Add to the list of things you never knew existed in California’s Gold Country is a German Baptist apple farm and bakery that makes the best apple turnover you’ve ever had (even their playground—complete with a miniature train—is road-trip-worthy).
And if you don’t quite care for hard apple cider, that’s because you’ve never been to Indigeny Reserve in Sonora, the most modern and beautiful cider house you’ve ever seen. This eco-friendly orchard oasis—and their extra dry reserve cider—will amaze you. Even dogs, which are welcome to roam free among the 160 acres of apple orchards, love it here.
So if it’s been a while since you’ve taken a road trip to the Gold County and Yosemite, now is the time to open your calendar and find the right weekend for a 4-day Gold Country & Yosemite getaway. You don’t even have to plan it—I just spent a week in Tuolumne County and found all the best things to see and do for you.
Right then: Here we go.
DAY 1: This Cider House Rules (any John Irving fans out there?)
INDIGENY RESERVE, 12:30-3pm
Assuming you’re departing from the Bay Area, it’ll take about three hours to drive here (the last hour, along the foothill’s winding roads, is very pretty, so bring a camera). Plan on leaving at about 9:30am, pack picnic lunch, and drive straight to the Indigeny Reserve Organic Apple Ranch and Ciderworks near Sonora. People, I promise you—before you even arrive at the tasting room you’ll be impressed by how beautiful and peaceful it is here.
Spend about an hour at the tasting room and touring the distillery. Be sure to purchase at least one six-pack of the refreshingly dry Extra-Crisp Reserve Hard Cider and a few bottles of the Hard Cider Naturally Robust infused with blackberries (your new favorite summer drink). You won’t find them at any store near your home, and you’ll wish you had bought more once your friends drink it all.
After the tour, enjoy a leisurely lunch at their picnic area shaded by oak trees, then take a stroll through 160 acres of apple trees along self-guided walking trails. (Note: Indigeny Reserve is a bit tricky to find, so be sure to have it mapped out before you leave.) 209/533-9463
COVER’S APPLE RANCH, 3:30-4:30pm
I’ll admit it: I was never crazy about hard apple cider until I discovered Indigeny Reserve, and I never got excited about apple turnovers until I discovered Cover’s Apple Ranch. When you’re done touring Indigeny Reserve, hop in the car and tell Siri you want to visit Cover’s (rhymes with Dover) Apple Ranch. Your navigation app will take you on a scenic 30-minute drive toward Tuolumne City to another apple orchard, this one run by a traditional Old Brethren family (no hard cider sold here).
You’ll definitely want to stock up on apple pies, turnovers, dumplings, and fresh-pressed cider, which you’ll be noshing on for the rest of your vacation (nom-nom-nom). And if you brought the kids with you, let them burn off some energy at the adjacent playground with a huge treehouse, miniature train, and barnyard animals. 209/928-4689
TRAVEL TRIVIA: True or False? Apples are native to North America
McCAFFREY HOUSE, 4:30-6:30pm
Check into the McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn for two nights. This will take longer than you think because as soon as you meet Stephanie, the instantly-likable innkeeper, you’ll want to talk with her all evening—she’s a hoot, and my favorite innkeeper in the Gold Country. She and her husband Michael run one of the best B&Bs in the Gold Country—the kind of place you come back to year after year. 209/586-0757
THE ROCK OF TWAIN HARTE, 7-8:30pm
Time for dinner. Rather than drive back to Sonora, let’s amble over to the nearby town of Twain Harte and have dinner at The Rock of Twain Harte, a popular pub and restaurant run by Jim & Diane Dunigan. If it’s a warm evening ask for a table on the deck. Start with the cranberry gorgonzola salad, then go for either the on-site-smoked St. Louis-style ribs or tri-tip, the fish-n-chips, or the ribeye steak (great burgers too). Finish it off with the carrot cake. 209/586-2080
DAY 2: Hiking and Gold Rush History
HIKE AROUND PINECREST LAKE, 10:30-12:30
After breakfast at 9am at the McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn, gear up for a hike around Pinecrest Lake, one of the most scenic hikes in Tuolumne County. Located about 30 miles east of Sonora off Hwy 108, the 4-mile dog-friendly Pinecrest National Recreation Trail takes about two hours to walk, offering classic alpine lake views: pine forests, granite cliffs, and the dark-blue Pinecrest Lake, a 300-acre lake owned by PG&E. If hiking isn’t your thing, there’s also a small marina where they rent paddle boats and kayaks. You can download a map of the trail at www.tuolumnecountytrails.com (click on “High Country Trails”).
