The Plaza on Mill Street at dusk in Grass Valley, California. Editorial credit: Cavan-Images /

6 Cutest Small Towns In California's Sierra Nevada To Visit In 2024

Also known as ‘Gold Country,’ the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California have always drawn a crowd from the gold-hungry prospectors hoping to strike it rich in the Old West to our own era’s modern-day thrill-seekers and adventurers, looking to test their skills in the beautiful natural playground of eastern California. The Sierra Nevada is the longest continuous mountain range in America, stretching 400 miles through Nevada and California. But it’s not just the mountains that are the star of the show; nestled amid the rugged peaks and in the gentle foothills are dozens of welcoming mountain towns waiting to be discovered by intrepid travelers.


Beautiful town of Mariposa near Yosemite Valley. Editorial credit: Jon Chica /
The beautiful town of Mariposa near Yosemite Valley. Editorial credit: Jon Chica /

First settled in 1849, Mariposa is a charming gold rush town whose streets follow the original layout created by the town’s founders in 1850. This makes Mariposa a very accessible and walkable town, built around its downtown core which resembles an Old Western movie set with 1800s inns and saloon-style buildings lining the dusty streets. Don’t miss the Old Stone Jail, built in 1858, or the Courthouse, constructed in 1854. For a fascinating insight into pioneer days, stop by the Mariposa Museum and History Center, one of the best small museums in America, according to the Smithsonian Institute.

If you’re exploring Mariposa on a summer weekend, you’re in luck. The town hosts a popular summer concert series, Music on the Green, which runs from May to September and features live entertainment every Friday and Saturday evening in downtown Art Park. Mariposa is also home to one of the most unique spring events in California, the Butterfly Festival. This one-of-a-kind two-day event features a dazzling butterfly release, live music, food vendors, and a downtown parade.

Grass Valley

Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley. Grass Valley is a Gold Rush town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Editorial credit: EWY Media /
Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley. Grass Valley is a Gold Rush town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Editorial credit: EWY Media /

A centuries-old mining town, Grass Valley was once the epicenter of California’s 1800s boom time. Nowadays, all the action happens above ground in Grass Valley’s vibrant downtown, but you can still get the mining experience at the Empire Mine State Historic Park. Home to one of California’s most profitable gold mines, the park includes the mine buildings, owner’s home, and 14 miles of hiking trails through forested backcountry.

Back in town, stroll down Main Street to see some beautiful examples of classic gold rush architecture, including the iconic Holbrooke Hotel. This historic hotel has had many memorable guests over the years, including US Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland, as well as author Mark Twain. If you’re looking for ideas for your 2024 holiday season, plan a trip to town to catch Cornish Christmas, an annual downtown street fair with handmade crafts, local food vendors, and live entertainment.


Groveland, California, USA. Editorial credit: FinJoe /
Groveland, California, US. Editorial credit: FinJoe /

The gateway to Yosemite National Park, Groveland is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking for amazing hiking adventures, thrilling whitewater rafting excursions, or scenic strolls. There’s plenty of action on Main Street, too, if you’re not in the mood for wilderness. Hit the bar at the Iron Door Saloon to drink like a cowboy. Opened in 1852, this iconic bar is the longest continually operating saloon in all of California. Stop in at the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum in beautiful Mary Laveroni Park for more Old West lore and to grab a photo with the imposing 565-pound black bear at the entrance.

Visit Groveland in September 2024 for the town’s legendary 49er Festival and Chili/Salsa Cook-Off. The town comes alive for this bustling festival with an old-fashioned Western Parade (complete with staged shootouts and other cowboy adventures) along with live Western music and dancing.


The historic town of Placerville was one or the early towns which grew out of the 1849 California Gold Rush. Editorial credit: Paul Brady Photography /
The historic town of Placerville was one of the early towns that grew out of the 1849 California Gold Rush. Editorial credit: Paul Brady Photography /

Placerville is named for the placer gold deposits found in the area in the 1840s. In summer, the town’s historic downtown transforms into an open-air art gallery with local artists displaying their work on eye-catching banners throughout the quaint streets. Visit the Placerville Hardware Store, billed as the oldest in the west of the Mississippi, and call into the Fountain-Tallman Museum to browse the exhibits and/or book a guided historical tour of the town. Historic buildings share downtown with bustling boutique shops, cozy eateries, and quirky galleries.

Just a mile north of Main Street, you’ll find the Gold Bug Park & Mine, where you can take a self-guided tour 352 ft into a hard rock gold mine or simply explore the park’s historic stamp mill and working blacksmith’s shop. If you’re overnighting, stop by the Community Observatory at sunset for a magical moment as you watch the stars come out overhead.

Angels Camp

Angels Camp, California. In Wikipedia.,_California By ShreddingTex at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Angels Camp, California. In Wikipedia. By ShreddingTex at English Wikipedia, BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

A cute name for a cute town, Angels Camp is a picturesque village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The town was famously featured by Mark Twain in his story ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras’, which gave rise to its long-running Jumping Frog Jubilee. This country fair takes place on the third weekend in May every year, and, yes, there are frogs. The amphibians participate in races, guided by their very own ‘frog jockeys.’

Given Mark Twain’s connection to the town, it’s no surprise there’s an exhibit dedicated to him at the Angels Camp Museum and Carriage House, where you can also browse one of the largest wagon collections in America. Just outside town, you’ll find one of California’s largest reservoirs, New Melones Lake. With stunning views, gorgeous swimming spots, scenic hiking trails, and excellent fishing, this is a popular location for daytrippers all year round.

Tahoe City

Marina in Tahoe City, California, USA on summer day.
Marina in Tahoe City, California, US on summer day.

Don’t be fooled by the name; Tahoe City has just over 2,500 residents and a welcoming small-town vibe. This cute lakeside community overlooks Lake Tahoe, close to D.L. Bliss State Park, making it a mecca for hikers and those wanting a taste of the scenic Sierra outdoors. It’s also known as one of the state’s top ski resorts, with plenty of winter fun on offer at the Tahoe XC and Tahoe City Winter Sports Park. If a more leisurely vacation is what you had in mind, stroll the lake view boardwalk in town for gorgeous views over the water, stopping at Heritage Plaza, a cute picnic spot with a giant bear sculpture. Wander down North Lake Boulevard to browse Tahoe City’s dining and shopping hotspots, as well as the Tahoe Art Haus and Cinema, a cute one-screen theater that doubles as a draft house with a wide selection of craft beers.

Visit Tahoe City in June 2024 to catch the town’s annual Food and Wine Classic, a celebration of delicious bites and artisan wines. Later in the year, the town plays host to another signature event, the Tahoe City Oktoberfest. Taking place in September 2024, this fall festival features Bavarian-inspired dishes, locally brewed craft beers, games, and live entertainment.

With year-round activities, unique natural formations, stunning scenery, and historic towns, California’s Sierra Nevada should be top of your travel bucket list for 2024. There’s so much to enjoy in this pocket of the Old West — exploring gold mines in Placerville, racing frogs in Angels Camp, and stopping by California’s oldest saloon in Groveland. You may not strike gold in these hills, but you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.

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