This trifecta of historic Gold Country towns will charm your socks off.
Sonora, the Queen of the Southern Mines (Courtesy of @traveltuolumnecounty)

This trifecta of historic Gold Country towns will charm your socks off.


For a few decades in the mid-19th century, the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada were briefly at the center of the universe.

As the region swelled with immigrants drawn by the discovery of gold, new towns erupted one after another to both equip and prey on the hordes. Close to 200 years later, only a handful have survived the passage of time. On Highway 49, they are still strung like diamonds beneath the mountains.

While millions of visitors pass within a hair’s breadth of the Golden Chain Highway each year on the way to Yosemite, very few venture any further up the road. They don’t know that, just a few miles away, three charming mining communities—Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia—are still there, straddling both the past and present.

Sonora + Jamestown

Jamestown's Main Street.

(Courtesy of @traveltuolumnecounty)

Sonora, the “Queen of the Southern Mines,” is Gold Country’s grand dame with a sweet downtown that still has the look of the Old West but nicely balances historic buildings and saloons with antique shops and contemporary boutiques and eateries. There’s even a shop—The Thirsty Prospector (131 S. Washington St.), a quirky combination of a bar, bookstore, and ice cream counter—from whose basement you can look into the underground tunnels by which miners once transported their gold through town.

Four miles to the south is Jamestown, a smaller historic town that’s also worth checking out. While it has fewer shops and restaurants than Sonora, the character of its Main Street is better preserved. For a slice of railroad history, Railtown 1897 just up the road houses a stable of vintage steam trains that’ve starred in movies and TV shows like Back to the Future III and Petticoat Junction.

Where to Stay in Sonora + Jamestown

(Courtesy of @theinnonknowleshill)

Perched above the picturesque town, the Inn on Knowles Hill strikes a perfect historic tone. The beautiful manor, which has played host to Herbert Hoover, Earl Warren, and half a dozen other California luminaries over the last century, has been painstakingly restored inch by inch. The guest rooms are plush and comfortable, the manicured property primed for relaxation (just ask the six floofy cats and two ducks that happily patrol the grounds), and the breakfasts are straight-up gourmet feasts. // 253 Knowles Hill Dr.,

Where to Eat and Drink in Sonora + Jamestown

Servente's Saloon and Market.

(Courtesy of @traveltuolumnecounty/@besslevine)

If there’s anywhere not to be missed in Sonora, it’s Servente’s Saloon and Market (64 S. Washington St.). One of the last places around with a cast-iron door, Servente’s looks a lot like it did 100 years ago (for proof, check out the black-and-white photos on the wall). A classic dive with a ceiling covered in dollar bills, a shuffleboard table, and a stage for live music and DJs, it’s the place to be late night—but happy hour is just as fun. Just next door, Servente’s restored and reimagined market will soon reopen as an Italian deli with big meaty sandwiches and goodies to go. // Part coffee, soft-serve and milkshake bar, part showcase for local makers, The Local Collective (189 S. Washington St., Sonora) stocks artisan gifts, apparel, and Gold Country souvenirs you’ll actually want to bring home. // The Armory (208 S. Green St., Sonora) is a huge, festive beer garden with modern aesthetics, killer cocktails, and cozy nooks for snuggling in on cool nights. Their menu leans heavily on barbecue-inspired options like smoked St. Louis ribs and smoked pork nachos, but also includes a healthy dose of salads and veggie-rich bowls. Indoors at The Bourbon Barrel, they serve the same food menu along with a unique set of spirit-forward cocktails and bourbon flights. // At The Service Station (18242 Main St., Jamestown), the ambiance pays homage to the bygone era in which Jamestown was founded while the extensive menu features upscale entrees like split ribeye and marsala chicken, along with lighter fare like sandwiches, salads, and apps. // Billed as a community wine bar, The Independent Wine Co. (13 S. Washington St., Sonora) is a cute spot for sipping a wide variety of uniquely curated reds, whites, and sparklers. // You can find almost anything you’re craving at Emberz (177 S. Washington, Sonora), a wood-fired kitchen serving everything from Philly cheese steaks and burgers to ahi tacos and “wildly garlic” pizza. They’ve also got a full bar with no shortage of margaritas and mules, plus self-serve wine tasting. // On a beautiful 160-acre estate not far from downtown, Indigeny Reserve (14679 Summers Ln., Sonora) crafts hard cider, citrus-infused liquor, and oak barrel-aged apple brandy. // At Jamestown’s craft brewery, Bear Tent Brewing Company (18145 Main St.), they serve up ales and lagers that run the gamut from IPA to farmhouse saison, and play host regularly to live music and events.

Things to Do in Sonora + Jamestown

The West Side Railroad Trail.

(Courtesy of @ranger_perspective)

The Dragoon Gulch Trail (680 Woods Creek Dr., Sonora), winds 3.1 miles through oak woodlands up to a gorgeous vista point overlooking Sonora. // Train nerds and film buffs will love Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (10501 Reservoir Rd., Jamestown) where you can examine vintage steam trains and take a ride on weekends from April through September. // Whether you go on foot or by bike, the slightly eerie 10-mile West Side Railroad Trail (Tuolumne), which follows a historic rail line through the foothills boasts some fantastic views. // Go deeper into the Gold Rush history of Sonora, Jamestown, and Columbia at the Tuolumne County Museum (58 W. Bradford St., Sonora). // At downtown Sonora’s wellness space Amala Detox Tea & Lounge (31 S. Washington), you can relax with a foot bath, an infrared sauna, and scalp treatments that’ll leave you renewed and refreshed in no time at all.


(Courtesy of @traveltuolumnecounty)

The Gold Rush Days are alive and kicking in Columbia. The best preserved of the region’s historic mining towns, Columbia was declared a state historic park in 1945 in order to assure it would stay that way. Since then, it’s had a starring role in several Western-themed movies and TV shows including High Noon (1952), Little House on the Prairie (1974), and Behind the Mask of Zorro (2005).

Today, Columbia operates as if it still were the mid-19th century with sundry shops, a blacksmith, and a 100-year-old candy shop—a Willy Wonka-esque dream of fudge, jelly candies, and chocolate confections. Interspersed among them are historical exhibits including a restored red-brick schoolhouse and cemetery. There are three saloons in town, too, one of which, the St. Charles (22801 Main St.), has some of the best pizza in Gold Country.

Free tours of the town leave from the museum Saturdays and Sundays at 11am year-round, and daily at 11am from June 15th through Labor Day. Self-guided tour maps are also available at the museum.

// 11259 Jackson St. (Columbia),

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