LUNCH AT STEAM DONKEY RESTAURANT, 12:30-2pm
Just a short distance from the Pinecrest National Recreation Trail is the Steam Donkey Restaurant at Pinecrest Lake Resort, a surprisingly upscale restaurant that serves lunch in the summer months starting in early June with outdoor seating on the back patio. I always order the juicy Steam Donkey Burger with a side of fries, but I’m sure their other sandwiches are equally good. Be sure to call before going to make sure they’re open for lunch (if not, head to the Diamondback Grill and Wine Bar in Sonora). 209/965-3117
COLUMBIA STATE HISTORIC PARK 2:30-4:30
A few miles north of Sonora is Columbia State Historic Park, the best-maintained Gold Rush town in the Mother Lode (and one of the most popular, so expect crowds in the summer). At one point, this boisterous mining town was the state’s second-largest city and only two votes shy of becoming the state capital. When gold mining no longer panned out in the late 1850s—after unearthing a staggering $87 million in gold—most of the town’s 15,000 residents departed, leaving much of the mining equipment and buildings in place.
In 1945 the entire town was turned into a historic park. As a result, Columbia has been preserved and functions much as it did in the 1850s, with Western-style Victorian hotels and saloons, a newspaper office, a blacksmith’s forge, and numerous other relics of California’s early mining days. Cars are banned from its streets, giving the shady town an authentic feel. Merchants still do business behind some storefronts, as horse, stagecoach, and pedestrian traffic wanders by.
Start off by taking the free, short, self-guided park tour, which includes the Wells Fargo Express Office, a former stagecoach center, the restored Columbia Schoolhouse, in use until 1937, and the Jack Douglass Saloon, where you can sample homemade sarsaparilla. For a more leisurely view of the park, hop aboard one of the horse-drawn—and dog-friendly—stagecoaches. You can also learn how to pan for gold at Hidden Treasure Gold Mine Tours (209/532-9693) at the corner of Main and Stage streets. 209/588-9128
TRAINS & WINE TASTINGS IN JAMESTOWN, 5-7:15pm
If you’re even remotely interested in the trains of yesteryear, head over to Jamestown to visit one of the Gold Country’s most popular attractions—Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, a train buff’s paradise featuring three Sierra steam locomotives. These massive machines were used in many a movie and television show, including High Noon, Little House on the Prairie, and Bonanza.
One of the park’s highlights is a guided walking tour of the authentic, working railroad roundhouse—where they spin the huge locomotive engines around—as well as the repair area, where you can watch the historic locomotives and cars undergoing repairs. The trains at the roundhouse are on display daily year-round, and from April through October they offer 40-minute weekend rides (even dogs can ride along). 209/984-3953
By this point you can probably use a drink, so let’s go taste some Tuolumne County wines. From Railtown, it’s a very short drive to Jamestown’s Main Street. Park anywhere you can find a free space, then walk over to Gianelli Vineyards Tasting Room (209/984-1500) and sample some of their award-winning wines. Then amble across the street to Inner Sanctum Cellars, which has a much more hip/modern look and tends to stay open late when there’s a good crowd. 800/750-5919
If you enjoy a good cigar, one of the best cigar lounges in Northern California is in Jamestown as well—Stogie’s Gold Country Lounge. You like it the second you walk in, and even more once you relax in the deep leather couches with an Arturo Fuente and small-batch bourbon in each hand. The owners, Phil and Cindy Herrero, make you feel welcome the second you walk in. 209/984-0584
THE STANDARD POUR RESTAURANT, 7:30-9pm
The Standard Pour is my favorite restaurant in the region. Fun, lively, friendly, with an ever-changing menu that’s written on a chalk board near the entrance. The emphasis here is on pairing artisanal cheeses and locally produced foods with craft beers and fine wines (and Indigeny Reserve ciders!).
