Sonora is a small town in what used to be one of the most popular Gold Rush areas in Central California.
Located just an hour from Stockton and two hours away from Sacramento, Sonora is a wonderful little historic town that now mostly serves as a weekend getaway from the nearby cities.
With mountains on the East and the New Melones Lake just a few minute’s drive from Sonora’s downtown, this place offers tons of outdoor recreational activities along with lots of historical attractions from the Gold Rush era in the 1850s.
In this post we cover 8 great things to do on a weekend escape around Sonora, California:
- Columbia State Historic Park
- Dragoon Gulch Trailhead
- Indigeny Reserve
- Sonora Tap Room
- Moaning Caverns Tour
- New Melones Lake
- Angels Camp RV Cabins
- The Service Station Restaurant
Columbia State Historic Park
Tuolumne County is known for having a few historic Gold Rush towns and the Columbia State Historic Park is by far the most famous of them all. If you’re planning a trip to Sonora, a visit to the Columbia State Historic Park is a must.
Columbia State Historic Park is a living town that operates like any other city. Here you can find restaurants, bars, gift shops, museums, hotels and other businesses that a typical town would have. The only difference between this and other towns is that all the buildings here were left and preserved in their original state from the 1850s.
Columbia State Historic Park has a Main Street that travels down the city with businesses lined up on both sides of it. This Main Street is closed to car traffic so visitors can enjoy a stroll down Colombia State Historic Park just like it was in the Gold Rush days.
Some of the most popular attractions at the Columbia State Historic Park include a blacksmith shop, an old firehouse, saloons, the candy store, and old mining companies.
You can learn more about this town’s history during the free hour-long town tour that takes place on Saturdays & Sundays at 11:00 am.
Location: 22708 Broadway St, Columbia, CA 95310
Hours: Typical business hours are from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Cost: Free to visit
Dragoon Gulch Trailhead
Dragoon Gulch Trail is a wonderful day hike just a few minutes outside of Sonora. This trail is perfect for those who want to spend an hour or two hiking outdoors without having to venture too far away from the Sonora city boundaries.
The Dragoon Gulch Trails start on a hill west of Sonora’s downtown. There are multiple trails that span from this trailhead and extend to around 3 miles in length.
The main trail leads up to a viewpoint of Sonora’s downtown in the distance and follows along beautiful California oak woodlands.
Dragoon Gulch Trails are very easy to hike with slight elevation gain and gentle switchbacks. All of the trails at Dragoon Gulch are very family and kid-friendly.
Dogs are also welcome to use these trails and there are some trash cans along the hike for cleanup.
Location: 680 Woods Creek Dr, Sonora, CA 95370
Cost: Free, no hiking permit required
Read More Here: Hiking Dragoon Gulch Trail In Sonora
To our surprise, one of the biggest attractions in this area is the Indigeny Reserve that is a beautiful apple orchard 10 minutes east of Sonora.
This region has a few popular wineries but it’s very rare to see a cider distillery as the main highlight so it piqued our interest.
Indigeny Reserve is located on the outskirts of Sonora in a beautiful forest setting. With over 160 acres of apple orchards, Indigeny Reserve makes a few different ciders, vodkas and even apple brandy.
We stopped by Indigeny Reserve in the afternoon after hiking and tried a few of their best sellers available at the tasting room.
All of the samples at the Indigeny Reserve tasting bar are free to try. We sampled their mainstream ciders like Extra Crisp and Blackberry but our favorite was the limited edition Organic Harvest Blend made of 52 different apple types grown at this orchard.
The Organic Harvest Blend was crisp, not too sweet and very refreshing. We ended up ordering a pint of this cider after which one of the bartenders took us on a quick tour of their facilities.
Usually, visitors can hang out on their charming outdoor patio situated next to the apple orchards but during our trip, it was raining outside so we just stayed inside by the tasting bar.
Location: 14679 Summers Ln, Sonora, CA 95370
Cost: Free to visit their tasting room
Monday to Wednesday – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Thursday to Sunday – 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sonora Tap Room
Tuolumne County has a pretty great craft drink scene. Within this county’s boundaries, visitors can find local wineries, breweries and cider distilleries.
While we couldn’t visit every recommended winery and brewery during our weekend vacation, we did stop by the Sonora Tap Room to try a few local favorites.
Sonora Tap Room is located in a historic red brick building in downtown Sonora. Although the space inside is pretty small and gets packed especially on weekend nights, we did find a cozy spot by the bar to sit down at.
Besides an occasional food truck, this tap room doesn’t serve any food. Thankfully this means that our dog was also allowed inside which was a welcoming break from having to always sit on the patio.
Sonora’s Tap Room drink menu is constantly rotating and includes a variety of beers, ciders, and wines for all types of taste palettes. Along with the draft menu, Sonora’s Tap Room also has a fridge fully stocked with additional drink choices.
