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A perfect weekend in Nevada City and Grass Valley.

Whether you're passing by the Nevada City--Grass Valley area on the way to higher mountains or are just looking for a convenient getaway, you may be amazed at how much there is to see and do here this time of year. Each town--about 5 miles apart on State Highway 49/20--has been dealt a classic, still-functioning Victorian hotel and appealing B & Bs, and residents support adventuresome restaurants, so sojourners can expect blandishments Victorian traveler Lola Montez herself might have envied.

You might start at Montez's former home, at 248 Mill Street in Grass Valley, now a chamber of commerce: (916) 273-4667. It has a museum and material on both towns; hours are 8:30 to 5 weekdays, 10 to 3 Saturdays. Ask about booking tickets for Nevada City's Music in the Mountains (it produces several series) or the Foothill Theatre Company (Alan Ayckbourn's witty Woman in Mind runs through July 18). Another reserve-ahead treat is the Sierra Storytelling Festival, July 17, 18, and 19, at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, a rural classic; call 265-2826. And there's always the active live music scene in Nevada City's friendly bars.

Mining museums in the area are unexpectedly varied. In Grass Valley, Empire Mine State Historic Park (273-8522) offers guided tours of the mine yard and the mine owner's summer house, the Cottage, a Romanesque masonry mansion designed by Willis Polk. Garden beds near the Cottage contain 52 antique rose varieties, at least half of which should be in bloom through July. The North Star Powerhouse Mining Museum (273-4255), also in Grass Valley, explains how the Pelton wheel first manufactured in Nevada City) supplied power for hard-rock operations. And Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park (265-2740), northeast of Nevada City, shows off the ecological damage caused by hydraulic mining.

The Grass Valley Museum (open 10 to 3 Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 3 weekends) is a former convent-orphanage with a past of its own, which adds presence to displays set forth in the sisters' parlors and orphans' schoolrooms. Light shivers in a remarkable way over the pressed-tin interior of the old chapel. St. Joseph's Hall.

When the heat makes a plunge into a cold river irresistible, head for one of our favorite swimming holes west of Grass Valley. To reach one, take Pleasant Valley Road north from State 20 to the pine-shaded park beside the 1862 Bridgeport Covered Bridge, and then follow a path across the road from the bridge 1/4 to 1/2 mile east along the Yuba. If you're with children, try Western Gateway Regional Park in Penn Valley, which has creek swimming, a rope swing, rest rooms, and a picnic area.

Any day, you can tour Nevada City in a carriage drawn by a steady-tempered Percheron (a breed originally imported there to haul logs). Call 265-5348 to reserve a daytime jaunt with informative commentary or a romantic evening ride with less talking. Prices start at $10.

Where to stay? At Grass Valley's stolidly self-assured Holbrooke Hotel, you can sleep where several US. presidents have reposed. The Holbrooke's Nevada City counterpart, the National Hotel, may be a better place to have a drink than to lodge, but the town has good B & Bs: Grandmere's (elegant but expensive), The Red Castle Inn (an 1860 hilltop landmark), and Flume's End (a relaxing spot beside splashing waterfalls; just avoid the awkwardly situated Stained Glass Room). The Northern Queen Inn has nice creekside housekeeping cottages that are practical for families. In Grass Valley, we appreciated the graceful, nonintrusive hospitality of Murphy's Inn. The art-crowded Swan-Levine House is full of vitality.

Among Grass Valley restaurants, locals repeatedly recommended Tofanelli's and the Gold Star Cafe for breakfast and lunch and The Holbrooke Restaurant and Main Street Cafe & Bar for dinner. in Nevada City, Michael's Garden Restaurant, The Creekside Cafe, Country Rose Cafe, and Cirino's all had boosters, as did the fondue dinners at Friar Tuck's Restaurant and Bar ("I love the slowness of the eating there," murmured one happily unhurried admirer). Our favorite was extremely fresh California cuisine at Peter Selaya's Restaurant.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset's Travel Guide; California
Author:Williamson, Marcia
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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