Start with the Artisanal Cheese Plate, then progress to the cumin-coriander totts, followed by bacon-cheddar hush puppies and the Cubano sandwich (yum). On warm days ask to be seated on the patio, and yes, they have a bocce court. 209/532-7687
(Note: If you think you’ve had too much to drink at this point, call Stephanie at the McCaffrey House: She’ll either pick you up or arrange a ride for you (yeah, she’s cool like that)).
Ashland in the Gold County
If you heading to Sonora, do this before you go: Log onto the Sierra Repertory Theatre’s website at www.sierrarep.org, see what’s playing while you’re there (Macbeth, The Music Man, and Mary Poppins are just part of their 2015 lineup), and purchase tickets by calling 209/532-3120.
This is no small-town amateur performance—Sonorans take great pride in their theater productions. More than 45,000 patrons each year attend the eight main shows that take place each year. Professional actors from around the county are housed by locals, and more than 500 donors and hundreds of volunteers help the staff with sets and costumes.
DAY 3: A Visit to Groveland & Hetch Hetchy Waterfall Hike
SCENIC DRIVE ON WARDS FERRY ROAD, 10-11am
After breakfast, dress for hiking and pack a day-pack with snacks and water. After reluctant goodbyes with Stephanie and Michael (and their two adorable dogs), break out the map and plot a course to Groveland.
If you’re in no particular hurry to get to Groveland, and just getting there is half the fun for you, then take the uber-scenic route consisting of narrow windy roads and scenic canyon vistas: Wards Ferry Road from Sonora to Groveland, crossing the Tuolumne River canyon. Otherwise take the standard route of Hwy 49 to Hwy 120.
SIGHTSEEING & SALOON, 11am-1pm
When you arrive in Groveland, take some time to stretch your legs and explore the town, particularly the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum (BEAR!), then have lunch at the Iron Door Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon in California and my all-time favorite California bar (and I’ve been to a lot of bars). Part wild-west museum, part restaurant, part honkey tonk, if the Iron Door could talk it would have more tales of mayhem than Mark Twain could ever pen.
HETCH HETCHY HIKE, 2:30-5pm
After lunch, drive another 30 miles east toward Yosemite National Park and check in for two nights at the Evergreen Lodge. If your room isn’t ready, drop off your bags at the front desk and drive down to Hetch Hetchy (the front desk staff will provide you map).
Park at the base of the dam, grab that day pack you packed this morning, and take the fairly easy 5-mile Hetch Hetchy round-trip hike that follows the shoreline of the reservoir to Tueeulala and Wapama Falls (cross the dam and pass through the tunnel—ya can’t miss it). Note: You can download a free PDF trail map by clicking here.
RELAX BY THE POOL, DINNER & STARGAZING at the EVERGREEN LODGE, 5:30-10pm
Back at the lodge, after you’ve unpacked, take a swim in the prettiest alpine salt water pool you’ve ever seen. By now you’re famished, and boy howdy will those Evergreen Lodge burgers, steaks, and seafood go well with their fantastic wine list. After dinner, either retire to the bar and lounge, or sit by the fire and roast marshmallows under the starry skies. (Travel Tip: Dinner reservations at Evergreen Lodge are only available for parties of 8 or more, so if you definitely want to have dinner at their outdoor dining patio, I recommend checking in with the host stand at least 20 minutes before you’d like to have dinner in case there’s a wait.)
DAY 4: Tour Yosemite Valley by Bicycle
YOSEMITE VALLEY BY BICYCLE, 11am-3pm
Yosemite Valley: If you’ve never been, you have to go. If you’ve been, you’ll want to experience it this way anyway—by bicycle. If you didn’t bring your own bikes, you can rent them at the lodge for the day (ask for a bike lock too). After a leisurely breakfast at the lodge, load the bikes on—or in—your car, and take the scenic drive to Yosemite Valley. (Note: If you can’t fit the bikes on or in your car, you can also rent them at Yosemite Valley, but the lodge’s bikes are way better.)
Park in one of the free lots, unload the bikes, then spend the day riding around Yosemite Valley on the 12 miles of paved bike trails, free from all that traffic nonsense. Either have lunch at one of the concessionaire stands in the valley, or, better yet, stock up on fresh lunch supplies at the Evergreen Lodge’s General Store and carry it with you in a day-pack until you’re ready to eat at of the Yosemite Valley picnic areas. (Note: For a PDF map of all the Yosemite Valley picnic areas click here.)
