While Sonora is one of the closest cities to Yosemite National Park, it's also a popular destination in its own right. Sonora was founded in 1850 by miners from Mexico, who named the city after the Mexican state of the same name. Also, known as the “Queen of the Southern Mines,” this historic Gold Rush town is filled with character and plenty to see and do. Here are seven things that must be experienced on any visit to Sonora.
One of the best ways to experience the history of a town is strolling through the historic downtown region. Many shops and restaurants are located in historic buildings that line Washington Street (Highway 49) and the surrounding blocks, and frequently interiors are left to show the architecture of 150 years ago. Browse art galleries, boutiques of all kinds, sporting goods stores, and more at your own pace. Be on the lookout for iconic buildings, historical markers, and fascinating murals along the way. Stop by the Visitors Center at 193 S Washington Street for maps and brochures, and chat with friendly team members who can answer your questions about the area.
As one would expect of a city with so much history, Sonora has amazing museums that keep the stories of the town at the forefront.
The Tuolumne County Museum & History Center was created more than 60 years ago to protect and preserve the history of the region. Overseen by the Tuolumne County Historical Society, the museum features exhibits about local Native American culture, the Gold Rush, law and justice, railroads, and the ways of life of the diverse population of the 1800s and early 1900s. Not only does the museum house history, it is historical in its own right; the Museum served as the county jail from 1866 until 1960. Take a look in some of the cells that the bad guys stayed in while you're there.
For a unique take on a specific aspect of the region's history, visit the Sonora Fire Museum & Senior Lounge. While concern about fire hasn't changed over time, the gear and methodology used to combat it have. The museum showcases a wide array of equipment and apparatus that crews used to protect Sonora and its residents for the past century.
The Veterans Memorial Military Museum honors residents who protected the community and the country. Inside and outside, you will find uniforms, equipment, medals, and even weaponry used by the men and women of Sonora who served in the armed forces.
What would a Gold Rush town be without drinking establishments? Not to worry, Sonora's got it covered.
While downtown, step into the Sonora Brewing Company, the first brewery in the Sonora city limits since 1907. They offer 12 delicious in-house brewed beers on tap, brewed weekly, plus an extensive dining menu.
The Sonora Tap Room, also downtown, is a small tap room featuring 20 different beers on tap, a wide variety of cans and bottles, and a great selection of red and white wines in a relaxed, dog-friendly atmosphere.
A visit to Sonora isn’t complete without taking the short drive to Indigeny Reserve. Indigeny Reserve’s organic hard apple cider does not disappoint! Distilled carefully with pride and love on the family-owned and operated property, the cider pairs perfectly with a relaxing picnic on their spacious, beautiful grounds or on a nice hike around the orchards. Not only do they produce hard ciders, they also have their own vodka and brandy creations. The outdoor spaces are dog-friendly.
Tip to Thirsty Adventurers: Sign up for the Tuolumne County Craft Beverage Trail to find discounts at local wineries, breweries, and cider distillery and earn points toward prizes as you explore Tuolumne County. Check-in at every business and receive a free branded t-shirt!
Traveling and exploring will always make you hungry. Sonora has a wide array of unique food options and distinctive eateries that will make dining a memorable part of your trip. Take a look at the options here.
Or, stop by one or both of Sonora's seasonal farmers' markets, May through October. The Peaceful Valley Farmers' Market is open on Friday nights in East Sonora and the Sonora Certified Farmers' Market is open on Saturday mornings in downtown Sonora. Both offer fresh, sustainable produce and other prepared food items.
Sonora has it all when it comes to arts and entertainment. From art galleries and studios to superior live performances and concerts, there's something to please the artistic tastes and amusement of everyone.
For those interested in live performances, Sierra Repertory Theatre is an exceptional professional theatre working with Equity actors from across the country as well as local talent to provide regional theatre at its finest. The East Sonora theater recently underwent a massive renovation, creating a very comfortable and modern venue where you can take in classic shows, musicals, and dance performances. Shows are also held at the historic Fallon House Theatre, which dates back to the Gold Rush as a performance venue in nearby Columbia State Historic Park.
Two art associations, Mother Lode Art Association and Tuolumne County Arts support a diverse network of local artists whose creativity is deeply rooted in Tuolumne County. Their works can be found in (and on) numerous galleries and specialty shops in town, such as Aloft Art Gallery at Baer's.
Try to time your visit to include the second Saturday of the month - any month - throughout the year. The merchants in Sonora's historic downtown stay open late and open their doors to local musicians and artists for all to enjoy during 2nd Saturday Art Night, presented by the Sonora Chamber of Commerce. In the summer and early fall months, Art Night is followed by Concerts in Coffill Park, which are free and begin at 8:00pm.
Sonora has plenty of things to do for the outdoors enthusiast.
The Dragoon Gulch Trail winds up a pretty oak and manzanita-covered hillside and offers more than three miles of maintained trails of varying difficulty. There's options for someone looking for a peaceful morning stroll or the serious hiker or biker seeking a challenge. The views of Sonora and surrounding hills are worth the effort of those difficult choices, and although it may be classified as an urban trail, you'll have no idea you're in town. Bring your dog on a leash; they'll love it. The trail is also a great option for mountain biking!
For the golfer, Teleli Golf Club offers a scenic 18-hole championship course designed by Robert Muir Graves, who designed the course while enjoying the Gold Country and the beauty of the Sierra Nevada foothills. The course accommodates golfers of all abilities and club and cart rentals are available.
Now it's time to find a place to stay. From Victorian B&Bs to modern hotels, there are several lodging options to choose from. By the way, Sonora is a great basecamp for more Tuolumne County explorations. Find the perfect spot to rest your heads here.