If walls could talk, what a story they’d tell about the Gold Hill Hotel,… (Virginia City Convention…)
You don't need a time machine to return to the Gold Rush days in and around Nevada's capital of Carson City — just a plane ticket to Reno and a rental car for the short, scenic drive south. Once in Carson (as the locals call it), ditch the car for an older form of transportation.
Carson City is short on lodging with much character. To step back in time, make the 14-mile drive to Gold Hill, where Nevada's oldest hotel still welcomes guests. The Gold Hill Hotel (Highway 342, Gold Hill;  847-0111, www,goldhillhotel.net) offers a variety of options from rooms in the original 1859 hotel to the two-bedroom Miner's Lodge with its corrugated metal roof. The room rates (starting at $45 on weekdays) appear frozen in time; prices on its website's 2008 rate card are still accurate.
Just across the street from the State Capitol, Comma Coffee (312 S. Carson St., Carson City;  883-2662, http://www.commacoffee.com) is a fave with locals and legislators. It's an eggs for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch kind of place, but the food is consistently good and the prices are reasonable. (The sourdough French toast with a hint of cinnamon costs just $4.75.) This coffee shop regularly hosts Celtic music sessions, Salsa dance lessons and a weekly demonstration for world peace.
To immerse yourself in history, hop aboard the Virginia & Truckee Railroad ( 847-0380, http://www.virginiatruckee.com) for the three-hour round-trip ride from Carson City to Virginia City. During the trip, you'll learn about the riches found in the Comstock Lode. There's a three-hour layover in Virginia City, which looks much as it did 150 years ago.
The region's railroading history also comes alive at the Nevada State Railroad Museum (2180 S. Carson St., Carson City;  687-6953, museums.nevadaculture.org). There's a model railroad display of the V&T, and short rides on a real train are offered on weekends.
The lesson learned
Know your dates and book ahead for the V&T Railroad. The steam engine trips between Carson and Virginia City are popular and offered only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Once tickets are purchased, no changes or refunds are allowed.
Excluding airfare, a family of four can spend two weekend nights in the Miner's Lodge for $250. Lunch for four at Comma Coffee is about $40. Round-trip train tickets for two adults and two kids total $154. Railroad museum admission is just $6 for adults. Children younger than 18 get in free.