Photograph courtesy Far West
The spot where James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 also happens to be one of the best places to learn whitewater kayaking. A 70-minute drive from Sacramento International Airport, the south fork of the American River has predictable water flows and beginner-friendly sections. Rest up at Eden Vale Inn, a B&B near Placerville with Xanax-like gardens and casually luxurious rooms (reserve one with an outdoor soaking tub). The Philly cheesesteak at Take a Bite Deli is a staple around here; get yours on the way to Current Adventures, where owner Dan Crandall starts newbies in a pool before moving them into the river to learn strokes. You can also visit a replica of Sutter’s Mill at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which stocks maps of hiking trails. This is the country, but you’d hardly know it when you’re eating a house-made pasta or the chocolate-chipotle prawns at Café Mahjaic.