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Trails & Taprooms: A Spirited Weekend in Mariposa County

Just a few hours drive from the Bay Area, Los Angeles area and the Central Valley, Yosemite Mariposa County is a great destination for any road trip. (Photo by: Kim Lawson)

It was Mark Twain who famously said “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Here in Mariposa County, we put that theory to the test. Pairing the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park with farm-to-table dining and historic saloons, Yosemite Mariposa combines unrivaled outdoor fun with spirited nightlife making it one of the top weekend getaways in California.

A short distance from the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Los Angeles alike, Yosemite Mariposa boasts countless things to do both indoors and out. Like a crisp IPA or a bubbly rosé after a hard-won day on the trail, here’s a taste of what you’ll find.

Friday

With work zoom meetings lost in the rearview, inspired conversations come alive as you and your squad motor through the rolling foothills of Gold Rush country. Destination? Mariposa, CA.  Situated at 2,000 feet and laden with tales of yore, this top Northern California getaway is the perfect hub for your Trails & Taprooms weekend.

Vacation rental options are great in Yosemite Mariposa County. See our article on how to choose the right one.

Where To Stay

The first order of business in our forum of fun…where to drop your bags. There are lots of lodging choices in historic Mariposa, with many hotels located close to the action.  Whether choosing a reliable chain or a unique alpine lodge, all are within walking distance of the main drag (the intersection of two great drives, the historic Highways 49 & 140) and its bevy of watering holes.  For visitors who want the comfort of a larger space, weekend cabin rentals are available while camping remains a popular choice for those who want to rough it on a budget. Take a look at our special offers to see some great deals to help plan your trip.

Where To Play

After checking in, take a stroll through rustic downtown Mariposa and explore this gateway to Yosemite National Park alongside visitors from across the globe. Pop into the Mariposa Museum and History Center and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum to get the lowdown on old saloons and local legends that embodied Mariposa County’s rough & tumble Gold Rush past.  The Mariposa County Courthouse on Bullion Street was completed in 1854 and is the oldest Superior Courthouse still in use west of the Rockies. Though modestly built with a pitched roof and clocktower, it originally served one-fifth of California’s residents in cases ranging from mining rights to robberies and, yes, murders. Fridays in summer, check out the Mariposa Arts Council to see who’s performing outdoor in the Park as part of its Music On The Green series.

Imbibe & Ingest

1850’s burgers, beers and entrees are mouthwatering, just like this picture. Photo by: Jim Black

Downtown Mariposa’s ‘The Alley’ has nearly a dozen draught beer options and even more in bottles as well as a great local wine selection. Grab yourself an artisan pizza and kick back in the beautiful beer garden for a relaxing night.

Happy hour has arrived, so head over to 1850 Brewing Company for your inaugural libation.  Flagship brews such as the Cowboy Lager (4.2% ABV), Timberline West Coast IPA (6.8% ABV) and Dark Horse Coffee Stout (5.9% ABV) make this a local fave. If you want to keep the party going through dinner, try the Irish Nachos, Bootjack Burger (vegan patty available) or Smoked Rib Eye prepared with love by hometown restaurateur Jake Wackerman and his wife Hanna.

For flights of Sierra foothill wines, rotating beer taps and bar bites such as Bavarian pretzels with smoked beer cheese and the artisan pizza of the day, The Alley Lounge is a great choice for elevated pub cuisine. High ceilings and an outdoor patio make this a lively meeting place.

After dinner, it’s time to mingle. Bounce over to the Grove House for 12 taps of well-curated beer, board games with friends and inspired live music. Who knows, some friendly locals might share their own tales of life in historic Mariposa.

Saturday

With beaucoup activities just outside your door, it’s time to get moving.  Fuel up on Sierra comfort food at the Sugar Pine Cafe. Originally built as the Dairy Dell Diner in the 1940’s, breakfasts include homemade biscuits & gravy, buttermilk pancakes and egg scrambles. If a DIY breakfast is your thing, the Pioneer Market & Pharmacy has groceries, fresh produce and first-aid items for picnic-preppers of all stripes.

