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CALAVERAS COUNTY TOWN HAS TOURISTS JUMPING FOR JOY.

Byline: Story and photos by Bill Becher Correspondent

MURPHYS - This charming small town in Calaveras County is a perfect base from which to explore the historic Gold Rush country in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Made famous by Mark Twain's story about amphibians of great leaping ability, Calaveras County, about 130 miles east of San Francisco, has plenty to offer for a weeklong or long-weekend visit. You can ski in winter at nearby Bear Valley, play golf at six local courses, marvel at the giant sequoias at Big Trees State Park, go rafting on the Stanislaus River, pan for gold, sip wine at many area wineries or explore the depths of Mercer Cavern.

Or you can just make a day out of a stroll down Main Street in Murphys.

First, enjoy breakfast at Grounds, a favorite of locals. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and for dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Try the made-to-order potato pancakes or omelets with fresh-baked bread. French toast from homemade bread is another popular item. Lunches include Tex-Mex dishes and soups prepared fresh daily. Dinners feature a daily fish special, air-dried New York steak and wild mushroom pasta accompanied by an award-winning wine list.

When you finish your latte at Grounds, you can browse the antique shops, bookstores and art galleries that line Main Street, a tree-shaded avenue decorated with flower boxes.

Many of the historic buildings along the street were built in the latter half of the 1800s after Dan and John Murphy set up a tent mining camp here in 1848. With the discovery of gold, Murphys' population reached 3,000 in 1852 - about what it is today. Millions of dollars' worth of gold was extracted from the area, attracting gamblers, saloonkeepers and entrepreneurial ladies.

Murphys Hotel on Main Street opened in 1856, and was rebuilt after it burned in 1860. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it's still a hotel and bar.

Dunbar House, built in 1880, is one of several bed-and-breakfast inns in Murphys. It sits in a garden behind a white picket fence, and offers air-conditioned rooms with private baths and gas fireplaces.

In a local poll, the Alchemy Market and Wine Bar was voted best place for lunch in Calaveras County in a local poll. You can get made-to-order sandwiches for a picnic lunch that can be taken on a tour of wineries or a trip to Big Trees State Park.

Aside from lunch and wines by the glass, Alchemy also offers light dinners called P.M. Small Plates, with such items as crab cakes with garlic aioli or black truffle mousse and country pate with Dijon mustard, cornichons and a baguette.

Wine is the new gold in the Gold Country, and many local wineries have tasting rooms in town. Off Main Street in a cool, dark cellar you can sip the wines of Zucca Mountain Vineyards, a small, family-run winery. Its fruity zinfandel is an excellent value. Or try its Sangiovese Rosato, a gold-medal-winning selection.

At the other end of the scale (and about a mile from Main Street) is Ironstone Vineyards, a 1,150-acre facility that features wine tasting and tours, a gourmet delicatessen, ponds and colorful flower gardens.

You can also gawk at a 44-pound hunk of gold - a crystalline leaf specimen still in its natural form - or buy lesser bling-bling at the jewelry shop.

The Murphys Old Timers Museum, which houses Gold Rush artifacts, is open Friday through Sunday in the afternoon.

Or you can get a manicure, pedicure, facial, aromatherapy, or hot and cold stone massage at the Jillian Day Spa.

Murphys Grille on Main Street has a curbside patio where you can eat, drink and people-watch.

The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee is held the third week in May in nearby Angels Camp, but the area books up fast for this event.

Another note of caution: Late summer can be very hot here, so plan your trip accordingly.

On the first Saturday in October, you can see people with purple feet, hear live music and watch belly dancing demonstrations at the Calaveras Grape Stomp and Gold Rush Street Faire. Arts, crafts and collectibles are displayed at 120 booths on Main Street.

MURPHYS

Where: Town is a six- to seven-hour drive from Southern California via Highways 99 and Highway 4. Another option is to fly into Sacramento and drive down on Highways 16, 49 and 4.

Information: Go to www.visitmurphys.com or contact the Calaveras Visitor's Bureau at (800) 225-3746; www.gocalaveras.com.

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Visitors to California's Gold Rush country can stay at Dunbar House, a bed-and-breakfast inn built in 1880.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 16, 2004
Words:781
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