A visitor’s guide to downtown Grass Valley

“Take the scenic route to downtown Grass Valley.” Off the beaten path, the Gold Rush-era town is a heritage travel gem. Downtown Grass Valley is livable, walkable and historic. Whether you’re shopping, dining, staying or playing, you’ll find an abundance of options.

Grass Valley’s historic downtown core—about 15 walkable blocks— continues to be the community’s main shopping hub. “The vibe going on in Grass Valley is fantastic,” says jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who has performed at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, thanks to The Center for the Arts. “We need more of this in our country.”

“Grass Valley still has that frontier feel, as well as locally owned stores that make up a thriving community,” adds Cowboy Junkies songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, who also has performed at The Center.

The main streets are Mill and Main, anchored by the iconic spire of the Art Deco-style Del Oro Theatre. The historic Holbrooke Hotel, restaurant and saloon—with a freshly painted exterior—is a landmark on Mill Street.

A “Little Italy” is sprouting up downtown, on Bank Street, where Italian-oriented establishments, such as Trattoria Milano and Bear River Pasta are located. To the east, on Colfax Avenue, a shopping and dining district is becoming known as “The Avenue.”

If you want a new pair of shoes, a dress, fresh pasta, a juicer, fresh flowers or even gold-panning equipment, you can find it downtown. The stores have creative names such as Future Generations, a baby store; Bamboo Home Store, an eco-friendly shop; or Yuba Blue, for women’s clothing.

Tess’ Kitchen Store on Mill Street has become an ultimate destination for cooking. The three-floor store occupies more than 6,200 sq.-ft., the biggest kitchen store in the foothills. It also has a first-class cooking school with a commercial kitchen.

The Lazy Dog Chocolateria on Mill Street is a “scrumdiddlyumptious” ice cream and candy shop, with its pink facade. Across the street, Culture Shock Yogurt is a popular spot for frozen yogurt.

Freebies, perks, smiles and “going the extra mile” for customers are the rule for downtown Grass Valley merchants—and many other mom and pops in the foothills. For six years, Stucki Jewelers in downtown Grass Valley has made their generous pledge: buy jewelry from them on November 27-28, and if it snows on Christmas Day (at least an inch) your jewelry is free.

The downtown merchants’ window displays — at Foothill Flowers, for example — are magical. They are decorated in themes for events such as Gold Rush Days, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, safe trick-or-treat Halloween and Cornish Christmas. Merchants also dress in costumes, adding character and authenticity to the ambiance.

The dining scene in Grass Valley is among the most vibrant in the foothills. Restaurants offer a wide range of fare—artisan pizza, fresh made pasta, juicy steaks, chicken, sushi and fresh, local food—all at affordable prices.

Entertainment abounds. The Center for the Arts hosts big-city talent including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Michael Franti, Arlo Guthrie, Amy Grant, David Crosby and Graham Nash, Kris Kristofferson, Will Durst and Judy Collins, among others. The Del Oro Theatre, built in 1940 by United Artists, also provides a nostalgic movie theater experience for visitors and locals.

Downtown Grass Valley also has become a center for wine tasting, all in restored Gold Rush-era buildings. They wineries are Avanguardia, Lucchesi, Sierra Starr and Smith. On Mill Street, 151 Union Square also is a popular gathering spot for tasting local wines and craft beers.

The art scene includes Art Works Gallery in a restored Gold Rush-era building on Mill Street. The gallery won “best art gallery” in the region on the KCRA3 A-List in 2014 amid competition from Roseville, Folsom and Sacramento.

“Best in the West”

Grass Valley recently was named best architecturally-preserved western town by True West magazine, the oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. “We salute you for representing, preserving and celebrating the American West,” the magazine said.

Grass Valley also was named one of the 40 best commuter cities in California by Obrella, an insurance publication. With an average daily commute of 19.3 minutes, and a majority of workers in the area commuting for less than 15 minutes a day, Grass Valley ranked number 18. “We have a quality of life that people want to be a part of,” says Grass Valley Mayor Jason Foyer.

(Photo: Kial James)

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