Location: 1 East Linoberg St, Sonora, CA 95370
Hours: The hours vary day by day
Monday – closed
Tuesday to Thursday – 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Friday – 3:00 pm to 12:00 am
Saturday – 12:00 pm to 12:00 am
Sunday – 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Moaning Caverns Tour
If you’re looking for something a bit more unique to do in the area, Moaning Caverns are the largest showcase caverns in California and they are located just 20 minutes north of Sonora.
Although these caverns are not located in Sonora itself, they are one of the biggest attractions around so it’s well worth the drive from Sonora to visit them.
To enter and explore Moaning Caverns you have to go with a guided tour group. These tours take place every day at the start of every hour between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.
The tours are organized by Moaning Caverns Adventure Park and they offer two tour options – the Spiral Tour and the Expedition Tour.
The Spiral Tour is your basic walking tour inside these caves. Along with a guide, you will climb 165 feet underground through small staircases built into the cave.
This tour lasts for 45 minutes and is only $20 per person. The Spiral Tour is the most popular tour at Moaning Caverns so if you choose to participate in it, I recommend booking your spot online in advance for a small fee (which is what we did).
The Expedition Tour is the more advanced and adventurous tour of the two. For $95 a guide will take you repelling and crawling through tiny cave openings inside the Moaning Caverns. This tour is 3 hours long and is based on advanced reservations only – so call or sign up at least 48 hours beforehand if this interests you.
Hours: Spiral tours leave between 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Spiral Tour Cost: $20 per person
Expedition Tour Cost: $95 per person
Read More Here: Touring Moaning Caverns Underground Cave
New Melones Lake
New Melones Lake is one of the largest lake reservoirs in California. With lush green landscape and orange colored sand, New Melones Lake is very scenic and provides a lot of recreational activities especially in the summer.
But due to this lake’s high banks and lack of roads, it’s not accessible unless you go to one of the designated recreational areas – Glory Hole or Tuttletown.
We were looking for a place to stretch our legs outdoors so we stopped by the Tuttletown Recreation Area to take our dog on some of the trails available here. Tuttletown access point is also popular for boating, fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities.
The road leading into Tuttletown Recreation Area was paved and well maintained. This whole park was very clean and well-taken care of with plenty of parking, restrooms and picnic tables.
There was a gated post by the Tuttletown Recreation entrance but as a day user, we didn’t have to pay anything. If you plan to camp overnight, the campsites at Tuttletown Recreation Area cost around $22 per night.
We parked our car at one of the designated day parking lots and hiked on the trails that weave along the lakefront. The scenery here was very beautiful with lots of trees, green grass, and wildflowers.
Location: Reynolds Ferry Rd, Sonora, CA 95370
Cost: Free to visit for the day
Angels Camp RV Cabins
During our visit to Sonora, we stayed at the Angels Camp RV Park. We wanted to bring our dog with us on this trip but that usually limits our hotel choices.
Angels Camp RV Park is very dog friendly and they have these charming wooden cabins that we wanted to check out. Angels Park combines the best of camping while also offering some luxuries like a bed and hot shower at the end of the day.
For our stay, we booked one of their smaller cabins that sleeps up to 4 people but they have a couple of bigger cabins on their premises as well.
Their smaller cabins come with a full-size bed and a bunk bed which was perfect for us since there’s only two of us (plus our dog).
Each cabin has its personal parking spot, a patio with chairs, a picnic-style table and a grill that can also be used as a fire pit.
This property also has a lot of amenities like a pool, community cooking area, two dog parks, kids playground, volleyball net, basketball court, and more.
Cost: We paid $170 for a 2-night stay
The Service Station Restaurant
The Service Station is a wonderful restaurant in Jamestown, the neighboring city to Sonora. We stumbled upon this restaurant while trying to find dog-friendly eateries around Sonora and this turned out to be an excellent choice for dinner.
Located in the historic town of Jamestown, The Service Station combines the best of history and modern dining.
The Service Station interior is made of warm woods and exposed brick but because we had our dog with us, we sat in their beer garden outside that was decorated with wine barrels and charming twinkle lights.
The food menu at The Service Station was limited to two pages but each item was created with extra thought and care.
There were plenty of different things to choose from and I ordered the spinach salad while my husband went with the Service Station burger. My salad was very fresh and both of our plates were well presented. Our server was super attentive and made sure we were well taken care of, including our pup.
The best part about The Service Station was their thoughtfully curated drink menu that consisted of unique drink selection like Pineapple ciders, Sour IPA’s and local wines.
Location: 18242 Main Street, Jamestown, CA 95327
Hours: Opening hours vary depending on the day
Monday to Wednesday – closed
Thursday – 11:00 am to 9:00 pm
Friday & Saturday – 11:00 am to 10:00 pm
Sunday – 11:00 am to 8:00 pm
Cost: Most plates go for around $15