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Follows Highway 49 from Auburn to Groveland and into Yosemite
In our years of traveling throughout the Groveland-Yosemite region we often find ourselves on Highway 49, an intriguing route that is sometimes twisted, occasionally steep and always scenic. Our last trip took us up to Auburn and Placerville and both are noteworthy with great places to stop if you are approaching Yosemite from Tahoe, heading south off of Interstate 80 or Highway 50 via Highway 49.
We outline the route from the north heading south. Common throughout the length of this drive are wineries and gold rush era history with plenty of other pleasurable distractions including theater and art, regional crafts, music, farmlands and oh...so much more! Take a few days to explore the Motherlode!
We started with getting to old town Auburn and finding the "Omelet shop", a little restaurant (who's name escapes me) in downtown on High Street that specializes in serving omelets with 78 different recipes to choose from. I ordered the roast beef, tomato and red onion with a dollop of sour cream and it was delicious! Victor's was more traditional but just as enjoyable. This restaurant seems to collect an interesting crowd of local cowboys and characters.
We spend an hour checking out the cute shops in Auburn. We found a few that were note worthy including one of the loveliest nurseries, Belle Flore Gardens, (1125 Lincoln Way. 916-660-9701) located right in the middle of downtown at the Lincloln-High Street V. The shoppe is a work of art and I could have wandered their offerings for hours, instead we bought some mums and wandered down the road.
Our next stop on this walking tour of old town Auburn is Pioneer Motherlode Mining Supply, also on Lincoln Way. This store has all the little bits a prospective gold panner might want and the big equipment a career miner needs. The store is at once high-tech with the floating pumps and old world with the pans and vials of gold flake. This was another stop I could have spent far more time in.
We next head off to find the California Welcome Center where we have Hotel Charlotte and StayNearYosemite.com brochures distributed from. A very helpful staff. I bought two things here that were touristy-kitch. The first is one of those shake-it-up-and-it-snows globes with a carrot, and 2 charcoal bits and the heading: California Snow Man. The second was a vial with real California gold flakes and a certificate of authenticity. This makes a good discussion piece as most folks haven't seen gold that is unprocessed.
From Auburn we head south on 49 to Placerville. You will meander through some of the loveliest farm lands in the foothills. You will want to have on hand the El Dorado County Visitors Bureau publication, it maps out the agritourism stops (Farm Trails) and wineries along the way with a handy list of open times and schedules.
We chose to stay overnight in Placerville at the newly remodeled Cary House Hotel with a new owner. We very much enjoyed our stay here. The room was a one bedroom apartment with a living room and kitchen. The rate was under $100. Perhaps this was a midweek special. The breakfast was very light, requiring us to dine shortly after leaving. The Hotel sported beautiful antiques along side plastic relics. An odd juxtaposition that we hope the new owners will change, especially in the public hallways and lobby. Parking was free and we were centrally located in downtown and could walk everywhere.
We explored town looking for a good lunch stop before heading out to find the wine tasting stops. We "discovered" Powell's Steamer Co. on Main Street, (530) 626-1091, also under recent new ownership. Turns out we "rediscovered" Powell's for dinner too. Not much choice on a Monday night in Placerville. The food was fresh and delicious, price fair and service friendly.
Following the map and year's old memories we began seeking out winery tasting rooms. Our first find was Ursa Vineyards, a producer of wine we already know and enjoy and carry in our own restaurant. We have the California State Fair wine guide and see that Ursa has scored a double gold. We are ready to taste! Alas, it is Monday and Ursa is closed.
We scoot down the road a bit and find Jodar with a nice port to try out on our friends back in Groveland. I decide this is a good time to look at that handy El Dorado map with open/closed times. We find Madrona Vineyards to be near where we and head for High Hill Road and the farm stops along the way. We bought a case of apples from High Hill Ranch and enjoyed some fudge from the Fudge Factory Farm before we found Madrona. Good wine and a beautiful setting!
