday or by special arrangement, there is a magnificent 130-year-old rose garden located in front of the building. (saintjosephsculturalcenter.org)
The Heritage Museum, Murphys – Located at Ironstone Vineyards, this museum presents artifacts from the area’s early Native American inhabitants (the Miwoks) along with 19th-century gold mining artifacts, but its focal point is the largest crystalline gold leaf specimen in North America. Weighing 44 pounds, this specimen was discovered by the Sonora Mining Company on Christmas Day 1992, 15 miles from the winery. (ironstonevineyards.com)
Kern Valley Museum, Kernville – History and legends of the Old West come alive with this museum’s superb collection of artifacts and memorabilia.
Laws Railroad Museum & Historic Site, Bishop – With buildings set up to represent a village surrounding the railroad depot, this location’s 11 acres of exhibits preserves the history of the Owens Valley as well as the memory of the area’s last common carrier narrow gauge railroad.
Mariposa Museum & History Center, Mariposa – Displays include gold-mining artifacts, including a typical one-room miner’s cabin, a giant freight wagon and a stamp mill (a machine that crushed ore to particles of sand, releasing the gold from the quartz). Excerpts from miners’ letters to family and friends back home detail the back-in-the-day mining camp life. (mariposamuseum.com)
Miners Foundry Museum, Nevada City – Open to the public Monday-Friday, artifacts and photographs share this circa-1855 building’s rich history, including its distinction as the 1879 birthplace of the famous Pelton Wheel (an invention which revolutionized hydroelectric power). (minersfoundry.org/history)
Red Barn Museum, San Andreas – Formerly the dairy barn of the old County Hospital, this is another of the Gold Country museums that captures Calaveras County’s agricultural, mining, logging and ranching history. Actual mining carts, farm wagons and other donated objects make up the elaborate displays, many of which made possible through the help and donations of community members and local businesses. (calaverascohistorical.com/exhibits/redbarn)
Shenandoah Valley Museum, Plymouth – This free museum, part of the Sobon Estate Winery, is housed in one of the original 1856 D’Agostini Winery buildings, the only Sierra Foothills vintner to survive Prohibition and California’s oldest, continuously operating winery. The museum presents information about the region’s early agriculture and winemaking tradition. (sobonwine.com)
Sierra College Museum of Natural History, Rocklin – Open whenever school is in session, displays are illuminated from 8:00am to 8:00pm. The second-floor planetarium is open by appointment only. The Museum and Nature Trail are free to the public, but monetary donations are always accepted and appreciated. (sierra.cc.ca.us/museum/history)
Sierra Nevada Logging Museum, Arnold – Open Thursday through Sunday afternoons, April through late Fall or by appointment December through March, this museum includes a 2400-square foot building housing extensive indoor exhibit space, a gift shop, on-site storage and workshop, as well as outdoor exhibits of large equipment and artifacts. Easy walking trails lead from the museum to swimming, boating and fishing at White Pines Park, and a long walk leads all the way around White Pines Lake, passing the site of the old Blagen Mill. Admission is free; donations accepted and appreciated. (snlm.wordpress.com)
Tuolumne City Memorial Museum, Tuolumne – Open weekend afternoons (except for major holidays), this museum blends local history from the early Miwok tribes and the Gold Rush period. Displays include typical personal items (clothing, health care items and photos) and a scale-model of a local railroad and its route. (tuolumnemuseum.org)
Yosemite Museum, Yosemite Valley – Located next to the visitor center, displays present Yosemite’s native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present. Cultural demonstrations (basket weaving, beadwork and traditional games) are offered during the summer. The Indian Village of Ahwahnee is also located here, behind the visitor center. (nps.gov/archive/yose/pphtml/facilities)
Photo of Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park by artq55 via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Mariposa Museum by jimbowen0306 via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Yosemite Museum by glennwilliamspdx via flickr (Creative Commons).
California’s Sierras and Gold Country region includes other popular travel destinations like Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, as well as Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. Additional articles are included in the guide’s Sierras and Gold Country Vacation and Travel Guide to help you plan your travels to and around those areas.
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.