I have some gold pans and a portable shovel. I live in California and I am interested in places with camping grounds and nearby water to do some recreational gold panning.
Know of any good places for a beginner?
If you want to do this as a hobby, there's lots of places you can go. The American, Yuba, & Klammath rivers have the most gold. A lot of the parks have something in place to allow to do a little panning. You should be able to find a few flakes to show your friends, but you won't make any substantial money doing it. Also, using any kind of mechanical help, like a sluice, is not allowed.
Most of the good places to find gold already have claims filed, so you won't be able pan there without permission. Some of those claims are owned by clubs, so you'll have to join to get access.
Just a word of warning, if you're trying to do anything more than a hobby, you may be disappointed. really looking for gold is hard work, requires expensive equipment, and often proves to be a bust. If you still want to do it, look for ads for used equipment. A lot of people give up shortly after buying a lot of new equipment.
Lastly, if you strike it rich, remember who helped you out. :-)
You can visit Columbia, CA (also near Yosemite) to check out a historical state park where they offer gold panning activities. This might be a fun place to go since you can see a lot of history for the CA gold rush. Link to CA Park website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=552