Travel Review: A Weekend in Grass Valley, California

May 31, 2021millionmilermom

This post may contain affiliate links. My stay at the vacation rental was paid for by myself.

Nestled between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, along Highway 80, is a historic mining town called Grass Valley with beautiful vistas and lots of recreation options. After looking at a destination for a 3 day weekend, we discovered Grass Valley and Rollins Lake. It got even better when we found a beautiful vacation rental that was a relatively new construction with a modern design. Read on for details for planning your long weekend in Grass Valley, California.

The Details:

When we went: May 2021

Ages of kids at time of travel: 8, 6 and 2

Where we stayed: Vacation Rental in the Chicago Park neighborhood of Grass Valley, California

Rollins Lake Retreat
The front of the Rollins Lake Retreat vacation rental.

What To Expect in Grass Valley

Grass Valley is about an hour past Sacramento. You will exit in Colfax and this road is what will bring you to both the rental house and Downtown Grass Valley. This city was founded as part of the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s. It was home to two of the richest mines in California, Empire Mine and North Star Mine. The land of these two mines are now home to the Empire Mine State Historic Park.

The vacation rental we stayed at was in the Chicago Park neighborhood overlooking Rollins Lake. It is about 10 minutes from Colfax and 20 minutes from Downtown Grass Valley. The house is newly built (about 3 years old), very modern and situated at the end of a private road. The 3-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home has a large great room, well-equipped kitchen and a lower level bonus room. The outdoor space is equally gorgeous with multiple decks, sitting areas and a large lawn. Lake Rollins is just a short walk down a trail.

All the basics are provided (ex. linens, towels, beach items) plus extras like toiletries to use, lawn games and lots of other entertainment (DVDs, books, puzzles, board games).

Things To Keep in Mind

Playing in Rollins Lake, Grass Valley
The rocky cove provides a great place for kids to play.

Rollins Lake is primarily a boating late so you will hear the hum of boat engines, especially on weekends. If you are not a boater, you can still rent kayaks (the vacation home has two for rent for $25/day each) and explore closer to shore. There is a small, rocky beach down the trail from the house. It is not a private beach but isn’t the easiest to access for those not staying at the home so it tends to be quieter. This cove provides shallow water and some shade for groups to enjoy the lake.

My one word of caution is the walk back up. It isn’t too steep but, if you have younger kids, lots of gear or one of the kayaks, it can be a bit tough. My advice would be to have kids walk or wear little ones, try to consolidate just the essentials in a few bags and be sure to use the wheeled bases for the kayaks to make getting them up and down much simpler. Also, multiple trips is highly recommended!

Dining Recommendations in Grass Valley

We chose to do a combo of dining at the house and dining out during this stay. I did grab some groceries from Whole Foods in Roseville but there are also two Safeway grocery stores in Grass Valley. Additionally, there are a number of smaller markets for the basics.

pancakes at Sugar Pine Cafe, Grass Valley
Breakfast creation at South Pine Cafe
  • For breakfast, we enjoyed our meal from South Pine Cafe. If you go on a weekend, try to go between 8-9am to beat the breakfast rush. Good, reasonably priced kids menu. Also, open for lunch.
  • If you are craving pizza, definitely order from Il Pizzaiolo in Colfax. Very small dining room so better to take it to-go. Delicious wood-fired pizza. Our favorite was the Pepperoni Jalapeno & Honey. Yes, you read that right. It was such a delicious mix of savory and sweet. The pizzas are about 11-12″ so get a few to try their creations. The salads were actually pretty good, too.
  • We also got food from Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant – not my favorite but good service and reasonable prices.
  • On our list to try that we never made it to: Meze Eatery, India Oven & Taste of Thai.

What Else To Do in the Area

The beautiful area within and around Grass Valley is full of things to do for the whole family:

  • Empire Mine State Historic Park – we spent about an hour and a half here exploring the gardens as well as the mining equipment. $5 per person fee to tour the grounds for ages six and up. No charge if you just want to picnic (separate area of the park).
  • North Star Mining Museum – another spot to learn more about mining in the area.
  • Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum – for the train-enthusiasts, a place to learn more about the role the rail industry had in the area.
  • For even more mining education, you can also visit Coloma and Placerville for museums and historic sites. About 1 hour away from Grass Valley by car.
  • If you come in fall, Bierwagen’s Donner Trail Fruit and Pumpkin Patch will be open and would be a fun stop for kids.

Need more lake time? Check out another one of my favorite vacation rentals in Northern California, Sugar Pine Cabin.

kayaking on Rollins Lake
Enjoying the day at Rollins Lake

What to Pack for Grass Valley

This rental is very well-equipped so you can pack very little! We packed:

  • Casual clothes (no need to dress-up) as well as comfy loungewear for the evenings
  • A light jacket for morning or evenings
  • Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap and hand sanitizer were all provided)
  • Swimsuit (or two) depending on how frequently you’ll be in the water – there is a red-color clay down by the water so, be forewarned, it can stain swimsuits.
  • Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for being outside or by the water
  • Water shoes (like this style) were key for both kids and adults as the shore is quite rocky (and they also provided a nice grip walking down the trail)
  • Lifejackets for kids if they will be kayaking (they had a few for adults; we brought our 2-in-1 lifejacket/rash guard along for the little guy)
  • Water bottles to refill

How to Book

Book this property through VRBO.

Comments (9)

  • Sarah McDonald

    June 1, 2021 at 8:09 am

    This sounds fun, especially the kayaking. What a great house you found for a family break!

    1. millionmilermom

      June 1, 2021 at 8:17 am

      This house was an incredible find! The view alone was worth it.

  • scholes3

    June 1, 2021 at 10:27 am

    What a lovely place to explore 🙂 I want to see more of California

  • Kelly

    June 1, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    This looks like a great place to stay for the weekend. Thanks!

  • Kelly Kristensen

    June 1, 2021 at 11:32 pm

    What a very nice, kid-friendly weekend! I love the food from the cafe! Yum! 🙂

  • Cosette

    June 2, 2021 at 3:37 am

    Love the food from the cafe. The house rental sounds and looks fantastic.

  • Amber

    June 6, 2021 at 6:05 am

    The home you rented looks absolutely stunning!

    1. millionmilermom

      June 6, 2021 at 6:33 am

      It was so nice! Definitely fun to find a newer property!

  • Julie

    June 7, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    This looks like such a fun place to go with kids! That breakfast place looks so cute!

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