5 Reasons you need to visit Sonora, California

Sonora, California

Driving through rural California, you’ve got your pick of sweet little towns like Sonora. You can breeze by or maybe do a quick “driver reviver” but wouldn’t it be more fun to stay a few nights and get a feel for the place?

The historic town of Sonora, California sits close to Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest. It’s smack in the middle of some beautiful country and some great places to meander.

Mr M and I were there last weekend for a particularly lovely wedding – fancy frocks and cowboy hats, a bevvy of bridesmaids and groomsmen, and a happy couple who are beautiful inside and out.

It was a perfect excuse for a road trip, and at just three hours drive from San Francisco, Sonora’s close enough to make a weekend jaunt possible.

1. Bradford Place Inn & Gardens

Mr M had never stayed in a B&B before and I tend to avoid them when I’m travelling, for some unknown reason. After staying at the Bradford Place Inn & Gardens though, we’ll be changing that.

 Bradford Inn and Gardens, Sonora

Affordable and adorable, the Inn has gorgeous rooms with beautiful antique furniture that make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. We stayed in the Tuolumne Room and Mr M’s parents nabbed the spacious Bradford Suite, so we had a good sticky beak at all the finishing touches.

Of course the real stars are owners Gail and Jeff Pedrick, who seem to really enjoy working together. They were both formidable chefs as well as being a pleasure to chat to. Do yourself a favour and try the Creme Brulee French toast. If you’ve got room for more there also seems to be an endless supply of cookies and pastries in the dining room.

2. Cider and spirits

Sonora is best known as wine and gold country, so you might think that the cider wouldn’t quite be up to par. And you’d be wrong. So very wrong.

Indigeny Reserve, Sonora

We visited Indigeny Reserve cider works and distillery on  Gail and Jeff’s recommendation. The tasting rooms and cidery (where they make the cider) sit in the middle of 160-acres of orchards, surrounded by a picnic area, antique farm equipment and hiking trails.

They don’t just do apple cider either, this place makes an array of cider flavours plus apple brandy and a bunch of fruit-infused vodkas as well. Because nothing is wasted here, even the apple pulp is mulched back into the orchards or sent to livestock farms.

Indigeny Reserve distillery, Sonora Indigeny Reserve Copper Still, Sonora

We were lucky enough to get a tour of the facility by owner Jay Watson and the cidery cat. There’s lots of technical bits and bobs and interesting tidbits on the tour, which I won’t spoil for you. The overall feeling though, is that these guys really know their stuff and it shows in their product.

Their limited addition apricot cider has come in second place two years in a row at San Francisco’s cider summit.

Indigeny Reserve Cidery's cat, Sonora

3. Stroll down Sonora’s vintage main street

I’m not particularly into shopping, especially when it’s the non-internet kind, but Sonora’s South Washington Street isn’t that annoying kind of shopping.

The street is filled with quaint little shops that you wouldn’t see at the local strip mall – it really is a bit of a blast from the past. There’s Rick’s Cobbler Shop, antique shops that stretch back and sell everything from plates and cups to books and vintage hats, art galleries, boutique clothing stores and a plethora of eateries and saloons to choose from.

Vintage signs, Sonora Vintage hats, Sonora

My favourites were easy to pinpoint though. Who can walk past an old-fashioned lolly shop (candy store) and not go in? The Candy Vault actually has a vault, where I’m hoping that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory plays on loop. At least it was when we visited – you also can’t not sing along with the Oompa Loompas.

While I was stocking up on Salt Water Taffy for the sister-in-law, Mr M’s dad found some old fashioned Horehound candy. I’ve since found out that Horehound is a plant used in cough drops to soothe sore throats.

Old mine shaft, sonora  Legend's books, Sonora

Then it was on to Legends Books & Antiques, Old Fashion Soda Fountain – talk about crow barring quality into one attraction. The underground portion, which now houses rare secondhand hardcover books, used to be a mine shaft. If you love the musty smell of old books, get yourself here.

4. Gold rush ghost town

History is my thing, and the historic gold rush town of Columbia brings it to life. Just a few minutes drive north of Sonora, Columbia was founded in 1850 after the Hildreth brothers (George and Thaddeus) found gold in the area.

