If you’re road-tripping to Yosemite National Park there are a few Gold Rush towns in California worth visiting along the way.
I’m sharing more about the top things to do in Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia, including the best places to eat and drink.
My husband and I started our Yosemite adventure by arriving at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
It’s a small airport with 10 gates and one terminal which makes it really easy to navigate.
Their rental car area is onsite, steps from baggage claim which helps you get started on your road trip adventure even quicker.
What are the Closest Airports to Yosemite National Park?
The Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the closest airport to Yosemite National Park (64.1 miles) around 90 minutes from the park.
Lunch Stop at The Service Station
18242 Main St, Jamestown, CA
We started our visit to the Tuolumne County area at The Service Station, a restaurant located inside a historic building that’s over 120 years old.
The Service Station is open for lunch and dinner, Thursday through Sunday. They have 20 beers on tap, local wines, and a beer garden that is dog and kid-friendly.
For our appetizer, we tried their delicious rosemary fries. They also have the option of garlic or seasoned fries.
For our entrees, my husband and I decided to pick two sandwiches that sounded good so that we could split both, which was definitely the right decision.
I ordered the Philly cheesesteak made with a French roll, thinly sliced steak, beer cheese, peppers, and onions.
For my side, I chose the Farro Salad which can be served cold or hot. I opted for hot.
If you’re unfamiliar with farro, it’s an ancient whole-grain wheat that’s really good for you. Their farro salad was REALLY good, despite it also being really healthy.
My husband ordered the Grilled Tri-tip sandwich served on a French roll with creamy horseradish sauce, caramelized onion, Swiss cheese, and arugula with a side of onion rings.
This was a great meal to start off our first time in Jamestown.
Explore Downtown Jamestown, CA
Jamestown was a former gold rush town known as the “Gateway to the Southern Mines,” located an hour from Yosemite National Park.
The town was founded in 1848, one mile from the first gold find in Tuolumne County.
Several historic buildings in the town still remain including the National Hotel and Restaurant built in 1859. The National Hotel is one of the oldest continuously operated hotels in California.
If you are into the paranormal, you might be interested in learning more about the hotel’s resident ghost named Flo.
Learn About Jamestown’s “Walk of Fame”
18211 Main St., Jamestown, CA
The “Walk of Fame” consists of 31 medallions highlighting the area’s history with the film and tv industry.
There have been over 200 tv shows and movies filmed in the area including Back to the Future III, Little House on the Prairie, and Unforgiven.
The Walk starts at Rocca Park in downtown Jamestown. While you’re in the area make sure that you check out the resident “movie star” steam locomotive Sierra No. 3 that resides at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
Enjoy a Scenic Wine tasting at Gianelli Vineyards
12581 Algerine Rd., Jamestown, CA
At Gianelli Vineyards, you can enjoy wine tasting with scenic views of the vineyard located in the Sierra foothills.
The land used for the vineyards has been in the Gianelli family since the late 1800s. Over the years the land served multiple purposes as a gold mining camp and working cattle ranch.
Ron Gianelli purchased the property from his grand aunt in 1980 with dreams of turning the property into a vineyard with wines honoring their family’s Italian heritage.
Their winery features old-world wines that are true to the Italian style and experience.
After many years of research with multiple trips to Italy, the first vines were planted in 2003.
There are 18 different varietals at Gianelli Vineyards including some that have never been produced outside of Italy before.
Multiple wines produced by Gianelli Vineyards have won awards and accolades over the years.
The winery has an indoor tasting room or you can relax on their outdoor patio with several tables with umbrellas.
The Tasting Room is located 5 miles from downtown Jamestown and it’s definitely worth the stop!
Explore Downtown Sonora
After visiting Jamestown, we made our way to explore the former gold rush town of Sonora, California.
There are so many things to do in Sonora including shops, restaurants, historic sites, and outdoor adventures.
Sonora was known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines.”
