Morning hikes among ancient Sequoias, afternoon paddles on Bass Lake, evenings drinking local craft beer, all before getting cozy in a little cabin… Oakhurst, California is going to be your new favorite entrance to Yosemite National Park.
We just got back from a few days running around Oakhurst and I already can’t wait to come back. In this post I’m sharing all the best things to do in Oakhurst — the best places to eat, the coolest cabins to book, things to do, what to pack and of course, my top Yosemite tips.
14 Fantastic Things To Do In Oakhurst, California (Yosemite’s Gateway!)
Where Is Oakhurst California?
Time for a little Oakhurst 101. Oakhurst is located in Yosemite Madera County just 14 miles outside the South Gate to Yosemite National Park. It’s next door to Bass Lake, and about 30 minutes from Mariposa, another popular park entrance town. There are 3 main entrances to Yosemite (Groveland, Mariposa and Oakhurst), so there’s a lot of fun attractions in this cute town for you to do inbetween national park adventures.
One of the main highlights of staying in Oakhurst vs a different entrance town is that it’s super close to Mariposa Grove, which is home to some of the oldest Giant Sequoias in the United States (and the world, actually.) It’s also a bit easier to access Glacier Point and Taft Point within Yosemite National Park from the Oakhurst side if those viewpoints are on your to-do list.
Where To Stay In Oakhurst
Of course there are lot of hotels here in Oakhurst, but there’s just something about the mountains that calls for a cool cabin or rustic lodge. No matter the time of year I’m visiting Yosemite, I want to end the day curled up either on a peaceful porch or next to a cabin fire. There’s are my favorite places to stay in Oakhurst area:
Sierra Meadows Glamping Cabins
Holy cow, Sierra Meadows has some the coolest glamping cabins you could possibly stay at near Yosemite!! (Actually, some of the coolest glamping in all of California in my opinion.) These glamping huts are super cute and chic. On the side they have lights, outlets, heat, A/C, wifi, even fridges and a coffee stand.
Bathrooms are located in the shower building which is just a 30 second walk from the cabins. Oh, and they’re dog friendly, too! You can learn more via my full review post on Sierra Meadows here.
Located just a few minutes outside the Southgate Enterance, Tenaya Lodge packs all the mountain cabin lodge vibes you could want in a hotel. They have standalone cabins and also rooms in the main lodge, the later which my husband and I stayed in a few Christmases ago.
I have such fond memories of ice skating on their hotel rink, followed by dinner and then drinking wine by the giant lobby Christmas tree and fire. Learn more via my full review post on Tenaya Lodge here!
Cute Yosemite Cabins
If those two options are all booked up, head over to my curated Yosemite Cabins guide where I rounded up my FAVORITE cabins and Airbnbs around Yosemite National Park for you to choose from.
Fun Things To Do in Oakhurst & Bass Lake Area
Yay, now that you’re booked yourself a cute cabin or lodge room, time to chat about all my favorite things to do in the Oakhurst area!
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
If the Hogwarts train existed in California, this would be it. The night before our ride on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, it snowed. When we pulled up to the depot, snow still clung to all the trees and rooftops. The air was cold and the steam coming from the train billowed around. That alone was pretty dang cool, but then it was time to actually ride.
Robin and I then spent the next 40 minutes slowly chugging around the National Forest taking in the magic of all the evergreens dusted with snow, views of the train curving around corners. MAGIC. It’s an all open-air train (so bundle up if you are visiting in the winter!) They stop the train in the middle so you can take some photos and walk around a bit.
Get there 30 minutes before to use the bathroom and get a good parking spot. There’s a gift store as well that you could pick up souvenirs, snacks or even order lunch from. I suggest the 11am train ride as it’s a fun way to start the day in Oakhurst!
Kayak on Bass Lake
Bass Lake is just about a 10-minute drive outside of Oakhurst and is one of the things that makes Oakhurst really stand out as a Yosemite home base. It’s a gorgeous lake tucked in among the Sierra National Forest (think tons of evergreens!) The lake has plenty of beaches, water sports, fishing and cute vacation rentals. It’s actually common for people to make a trip to the area JUST for a weekend on Bass Lake.
I think one of the top things to do in Bass Lake (no matter the season) is kayaking!! Head to Miller’s Landing Resort to rent your kayak. The owner is SO nice and they have the best rates for kayak rentals starting at just $20/hour. (They also rent out boats, SUP, etc if you’re looking for more fun things to do on the water.)