Gold Rush Ghost Town
Picture by Mr M.

Today the town is more than four blocks of nineteenth century sights, smells and sounds. Main street is lined with stores purveying everything from candy to mining equipment.

Gold Rush Ghost Town

The local blacksmith forge is still flaming and turning out tools, mailboxes, horseshoes and other trinkets. You can watch candy being pulled, twisted, shaped and cooled before going next door to get yourself some sugary treats.

Blacksmith

With gold panning, stagecoach rides, old-fashioned bowling and town tours, there’s plenty to keep kids and adults occupied. Don’t miss the tiny jail tucked behind the fire station or the school house further up the street.

When you get hungry there’s saloons, restaurants, ice cream parlors and tea houses to choose from.

5. Fine Food

After sitting in traffic for three hours on Friday afternoon, we were hungry. Luckily for us, Mr M’s parents had already scouted the local restaurants and were advised to book a table at Talulah’s Restaurant.

There’s so much to say that I don’t quite know where to start. While it’s described as “fine dining”, Talulah’s is so far away from having a stuffy vibe. The decor is warm, inviting and relaxed – three traits that are well reflected in the serving staff.

We were lucky enough to be waited on by Dom, who I’m pretty sure has dibs on the coolest guy in Sonora title (it’s not a low bar, there are some characters). Quick-witted, attentive and accommodating, he would have been the star of the evening if it weren’t for the food.

5 reasons to visit Sonora, California
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I don’t know what was in the salad dressing, but I can confirm that it’s tasty and I wanted more salad. Except I had shrimp linguine waiting for me – to say the pasta servings are generous would be an understatement. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t finish their plate.

We topped it all off with a brownie for dessert, and even though I didn’t have room for more pasta, there was a space in my dessert stomach.

Bonus round!

A road trip wouldn’t be a proper road trip without a couple of stops along the way. You need a stretch, a drink,some goats to pat and koi fish to feed.

That’s where Oakdale Cheese and Specialties comes in. Look for the signs on State Highway 120 in Oakdale and you’ll stumble across a gem. Putting the animals aside for a second, this is where award-winning cheese is made!

These guys know their cheese – their aged gouda was given first place in the “Dutch-style” cheese category and their cumin gouda won best flavoured gouda at the United States Championship Cheese contest.

Laughing goat, Oakdale

Apart from gorging on delicious cheese and ogling their cheese-making floor and drying racks, you can have a picnic outside under the trees. With the company of a pond full of koi, some curious goats, a lama and some chickens.

Getting there

Sonora is about a three hour drive from San Francisco, or 130 miles (209 kilometres) away.

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63 thoughts on “5 Reasons you need to visit Sonora, California

    1. For several years Sonora and nearby Pinecrest was our weekend getaway place from the Bay Area and when we retired couldn’t wait to live here full time. Thank you for your nice review, but you missed so much – come back and visit our lakes and resorts, try some more restaurants and get to know the people and the history – you will fall more in love with our town!

      1. Sounds lovely Donna. I got to five and the post was so long that I had to stop. Although, Mr M is hellbent on coming back so we’ll definitely make a return visit. Do you have any particular recommendations that you’d like to share?

        1. Please come back and visit Sierra Repretory Theatre. Folks come from all over N. CA to take in their plays. And don’t miss Cover’s Apple Ranch in Tuolumne with the miniature train ride and farm animals. Also visit the county museum in Sonora, and beautiful Pine Crest Lake to the East. Railtown State Park in Jamestown (3 miles West of Sonora). Many TV/movie episodes included this railroad and our surrounding area. (Petticoat Junction, Little House on the prairie, High Noon, Back to the Future, etc.) Go to the Round-Up parade and rodeo each year on Mother’s Day week-end and the Christmas parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for some small town flavor. And, thank you for the nice article about our area.

          1. I saw the theatre when I was googling Sonora before our trip. We just didn’t have time to fit everything in! Thanks for the tips on what else to see and do Jan! I saw the signs for the Mother’s Day rodeo while we were there. That sounds pretty exciting.

