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Main Street in Columbia State Historic Park is designated for only horse-drawn vehicles. The state park is California’s version of Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum.

Road tripping in Northern California? If you are headed to Yosemite National Park, plan a visit to Columbia, a State Park in Tuolumne County.


California has the nation’s largest state park system, with 280 parks that encompass stunning rivers, waterfalls, sprawling forests, more than a million acres of wildlife reserves, and historic towns. How many have you visited? Recently, I rediscovered Columbia State Historic Park, two-and-a-half-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Visitors try their luck at panning for gold.  


Go to the theater in a state park?  We never expected to discover an exceptionally high-quality professional theater production in the funky, historical town of Columbia. We jumped at the chance to see their opening production of Jersey Boys: The Story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, winner of the 2006 Tony Award@ Best Musical. Check the production schedule for Sierra Repertory Theatre, which produced Jersey Boys. The non-profit was founded 44 years ago and produces a year-around season of shows at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia and the East Sonora Theatre in nearby Sonora.


Camp in a conifer forest or stay in a cozy cabin or step into history and stay at the 160-year-old, historic hotel in Columbia. The Columbia City Hotel, located on Main Street is an elegantly appointed 19th-century hotel decorated with Victorian antiques, high ceilings and excellent air conditioning. Relax in the cozy parlor or sit on the outdoor balcony for morning coffee. Listen to music or sample a local brew with friendly locals at one of the two historic saloons in town. Room rates range from $85 to $115 for the large balcony rooms on weekends. The Columbia City Hotel Restaurant serves the best food I’ve ever eaten in a state or national park. The pan roasted duck breast, braised beef short rib and Harissa spiced King Salmon were standouts at our table. 


A visit to Columbia is to travel back in time to experience the world of California’s first settlers and gold miners. A horse-drawn stagecoach lingers in the shade on Main Street in in Columbia offering rides through town.  Main Street is designed as a “Horse drawn vehicle area only” by the State Park. You can also ride a horse through the countryside at the Pine Mountain Lake Equestrian Center.


Learn to pan for gold in Columbia or book an adventure with local outfitter and gold prospector, “Nugget Nick”. Nick learned to pan for gold from his dad and this year he is taking advantage of the surge in gold flakes and nuggets found in the streams and creeks due to last winter’s heavy rains. He takes kids, families, and visitors from all over the world into the countryside to pan for gold.


It’s worth it to go out of your way to visit an old-fashioned candy store. The famous Nelson Columbia Candy Kitchen on Main Street has delighted kids and adults for generations. In fact, the Nelson Family has made 80% of the candies and confections sold here for five generations. Gary remembers buying chocolates here with his mother when he was a kid. I remember my daughter’s fourth-grade class crowding into the store to buy “jaw-breakers” that they licked all the way home on the school bus. I couldn’t pass up the homemade rocky road and whipping cream fudge.    


Add Columbia State Historical Park to your bucket list for cultural surprises and captivating history.