This Northern California Town is the Closest to ‘Shangri-La’ According to the Author Who Coined the Term

Photo: California Outdoor Propoerties

Shangri-la is a fictional place featured in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon written by British author James Hilton. While on a lecture tour in 1941, Hilton was asked a simple question: In all your wanderings, what’s the closest you’ve found to a real-life Shangri-La?

“A little town in Northern California,” he responded. “A little town called Weaverville.”

In the novel, Hilton describes the fictional town as a mystical, harmonious valley sitting in the Kunlun Mountains, the longest mountain chain in Asia. The term Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise which happily sits isolated from the world. In the novel, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living hundreds of years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance.

There are a few reasons Hilton may have compared Weaverville to Shangri-La, most notably its geographical location near the Trinity Alps and its history of Asian influence. A drive through Weaverville will bring you back to the gold-rush era of the 1800’s. Today, you’ll find gold-era saloons, quaint shops and beautiful wilderness views.

In the novel, Shangri-La is a slow-moving, isolated town which has become to the modern-day moniker to describe an earthly paradise. For Hilton, their are probably a couple reasons why it is so similar to Weaverville.

One of the most obvious relations to Shangri-La is the town’s Asian influence. The Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park is a great place to spend some time. It might be the most unique park in the area, sitting as the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California. Visitors will see Chinese art objects, pictures, mining tools, and wrought iron weapons used in the 1854 Tong War.

There’s also Weaverville’s proximity to the Trinity Alps, which tower over the town and provide the crystal-clear water flowing nearby. The Trinity Alps rise high above valley floor below, reaching heights of 9,000 feet. With massive glaciers feeding high-alpine lakes and rivers, the Trinity Alps Wilderness is one of the most underrated outdoors destinations in California.

Lost Horizon‘s Shangri-La is a mountainous utopia that seemingly moves at a different pace than the rest of the world, with its residents given the earthly time to enjoy their cast outdoor surroundings. That certainly sounds like Weaverville to me. If you want to live a little bit longer than the rest of the world, it might be worth a visit.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


  1. I lived in Weaverville from 1960-1966 while in 7th through 12th grades. It truly was a paradise, at that time basically untouched by the craziness of the 60’s. My parents continued to live there for many years. I left my heart in Weaverville, CA.
    Shirley (Gould) Eckenboy

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