          2. I addition to Jan’s comments there is also The Fallon House in Columbia Ca, and the best chocolate and candy store there also. All completely hand made. I love the rocky road. Cover’s Apple Ranch servers lunch, dinner, makes pies, dumplings, cider, and all kinds of gifts and dried fruits. Pinecrest Lake has outside movies. We try to catch a few each summer after fishing, hiking or just hanging out on the beach. The Mother’s day rodeo is this weekend. A huge kick off to all the mother’s in the area. Christmas parade being one of the largest in the state. One of my little local shops down town is Ben Fig and the Kitchen Store. We have it all here California. Thank you so much for all the great reviews. Please come sometime and spent the week. Their is so much more to see. We love Sonora…

          3. I should have put a call out before we went! I can’t believe that I missed out on handmade chocolate and apple pies. They’re my favourite things! I went into the Kitchen Store and spent a long time perusing – I love that stuff and when I have a proper kitchen I’ll be able to fit more great gadgets in there! Thanks for your extra suggestions Teresa 🙂

    2. That is only scratching the surface of the Gold Country, a very well written piece; but come back and visit Pinecrest Lake, go to a movie under the stars there at night, get some awesome pizza and fine food at Mia’s in Coldsprings, visit the Standard Pour and have some amazing beer and food, visit Jamestown which is the home to Gianelli Wines Tasting Room, Inner Sanctum Cellars, fabulous Morelia’s Mexican food, or the National Hotel, a truly step back in time place to eat and sleep! Wander into some incredible antique stores there! You can mini golf in Twain Harte, see live music every Sat. night in the park in Twain Harte in the summer, and there is so much there is not even room to describe it all….come enjoy a lovely weekend here!

      1. So we’re going to need more than a weekend next time Karen! Sounds like there’s so much to see and do there! And I’m a huge fan of live music and I don’t mind a glass of wine either! Thank you for the tips!

    1. Thanks Sue! I’m trying to get some road tripping in at the moment, since I have hardly any vacation time to do big trips.

  1. Wow, that looked so good and your descriptions and information were excellent. I felt like I had joined you there. You are sounding very much relaxed and at home more and more in the travel posts…mmmmm Love Denyse x
    Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek 19/52 Next week’s prompt: Favourite Junk Food

    1. Hahaha, don’t worry Denyse. I’m still waiting on my visa extension. They’re cutting it extremely close for my liking. So, who knows, you might get to meet me in the flesh sooner rather than later 😉
      Can’t wait for the junk food post. I have ideas brewing already!

  2. What beautiful photos! I really enjoy these posts about parts of the US I haven’t visited myself.

    SSG xxx

    1. Thank you! I guess it’s something a bit different to the usual well-worn tourist paths that I write about. I had a great time as well.

  3. Thank you for the great article on my hometown. I was born in Sonora and am living there currently. Love it so much! Tahlulas is our favorite date night restaurant, and your right, there’s always room for their brownie sundae! Columbia State Park is one of our favorite places to visit when family comes from out of town. So glad you enjoyed it! It really is a gem. Please come back ❤️

    1. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying your home town so much Jenny. And I can see why you are. Hahaha, my dessert stomach always has space for something sweet. I’ll have to check out Columbia State Park next time I’m there.
      I’m loving all the great comments that Sonorans are leaving for me, it just proves what fantastic people live there!

    1. I love visiting places that maybe aren’t as well-known as they should be. Sonora’s definitely one of those places.

  4. I didn’t know there was a town called Sonora in California. I’m actually from Sonora, a state in Mexico. It looks quite similar in that it is sort of in the dessert and the architecture is colonial. Thank you for pointing out this gem!

    1. Hey Isabel! I didn’t know about Sonora, Mexico until I was talking to a friend at work whose Mum was born there! Glad that you got to experience the “other” Sonora.

  5. I’ve lived here for years and I have to say that I love it here. There are A lOT of new restaurants opening up, a new Tap Room, and Green Dog Brewing Co. is being built as I type. There also a great Casino up the road in Tuolumne City. I invite you to check us out.

    1. Putting those on the list, especially the Tap Room and Green Dog Brewing Co. Mr M will be happy with those! Thanks for visiting Clint 🙂

  6. Sonora sounds lovely! I love trips to smaller towns. Also, the cheese factory sounds like such a great in between stop. I love historical sites as well, the gold rush ghost town sounds fun. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love that people who live in small towns are so proud of where they live and are really happy to spruik it and tell you what’s great about their town. It’s so great to hear!

