It's hard to imagine now, but in 1849 about 4,000 miners staked out every gully and hillside in Placerville, turning the town into a rip-roaring camp of log cabins, tents, and clapboard houses. The area was then known as Hangtown, a graphic allusion to the nature of frontier justice. It took on the name Placerville in 1854 and became an important supply center for the miners.

Many of the always hoppin' downtown historic district's restaurants, indie shops, coffeehouses, and wine bars occupy rehabbed 19th-century buildings. A defining characteristic of nearby El Dorado AVA wineries ( is their vineyards' high elevation, from 1,200 to 3,500 feet.

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Fodor's Southern California: with Los Angeles, San Diego, the Central Coast & the Best Road Trips

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