Set in the mountains of Sierra Nevada, the charming town of Nevada City, California, is as historic as it is beautiful.
The town serves as the gateway to many of the region’s most iconic outdoor destinations, including the fabled Tahoe National Forest.
But within the city proper, there are also other attractions that welcome adventures seekers, history buffs, foodies, and the whole family.
From enchanting summer festivals to long-standing theaters, from railroad museums to modern art galleries, there are so many hidden wonders for the most curious travelers.
One weekend may not be enough!
So when brainstorming ideas for an epic vacation, make Nevada City your top choice!
Here are the 15 best things to do in Nevada City, CA:
Marvel at the Wonders of Tahoe National Forest
Thanks to the iconic Lake Tahoe, Tahoe National Forest has become a well-known Californian attraction.
It spans more than 870,000 acres in total land area and reaches 9100 feet above sea level at its highest points.
And while it covers six counties, the main headquarters for operations is located in Nevada City.
The majesty of this national forest cannot be understated: hundreds of beautiful lakes and reservoirs hidden in valleys, snowcapped mountains glistening even in the summer sun, canyons cleaved by snaking rivers, and so many other natural and manmade attractions.
It’s no wonder that it receives more than 10 million visitors come here every year.
Whatever the season, there’s something to see here.
Spring and summer are perfect for wildlife encounters deep into the native forests near Nevada City; fall is ideal for landscape photography as the foliage changes; and winter is great for skiing and snow-related activities.
The sheer amount of things to do might be overwhelming, but there are many tour packages offered in the city that offer a more organized trip!
See the Artifacts of Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum
During the latter half of the 1800s and early into the 1900s, the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad system served as an invaluable mode of transport that connected this mountainous region to the Central Pacific Railroad.
This heritage is preserved and showcased at Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.
Within the facility, you'll see photographs, artifacts, newspaper clippings, and reading material that offer a glimpse of the colorful past.
The most prominent of these displays are, of course, the real-life locomotives that once thundered their way across the mountain tracks.
There’s even a small track that’s still functional, which offers rides to kids and adults.
During the ride, you’d see other sights, such as the location where other locomotives and passenger cars are being restored.
Visit the South Yuba River State Park
While the main headquarters of South Yuba River State Park is at Penn Valley, there’s still a huge chunk of it within Nevada City.
So you can easily access it via Highway 49.
This scenic wilderness is famous for the postcard-perfect vistas created by the eponymous river.
Many visitors are attracted to the various bridges that traverse the rushing body of water, both the old and the modern ones.
Edwards Crossing Bridge, Purdon Crossing, Hoyt’s Crossing, South Yuba River Bridge—take your pick!
Whichever you choose, you’d still see deep blue waters frothing against bare rocks, tree-lined banks, and mountains flanking both sides.
On the more isolated spots, there are majestic waterfalls, beautiful meadows, and other sights waiting for the curious and adventurous traveler.
Watch the Bikers During the Nevada City Classic
Since the 1960s, the Nevada City Classic has been hailed as one of the most challenging professional cycling races in the whole country.
It’s also the second oldest race of its kind in the US, held annually during Father’s day.
From the 1500 spectators during its early years, Nevada City Classic now expects 15,000 every year, making the race a major event in the community.
The track is just 1.1 mile, but it brings participants through hilly and twisty areas that put their endurance and coordination to the test.
But there’s no need to worry for the cyclists, as most of them are trained professionals who have competed in other events like Tour de France.
The roster of winners is a testament to the event’s prestige, which includes Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Greg LeMond.
View Colorful Cliffs at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
There are no shortages of state parks on this side of California, and one of these is Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park.
During the Gold Rush, necessity became the mother of invention.
So when streams ran out of gold, the miners took the cliffsides and created a brand new way to harvest the gold: hydraulic mining.
The method errored the topsoil all the way to the bedrock, which resulted in areas utterly denuded of greenery.
Because of the environmental impact, the practice has been banned, but you’re welcome to visit these hydraulic mining sites.
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park is the biggest one, and it also has a historical village restored to look like it’s still in use by long-gone miners.
Trek the hiking trails to reach the original mining pit, and you’ll see the beautiful layers of rock with alternating bands of color.
It’s a great place for camping, landscape photography, and other nature-related activities.
Learn the City’s History at Miners Foundry Cultural Center
The California Gold Rush caused an upheaval in this region of the US, and it has left an imprint that continues to be felt even today.
One of the places where this legacy continues to live on is at Miners Foundry Cultural Center, a culturally and historically important landmark in Nevada City.
It was established to serve the needs of lumbermen and gold miners who needed their raw materials processed into various products.
