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Auburn, Placer County hope to strike gold with Lonely Planet Top 10 listing

Popular tourist guide ranks Gold Country No. 6 on top travel destinations in U.S.
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Auburn is basking in the glow of a newly minted top ranking for California’s Gold Country as a prime tourist destination by travel guide Lonely Planet. The editors in the popular travel guide’s U.S. office put their heads together to list what’s new, interesting and perhaps overlooked. The result was a No. 6 ranking in the Lonely Planet Top 10 for the Gold Country, which takes in Auburn and other communities in the foothills and Sierra stretching from Sierra to Mariposa counties. “It’s exciting,” Reese Browning, owner of Auburn’s Old Town Pizza said Wednesday. “The recognition like this is something we’ve really wanted to have for a long time.” Browning, a member of the Placer County Visitors Bureau board, said that over the past decade the Gold Country hasn’t received much attention from travel magazines and the No. 6 ranking should provide a boost. The ranking and how to capitalize on it are going to be the focus of discussions at upcoming board meetings, Browning said. “We just found out about it and have no specific ideas but we’re already starting to talk about it,” Browning said. The Top 10 list is posted on LonelyPlanet.com. The website – and offshoot of the popular print guides – receives more than 10 million unique visitors each month from around the world. Lonely Planet’s U.S. editors produce an annual Top 10 list of buzzworthy destinations and the mention is a first for the Gold Country. Jan Decker, CEO of the Placer County Visitors Bureau, said that when you consider other destinations that made the list, the Gold Country is in some prestigious company. “It validates the area as a destination,” Decker said. The Lonely Planet list doesn’t mention Auburn or Old Town specifically but talks about “towns that ooze century-old ambience strung out like throw-back pearls along Highway 49. “Tahoe and Yosemite gets all the mountain love in California, but an hour closer to San Francisco (and cheaper and less crowded) is Gold Country,” Lonely Planet states in describing Gold Country attractions. The online article also mentions wineries and gold-panning spots as reasons to take in the Gold Country experience. Lonely Planet notes that some even consider the region a contender to Napa and Sonoma when it comes to winemaking. Decker said that with 18 wineries in Placer County and 18 in Nevada County, the area is moving toward taking on its own distinctive persona in the wine world. “I don’t know if we’re there yet (being ranked with Sonoma or Napa) but we hope to make a charge at them,” he said. Heather Willis, co-owner of Pioneer Mining Supply in Auburn, said she isn’t familiar with Lonely Planet but is thankful for the vote of support. The Downtown Auburn business sells gold pans and maps to tourists as well as experienced locals. “We can provide ideas and maps for nine areas to pan and sluice,” Willis said. “The Bear River is No. 1 for people trying panning for the first time because it’s a flood plain and the chance for finding gold is good.” The Visitors Bureau, which doubles as a California Welcome Center, is a regional partner in the larger Gold Country Visitors Association. The association markets the Gold Country in partnership with the California Travel and Tourism Commission. Efforts include cooperative radio and TV advertising, event and trade show participation, and production of brochures and other promotional literature. “We’re very excited and proud to have received this important industry distinction,” Decker said. “Our efforts seem to be paying off.” Lonely Planet’s Top 10 U.S. travel destinations: 1. U.S. Virgin Islands 2. Hudson River Valley, New York 3. Cincinnati, Ohio 4. Four Corners Region, Southwest U.S. 5. Culebra, Puerto Rico 6. California Gold Country 7. Boulder, Colo. 8. Hawai’i: The Big Island 9. Chicago 10. Yellowstone National Park Source: LonelyPlanet.com