Tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas is the small historic Gold Rush town of Sonora, California. This town is super charming and I’m always finding myself up here. Maybe it’s stopping by for lunch on my way to Mammoth Lakes, or swinging through on my way up to camp at Pinecrest Lake.
Most recently I spent a weekend up in Sonora with the girls. We rented a darling farmhouse Airbnb, hunted down tons of swimming holes, went antique shipping and had a blast. There are so many fun things to do in Sonora California proper, and the surrounding area.
Swimming holes, antique shopping, local craft beer and coffee, fall foliage and llamas (yes you read that right.) Come see why Sonora makes such a fun weekend getaway!
Just under a three hour drive from San Francisco, it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Tuolumne County brings you back to a time where it’s okay to get dust on your boots and to experience life slowly and savor it. Sonora, California attractions offer all the old, historic charm of yesteryear with all the upgrades you want (like trendy cafes, craft beer and super cute vacation rentals)
Where to Stay in Sonora, California
The girls and I, rented this insanely cool farmhouse Airbnb is a wonderful way to discover Sonora from a local’s point of view. This family renovated their barn loft and it’s super chic, but that’s not my favorite part. This farm is a real farm with a beautiful garden and also farm animals! The children will give you a tour of the farm one morning so you can meet the whole crew. It’s so much fun.
If that lfot isn’t available, bed and breakfasts are quintessential quaint here in Sonor. Bradford Place Inn & Gardens is located downtown making walking to all the best restaurants and shops a breeze, and each room has its own special attributes– like a room with its own private patio or one with a luxurious soaking tub for two.
There’s Never An Off-Season
Even come winter, Sonora is a popular destination. The charm turns cozy during the holiday season– you can experience the splendor of the town decked to the halls in wintery, festive fun at their Annual Christmas Parade. One way to fight off the cold is to see a show presented by the Sierra Repertory Theatre. Or for my fellow snow bunnies, plow into the snow drift at the Dodge Ridge Ski Resort.
In the spring, beautiful flowers bloom along the hiking trails and it’s before all the crazy heat of the summer sets in. There’s also the Mother Lode Fair where you can– and should– fill your face with fried dough until you pop.
Of course, my favorite time to visit is the summer. I adore camping at Pinecrest, hunting down swimming holes and soaking up the sunshine. Calfiornia summer at its finest.
13 Very Best Things To Do In Sonora, CA This Weekend
If you’re looking for a gold-rush-chic escape, these things to do in Sonora, California should be topping your list.
1. Grab Coffee At Revive Coffee
Before heading downtown for some shopping, grab an espresso tonic (don’t question– just do!) from Revive Coffee.
The coffee roaster has two locations in Tuolumne County, CA with organic specialty craft-roasted coffee and yummy food, pastries, and teas. You can also grab a bag of coffee as a souvenir or gift! This is a popping place that’s always full with locals and I adore the rustic-chic decor on the inside.
2. Visit Antiques Store In Historic Downtown Sonora
Meander into downtown for some antique shopping! Sonora has too many stores to count and they’ve pretty affordable for the qaulity of pieces. My friend, Bri, took home this stunning antique wood desk for just $40. We spent a good 2 or so hours looking at all the stores and barely scratched the surface. There’s so many gems here.
There’s also the underground mineshaft bookstore, Legends, to explore their stacks of used (and sometimes rare) books. Inside, you’ll find a refurbished 26-foot bar that now operates as an old-fashioned soda fountain.
3. Go Shopping In Sonora’s Washington Street
Once your fill of antiques (and dust) has hit its quota, you’re going to want to stop inside Addictions Boutique– an über-aesthetic shop for all things pretty. There’s more antique stores than boutiques, here and this one is the best one to stop by.
You’ll also want to stop by the The Candy Vault to satiate your sweet tooth and nostalgia for retro-candies. This place is special since true to its name, this building used to be a bank so there’s an actual vault inside.
4. Take A Stroll at Dragoon Gulch Trail
If your feet haven’t tired from shopping (or if you are a die-hard morning jogger even when on vacay), venture to the Dragoon Gulch Trail. With just over three miles of natural trails, visitors can stroll through the Mother Lode’s oak woodlands along a babbling (albeit seasonal, TY California drought season) creek.
The Woods Creek Trailhead access can be found at 680 Woods Creek Dr. address while The Alpine Trailhead, which has ADA access, is located off of Alpine Lane.
5. Get Your Fill Of Charm And Cider
The Indigeny Reserve is a cider works and distillery that cannot be missed. It’s full of history, as some of their apple trees date all the way back to the early 1900s, and it’s full of delicious hard-ciders, aged apple brandy, and fruit infused vodka.
The distillery offers tastings daily, and by special request, they can accommodate weekend tours of the barrel room.
5. Savor A Farm-To-Table Meal
Emberzrestaurant is full of life, from the laughter that emanates from the table guests to the organic, locally grown ingredients served up on its dishes. With wood-fired foods, it’s a unique experience not offered by other nearby restaurants.
6. Grab A Drink (Or Two!)
The best restaurants in Sonora offer a plethora of drinks to pair with every meal. Sonora Brewing Company is a family style restaurant loaded with hearty meals and often hosts events that bring together music and the community– with a side of barbequed oysters!
Just outside the city in a renovated pickering lumber office is The Standard Pour, a place of excellent draft beers and unique wines. It’s casual, but anything but ordinary– the space oozes quiet elegance and a comfortable atmosphere.
