If you’re looking for one of the most unique and immersive experiences in Northern California, look no further than Columbia State Historic Park! Located in the heart of the California Mother Lode, Columbia State Historic Park is a living gold rush town featuring the largest single collection of gold rush-era structures in the entire state. At the peak of the Gold Rush, Columbia was California’s second-largest city (second to San Francisco). Today, Columbia State Historic Park is one of the few remaining towns reminiscent of the California Gold Rush era, and it’s amazing how well-preserved it is. This town looks frozen in time and you’re not going to find many other 19th century Gold Rush towns as spectacular as this. Hosting a treasure trove of historic artifacts, Columbia State Historic Park showcases the Gold Rush lifestyle in an immersive and unforgettable experience.
Here, you can expect to see costumed docents walking along the streets, hosting historical tours, shopkeeping, and even serving you lunch. You can catch a ride on an authentic stagecoach, indulge in ice cream, sarsaparilla soda, or beer in a saloon, try your hand at gold panning, and much more. This post will dive deeper into all of the things you can do at Columbia State Historic Park!
10 BEST THINGS TO DO AT COLUMBIA STATE HISTORIC PARK
TAKE A FREE HISTORICAL TOUR
Take an informative historical tour, led by one of the many costumed docents at Columbia State Historic Park. Free historical tours of the park depart from the museum weekends at 11 a.m. Alternatively, you can also grab a self-guided tour booklet from one of the many storefronts and explore the town while learning heaps about the town.
Local Tip: Summers can get hot and weekends can get crowded, so aim to arrive early morning and start your visit with a tour. The park’s calendar is also filled with great events year-round; be sure to check for the holiday celebrations, performances, and exhibits.
VISIT THE MUSEUM
Take a break from all of the old west sensory overload and head to the museum to brush up on a few historical facts on Columbia. It’s a small museum, but it’s packed with a whole bunch of information!
Fun Fact: Columbia is located in the heart of the Mother Lode, an expansive network of quartz that held a whole lot of gold. Columbia yielded $87 million in gold at 1860’s prices.
TRY GOLD PANNING
Head over to Matelot Gulch Mining for gold panning lessons that are quite affordable. There is also a mining supply store, souvenirs, as well as gold bought and sold.
RIDE A STAGECOACH
Quartz Mountain Stage Line offers rides around the park in a stagecoach pulled by horses. There’s nothing more appropriate than riding through an old Gold Rush town in the authentic form of transportation for that time period.
GO CAMPING AND HIKING
Columbia State Park offers plenty of RV parking, camping, picnicking, biking, backpacking, canoeing, fishing opportunities. If you get sick of the western vibes, take it outdoors and go enjoy the other side of the park.
STAY AT A HISTORIC HOTEL
All of the rooms in these historic hotels inside the park feature Victorian-era furniture and very ornate wallpaper, which will instantly transport you back to the 19th century. Talk about immersive living! Each room has a typical sitting parlor where guests can relax after a long day of exploring.
- Columbia Cottages: Charming and cozy cottages
- City Hotel & Fallon Hotel: Authentically restored, elegant 19th Century country inns.
BROWSE THE SHOPS
Who could have imagined that a state park would have shopping? Well, Columbia does not disappoint! Taking a stroll down the main street, you’ll easily find the grocery and general store, leather shop, bookshop, blacksmith shop, hobby/toy shop, candle shop, as well as an old-fashioned candy store. You can even buy old-fashioned clothing to really look the part during your time here!
EAT/DRINK AT THE RESTAURANTS AND SALOONS
Do not miss the opportunity to eat or drink at the park. The restaurants and saloons are decorated with old-timey vibes, so it’s worth stopping by to grab a bite to eat, escape the heat for a moment, and enjoy the ambiance.
- Columbia House Restaurant: Full breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including beer and wine.
- Brown’s Coffee & Sweets Saloon: Espresso Bar, baked goods, ice cream, and lunch specials.
- Fallon Ice Cream Parlor: Old fashioned ice cream parlor serving cones, sundaes, ice cream sodas, milkshakes, malts, sarsaparilla, and sodas.
- Jack Douglass Saloon: Serving up sandwiches and other hearty options, sarsaparilla, and beer. Often lively music (there’s a piano in there)
- St. Charles Saloon – Hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, sarsaparilla, beer, and wine.
- What Cheer Saloon – Full-service bar featuring fine Cognacs, Armagnac, and Scotches, as well as local wines and local beers on tap.
CATCH A LIVE PERFORMANCE
Fallon Theater hosts a wide variety of live theater in an authentic setting that’s as good as any theater in the state. Check out their calendar for the most up to date offerings.
GET DRESSED UP FOR VINTAGE PHOTOS
Kamice’s Photographic Establishment is where you go for those old western photos with costumes and backdrops. But there’s really no better place to take them than here at Columbia State Historic Park.
There’s a ton of other things you can do in the park, such as grab afternoon tea and crumpets at Columbia Kate’s teahouse, check out the old school and jail, walk to the old ruins of the Chinese quarter, scope out historic fire trucks and wagons, and much, much more. If you’re in the Mother Lode area, definitely make your way to Columbia State Historic Park, you won’t regret this one-of-a-kind experience!
Nearby attractions include Rail Town 1897 State Historical Park, Yosemite National Park, the historic main streets of Sonora, Jamestown, and Twain Harte, and several wineries.
Looking for even more things to do near Columbia State Historic Park? Read my other post on the best things to do in Tuolumne County!