During that time, there were a couple of inventions designed in the foundry that helped hasten and improve processes.
Some of these are on display at the cultural center, such as the Pelton wheel, side-dump ore car, and non-mining commercial vehicles.
Aside from housing these innovations, the center serves as the venue for various events that are often open to the public.
These include live music performances, theater plays, film festivals, and other enriching activities.
Sample Fine Drinks at Nevada City Winery
Sierra Nevada’s mountains are always covered in snow, but Nevada City has a warm enough climate that it rarely experiences freezing days.
This has made the nearby agricultural lands ideal places to grow lush grapevines.
So it’s no surprise that there’s a local wine scene in the city.
In fact, the oldest winery in the Sierra Nevada foothills is located here: Nevada City Winery.
The operators purchase high-quality grapes from local growers and distill them to create award-winning bottles.
You’re welcome to try some of their drinks by visiting their tasting rooms—you’d be surprised at the complex aromas and flavors you’d smell and taste in every sip.
Don’t forget to bring home a bottle or two to open during special occasions!
Join the Festivities at Summer Nights
Nevada City has a talented community, with lots of its residents and businesses inclined towards visual and performing arts.
If you want to see these talents and creativity unleashed, then join the festive Summer Nights event.
It’s held on three weekends of July, starting from 6 PM until well into the night.
Here, music, art, and community are celebrated.
You’d find numerous stalls selling stunning artworks, artisanal furniture and jewelry, stylish clothing, fine leather goods, and many other products made by the local craftspeople.
Along the streets, there are fire dancing performances, art demonstrations, live music by local bands, face painting, and many other activities for the whole family.
You’ll really see a brand new layer of Nevada City during your visit, one that celebrates human creativity and penchant for the beautiful.
Fish Freshwater Game at Scotts Flat Reservoir
As one of the closest bodies of water to Nevada City, the Scotts Flat Reservoir has become a local favorite for those who want to try water-related activities.
This portion of Deer Creek was dammed in 1948, resulting in an 850-acre lake at 3,100 ft above sea level.
The serene mountain setting and pine tree-lined banks of the reservoir create beautiful views that make it an excellent summer getaway.
And it indeed has established itself as one, with several campsites, boat launches, sandy beaches, and picnic areas.
You can even boat to the middle of the lake and try catching some of the freshwater game lurking in the depths, such as Massachusetts brown trout, Channel catfish, and smallmouth bass.
Catch a Show at Nevada Theater
Also known as Cedar Theater, the Nevada Theater is the oldest existing structure of its kind in California.
It has been around since 1865, standing witness to the many eras of performance art and film, including the silent films of the 1900s.
Today, it still maintains a functional purpose aside from being a significant historical landmark.
You can watch a theater production, comedy performance, live music concert, and select films in the 200-seat facility.
Be sure to check out their calendar to see the schedule of upcoming events!
Find Tranquility at Hirschman's Pond
Accessible via the Hirschman Trail, Hirschman's Pond is another natural attraction in Nevada City that also doubles as a historical landmark.
It was once another site of hydraulic mining but has since filled up with water after the practice was outlawed.
Today, it has become another attraction that’s great for the whole family.
In fact, the trail leading to the pond is ADA compliant, so even people with disabilities can visit the area without much difficulty.
You’d see various points of interest along the route, such as a 40-foot long trestle built to replicate railroad structures during the 1800s.
Upon you’re arrival at the pond, you’d immediately feel the quiet and isolated ambiance that puts you in a meditative mood.
You’re welcome to fish along the shore, take photos of waterfowl, and just enjoy the tranquil scenery of the attraction.
Find Fresh Produce at Nevada City Farmers Market
As mentioned, the lands around the city are fertile, and the climate is ideal for growing a wide range of crops.
So it’s no wonder that there’s a thriving agricultural industry in Nevada City.
If you’re looking for a place where you can partake in the seasonal bounty, then make a stopover at the Nevada City Farmers Market.
It’s open every Saturday from May to December, and you’d find numerous stalls offering fresh produce from local farmers and gardeners.
These include seasonal vegetables, various fruit cultivars, fragrant coffee beans, and premium root crops.
In addition, there’s a selection of homemade items by local businesses, such as preserves, baked goods, and artisanal furniture.
Make sure to mingle with shoppers and vendors to make friends with locals during your visit!
Pick Lush Berries at Riverhill Farm
If you want to experience harvesting your own produce instead of choosing one from the farmer’s market, then be sure to visit Riverhilll Farm.
The ten-acre land is irrigated by the South Yuba river, so the owners are able to grow a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables.
