Photo: Lynn Yeh/Shutterstock

This Northern California Region Offers a Mix of Old West History and Natural Abundance

California Insider Guides
by Amanda Finn Nov 28, 2022

It’s safe to say that, these days, people who travel to California aren’t all that familiar with Tuolumne County. But during the gold rush, it was an entirely different story. In fact, some never left. Take a visit to see the dreamy scenic byways and charming atmosphere of this part of the Golden State and you, too, might fall in love with the region.

The best things to do in Tuolumne County

Tuolumne County encompasses Stanislaus National Forest and touches Yosemite National Park. So, naturally, there’s plenty of outdoors to explore, as well as some wellness and relaxation opportunities away from the outdoors.

Photo: Kyle Haggerty

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias

On this 2.5-mile roundtrip trek, you can reach a grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. On a recent visit, setting my eyes on the massive trees made my heart sing. You can snap some photos with these gentle giants before heading back to the trailhead or continue on into Yosemite. Don’t forget your sunscreen, and be sure to leave no trace and stay on the trails.

Tuolumne Grove: Yosemite National Park

Amala Detox and Tea Lounge

Soak up the relaxation (literally) at this charming lounge in Sonora. Indulge in an ionic foot soak to see what pesky chemicals have been wreaking havoc on your body while sipping one of Amala’s dozens of tea varieties. Be sure to add on the CBD foot lotion at the end — it’s well worth an extra few bucks.

Amala Detox and Tea Lounge: 31 S Washington St, Sonora, CA 95370

Rush Creek Lodge and Spa

After your Yosemite hike, you can make an easy venture to the nearby Rush Creek Lodge for some much-needed restoration at their spa. Day passes can be purchased to access their line of spa facilities including a sensory room, sauna, hot tub, steam room, and hot rock beds. I highly recommend the hot rock beds for sore calves after hiking, it did wonders.

Rush Creek Lodge and Spa: 34001 CA-120, Groveland, CA 95321

Columbia State Historic Park

Photo: Kyle Haggerty

You can’t visit California’s gold rush territory without experiencing some gold mine history. Columbia State Historic Park is a living history museum within the walkable gold rush-era town of Columbia. You can meander the streets that prospectors of yore once did, get snacks at the Columbia Mercantile 1855, check out Parrott’s Blacksmith Shop, and go bowling in an old-fashioned bowling alley in the Columbia State Historic Park entertainment room.

Columbia State Historic Park: 22708 Broadway St, Columbia, CA 95310

Where to eat and drink in Tuolumne County

One thing about visiting a destination that’s so outdoors focused is that there’s almost always a restaurant or two (plus a brewery or distillery) to soak in the outdoors with food and drink in hand.

Photo: Kyle Haggerty

Indigeny Reserve

Spending time leaf-peeping around the county or otherwise exploring might get you hankering for some apple-themed goodness. At the Indigeny Reserve outside of Sonora, you can sample hard ciders or apple-based liquor. The blackberry hard apple cider is a sweet concoction you must try while there. (Make sure to designate a driver or make travel plans, as you’ll need a car to get out to the reserve.)

Indigeny Reserve: 14679 Summers Ln, Sonora, CA 95370

The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake

Sunset is the best time of day to hang out at this tasty spot. The Grill in Groveland has an impressive array on the menu, from sandwiches to fish entrees, but don’t overlook the crab cakes because they’re the best I’ve had anywhere. Note that you’ll need a car to get here.

The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake: 12765 Mueller Dr, Groveland, CA 95321

The Armory

Do yourself a favor and grab a spot on the rooftop terrace here, as it’s the best spot in the house at The Armory in Sonora. With a frozen piña colada in hand, you can enjoy traditional pub fare like a giant Bavarian pretzel or go healthy with a harvest bowl. Or treat yourself as I did with some steak and frites. You can easily walk here from elsewhere in downtown Sonora or park nearby.

The Armory: 208 S Green St, Sonora, CA 95370

Where to stay in Tuolumne County

@epic.stays Would you stay at this haunted hotel? Groveland Hotel in #California @Amanda Finn @Visit Tuolumne County #calitravel #visitcalifornia #halloweentravel #hauntedhotel #yosemite ♬ Halloween ・ cute horror song – PeriTune

Groveland Hotel

This haunted, historical hotel on Main Street in Groveland is a delightful home away from home – unless you’re Lyle the ghost. He still lives there. With nearby saloons and shops, you can walk around the small town to your heart’s content before coming back to Groveland for a drink and a bite. If you end up staying in Lyle’s Room (room 15, and it’s labeled on the door so there’s no missing it), be sure you say hello to the hotel’s ghostly resident when you enter the room and he might not play with the faucets much. And ladies, don’t spread out your things on the dresser or they might get swiped onto the floor.

Groveland Hotel: 18767 Main St, Groveland, CA 95321

Fallon House Hotel

Located within the confines of the Columbia Historic Park, the Fallon House’s resident ghosts don’t have much backstory. However, the interior of the hotel is decked out to the nines in 19th-century wallpaper, furnishings, and knickknacks. You’re truly going back in time if you stay here without hotel-specific wifi (there is historic park wifi, though) and shared showering facilities down the hall.

Fallon House Hotel: 11175 Washington St, Columbia, CA 95310

How to get to Tuolumne County, California

Getting to Tuolumne County is an adventure in itself. If coming from a major metropolitan area, it’s easiest to take a flight to San Francisco before grabbing a rental car to head east about two hours. The vast array of colors in autumn make the drive well worth the time.

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