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Explore a blossoming country town with big-city appeal

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Like San Francisco in the mid-1800s, Murphys was one of California’s richest boom towns, but this appealing town in Calaveras County still feels closer to Mark Twain’s famous jumping frogs (celebrated yearly in neighboring Angels Camp) than Michelin stars and über-prestigious, wine tasting excursions. Located roughly halfway between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, this Mother Lode town still has a richly historic look, with handsome stone-walled buildings dating back to the mid-19th century, and white picket fences surrounding colorful flower gardens. 

Yet with all these nods to history, it’s not hard to see that times have definitely changed since John and Daniel Murphy established a trading post and gold mining operation here. Stroll down Main Street to visit tasting rooms and restaurants featuring vintages from the more than two-dozen family-owned wineries in the region. Sip an espresso and backed-that-morning croissants at Aria Bakery, and look for artisan crafts at the farmers’ market (Thursdays in summer). Visit the sprawling Ironstone Vineyards to sip wines, catch an outdoor concert with big-name stars like Sheryl Crow, check out gold-mining paraphernalia and period photographs at the winery’s surprising museum, then relax at sophisticated V Restaurant, Bar & Bistro.

On the first Saturday of every October, the small town attracts thousands for the annual Grape Stomp Competition and Gold Rush Street Fair. The free event, which features California’s oldest and longest-running grape stomp, also includes a local winemaker competition, vendors selling handcrafted goods, and a costume contest—past winners include the “Grapeful Dead” and the “Cork Fungus Fairies.”

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