Follow this route from the Central Valley into the Sierra foothills and back for wine-tasting, gallery-hopping, lakes, and—surprise—prehistoric fossils.
TRIP LENGTH: 3 DAYS
Mariposa (37mi/60km; 56mins). Escape to the past in this Gold Rush town and learn about its early days at the Mariposa Museum and History Center (named one of America’s best small museums by the Smithsonian Institution). Then discover the foothills’ creative side at the artist-curated Sierra Artists Gallery . INFO 866/425-3366; homeofyosemite.com
Oakhurst (27mi/44km; 38mins). See more works by local artists at the five galleries that comprise Gallery Row. For a memorable dinner, savor chef Gunnar Thompson’s farm-to-table cuisine and enjoy the European-country atmosphere and impressive Sierra views from the terrace at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant . INFO 559/683-4636; yosemitethisyear.com
Coarsegold (16mi/26km; 28mins). Hit vacation pay dirt at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino , where you can ante up in the casino or get pampered with a body wrap at Serenity Springs Spa. Choose from a dining line-up that ranges from pastas at Nativo’s to filet mignon and lobster at Vintage. INFO 559/642-2262; Coarsegoldchamber.com
Clovis (36mi/59km; 48mins). Stroll the brick sidewalks of Old Town Clovis as you search for finds at its many antique stores . Or discover the more natural side of Clovis with a walk or ride along the Dry Creek Trail . Enjoy scones and Darjeeling at Victoria Rose Cottage . INFO 877/725-6847; visitclovis.com
Fresno (9mi/15km; 14mins). Catch the Fresno Grizzlies (Triple A team for the San Francisco Giants) at appealingly retro Chukchansi Park. After the last out, check out the nightlife in the town’s neon-lit Tower District . INFO 800/788-0836; playfresno.com
Chowchilla (16mi/26km; 21mins). Step back in time--700,000 years to be exact—at the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County . See skeletons of some of the 15,000 creatures that once wandered here, including mammoths, saber tooth cats, and dire wolves. INFO 559/683-4636; yosemitethisyear.com