Head south to Fair Play, famous for dozens of wineries. We are traveling on a great road, rural, scenic and serene. Except on the weekends, none of the Fair Play wineries are open for tastings, though the drive is worthy any day of the week.
Heading south on Highway 49 again you come to the towns of Plymouth and Drytown. Small places who's history dates back to the Gold Rush. Plymouth is now a wine center with a great number of little wineries spread out to the east of town along a figure 8 route in the Shenandoah Valley.
Next comes the quaint town of Amador City. Sadly, most folks will now miss this village as they have just completed a highway bypass. If you are touring the area, make a point of going through, not around Amador City. In Amador City one finds but a handful of little shoppes in a distance of three blocks with one curve and are then out of town again. A place we have heard great reviews on, but haven't been able to enjoy ourselves yet is the Imperial Hotel, once a stage coach stop, still serving food of great renown.
Just a mile or two from Amador City, this town too is off the bypass and visitors must plan to stop here.
Sutter Creek is far larger than Amador City with several hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, galleries antiques, curios and restaurants lining Main Street. We stayed at the Hanford House, just around the corner from Main Street and were able to walk everywhere in the downtown area. We enjoyed wine tasting two doors down in a co-op featuring three vineyards. The wine was okay but it was the art displays on the walls had me captivated.
We enjoyed a great traditional Italian meal at Bellotti's the cornerstone of the newly remodeled American Exchange Hotel and member of our own Yosemite Chamber of Commerce.
Turn East onto Route 4 at Angles Camp and you will find Murphys about 20 minutes down the road. Murphys is another Sierra Foothills wine town and well maintained with oodles of unique lodging choices, great restaurants and our favorite museum. We have stayed at the old Murphys Hotel, circa 1800's with presidential visitors on the guest list and oozing charm. We go to places like this and wonder..."if the walls could talk..."
This is a favorite stop in just a few miles outside Murphys town for many reasons. The tasting room is in the vineyards and is lovely, they have a marvelous old bar from which the tastings are done. Their reserve list is quite good, the Sauvignon Blanc was recognized this year at the State Fair and they have the best museum in all the Motherlode. In a huge bank vault sits a gold nugget of extraordinary size discovered as recently as 1992. Makes me want to buy a big shovel and start digging!
Another favorite stop in Murphys for the dynamic spirit of the winemaker Matt Hatcher. Fun stop, hopefully a visit here will be on a day when Matt is in the tasting room. Definitely try the Zinfandel, Victor thinks it is the best produced in the Sierra Foothills
From Murphys take the Parrots Ferry short cut to Columbia. This stop is a State Park restored Gold Mining Village with wooden sidewalks and dirt roads. Columbia is a great place to visit on weekends when you might witness a bank robbery or catch a ride on a stage coach. Smart visitors will spend the $3 to rent a gold pan. You get the lessons for free and will even catch a spot of gold! Arriving on docent days adds intrigue.
Just behind Washington Street (which is Highway 49 as it winds through downtown Sonora) This restaurant has a creative menu and a good wine list at very reasonable prices. The ambiance is comfortable, if a little quiet for me. Service has always been splendid, even after several visits.
Another State Park and one that will make train buffs very happy. The docents here love their work and have very rich tales of yore to share with visitors.
This is our favorite stop in Jamestown. We enjoy the company of Steven, the owner and his friendly staff. The menu is good and fairly priced. The wine list is 100% local Sierra Nevada choices. Michael the bartender knows more bad jokes than most!
On your way into Yosemite, make a stop in Groveland. Mountain Sage is a destination in its own right with a coffee house, arts, a nursery and oodles more. There is the Iron Door Saloon a relic from the 1850's, a fantastic little museum and library. Pine Mountain Lake has a stables and golf course open to the public. Down the road a bit is Rainbow Pools and Stanislaus National Forest and the Tuolumne River.....
The destination! Enjoy the valley with the 3,000 foot granite walls, then head up to Glacier point and look down those walls to the icons you can now identify.