85 miles, Full day
Ione (pronounced 'eye-own') is a historic town in Amador County, California. It is well preserved and if feels like a city where time has frozen. Saloons, vineyards, Victorian era buildings and a pastoral countryside all come together to give this town charm. It's historical significance is owed to it's proximity to the gold mines. Ione's location on the main road made it an ideal supply center for prospectors on their way to the Mother Lode. Today it's proximity to Sacramento, Placerville and the bay area make it an ideal destination for a no-hassle "staycation".
Half the fun of visiting Ione is getting there. All roads into town involve a windy, pastoral drive. For those driving in on highway 49, the quaint towns of Plymoth and Pokertown offer plenty of places to stop for a drink. If you come from the east on the 88 then you'll pass through Fiddletown (population: ~200). This, blink-and-you'll-miss-it little burg only occupies a postage stamp stretch of road. Its bucolic setting makes it look like a set from the Andy Griffith show. For shutter-bugs, the lighting during the "golden hour" lends itself to postcard worthy photography. Whichever part of California you are coming from these little towns are all close enough to Ione that you can visit them without putting more than another 60 miles on your odometer.
Once in Ione, there's a number of buildings that call attention to themselves. Of these, The Preston Castle is certainly the most attention grabbing. "The Castle," as it's known locally, is an imposing building. It was built in the 1890s and is known for its detailed craftsmanship. This building used to be a school for convicted juveniles. The Castle has a notorious history. A graveyard on the premises has 23 graves where former inmates were buried. The Castle is said to be haunted.
If you're in Northern California this rural route into Ione is a good choice for a cheap all day getaway.
Bring your camera, sun screen and at least $20 per person if you're going to tour the castle. The tours, led by volunteer docents, cost $10 for adults and $5 for children 5-12. There's more details on the castle at included PrestonCastle dot com link.
Be sure to check the weather forecast on your way in. This drive is usually best in the morning when it's cool.