The name of the city comes from the first settlers who named it after their hometown of Sonora, Mexico in 1848 and the city was later incorporated on May 1, 1851.
There are still underground tunnel systems that were used for mining located beneath the city streets.
You’ll find plenty of shops, art galleries, and restaurants above ground as you wander up and down Washington Street in downtown Sonora.
If you want to learn more about the history of the area make sure that you download the Downtown Sonora Walking Tour. The self-guided downtown walking tour shares detailed stories of 21 landmarks along a one-mile route that’s centered on Washington Street.
For a unique gift check out Local Collective which also serves coffee and dessert.
Another unique point of interest downtown is The Sportsman. It’s the only gun store in California where you can buy a gun and a beer at the same time!
Unfortunately, this family-friendly establishment was closed on Sunday during our visit but I did find some answers for how that combination came to be.
Check Out A Historic Tunnel System in the Basement of The Thirsty Prospector
131 S Washington St, Sonora, CA
The Thirsty Prospector is another family-friendly multi-purpose establishment as a pub, ice shop, and book store.
What’s below the second oldest building in downtown Sonora dating back to 1850 is even more interesting.
In the basement, you’ll find used books for sale AND an entrance to an old mine shaft.
The building was originally a general store, next it was the Bank of Italy from 1920-1932.
During that time there were many tunnels that connected buildings under the city including one in the basement of the bank. This made it easier for miners to deposit their gold with less risk of being robbed on street level.
While you’re in the basement you can get a glimpse of the tunnel but unfortunately, you can’t go into it.
But you can make a wish at Legend’s Legend. Legends was the name of the business by the previous owner.
A Bar With a Unique Survival Story
Don’t leave the Thirsty Prospector without appreciating the mahogany bar on the first floor that was made in Italy in 1850.
The bar was originally in Chicago where it survived a massive fire in 1871. The bar’s new owners shipped it to San Fransisco via South America by ship where it later survived the 1906 earthquake.
The bar was put in storage in San Fransisco after that and later sold and made Sonora its final resting place around 1950.
Now you can admire the bar even more while enjoying one of their 12 beers on tap.
Enjoy An Evening Hike at Dragoon Gulch Trail
680 Woods Creek Dr. Sonora, CA
Dragoon Gulch Trail is a great trail with scenic views of downtown Sonora and the surrounding area.
If you are hiking in the evening I would recommend double-checking the sunset time so that you have enough sunlight to return to your vehicle.
If you park in the parking lot near the main sign it can be a little confusing to actually find the trail. Keep your eyes out for this symbol on the ground pictured above.
The trail symbol on the ground will lead you past a residential area but it will eventually take you to the trailhead.
There is a second parking lot that’s closer to the trail but it has limited parking spots and a gate that locks at dark.
You probably won’t see any Sasquatches on the trail but there is a chance that you could see a mountain lion. We didn’t see either during our hike and I was totally ok with that.
What we did see were gorgeous views of the surrounding area from every angle.
There are 3.1 miles of trails to explore that range in difficulty. We noticed lots of solo hikers and trail runners making use of the terrain during our visit.
We opted for the .4 Vista Trail first which had a steep grade that got our hearts pumping.
After enjoying the Vista view we made our way up the Summit trail to appreciate another perspective of the area also known as “Mother Lode’s oak woodlands.”
We noticed that we were starting to lose daylight and were unsure if we took the right connecting trail back down the mountain.
We definitely didn’t want to end up in an unfamiliar section of the mountain even farther from our vehicle in the dark.
The good news is that all of the trails connect to each other.
I would STRONGLY recommend taking a screenshot of the existing trail map because it can be a bit confusing trying to navigate while you are on the trails for the first time.
Enjoy the Beautiful Beer Garden at The Armory
208 S Green St., Sonora, CA
The Armory is a beautiful space for relaxed outdoor dining.
The repeated barrel theme throughout the beer garden and creative repurposing didn’t go unnoticed.