And while they’ve only been around since 2001, the farm quickly became a favorite attraction north of Nevada City because of the beautiful sceneries and fresh produce.
While the vegetables and some fruits are harvested by the farmers themselves to preserve quality, you’re welcome to pick the lush berries growing on one section of the land.
It’s the perfect way to select the very best fruits to bring home!
Smell Flowers at Crystal Hermitage Gardens
In the spiritual village of Ananda, on the northern edges of Nevada City, lies the perfect springtime destination: Crystal Hermitage Gardens.
It’s one of the most visited locations in the city, and it frequently graces the lists of gardening magazines as one of the top spots on the West Coast.
And it’s all because of the gorgeous tulips that bloom in unison during the spring, which can reach almost 17000 individual flowers in a single season.
Visiting the gardens has become a springtime tradition for locals and visitors alike—nobody wants to miss the beds of tulips that burst with numerous colors and variations.
And the venue itself is a serene and relaxing destination that’s perfect for meditation and spiritual exercises.
Try the Signature Dishes of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.
To cap off a day of outdoor adventures in Nevada City, chug a cold mug of beer from Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.
The establishment is a local favorite, frequently visited by residents and tourists alike for the tasty selection of beverages and artisanal pizza and pieces of bread.
And the ingredients used, whether for beer or pastries, are guaranteed fresh since they’re sourced from the city’s farmers.
You’ll taste the difference once you’re dining inside their cozy and inviting restaurant.
Take Time to Explore the Firehouse No. 1 Museum
In the center of Nevada City's town center, the Firehouse No. 1 Museum is a gem.
The museum is a must-stop for anybody traveling to Nevada City as it contains many of Nevada County's undiscovered treasures.
Originally, the brick structure's Greek revival-style façade was simpler and included a large bell tower.
Current Victorian gingerbread replaced the original one around the beginning of the 20th century.
Due to its Victorian magnificence, it is arguably the most photographed structure in Nevada City.
The museum's upper floor houses a sizable collection of goods used in everyday Victorian living, including toys, wedding dresses, musical instruments, tools, and a small dollhouse.
Search for Items to Keep at the Earth Store
A lifetime Californian and environmental enthusiast owns the Earth store.
Its mission for around 20 years is making the most of every great outdoors.
They provide books, maps, and souvenirs to enrich your leisure time.
You may purchase apparel, equipment for science, and learning supplies at their serene store.
Browse various items and ask for assistance finding the ideal present or tools for recognizing something in the natural world.
The Earth Store is proud to share its appreciation of the great outdoors with the Nevada City community and hopes to make customers feel at home.
Get Energized and Conquer the Deer Creek Tribute Trail
Deer Creek Tribute Trail is a well-known track that starts as a jog through Nevada City's downtown.
You may leave town on the Tribute Trail and begin walking in a calm rural area close to Deer Creek in no time.
A well-traveled path heads west onto Factory Street from the Miner's Foundry on Spring Street in the center of Nevada City.
This route honors the early contributions made to the history of this location by Chinese and local Nisenan people.
Since birding, hiking, and strolling are all highly popular activities here, you can run into other visitors while sightseeing.
Built Connections to Animals at Red Moon Ranch
A tiny horse facility called Red Moon Ranch is tucked away in Nevada County's woods.
When Skip Bertuzzi first arrived at the Red Moon Ranch, he envisioned it would become much more than just a ranch.
Red Moon Ranch is a refuge for orphaned horses and a learning facility for individuals of all ages, situated just outside of North San Juan and surrounded by nature.
Not only do people learn how to ride horses here but also how to communicate effectively with them.
They offer lessons and allow students to develop their riding skills and experience forming emotional relationships with incredible creatures using hand signals and body language.
Tap on Your Creativity and Buy Items at J.J. Jackson's
J.J. Jackson's gift store is located in the lovely main downtown Nevada City and is available daily to the public from 11 a.m to 5 p.m.
Along with travel accessories, textiles, greeting cards, toys, and home décor, body care products, they sell things and presents that have been specially chosen to provide joy.
J.J. Jackson's is a store that has been in business since 1978 and is renowned for its carefully chosen assortment of products.
They continue to be a place for inspiration and creativity while also serving as a hub for community and connection.
J.J. Jackson believes the connection is essential for a healthy lifestyle; thus, they try to offer quality products to improve wellbeing.
Nevada City is a haven for nature lovers, with its vast parks, rushing rivers, peaceful lakes, and bountiful farms.
But it’s also a great destination for those who like performance and visual art, history, music, and food.
So whatever preference you have, make sure to check out this list to learn about the top spots in this charming city.