7. Hike Or Boat Pinecrest Lake
If you’re up in the summer, you must set aside an afternoon at Pinecrest Lake! Located 30 miles east of Sonora, this gorgeous national forest has the trifecta of outdoor activity: camping, hiking, and swimming. There’s a 4-mile hiking trail circling the lake that makes a popular hiking loop, and a day-use area to swim and picnic.
And if you are fishing or boating, there’s no fee to launch a boat and there’s also kayak rentals. And of course, there’s a really nice campground here. Robin and I camped here last summer and I fell in love with this place. I think we’ll be camping here every summer from now on.
Oh, and there’s a swimming hole called Chleo’s Bath up here! I haven’t yet been since I hear the trail is a bit hard and I was underprepared while we were camping, but I’m also told it’s heaven on a hot day. The trailhead starts on Pinecrest Lake opposite the campground.
8. Swim In A Cave At Natural Bridges Trail
The whole reason the girls and I visited Sonora together was to swim at the famous Natural Bridges swimming hole. We love swim holes (and hot springs) and this spot quickly made my list of favorite places to swim in California.
A shorter 2-mile hike that will lead you to breath-taking limestone caverns is the Natural Bridges Trail in Calaveras County. Some might find swimming in a cave claustrophobic or creepy, but the experience is truly magical. Sadly, dogs must stay behind for this adventure as the terrain is not accommodating to our furry friends.
9. Take The Plunge At God’s Bath Swimming Hole
One of California’s swimming secrets (well, not so secret these days) is God’s Bath Swimming Hole, just 50 minutes east of Sonora on the Clavey River. This area is a wonderful place to cool down in the hot-hot summers, as the water is cold frigid snow run-off. If you’re feeling brave (and are 100% comfortable in your swim-ability), swim under the underwater granite bridge back into the main swimming hole.
The girls and I decided to visit Rainbow Pool instead on this most recent trip, but God’s Bath is something I’ve been itching to visit for years now. So, if you, let me know how you like it!!
10. Go Wine Tasting at Inner Sanctum Cellars
If at any point you feel your trip has turned more history-lesson-than-gold-rush-flavor, find yourself a seat and a laaarge glass at Inner Sanctum Cellars. With a wine tasting room and patio, a beer tap room, and a sprinkling of free concerts, you won’t lack for enjoyment here. No reservations are needed, but don’t show up on a Monday or Tuesday because you will be knocking on a closed door.
11. Visit The Sonora Famers Market
From watching a beautiful sunset in Mi-Wuk Village to catching a show at the historic Fallon House Theatre, there are many romantic things to do in Sonora.
The Sonora Farmers Market is a fun place to hold your partner’s hand as you mosey through the stalls of fresh fruits, hand-crafted trinkets, and flowers. It’s open seasonally every Saturday morning from 7:30am to 11:30am.
12. Travel Back In Time
Being in Sonora is like stepping into a western movie, but instead of gun show-downs and bank robberies (I’m keeping the cute cowboys- thank yew), you get to experience real history. They have a handle of neat museums to stop by, especially handy during hot summer days.
The Columbia State Historic Park has preserved nearly 30 original buildings constructed during the height of the California Gold Rush, and it is the perfect place to don your new poplin dress and riding boots to snap a picture for the ‘gram. Feeling spooky? Book a ghost tour at the park and maybe come across your long, long-lost relative… in ghost form…??
History buffs won’t want to miss the Tuolumne County Museum. It’s well endowed with rich United States history from the Tuolumne Gold Rush to modern times. Visitors are welcome to this jail-turned-museum from Tuesday to Saturday.
If you love military history, the Veterans Memorial Military Museum is free and open to visitors Monday through Friday. The Veterans Memorial Hall displays artifacts like uniforms and weapons from several wars and is generally focused on local war heroes.
13. Make A Llama Friend At Llamas Of Circle Home
Visit the llamas– yes, I said llamas– at the Llamas of Circle Home. These cuddly and saliva-ejecting four legged creatures are cute and therapeutic to those who connect with the ~llama energy~.
This reminds me of the Goat Yoga I got to do in Mesa. If you love animals and not staying at the farm Airbnb, you’ll want to book a time with these fluffy babies. Plan ahead by booking a time to visit their 31 llamas.
I’m not a golfer, but If you have any golfers with you, the Teleli Golf Club is a resort amenity that has a scenic 18-hole course designed by the infamous Robert Muir Graves. If you are looking for more free things to do in Sonora, the Willow Creek Lounge at the Black Oak Casino offers free shows.
Tuolumne County truly holds something special that much of America has given up. When you find yourself at a historical landmark or clinking a glass of cider with a local, close your eyes and savor the moment.
Yosemite National Park Day Trips From Sonora
I had to pop this at the bottom since I know a lot of you are looking at the map and thinking: Sonora looks close to Yosemite, let’s also go to the park!
Stop right there. Sonora is about 1 hour to the park’s entrance, and then it’s another 30-40 minute drive to get to Yosemite Valley, where most of the good stuff is. And that’s of course if you don’t run into any traffic. It sometimes takes literal hours to get from the entrance to the valley.
Basically, it’s a trek from Sonora. I instead would recommend staying at the Evergreen Lodge, which is right outside the park entrance so it’s easier to visit and spend your time on the trails instead of driving. There’s a lot of fun things to do in Yosemite National Park, you’ll want time just for the park.
Have any questions about creating the perfect itinerary for your trip to Sonora? Drop a comment below and we’d be happy to help you plan your trip to Gold Country!