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A great day trip, Volcano, California is rich with Gold Rush and war time history!
Volcano is a quaint, small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It’s an easy day trip from the valley and other foothill towns.
With a mix of visitors and very friendly locals, it is easy to see what draws people here. Volcano was once a thriving mining town with a population over 10,000 people. Today the history of the Gold Rush era and Volcano’s wartime heroes is evident everywhere you look.
If you are interested in California history, Volcano is definitely for you!
This post is all about Volcano, California.
Volcano, California: A Hidden Little Gem In Amador County
The town of Volcano is located 60 miles east of Sacramento in Amador County. It’s an especially lovely drive in the spring when the winter grass is green from all of the rain and foliage is blooming. Visiting on a summer day has the potential to be hot and dry while walking around the streets.
Volcano was founded in 1848 by soldiers of Colonel Stevenson’s first regiment of New York. Early gold miners named the town Volcano because of the crater shaped volcanic appearance of the land. Incredibly, it is estimated that $90 million in gold came from this region alone!
What To Do In Volcano
So what is there to do in this small old mining town of Volcano?
Upon arriving in Volcano, you will notice the red, house shaped tour markers shown in the photo above. Each sign has a date, name of the place you are exploring, a brief history of its significance to Volcano and a number. You can do your own self guided tour through the town, which is only a few blocks deep and wide. The signs bring you everywhere from the old school house to the town cemetery.
While touring Volcano, you will see there is plenty of evidence and left over remnants from the gold mining heyday of the past. On display is a hydraulic nozzle that was used to shoot water at high pressures against the land in efforts to release the gold from the soil. As a result of this mining technique, you can still see boulders displaced and craters in the landscape. Because of its negative impact on the environment, hydraulic mining is outlawed today.
Quite possibly one of Volcano’s biggest draw is the outdoor amphitheater, which is still in use today and offers several productions offered throughout the year. With a slogan, “big acts in a tiny town!“, you can watch a show like Beowulf while enjoying your own picnic.
Volcano’s History With War
Brigadier General Harry B. Liversedge was born in Volcano. Not only was he an Olympic athlete, but more impressively, General Liversedge led the 28th Regiment of the Marine Raiders in the capture of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
“Old Abe”, Volcano’s infamous cannon, dates back to the civil war. It was secretly shipped into town in a hearse, mounted to a carriage and used to secure Volcano against the union militia line. “Old Abe” continued to be used during town celebrations until the end of World War II.
You can read more about Volcano’s interesting history at the Amador County Chamber of Commerce.
The best places to eat are where the locals are, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Sizemore Country Store. Located in the original General Store in Volcano, Sizemore is the oldest continuously operated store in California, dating all the way back to 1852. The staff and locals here are very friendly and the food is made fresh and to order. Plus, they have a great selection of beverages. I am always super pleased to find a nice selection of local wines too!
There are four dining areas to choose from: stools at the food counter, tables in the bar room, plenty more tables in the back room, which is filled with quirky memorabilia and loads of photos, and the outside patio. The other side of the restaurant is a market that sells Sizemore merchandise, odds and ends and antiques.
In addition to Sizemore Country Store, you have your choice between two hotels with restaurants. At the moment, only the Volcano Union Inn is open as the St. George Hotel is currently under renovation. The menu at Volcano Union Inn looked amazing, but we were ready for lunch before they were open.
Kneading Dough Bakery is the fourth and last option within the town of Volcano. We wanted to eat here as the reviews are very good, but they were closed. Quite a few places in town were airing out from flooding as the area had been hit by substantial rainfall recently.
Where To Stay In Volcano
If you are looking for hospitality at the top of it’s game, the Volcano Union Inn is for you! With just four, second level guest rooms, this cozy bed and breakfast offers everything you need for a getaway from robes to complimentary wifi. Each morning, guests are presented with a two-course offering made to order. You also have the option to purchase add on packages with fresh flowers, wine, aromatherapy and more.
The Volcano Union Inn & Pub is located in a building dating back to the 1880’s that was once a saloon and boarding house. The lower level of the Inn is where you will find the pub. It’s open on select days with minimal hours, so be sure to check the Inn’s website if your heart is set on eating here.
Another historic option is the St. George Hotel, though as previously mentioned, it is closed for renovations. This hotel boasts 22 guest rooms spread out on the second and third floors, as well as annexed property. Each room is cleverly named to the region. We were able to peak inside the annexed rooms, and they were spacious, private and cozy. Unlike the Volcano Union Inn, the St. George Hotel can accommodate conferences and weddings.
The St. George Hotel was first built in 1852, but burned down three times thanks to its wood frame work. The fourth build was in brick and is how the hotel remains today. It was recently sold in January 2022, and the new owners haven’t posted much except that they are renovating.
What To Do Near Volcano
Touring Volcano will only take you a few hours at most. So what else is there to do in the area? Plenty! Within a 25 minute drive of Volcano, you can explore caves, see the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America at Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, wine taste in Plymouth and visit the quaint, historic town of Sutter Creek (a personal favorite!).
Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark (2 min. drive)
A privately owned cave, Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark has rarely seen helictite formations. Growing up, both my husband and I went to caves on school field trips. Our own children have done the same. If you have never been to a cave, you should! Black Chasm Cavern has three chambers, which includes a lake. This is a great activity to do with your kids.
We chose not to do the tour as we’ve done many in the area already. A ticket for Black Chasm cave tour is $20 a person. However, you can partake in the walking trail on the property for free or gold mine in their flumes. And if you are feeling extra adventurous, Black Chasm offers special tours that they claim are a “spelunker’s dream come true!”.
Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park (7 min. drive)
When my husband worked for the California State Parks, he often traveled to Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park for work. Our kids also had field trips here in elementary school to experience the rich Native American history. Most notably, events are often held here by local Native Americans in the hun’ge (roundhouse shown above).
Indian Grinding Rock is where you can find the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America. In addition, you can share in experiences of local Native American culture.
Sutter Creek (15 min. drive)
Aww, Sutter Creek! My husband and I love to come here as a weekend getaway. This small town has shops, great inns, wonderful food, friendly locals and very good wine. What’s not to love? Sutter Creek is where we stay when exploring Amador County. It’s only one county over from us, so we are quasi local to the area, but it’s far enough away to feel like a vacation.
Wine Tasting in Plymouth (25 min. drive)
One of my favorite pastimes in Amador County is wine tasting. This region has volcanic and valley soil and just the right climate for allowing grapes to mature slowly, making for exceptional wines. Amador County is California’s first wine region (sorry, Napa) in part due to the newly rich miners and other part for the old, rich soil in the Sierra foothills.
Several wineries are located in Plymouth, about a 25 minute drive from Volcano. Others are on Main Street in downtown Sutter Creek. The best wine you will find in Plymouth is by far Jeff Runquist Wines. The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and wine club members are regulars.
On Main Street in Sutter Creek, do not pass up Bella Grace. They have fabulous wines and olive oils! I have not been to their other location in Plymouth (the vineyard and wine cave). So I suppose this is a close tie to Jeff Runquist Wines. Just taste them both!
As you can see, the town of Volcano and the surrounding area has much to offer. I highly recommend a visit to Volcano!
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This post is all about Volcano, California.