Robin and I did a little winter paddle around the lake. Since it was off-season, there were just a few other boats on the water and I pretty much had it all to myself. MAGIC.
Lewis Creek Trail
Looking for a morning hike that’s not inside Yosemite National Park? Head to Lewis Creek Trail! It’s a local favorite spot that takes you to a stunning waterfall. The trail is dog friendly (on leash) and if you’re in the area during fall foliage season, it’s a fantastic trail to leaf peep!
Fresno Flats Historical Museum
This museum is a 19th-century settlement with restored homes, 1-room schools, a jail & more cool bit of history from the pioneering days of Madera County. It’s totally free and can do self-guided tours, so stop by whenever they’re open. This would be a great thing to do with kids in Oakhurst!
Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park
Just a few minutes down the road from Sierra Meadows cabins is Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park. It’s a small park with a barn and tons of open fields. It’s totally free to visit and makes a great place to stroll around on a 30-minute easy morning walk. If you brought your dog with you, this is a great place to bring them!
Day Trip Into Yosemite National Park (My Favorite Things To Do!)
You can’t come to Oakhurst and not visit Yosemite National Park! Yosemite is one of my favorite places on the planet. You’ll discover Yosemite changes a lot with each season. Summertime is the busiest and most crowded. My favorite time to visit is fall-Christmas when the roads are still usually easy to drive on, but the people aren’t there.
You could spend a year exploring all the corners of Yosemite but here are some of my favorite highlights you’ll love to visit.
Hike to Mariposa Grove
Located just on the other side of the South Gate Entrance near Oakhurst is Mariposa Grove, a beautiful grove of giant sequoias. It’s home to some of the tallest Giant Sequoias in the entire world and take my word for it – they are simply STUNNING to see in person.
Normally there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the parking lot up 2 miles to the grove’s entrance. But currently, during 2020 times, the shuttle bus is shutdown. Instead, you have to hike in! Don’t worry, it’s not too hard. Park at the lot and follow the signs for Washburn Trail to hike into Mariposa Grove. On your way back take the paved road down. It’ll be about 6 miles road trip (including time in the Grove.)
I recommend at the very least hiking to the Grizzly Giant, which is about 2000 years old and the craziest Sequoia I’ve ever seen (you’ll see what I mean when you get there!) Around the corner is a Tunnel Tree you can walk through which is super fun. We’ve driven through The Klamath Tunnel Tree before but I like being able to walk through them!
Visit the Wawona Covered Bridge
About a 15 minute drive further into the park from Mariposa Grove is the Wawona Covered Bridge. It’s a covered bridge that dates back to 1868 and gives you all those East Coast vibes. Beyond the bridge is where you find the Pioneer Yosemite History Center which is a collection of historical buildings.
This area should take about 30 minutes to walk around. There’s bathrooms here and a cute little General Store if you need to pick up anything before venturing more into Yosemite!
Glacier Point & Taft Point
About a half hour down from Wawona are Glacier Point and Taft Point. These two lookout points are SUPER famous and both overlook Yosemite Valley below. (They’re coveted photo spots if you are on the hunt for the perfect Yosemite Instagram photo.) They also have some hiking trails around here after you grab that gram shot.
The challenging part of visiting Taft Point and Glacier Point by car (avoiding the 8-mile hike) is that the road up frequently has closures for snow or construction. Or, during the summer, can be incredibly crowded and then you’ll have to take a shuttle up. But trust me, the views are 100% worth it! (You can hike up to Taft and Glacier from the valley but it’s a whole lot of UP and over 8 miles.)
Tunnel View is that famous lookout point overlooking the entire valley head-on with El Captian and Half Dome in the distance. No need to hike in, you access the parking lot right off the Scenic Route Highway 140. I recommend stopping by in the afternoon or for sunset when the sun will be more at your back, flooding the valley with light.
And of course, you simply must visit Yosemite Valley!! It’s about a 10-20 minute drive down from Tunnel View and the valley is where most of the stuff is (bathrooms, hotels, restaurants, and of course a lot of the park highlights like waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails.)
Here’s my top favorite things to do in Yosemite Valley:
- Hike the Mirror Lake Trail (a great morning hike!)
