If you’re craving culture, outdoor adventure, shopping, dining and some relaxing spa time, look no further than California’s Tuolumne County. Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive East of San Francisco, many of the towns here, including Jamestown, Groveland and the County Seat, Sonora, were established during the 1850s gold rush when Americans from Eastern states, including Mississippi and Missouri, travelled by carriage to make a better life for themselves. Today, much of the area’s history, including the Boomtown-style architecture and friendly small-town charm, remains. Whether you want to antique on Washington Street in Sonora, hike a misty trail along Pinecrest Lake or head off for a hair-raising 4×4 Jeep adventure, there’s an activity to stimulate the senses. —Lise Boullard
stay. Nestled in the sleepy mountain town of Sonora (pop. 3,000), the Hotel Lumberjack makes a comfortable home base from which to explore Tuolumne County’s historic towns and the iconic Yosemite National Park. A nod to old Americana, the rooms in the converted motel have been updated with rustic design touches like natural wood panelling, emerald-tone velvet love seats and forest-inspired wall art. Super-comfortable Sealy Posturepedic mattresses and body pillows ensured our group was well-rested for the adventure-filled days ahead, and large walk-in showers with eco-friendly bath products soothed our sore muscles post-hike.
explore. A spectacular (and thrilling) drive up winding mountain roads with sweeping vistas of the Sierra Nevada, and through misty old growth forests brought our group to the Hetch Hetchy trail head. One of Yosemite’s lesser known—and less crowded treks—the 400-metre elevation jaunt offers pristine views of the dam and the majestic mountain range. Later on, the adrenaline junkies in our group loved getting behind the wheel of a Jeep 4×4 and following the (very kind) owners of Miller’s Off Road Adventures as they led us along bumpy roads through the rolling dry brush of the Stanislaus National Forest. The next day, we sharpened our axe throwing skills at the newly opened (and haunted, according to the owner, Lloyd) Hatchet’s Throw House.
spa. Nestled in a wooded hillside along Highway 120, the Rush Creek Lodge and Spa offers rustic luxury in the heart of nature, and its on-site Rush Creek Spa is a soul-soothing place where you can soak the stresses of urban life away. The spa’s many indoor-outdoor water features are inspired by Yosemite’s natural elements—from the park’s waterfalls to its granite formations to its rivers and hot springs. Our group had the chance to try some of the spa’s personalized offerings: we crafted our own aromatherapy oil blends using recipes designed for us and then chose from three Wellness Journeys that guided us through the spa’s Aromatherapy Steam Room, Himalayan Salt Block Sauna, Cool Mist Room and Warm Waterfall Coves. Post-spa, we sauntered into the crisp forest air feeling blissed out and ready for our next activity.
dine. There’s no better way to fuel a day of exploring than with a nourishing and delicious breakfast at Alicia’s Sugar Shack in Twain Harte (yes, that’s the name of the Twilight-esque town). Just a 20-minute drive from Sonora, the café serves up house-made breakfasts and a seemingly endless selection of flaky pastries. We especially loved the acai smoothie bowl, loaded with fruit and sprinkled with coconut, and the sticky maple-bacon cinnamon bun, which tasted even better while sitting next to the café’s wood-burning fire. After a day of activities our group refuelled at the area’s local eateries: The Service Station in Jamestown, which offers local wine, craft beer and comfort food classics including a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, and The Armoury in Sonora where we sipped on fun cocktails like a Paloma in a pig-shaped glass, from the adjoining Bourbon Barrel. And there was no better place to celebrate the gold discovery of days’ past—and our discovery of this amazing part of the world—than with a cider tasting in an elevated barn-style structure on the expansive grounds of an apple orchard at Indigeny Reserve, followed by a wine tasting at the top of a hill with a panoramic view of the vineyard at Gianelli Vineyards & Winery.