Grass Valley’s historic downtown beckons

Explore the Gold Rush town’s antique shops, festivals
By: Sena Christian, Staff Reporter
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Old West Antiques Show

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, May 10, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 11

Where: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley

Cost: $7 general admission, $10 two-day pass, free parking



Sierra Festival of the Arts

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 26

Where: Mill Street, Grass Valley

Cost: Free admission



Road trips really work out well for me, seeing as how I always whine my way out of driving and instead get to sit back, sip my vanilla latte and bore the captive driver and any fellow passengers with my fascinating conversation.

Or, as they might call it, my “incessant chatting.” It’s a win-win for everyone involved, wouldn’t you agree?

I am often eager to hit the pavement for a day away from real life, and downtown Grass Valley has become my new favorite go-to destination for a mini trip, especially during the spring, when the warm weather beckons me to the explore this historic Gold Rush town.

Located a mere hour drive from my home in Roseville, Grass Valley is nestled off Highway 49 in the Sierra Foothills and only a few miles from Nevada City — another special treat of a small town.

On a warm day in March, my fiancé and I decided to venture to Grass Valley for a brief jaunt. We spent the afternoon walking around downtown with our dog, Buster. Bringing along a furry companion prohibited my perusing inside the several antique shops, which is always on the top of my list of things to do — anywhere I go.

Cash registers in the boutiques and novelty shops in Grass Valley had already been the recipients of plenty of my money over the years, so I had no problem keeping my wallet safely tucked away. In fact, Grass Valley and Nevada City are two of my regular stops for Christmas shopping.

But I’ve yet to attend the annual Cornish Christmas Celebration, when downtown Grass Valley comes alive for three hours every Friday night from late November through mid-December with holiday-themed, old-fashioned festivities. At this year’s celebration, there will be carolers, jugglers, musicians, a choir and handmade arts and crafts. Mark your calendars: Nov. 22. to Dec. 20.

Speaking of outdoor festivities, the Old West Antiques Show takes place Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11, at the Nevada City Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. Maybe I’ll see you there!

I also visit places that sell new stuff, including The Book Seller, an independent bookstore on Mill Street in downtown. Worn out from shopping, I’ll typically stop by Carolines Coffee Roasters on Auburn Street. This family owned business makes coffee, and helps you perfect your own cup a’ Joe at home, with a variety of brewing tools and French presses for sale.

One of the best characteristics of Grass Valley: There’s so much located in the downtown core, with lots to see. And the area isn’t yet overrun by tourists. When I go there, I feel like I’m hobnobbing with the locals and it’s easy to get a seat at the dining establishments without a long wait.

For dinner, visitors can choose from several options in downtown, including eateries featuring my three favorite food genres: Thai, Mexican and Italian. One of my usual stops is Cirino’s At Main Street, located in a restored Gold Rush-era building, and which claims to specialize in lamb, veal, seafood and steaks. I can’t vouch for the claim’s truthfulness. I’m a vegetarian. But I can vouch for Cirino’s lovely vibe and unpretentious date-night atmosphere.

Although Grass Valley is perfect for a day trip, I often enjoy spending the night in this laid-back city of 13,000 residents. I have spent several nights in the — some say, “haunted” — Holbrooke, a historic hotel, complete with a saloon and restaurant.

Knowing I won’t have to hop in the car and drive back home (and by that, I mean, someone else won’t have to drive me), means I can enjoy a drink or two at any of the downtown’s several bars. I especially like the Owl Grill and Saloon — a great environment for engaging in existential conversations with complete strangers while sipping an Alabama Slammer.

Or, if you plan ahead, check out an evening show at the 950-seat Veterans Memorial Building in downtown. The Grass Valley Center for the Arts hosts concerts at this venue throughout the year. I saw singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile there in August, and had a thoroughly fun time.