PING PONG, POOL, DINNER & S’MORES at the EVERGREEN LODGE, 4-10pm
After the drive back to Evergreen Lodge, relax poolside again or play ping pong in the courtyard, then enjoy another evening of dinner and drinks, with a toast to celebrate four fantastic days in Yosemite and the Gold Country. Cheers to you!
EUREKA! GREAT DEALS ON YOSEMITE & GOLD COUNTRY LODGING
Evergreen Lodge, Yosemite National Park
“Hike & Bike to Waterfalls” Package
Full-Day Guided Hike & Bike Trip
Breakfast Each Morning
The Evergreen Lodge is the perfect Yosemite getaway for family get-togethers, outdoor adventures, and romantic escapes, and for a limited time they’re offering a special LocalGetaways rate of 15% OFF their 2-night “Hike & Bike to Waterfalls” package, which includes a Deluxe King Cabin rental w/breakfast each morning, full-day guided biking and hiking trip to pristine waterfalls (bike rentals included), freshly made trail lunch, and a Happy Hour hot toddy. Offer valid thru June 4, 2015. From $319 for two per night, 2-night minimum. To book online log onto evergreenlodge.com and enter booking code “LG15” in the “Promo Code” box. To book by phone call 209/379-2606 and request promo code LG15. Offer subject to availability; additional restrictions may apply.
McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn, Twain Harte
Couples In-Room Massage
Champagne & Chocolates
Good luck finding a better—and more romantic—deal in California than the one innkeepers Stephanie and Michael are offering at their McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Twain Harte: 2 night’s lodging, couples in-room massage, and chilled Champagne & chocolates on arrival—all for only $430 per couple, a savings of $208! This gorgeous three-story country home is one of the finest lodgings in the Gold Country. Enjoy breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, wine, and sparkling cider served on the redwood deck—heaven! Offer valid thru June 30, 2015. $430 for 2 nights plus tax, double occupancy. Offer only available by phone; call 888/586-0757 and request the LocalGetaways Romance Package. Offer subject to availability; additional restrictions may apply.
The Gunn House Hotel, Sonora
Located in downtown Sonora and walking distance to many shops, restaurants, and entertainment, the Gunn House Hotel offers one of the best values in the Gold Country, with rates starting at just $84. This special 10%-OFF rate even includes an Innkeepers Breakfast each morning: fresh fruits, juices, egg casserole, Belgian waffle, cereals, bagels, muffins and homemade pastries. Each guestroom is brimming with quality antiques and turn-of-the-century artifacts, and all have private baths and A/C. Beautiful pool and patio too! From $84 per night. Offer only available by phone; call 209/532-3421 and ask for the Special LocalGetaways Rate. Offer subject to availability; additional restrictions may apply.
Hotel Charlotte, Groveland
Free Bottle Of Wine
Located on the way to Yosemite and built in 1918 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hotel Charlotte is the quintessential Gold Country hotel. The 12 comfortable and individually decorated rooms are cheerily wallpapered and wainscoted, with either twin or queen-size beds, private baths, and A/C. Also included is free Wi-Fi, a buffet breakfast and the Charlotte Bistro & Bar. If you’re staying two or more nights, ask for the “Spring Wine Special” and receive a free bottle of local wine. From $139 per night. Spring Wine Special offer only available for 2-night stays. Call 209/962-6455 and ask for the Spring Wine Special, or book online at www.hotelcharlotte.com. Offer subject to availability; additional restrictions may apply.
Long Barn Lodge, Long Barn
Popular with families, fisherman, and hikers, this pet-friendly mountain lodge consists of cozy mountain cabins and 20 spacious room just inside the Stanislaus National Forest. Now through June 30, 2015, save 20% OFF the regular price of a cabin Sunday through Thursday. All cabins have kitchens with full sized appliances and private bathrooms, free parking, free Wi-Fi, and access to BBQ facilities. From $129 per night Sun-Thur. Offer expires June 30, 2015. Offer only available by phone; call 209/586-3533 and request the 20% OFF Special Rate. Advance reservation required. Max 4 persons per cabin. Cannot be combined with any other offer.
The activities, attractions, hotels, and restaurants listed above are just a fraction of the fun, romantic, and family-friendly things to do in Tuolumne County. For a free vacation planner or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Tuolumne County, log onto tcvb.com or call 800/446-1333.