Multi-Gen Families Strike it Rich in California Gold Country - My Family Travels

Sippy cups and stemware come together seamlessly in Coloma, a town that’s two hours northeast of San Francisco with an unusual convergence of multi-gen family fun.

The Bella Vista B&B's pool deck is especially picturesque in fall, and some days it's warm enough to swim outside.
The Bella Vista B&B’s pool deck is especially picturesque in fall, and some days it’s warm enough to swim outside.

How about white water rafting in the morning with your grads and wine tasting in the afternoon? Or, staying with preschoolers at a family-friendly bed and breakfast with a sandy beach next to its luxurious pool? All ages can try panning for gold, have a picnic by the river or take an easy hike through shady pine forests.

The small town of Coloma in the Sierra Nevada Foothills – site of Gold Discovery in 1848 – is the place to headquarter; it’s a comfortable back-to-nature getaway complete with wineries and outdoor recreation that can amuse all ages.

Vacationers often drive past this part of Gold Country on their way from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe, but it is well worth a longer stop.

This B&B Welcomes Children of All Ages

If you stay at Bella Vista Bed and Breakfast Inn in Coloma, you can book a two-bedroom suite with its own kitchen or another two-bedroom suite with a secret bonus room where children can slip away and read a book. There is a large lawn for field games, a beautiful pond, a swimming pool with a spa, a firepit, and that sandy beach (plus an outdoor shower to hose off your youngster’s sandy feet) on the five-acre property.  Up to 14 people can be accommodated in a variety of room configurations.

Feeding the Troops

The Argonaut is famous for its rhubarb raspberry pie.
The Argonaut is famous for its rhubarb raspberry pie. Photo c. Laura Sutherland

Grill by the pool, hire a caterer for your group, cook in your kitchen or head into Coloma to the Argonaut Farm to Fork Café.  It offers breakfast and lunch made with ingredients plucked out of the farm next door, and on summer weekends you can relax on the Argonaut’s outdoor patio with live music and dinner.  Drive 15 minutes further to the town of Placerville, and treat your group to dinner at any number of excellent restaurants like The Independent, The Farm Table or The Smith Flat House – all have children’s menus and wine lists featuring local producers.

Wineries Galore

The Sentivo Winery
The Sentivo Winery is one of more than 100 scenic vineyards to visit in the vicinity of Coloma.

Two wineries are literally right next door to Bella Vista, and one of them – Gold Hill Vineyard and Brewery – makes beer too, so the suds lovers in your group will be happy. The adjacent David Girard Winery specializes in Rhone varietal wines and has an elaborate cheese platter you can pair with your tasting if you call in advance.  Drive a little further and explore other excellent wineries like Lava Cap, Holly’s Hill, Boeger, Skinner, Sentivo and Madroña– there are 100 of them along this stretch of the Sierra Foothills.

Whitewater Thrill Rides

Just a mile from the B&B, the South Fork of the American River is the most popular whitewater rafting river in the Western United States. You can opt for half-day, full-day or multi-day trips.  We hopped into one of All-Outdoors California rafting boats, which had a minimum age of 8 for the thrill level we wanted.

But families with younger children can book a float trip through an easy five-mile section that is gentle and forgiving, while teens and more adventurous types can try the Class III and IV rapids on the nearby Middle Fork of the American River.


The hardware store in Placerville can load you up with all the gold panning gear you need
The hardware store in Placerville can load you up with all the gold panning gear you need to (maybe) strike it rich. Photo c. Laura Sutherland

The discovery of gold in Coloma created one of the largest mass migrations in US history, with 300,000 hopefuls heading west to seek their fortunes. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, ground zero for gold detection, offers the chance to wander through an educational Visitors Center, a blacksmith shop, old buildings and more.

But best of all, Park Rangers here offer short classes in gold panning where you hunt for semi-precious stones, fools’ gold and real gold in the park’s sluices and learn how to maneuver the sand and gravel in your pan so the heaver gold stays at the bottom as you swish.  Once you get the hang of it you can purchase your own gold pan at the park shop and head to the east side of the river to try your luck.

Coloma Nights

Evening entertainment in these parts is centered around the Olde Coloma Theatre and its year-round melodramas. The performances especially amuse children with their hit-you-over-the-head style of humor and the chance to cheer for the heroes and heroines and boo, hiss, and throw foil balls at the villains.

And more…

Hiking in the County of El Dorado, great area to take kids
Coloma, in the County of El Dorado, is a great area to take kids and grandparents out for easy hikes.

Families on a budget can find lodging in campgrounds with hookups nearby, like the Coloma Resort or American River Resort  Hiking trails for all abilities and farm tours abound in this area, and there are plenty of sandy and pebbly beaches along the river to laze away an afternoon swimming and splashing. For more ideas, visit Coloma tourism.

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