    1. I don’t know if the historical fascination makes me a little boring TBH. Well it probably does to people who don’t like history. But, well, those people aren’t my favourites so I think I can live with that 😉

  7. This looks so cool. I’d love to visit this part of California. I was a couple hours away for a business trip a few months ago, but I was just a little too far away to make it work. I’ll have to visit on a real vacation sometime.

    1. Business trips make it hard to swing trips like this one. But they’re great to get a taste of a place then come back later with a list of things to see and do!

  8. I’ve never heard of Sonora but it seems like such a great place to visit! I’m such a fan of history too and would love the ghost town experience. Also – you sold me at “cheese”! 😉 My favorite. That b&b looks too cute!

  9. Main Street packed with vintage treasures and a gold rush ghost town…sounds like exactly my kind of place! Definitely noting for any future USA travel. 🙂

  10. You had me at wine country. Lol. I’d enjoy a stroll down vintage Main Street. It sounds like you all enjoyed your stay. Small towns have the best hidden gems.

  11. Very nice article Katherine. I’ve lived in Sonora for over 40 years. This town has really grown but there are so many things to do here, as you have seen and my townmates here have said.
    Railtown 1897 is a given to see because of the famous #3 locomotive. It has been in over 180 movies, including Back to the Future III.

    You were already in Columbia State Historic Park. The Friends of Columbia SHP put on all types of shows for the tourists and they are led by docents in period costumes. You can find a schedule at http://friendsofcolumbiashp.org/events.html. Many are free.

    One of my favorite restaurants is the Diamondback. It has never disappointed with its fresh food, mostly locally sourced, and an extensive wine and beer selection. My fave is the Diestel turkey burger. Diestel turkey farms are here in Sonora and they ship their amazing turkey products nationally.

    My best friend and I hit ALL of the concerts in the parks during the summer so we are in Tuolumne on Wednesday nights and Twain Harte on Saturday nights.
    We have amazing Farmers markets here, plus the community is very art-centric. We have a 2nd Saturday night all year long which is when all the shops downtown are open late and there are bands in most of them singing and making it a very fun time. The galleries are also open so it’s a combo art-walk-drink-up-the-music night that usually cumulates with a Moscow Mule at Emberz.
    Yes, this town is magical. You visit here enough times and you won’t want to leave…

    1. I didn’t realise that Back to the Future III was filmed there! You just made my day with that piece of information. I love that movie so much 😀
      I think you’re right about the town being magical and maybe we wouldn’t want to leave.

  12. Wow this looks awesome. Feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Thanks for sharing. I’m an American expat living in Oman, it’s interesting to see the perspective of an expat living in the States.

    1. That must be very interesting for you Nicole. I know there are lots of expats in Dubai but I’m not sure about Dubai. Thanks for visiting!

  13. What a cute town! The whole town is so vintage! I love it! Will have to try to make a visit the next time I’m up in Sac! Pinned! #WanderfulWednesday

  14. I’ve literally never heard of Sonora before and now I’m dying to go. It sounds just like the kind of place I’d love. Especially the cider distillery – so delicious!

    1. Isn’t it awesome when you find or hear about these hidden gems? I’d never heard of it either and now I’m so glad the wedding was there.

  15. That B and B! Swoon! What a wonderful weekend away – so much to see, eat and do! I’d never heard of Sonora (at first, I thought you meant Sonoma) – it really is a hidden gem!

    1. Totally Sammie. I could have stayed there all weekend and been happy. The furniture, the owners, the cookies… hahahaha.

  16. My parents have friends in Sonora and rave about it, but I’ve never been. It looks like a great place to visit though! I love vintage shopping and that cider looks yummmy 😀

  17. Sign me up for a tour of the ghost town!! Wild west stories are HUGE in Germany so I spent my entire childhood reading about the golden days. Would be so amazing to actually visit and learn more!

    1. That’s great! I’m a wild west fan because my dad used to watch so many cowboy movies when I was a kid, so these places fascinate me as well 🙂

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