Evidence of California's history is everywhere in the centrally located Gold Country. Tour the restored district of Old Sacramento, which sprang up almost overnight after the discovery of gold in the nearby foothills in 1848. Stroll around Angels Camp, the setting for Mark Twain's 1867 short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. State 49, the pretty country road that zigzags along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Range, leads to some of the Gold Country's oldest and most picturesque towns. Look out for Coloma, commemorated at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park as the place where the precious metal was frst found; Sutter Creek, with excellent dining and shopping; and Jamestown, home of the carefully restored National Hotel, originally built in 1859.

Revel in frst-class style aboard the El Dorado, a 1924 observation car that takes visitors on steam-train excursions along the Sacramento River. Roam the extensive museum and grounds, with displays, railway carriages and memorabilia commemorating the heyday of rail travel.

Walk beneath soaring palms and deodar cedar trees in Capitol Park, then enter one of the state's most lovingly restored buildings, enlivened with fligree detail, paintings and murals. Learn more about the seat of state government on guided tours or at living history events. Finally, look out for sightings of Governor Schwarzenegger.

Amble through the streets of one of the best-preserved communities in the gold-discovery region known as the Mother Lode. Fortunately, the handsome brick buildings protected here withstood the fires that wiped out most of the region's other gold-rush camps and towns that sprung up in the mid-1800s. Columbia has its contemporary side too: enjoy souvenir and antique shops, cafes, two hotels and a terrifc candy store.

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