Things to do in Grass Valley

“VISIT CALIFORNIA” HAS A celebrity spokesman—actor Rob Lowe, who shares his love for the great outdoors, and the dining, arts and culture scene. As it turns out, Grass Valley has its own informal group of celebrity tourism ambassadors—the famous people who perform at The Center of the Arts and had a great visit.

Besides performing, Joan Baez enjoyed a locals’ dinner alongside the South Yuba River—grilled wild-caught salmon, wood-oven roasted chicken, grilled corn and fresh bread from the Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.

Food activist Michael Pollan broke bread with local farmers, such as Riverhill Farms, at a farm-to-table dinner before he spoke about the “locavore” movement at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. And actor and musicians Jeff Bridges (AKA “The Dude”) went bowling with some locals and enjoyed breakfast at the South Pine Cafe in downtown Grass Valley.

“Grass Valley really supports live music, arts and culture, all in a family setting,” says singer-songwriter Michael Franti. “That’s one of the things we love about coming here.”

Grammy-Award winner Marc Cohn calls Grass Valley “one of my favorite new places to play out of hundreds of places.”

The Center for the Arts offers more than 150 performances a year, including music, dance, theater, film, visual art, comedy, youth arts education and literature. Last year Melissa Arnot, who has climbed Mount Everest five times, shared her experiences. The Center attracts patrons from all over, including Sacramento, Tahoe, Reno and the Bay Area, making it an “economic engine.”

Under Executive Director Julie Baker, her staff, the board and generous patrons, The Center is reaching new heights. The Center recently purchased California WorldFest from its founders, giving it a signature music festival.

Besides The Center for the Arts, the historic Del Oro Theatre on Mill Street is a draw for entertainment. Built in 1940 by United Artists, the Del Oro, with its stunning Art Deco architecture, has been a Grass Valley icon for generations. The theater now has new seats, a state-of-the-art sound system and digital 3-D projection. It shows first run movies but also live performances from New York’s Met Opera and London’s National Theatre.

Many downtown Grass Valley restaurants and wine tasting rooms offer live music, including Sergio’s and Kane’s restaurants, as well as Smith Vineyard’s and Lucchesi’s tasting rooms. On Colfax Avenue, Summer Thyme’s offers live music. The restaurants and tasting rooms also display local artwork.


Culinary vacations are booming: Visiting farmers markets, sampling artisan products, attending a wine festival, going wine or beer tasting, driving along a food or wine trail, or a hands-on experience cooking alongside top chefs. The Grass Valley area offers all of the above.

Tess’ Kitchen Store on Mill Street offers a wide range of cooking classes with experienced chefs in a restaurant-quality kitchen. Creative classes include Italian, Thai, pies and tarts, cheesemaking and salads. Classes include a discount on shopping.

One of Tess’ in-house chefs Alan Tangren, a veteran of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, leads a tour of the Grass Valley Thursday Night Market and returns to the kitchen to prepare a delicious dish. At Tess’ Chef’s Table, Tangren also prepares an imaginative six-course meal paired with wines for about a dozen guests who gather around the table.


Grass Valley is a town and country experience wrapped into one travel adventure—from a climbing wall at the Thursday Night Market to rock climbing in the nearby Tahoe National Forest. Here are some attractions:

The richest hard rock mine in California in its operating history of 106 years (1850-1956). Stroll the lovely 13-acre grounds.

The park contains several parcels of land along the South Yuba River and the Bridgeport Covered Bridge (now under renovation).

A variety of activities, including wildflower walks, hiking and biking trails, swimming, fishing, bird watching, gold panning and more.

Operated by the Nevada County Historical Society, this museum has been recognized as the most complete hard-rock mining museum in California. Outside is a small creekside park for picnics and relaxation.

For more information, visit

(Photo: John Taber)

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