Hidden gem in Gold Country
After exiting Interstate 80 in Auburn, Calif., about 30 miles east of Sacramento, I realized I had arrived in mining country. Within five or so seconds of leaving the freeway (watch for the hairpin turn), I was gawking at a larger-than-life statue of Claude Chana, who discovered gold here in 1848. Excluding airfare and car rental, a weekend visit to Auburn will cost about $500, including two nights at the popular Power’s Mansion Inn and a mouth-watering dinner at Bootleggers Old Town Tavern & Grill.
Years after the boom had gone bust, Harold Power found his fortune at the aptly named Hidden Treasure Mine. He built the sprawling Victorian home that is now Power’s Mansion Inn (195 Harrison Ave.;  560-0638, www.powersmansion inn.com), where a young mining engineer named Herbert Hoover often overnighted. The 16 en suite guest rooms are designed in the style of the 1880s, when Power struck it rich. Weekend rates start at $200 a night during December. Breakfast is served in an adjacent pub because the mansion’s dining room is operated as a tea room.
Bootleggers Old Town Tavern & Grill (210 Washington St.;  889-2229, www.bootleggers auburn.com) is a pleasant discovery just steps from Chana’s statue. The creative menu features appetizers such as an artisan cheese plate ($11) and roasted garlic with brie, tomato jam and crostini ($10). Dinners include chicken risotto ($18) and a mixed grill of meat and seafood ($26). Local Placer County wines complement the meals.
Beginning in 1967, Auburn dentist Ken Fox starting sculpting the huge concrete statues that dot the town. Locals swear that his first creation -- “Why” (391 Auburn Ravine Road) -- prompted the school district to re-route its buses because of the anatomically correct, 42-foot-tall male nude. Adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce (601 Lincoln Way) is a massive 70-ton statue dedicated to the Chinese laborers of the Gold Rush. The region’s mining history is shared at the Gold Country Museum (1273 High St.;  889-6500, www.placer.ca.gov/Depart ments/Facility/Museums). Admission is free, but for $3, kids of all ages can pan for gold.
The lesson learned
Owner Alfred Lee has cultivated a large wedding trade at Power’s Mansion Inn, so the place often fills up on weekends. Be sure to book well in advance.