- Stroll around Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls
- Grab a beer at Curry Village & watch the sunset over Half Dome peak
- Visit the Yosemite Chapel
- Hike to Vernal Falls / on the Mist Falls Trail (such a cool waterfall!)
Note: like most national parks, it’s not pet friendly outside the paved areas so keep your dogs on leash and on the pavement.
My Favorite Restaurants in Oakhurst
There’s actually a surprisingly large amount of good Oakhurst restaurants considering it’s a small mountain town. You won’t have any trouble finding a good spot to eat. Here are my favorite restaurants:
South Gate Brewing Company
South Gate is an AWESOME brewery with super nice staff, great craft beer and some of the best food in town. Seriously, it’s all homemade and was just the perfect thing to fill up on after a long day exploring Oakhurst. I recommend you try the pretzels or lettuce wraps for an appetizer. Their woodfire pizzas are BOMB and so is the pasta, you can’t go wrong with either.
For beer, as with any brewery, you gotta try a flight first so you can pick your favorite to get a whole pint of. The Imperial Oaktown brew was a standout for us so make sure to include that in your flight! PS, bring your growler if they have one as they do fills.
Erna’s Elderberry House
Erna’s Elderberry House looks like it was plucked straight out of a fairytale book, or perhaps one of those castles from a cheesy Netflix Christmas movie. It’s simply the most romantic restaurant in town – it is in a chateau after all!
During our 2020 visit, they set up heated tents outside overlooking the chateau’s gardens. Robin and I loved our Ragoon and Ahi Tuna appetizers *chef kiss* and you simply must try one of their bourbon cocktails. Erna’s makes THE perfect spot for your last hurrah dinner on your Yosemite trip. At the very least, stop by their bar for a happy hour drink and soak in all the castle vibes.
Idle Hour Winery
Idle Hour Winery isn’t your average tasting room. Tucked on the edge of town overlooking a creek and mountain views is a tasting room, restaurant AND beer garden. It’s a popular spot among locals to hang out and I can totally see why – the owner is super nice, the food is AMAZING and the wine is award-winning (we took home a bottle, too!)
I recommend coming for lunch one day and ordering a flatbread. I’m drooling a little just thinking about how tasty that crust was…. also go for a tasting flight so you can try all of Idle Hour’s wine. Then, treat yourself to a full glass of what you like best, or take home a bottle.
- Wine and beer not your thing? Try Oakhurst Spirits, a local distillery slash art gallery. They do tastings and tours.
Cool Bean Cafe
If you’re getting an early start into Yosemite, this your cafe. They open early at 7am and holy moly, I’m still drooling over that chicken sausage quiche I had. Hot, savory and totally unexpected from this small cafe. They have good bagels, too and tasty seasonal lattes.
I was SO shocked to find a 100% restaurant tucked in the mountains, let alone one that actually makes good food. But Love Cafe hits all the marks. I recommend trying their “Grilled Cheese” with added “bacon” and a side of tomato soup. Hits the spot after a morning hike!
You’ll also love their huge Oakhurst mural on the side of their cafe. Worth a stop for a photo opp, too!
You simply must stop by Rev’s before a day trip into Yosemite National Park. It’s a cute farmhouse style joint that sources ingredients locally. We headed here to fuel up before our long day hiking to Mariposa Grove and my biscuits and gravy kept me full until mid-afternoon. Robin loved his Steak and Eggs (I snuck a bite and agree, they’re some of the best I’ve ever had.)
PRO TIP: order two of their signature breakfast sandwiches to go and take them with you into the park for a picnic lunch. The aioli on that bread — OMG, you’ll love it.
Ducey’s on the Lake
One of the best Oakhurst things to do is a lake day! After a long day paddling around Bass Lake on a kayak or a boat, head to Ducey’s On The Lake for dinner. It’s inside The Pine Resort. This restaurant overlooks the lake and has a great sunset. There’s also a Bar and Grill at the resort if you’re looking for something a bit more casual.
- Note: we noticed a few stray cats in the parking lot during our visit. Make sure to keep an eye out for them as you pull in and out.
I hope this helps you plan an awesome trip to Yosemite National Park and also find fun things to do in Oakhurst California in between park days! If you have any tips to add, leave a comment below so everyone can see.
Got questions? Comment or DM me on Instagram @thewhimsysoul and I’ll be happy to help!