I loved the fountain using beer tap handles and the old truck tailgates used in the bench seating areas.
You have plenty of options when it comes to drinks. The Armory has wine, hard seltzer, hard kombucha, hard cider, canned cocktails, fresh margaritas, and barrel-aged manhattans, in addition to beer.
Menu Recommendations at The Armory
During our visit table service was available on the second floor and we could order from the bar on the first floor.
We opted to sit at the bar so that it was easier to get menu recommendations from the bartender. She didn’t steer us wrong.
We LOVED both of our entrees. I ordered the Ahi Poke Tostada made with ahi tuna, sriracha mayo, mango, scallion, and crispy wonton.
My husband ordered the Baja Shrimp Tacos made with grilled shrimp, purple slaw, cilantro lime crema, tortilla chips, and pineapple tomatillo salsa.
Thankfully he was willing to split both because each dish was fresh and flavorful. The menu is filled with elevated pub food options that can appeal to everyone.
There is even a kid’s menu serving classics for ages 12 and under.
After Dinner Drinks at the Bourbon Barrel
208 S Green St, Sonora, CA
As a girl from Bourbon Country, they had me with the name and first impression from the bourbon barrel-shaped entry.
For drinks I ordered the specialty cocktail, a Strawberry bourbon smash and my husband ordered the Prickly Pig Paloma.
He had no idea that it was coming in that pig glass pictured above… which made the drink even better!
There are bourbon flights available in addition to martinis, specialty cocktails, wine, and beer.
The Bourbon Barrel also has a limited food menu available that includes shareable, a few entrees, and a dessert option.
Stay at the Bradford Place Inn & Gardens
56 Bradford St. Sonora, CA 95370
The Bradford Place Inn & Gardens is conveniently located a block west of Main Street in downtown Sonora.
The charming bed and breakfast has 5 rooms including 2 king bed suites.
Edward Keel was the first resident to live in the home that was built in 1889. For the past 40 years, the property has been a bed and breakfast with previous owners through the years.
Kim and Patrick Rodriguez took over the Inn in June 2019.
Amenities for Overnight Guests at the Bradford Place Inn & Gardens
Guests can enjoy the parlor with seating and a player piano in the common area.
In the dining area, there is a mini fridge with complimentary bottled water, a 24-hour self-serve coffee/ hot beverage bar, snacks, and a microwave.
Overnight guests also have access to a collection of board games, books, and DVDs.
The parking spaces on the property are first come, first serve but there is additional street parking.
We stayed in one of their king-bed suites, appropriately named ” Yosemite” located on the first floor.
What’s included in each room at the Bradford Place Inn and Gardens?
Each room has the following amenities:
- WIFI access
- Guest-controlled air conditioning/heating
- DVD player
- Coffee machine
- Private bathroom/bath with luxurious towels and bathrobes.
The Yosemite is the 2nd largest room at the bed and breakfast and it comes with a private patio. I also loved that we could access our room from the door to the private patio or from within the house.
The private patio space has large lights in the nearby tree at night if you want to extend your evening outside.
All guests also have access to the common garden area on the property.
I HIGHLY recommend opting to eat your gourmet made-to-order breakfast on the patio in the morning.
Our breakfast consisted of a frittata, an English muffin, coffee, juice, and fresh fruit.
Our breakfast “dessert” was a delicious blueberry crumble that was served warm.
We really enjoyed our interactions with the owner, Kim, during our stay. She was a great resource before we explored downtown Sonora that evening and Columbia the following day.
The Inn’s goal is to provide an experience for guests that’s comfortable and attentive, without intrusion and that was exactly what we experienced. Our stay was the perfect blend of hospitality and privacy.
Explore Columbia State Historic Park
22708 Broadway Street, Columbia, CA
For a period of time, Columbia was the second-largest city in California and was once known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines.”
Over 1 billion dollars in gold at today’s value was mined in the area between the 1850s-1870s.
