Media Life

A Newbie’s Guide To Navigating Auburn

Trying to make sense out of a city of changing landmarks
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.   


If you caught Thursday’s “Remember This?” column, consider yourself either nostalgia-filled (Auburn oldtimer) or newly schooled (Auburn newcomer).

The column on the Alpine Markets provided a look back at what was then an Auburn institution for generations in the 1960s through the 1980s but is now little more than a memory. Albeit a beloved memory to many.

Mention of the column’s subject was fodder for the Journal’s go-to photographer Michael Kirby, who ranks among the oldtimers. Kirby said he still finds himself using the Alpine Plaza — no longer a supermarket and now a pet store — as a signpost when he gives directions, as in “turn off Highway 49 just past the Alpine Plaza.”

That’s confusing to relative newbies but rock-solid info for in-the-know Auburnites of a certain vintage.

And it’s true, Auburnites can tend to talk in a kind of code that may be confusing to outsiders but reassuring to those who know the keywords.

So, as a public service, this week’s edition of Media Life attempts to untangle some of those words and phrases with a Newbie’s Guide To Navigating Auburn:

The Domes

Auburn has a notable dome on the distinctive Placer County Courthouse but when a local refers to The Domes, look to the golden geodesic ones near the corner of Fulweiler Avenue and Nevada Street. The official name of The Domes is the Placer County Administrative Center.

City Hall

Another confusing one. The official name is the Auburn Civic Center. But even the name on the door says “City Hall.” So, why fight it. “City Hall,” that is.


The proper pronunciation is “Ee-keda’s,” so it’s going to be hard to find on a computer search if you type it out phonetically, you don’t know the spelling and are looking for a map or directions to the popular Foresthill exit pie place and I-80 stop.

The Fox Statues

No, you’re not being directed to a set of statues honoring a pack of forest creatures. You’re being sent to a set of giant sculptures of Amazonian women, semi-clad and wielding weapons on Auburn Ravine Road. They were created by Auburn dentist Kenneth Fox.

Grass Valley Highway

The names Grass Valley Highway and Highway 49 can be used interchangeably on the corridor through the city and North Auburn. But it’s Highway 49 if you’re driving toward Cool, Coloma or Placerville. So, unfortunately, it’s not the Cool Highway on that side of A-town — though that sounds kinda cool. And it would make an awesome T-shirt.

Alpine Plaza

You know that one now. But there were two Alpine Markets, one at the Alpine Plaza and a second at Highway 49 and Fulweiler Avenue. And if you’re catching on to this, that one’s near the Domes and north of City Hall. The second Alpine Plaza is now the Staples store.


If an Auburnite gives you a phone number and only provides seven digits, you can be sure that the missing prefix is “530.” The “916” prefix starts at Newcastle, by the way.

No Hands Bridge

This is a toughie. The proponents of calling the picturesque concrete-arch span over the American River “No Hands Bridge” seem to be pretty steadfast in their resolve to link it to the legendary “no hands” ride across it by an equestrienne a half century ago. On the other side of the word war are the traditionalists, who go by the official name of Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge. So if you’re directed to either name, don’t judge. The jury remains out on this one.

Bel Air Shopping Center

Get used to the name even if it isn’t the right one. It’s officially Auburn Village Shopping Center. But who calls it that? Same with the Raley’s Shopping Center. It’s Auburn Ravine Shopping Center, actually. Who knew?

Foresthill Road

This should be a no-brainer. But tell that to the people who have driven on Old Foresthill Road or Auburn’s Foresthill Avenue thinking they were on the right track.

The Fairgrounds

If someone tells you to go to the Placer County Fairgrounds, be aware that it’s in Roseville. Auburn’s is the Gold Country Fairgrounds.


Chana Park

Another mild confuser. The name is Regional Park. But Chana High School was across the street for years and somehow, “Chana Park” stuck. Maybe that happened because it makes it easier to not confuse Recreation Park (in Auburn) with Regional Park (in North Auburn).


So many lost landmarks, so little ink.

Here’s a list of place names or places no longer in existence that you may want to ask for clarification about if someone mentions them in directions, sometimes with the “the old” tacked on to the front: Auburn Cemetery (there are a few), Elder’s Corner, Gasoline Alley, Four Corners, Foster’s Freeze, A&W and Hilda’s. There are plenty more.

And we haven’t even delved into Old Town, Lower Town, Uptown, East Auburn, South Auburn, Skyridge and Downtown.     

Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.