A mother lode of discoveries awaits in this historic Gold Country town
Dubbed “the Queen of the Southern Mines,” the Tuolumne County town of Sonora retains a regal bearing more than a century after its Gold Rush heyday.
Located in the heart of the Gold Country on Highway 49, Sonora is a community where graceful church steeples and the domes of historic buildings rise above a downtown lined with streets of stalwart brick structures. The Downtown Sonora Walking Tour has detailed stories of 21 landmarks along a one-mile route centered on Washington Street. Stops include stately Courthouse Square; the Sonora Chinatown Memorial, which commemorates the Chinese community that thrived here during the Gold Rush; and the 1885 Sonora Opera Hall, which still hosts an array of local events.
Museums and Culture
The Veterans Memorial Military Museum honors the sacrifices of local veterans, while the Sonora Fire Museum displays vintage equipment and artifacts that tell the story of the ongoing battle to protect Sonora from wildfires. Located a short distance off the walking-tour route, in an old jail that dates to 1866, the Tuolumne Museum and History Center is the place to discover Sonora and Tuolumne County’s rich past and is a must for anyone interested in local Gold Rush and Native American history.
While Sonora reveres its heritage, the town also has a more contemporary side and a thriving culinary scene. A summer concert series takes place from June through October at Coffill Park the second Saturday of each month, while during 2nd Saturday Art Nights, downtown comes alive as businesses host open houses with musical performances and other activities. And theater lovers should definitely check out the calendar at the Sierra Repertory Theatre, which has a three-decade history of professionally produced musicals and dramas on two stages.
The town’s culinary options are abundant and varied. Head over to the Diamondback Grill for such New American specialties as a grilled rib steak with Point Reyes cheese butter. The restaurant and wine bar is located within a restored Gold Rush–era building and caters to burger lovers with a menu that includes both Kobe and locally grass-fed choices. The name of Emberz Woodfired Foodz certainly hints at what to expect at this popular spot where you’ll find such innovative, gourmet pizzas as The Gypsy (prosciutto, gorgonzola, fig jam, and arugula), as well as a tender tomahawk steak and salads made with locally sourced ingredients. If you’re craving ramen or poke bowls, Yoshoku has a menu that rivals the noodle shops in California’s much larger cities.
Wine and Beer Tasting
Outside of town, discover award-winning Tempranillo made with grapes grown in the foothills of Tuolumne County at Inner Sanctum Cellars, which also has live music on weekends. The beer-centric Standard Pour carries a big selection of brews and prides itself on an assortment of artisanal California cheeses. The restaurant is in a restored lumber company office building with a soaring ceiling and beautiful woodwork, although it’s tough to beat the patio and a game of bocce on a summer night. For a cider house that positively rules, Indigeny Reserve produces premium hard cider and apple brandy made from 52 apple varieties grown on 160 acres of orchards. Visit the Indigeny tasting bar to sample the selection, and peruse the gift shop for jewelry, artwork, olive oils, and other locally produced gourmet items.
Adventures Outside of Sonora
Whether you take a drive to Yosemite National Park or explore nearby Stanislaus National Forest, Sonora is an ideal base for anyone looking for adventures in the foothills and the Sierra Nevada. Right in town, the onetime gold mining area of Dragoon Gulch has more than three miles of bike- and dog-friendly trails that wind through oak woodlands and lead to a beautiful overview of downtown Sonora.
A short distance from Sonora, you can also visit two state parks rich with history. Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is famous for its still-operational roundhouse and offers 45-minute rides through the foothills on trains pulled by steam locomotives. Feeling lucky? Pan for gold and step back in time at Columbia State Historic Park, where you can visit shops, restaurants, and even a working blacksmith shop, all housed in 30 buildings that survive from the Gold Rush.
Courthouse Square, Sonora
See the Toulumne County square that’s rich with Gold Rush history