Situated two hours southeast of Sacramento lies Sonora, a small 4,800 person community that is the seat of Tuolumne County. The city made its mark in mining and during the gold rush served as a booming hub for trade and industry. Now the town serves more tourists than it does miners, catering to them with a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, historical landmarks and gorgeous hiking trails and views.
If you are coming from Sacramento, there are a few ways to get to Sonora. We decided to go down to Galt (halfway between Sacramento and Stockton) and then head east from there. It was a good way to utilize both freeways and highways, and allowed us to pass through the town of Angel’s Camp - another historic town known for the yearly frog jumping contest made famous by Mark Twain.
Both Sonora and Angel’s Camp could easily be a quick day trip, but to fully take advantage of what the region has to offer, I’d recommend spending the night in one of these towns.
Unfortunately, I fell under the weather during my recent trip, so rather than packing in a full first day and heading home early the next morning, we decided to just get to Sonora on a Saturday evening, take a stroll along the main street, grab dinner and then call it a night - saving our exploration and adventures for the morning. This worked out incredibly well for us. Here’s how we did it:
Our Hotel: The Gunn House in Sonora
Hotel options are fairly limited in this region and after narrowing down our few options by reading TripAdvisor reviews, we opted to stay at the Gunn House. The Gunn Family house was originally just that, a house for Dr. Gunn and his family back in 1850. The history of the building is fascinating: For a while it served as a tuberculosis hospital for women before converting at the turn of the century into a lodging facility.
The house itself is eclectic. Solid pieces of antique wood furniture filled our room, which had a full ensuite bathroom. While the room felt a little musty and in need of some TLC, it was comfortable and the hotel’s other amenities easily made up for it. It would have been great to have a glass of wine while sitting at one of the lounge chairs in front of our room or the other ones scattered into conversation areas around the property.
For me, the highlight of the place was breakfast. I’m a sucker for a good meal that’s included in the price of admission. Several, and by that I mean at least four, different types of breads are available to eat: nutella, pumpkin and a few others I can’t remember. They also serve a breakfast quiche, cereal, toast and waffles to order. The buffet style made me feel like I was back in the days of going to youth hostels, making sure to eat a big breakfast because I only wanted to pay for one meal during the day.
Our Coffee: Schnoogs
I really like coffee. While my body can’t handle too much of it, I still like to test out new coffee places wherever I travel (check out my Kaffeeklatsch posts if you have the time). A little research led me to Schnoogs. They sell coffee and have a great name. I was sold.
Located five minutes by car from the main street, Schoogs is housed in a strip mall. At first glance from the outside, the place doesn’t impress. But inside is a different story. The large space is made homey with items for sale, heavy wood shelves at the counter and lots of seating to accommodate students and out of town bloggers.
Our Adventure: Hiking Table Mountain and Natural Bridges Trails
There are a lot of hiking options to choose from in this area. We decided to check out two places, first of which was Table Mountain. A ten to fifteen minute drive from Sonora, you really need to check your directions twice before heading to the trail mouth. If you lose service, and therefore your Google maps, you might question the turns you need to take to get to this remote location.
A little swampy from all the rain we’ve seen in Northern California, my tennis shoes didn’t stand a chance against the mud and running water. We trekked on however, meadows of green give way to a mildly steep hill, which then turns into volcanic rock. LOTS of volcanic rock. We should have a little more research because after ten minutes climbing up the rock, all we could see was more rock. For us, that meant we needed to turn back. I’m not sure how much rock remained, but I was sad that we weren’t able to get take in the views we’d seen online. Regardless, it was a great way to start the day.
Our second hike was Natural Bridges in Calaveras County. This was much more on the beaten trail, with well-carved paths full of families. Twenty or so minutes of hiking brings you down a hill to a beautiful watering hole. A picnic lunch would be perfect here, as would a bathing suit and towel on a warm day.
Our random stop: Mark Twain’s House
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Angel’s Camp and Calaveras County is the well-known host of an annual frog jumping contest. The contest skyrocketed to notoriety because of a short story written by Mark Twain while he briefly lived in the area. A replica house of the one he stayed in sits on top of a hill on Jackass Hill Road, (I’m not even kidding about the name). The house was built by the rotary club in honor of Twain and while it isn’t much to see, it is a cool, albeit random, stop to take while in the area.
With so much more to explore in this area, like wine tasting and cave visiting, I know this won’t be my last trip to the Sonora and Calaveras County.