The site was made a historic park in 1945 to help preserve and educate the public on what a typical Gold Rush town was like in the 1850s-1860s.
What’s the admission cost for Columbia State Historic Park?
There is no admission or parking fee for Columbia State Historic Park.
*Additional fees may apply for special events or activities in the park.
Things to Do at Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park has restaurants, shops, exhibits & museums to explore, a working blacksmith shop, and live entertainment at a few venues. On a hot day, you’ll want to get ice cream at the Victorian ice cream parlor.
There are Stagecoach rides available, season and weather permitting.
Daily Town Tours at Columbia State Historic Park:
- June 15th – Labor Day: Daily at 11:00 AM Monday-Friday based on staff and docent availability. *Check with the museum upon arrival.
- Year-round: Saturday & Sunday at 11:00 AM – Weekend tours are led by staff and docents that meet at the museum which is approximately 1 hour.
* If you have a group of over 10 people special tours can be arranged in advance. Email ColumbiaSHP@parks.ca.gov for arrangements. Columbia State Historic Park is a popular location for school field trips.
Gold Rush Days at Columbia State Historic Park
Guests can experience Gold Rush Days on the second Saturday of each month from 1 to 4pm.
During Gold Rush Days many of the special exhibits are open and there are hands-on activities led by volunteers dressed in period attire.
Try Gold Rush Era Bowling
Guests can challenge each other on a 9-pin bowling lane similar to what would have been around during the Gold Rush era typically associated with socializing and gambling.
If you are playing with a few people you may want to rotate who is in charge of setting the pins back up after each player.
Visit the Columbia Historic State Park Museum
The museum has free admission and will help you gain more insight into what life was like during the peak of the gold rush era.
There is also a seating area where you can watch a brief video to learn more about the park’s history.
Sweet Stop at Nelson’s Candy Kitchen
Nelson’s Candy Kitchen dates back to 1926 and has previously been voted among the top 10 sweet shops by USA Today.
If you visit the state park around the holidays you may see candy canes and ribbon candies being made onsite.
If you’re looking for a unique candy, try the honeycomb that’s reminiscent of a Butterfinger with a dark or milk chocolate outer covering.
The candy shop is filled with both familiar candies and unique candies that are worth discovering in the name of “research.”
Lunch Stop at the St. Charles Saloon
22801 Main St. Columbia, CA
A pizza stop at St. Charles Saloon is a great reward after a day of exploring.
For drinks, you have plenty of options including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. I highly recommend the sarsaparilla that tastes similar to root beer.
The historic building has both indoor seating and a few tables for outdoor dining.
We started with the Artichoke jalapeño dip breadsticks as an appetizer. It was delicious and we had PLENTY of leftovers.
We decided to order two medium pizzas to split…which also made for great leftovers.
My husband ordered the pickle pizza made with garlic ranch sauce, prosciutto, pickles, caramelized onions, and shredded parmesan.
I ordered the Columbian pizza made with horseradish cream sauce, salami, mushrooms (on half), and sausage.
I also added red onion at the recommendation of our server. They make all of their dough for the pizza fresh daily and it shows in the taste. You’ll also find salads, calzones, and hot sandwiches on the menu too.
Get Caffeinated at Columbia Kate’s Teahouse or Bakery
22727 Columbia St, Columbia, CA
If you need a boost of energy stop by Columbia Kates Teahouse for freshly brewed tea. The tea menu is extensive so the hardest part is narrowing down your choices.
I opted for an iced Gold Rush ice tea made with passionfruit, mango, cornflower, blue mallow, marigold, safflower, and natural tropical flavoring.
My husband opted for an Americano from Columbia Kate’s Bakery across the road. The giant cinnamon rolls inside the bakery were definitely tempting but we were still stuffed from lunch.
Next, we moved on from Tuolumne County to Mariposa County via Highway 49. The 90-minute drive on the switchback mountain is definitely scenic and memorable.
Thanks again to Visit Tuolumne County for hosting my visit. All opinions are my own.