Where To Play

Sign for Merced River Wild and Scenic River

The nearby Merced River makes for a great pay of relaxing, swimming and playing in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. Photo by: Tony McDaniel

It’s another beautiful day in the Sierra foothills, and the Merced River Recreation Management Area beckons. Located 12 miles from Mariposa along Highway 140, the area in Briceburg follows the Wild & Scenic Merced River offering ample opportunity to swim, raft and hike. The Merced River Trail is a great trek for you and your crew. (5.5 miles out & back/elevation gain of 482 feet). Starting near Railroad Flat Campground, the Merced River Trail follows the old Yosemite Valley Railroad line perched above the flowing waters. If you feel like swimming, scramble down the rocks and take a plunge. At trail’s end, there’s a narrow spur that climbs to a seasonal waterfall, worth the effort if still running. Find a lofty perch to enjoy your lunch and snap some killer IG pics.

If you feel like more swimming and less hiking, a large sandy beach can be found at McCabe Flat Campground, as can a smaller one just downstream from Willow Placer Campground. Cable Rock Day-Use Site is another popular place to swim, and features a large jumping rock where you can enjoy a cool riverside beverage with like-minded revelers.  As the summer progresses and the amount of water in the river decreases, new swimming holes reveal themselves to those willing to explore. There is little cover so bring eco-friendly sunblock and take caution by avoiding water that flows faster than you can walk. As an added safety measure, the flow of the Merced River can be found here.

The easily accessible and easily hiked Stockton Creek Preserve sits right outside of Mariposa and is a beautiful look into the Sierra Foothill ecosystem.

Still have some energy after your Briceburg meet & greet? Head back to Mariposa for a hike/mountain bike at the Stockton Creek Preserve. This 3.1-mile loop starts a few blocks from downtown and gains 501 feet as it winds through classic California oak and chaparral up to Stockton Creek Reservoir. The lower loop features a graded fire road, while the upper loop provides expansive vistas overlooking the water and surrounding hills. This 410-acre preserve is a magnet for many bird species as well as the Western Pond Turtle, the West Coast’s only native freshwater turtle.

Nosh & Nightcap

One fun deed deserves another so after your day exploring beautiful Mariposa County it’s time for a night on the town. Grab a beer at Woody’s Indoor/Outdoor Grub and challenge friends to some cornhole or giant Jenga. This New Orleans-inspired spot serves 16-hour-smoked brisket, gumbo and sweet heat gator bites. With its roll-up shop doors and picnic tables, Woody’s BBQ can’t help but feel down-home and lively.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more chic-yet-relaxed, order a signature cocktail from the full bar at Savoury’s Restaurant and re-animate with the osso buco or grilled portobello with herbed quinoa. Vegetarian-friendly, and located in the heart of old town Mariposa.

After dinner, it’s time to find the Hideout Saloon. Tucked away in the back of the Corner Store’s building, the Hideout oozes Gold Rush character with 150-year-old stacked rock walls and reclaimed barn wood pinned with autographed cash. The full bar is popular with visitors and locals alike, featuring a pool table, darts, DJ’d events, karaoke and live music. On nights without scheduled events, the Hideout even offers the use of house musical instruments for impromptu jam sessions.

Sunday

Just because it’s check-out day doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in some more fun on the way out of town. Head over to High Country Health Foods & Cafe for an omnivore’s delight.  Homemade baked goods, egg sandwiches such as the French Camp and the organic smoothie bar makes this a locally-informed choice.  Vegan & gluten-free friendly.

Where To Play

Mountain lakes like McClure and McSwain are great escapes for a day on the water.

Located 30 miles from Mariposa, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are a perfect finale to your Trails & Taprooms weekend. Nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills at an elevation of 867 feet, horseshoe-shaped Lake McClure is fed by Yosemite’s Wild and Scenic Merced River and features three marinas, trophy-level fishing and every manner of water sports. Rent a boat with your friends and explore the 80 miles of shoreline, or strap into your wakeboard and get some air. If you’re a fan of MTB, the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park features 700 acres of dedicated terrain ranging from easy to thrilling technical descents. With an elevation gain of 900 feet, bombing downhill is encouraged.

The Road Home

Heading home, it’s easy to see why Mariposa County is one of the top weekend getaways in California. From the rugged peaks of the Sierra’s to the crystalline waters of the mighty Merced, from the Gold Rush spirit of old town Mariposa to the local spirits that flow freely, there are few better ways to kick it with your friends…and maybe make some new ones.

(Please note: Due to state and local restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact destinations mentioned in this story for current hours of operation.)

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