Sonora is a city of 4,900 people (2019) in Tuolumne County in California's Gold Country. As the closest city to Yosemite National Park, Sonora provides services to some of Yosemite's visitors. The city also benefits from its proximity to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
Sonora was founded as a gold mining camp by white settlers from back east. Gold had been discovered in Woods Creek, in the summer of 1848 near what is now Jamestown. The name Sonora was derived from the Mexican workers the whites employed at slave-like wages to work their mines.
The City of Sonora was incorporated in 1851 by whites, not Mexicans, primarily as a means of creating a badly-needed hospital. Many miners were sick, and dying, mainly from scurvy, mainly white miners who never learnt the importance of fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets. Sonora became the business center (and county seat of Tuolumne County) for the mines around the county and, indeed, for the entire Southern Mines region south of Placerville. When the placer mines began to give out in the 1860s, Sonora survived in part because it had become a business center. It also had what were known as "pocket" mines--underground deposits of highly concentrated gold. Such pocket mines are distinguished from ordinary quartz mines, in which the gold is much less concentrated and requires much work and technology to mine, and which were not profitable until the 1880s when better mining technology had been developed.
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Sonora is just off Highway 108, which leads from Modesto northeast and goes over Sonora Pass to the desert east of the mountains. Part of the way from Oakdale Highway 108 shares the same road as Highway 120, the route to Yosemite. To get to downtown Sonora, take the Route 49 exit (Stockton Street) from Highway 108 about two miles to the downtown area. Visitor information is available from the Visitors Bureau building, also on Stockton Street, about a mile south of downtown.
- Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS). Shuttle operates from mid-May through late-September. The YARTS shuttle travels on Highway 120 from Sonora to Yosemite Valley, with stops in Sonora at the Black Oak Hotel, the Best Western, the Inns of California and Rocca Park. Ticket prices include park entry, and can be purchased from the shuttle driver.
The downtown area can be walked around. Park either on the main downtown street, Washington Street, or on the street or in nearby parking lots that are on Stewart Street, one block east of Washington Street. There is a business area in East Sonora, a couple of miles east of downtown, that has additional shopping and restaurants (including the only chain stores and restaurants and fast food places in Tuolumne County).
- 1 Tuolumne County Courthouse, 41 W. Yaney Ave. Built in 1898 with yellow Roman pressed brick, and still in operation as a courthouse today. The courthouse is on Yaney Street and a block west of Washington Street in the north part of downtown.
- 2 The Red Church (St. James Episcopal Church), 42 Snell Street, ☏ . Built in 1860 and still in use, it can be seen from most of downtown Washington Street as a landmark at the north end of town.
- 3 Opera Hall, 250 S Washington St, ☏ . Built in the late 19th century of brick.
- Ski at Dodge Ridge (down hill or cross country) 40 minutes east on Highway 108.
- Swim in any of the many local lakes and rivers, including Pine Crest Lake and the Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers.
- Go wine-tasting at Mt. Brow vineyard, between Jamestown and Sonora.
- Tuolumne County Historical Museum, Bradford Street (a few blocks west of downtown).
- The small town is home to two resident theatre companies. The community theatre Stage 3 produces comedic and dramatic plays in its small space, often providing pre-show musical entertainment from local singers and groups. The professional theatre company Sierra Repertory Theatre produces a variety of musicals and plays each year at two different theatre buildings, the East Sonora Theatre and the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia.
Shop at a number of stores, particularly antique stores, along Washington Street.
Eat at a number of restaurants in the downtown area. Mexican restaurants, not surprisingly given the town's history, are particularly common.
Several bars and taverns are in the downtown area.
- Country Inn Sonora, 18730 Hwy 108, ☏ , toll-free: . The property has a swimming pool, and offers a continental breakfast free of charge, every morning.
- 1 Sonora Inn, 160 South Washington St, ☏ . $100+.
- Bradford Place, 56 West Bradford St (in historic downtown Sonora; turn west onto Bradford St), ☏ , toll-free: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. A small upscale, yet casual inn offering hotel privacy within a bed and breakfast (all rooms have baths en suite). $140-265.
- The Inn on Knowles Hill, 253 Knowles Hill Dr, ☏ . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. Built in 1927 for the Charles Segerstrom Family, Knowles Hill has undergone an exquisite restoration. The Inn on Knowles Hill has entertained many famous guests, including President Herbert Hoover and Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. $189-304.
Visitors can continue on Highway 108 to the mountain areas, including such towns as Twain Harte, Mi-Wuk Village, Pinecrest. In summer, they can continue on Highway 108 to Kennedy Meadow and across Sonora Pass to the high desert beyond. In winter, Highway 108 is closed at a point 7.5 miles beyond Strawberry, which is just past Pinecrest on Highway 108. Visitors can go north or south on the Gold Country route 49, north to Angels Camp, Murphys (a little east of 49 on Highway 49), Jackson, and Placerville, or south to Coulterville and Mariposa.
- 1 Jamestown
- 2 Columbia
- 3 Twain Harte
- 4 Angels Camp — Angels Camp is a Gold Rush town where Mark Twain overheard a tale that inspired his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"; today the town hosts a "Jumping Frog Jubilee" every May that draws thousands of visitors. Visitors will also enjoy the historic downtown and find amenities including several hotels and restaurants. Attractions located just outside of town include the Natural Bridges trail, a 2 miles (3.2 km) hike thought two short but spectacular limestone caverns that have been carved out by Coyote Creek, as well as the Carson Hill ghost town, a former mine where a 195-pound troy gold nugget was unearthed in 1854.
- 5 Murphys — The small town of Murphys is a Gold Rush era town that today features over a dozen wine tasting rooms and a surprising number of excellent restaurants on its historic Main Street. The town also hosts an annual Irish festival in March that draws thousands of visitors. There are several wineries nearby, and visitors may also want to make the one-mile journey north of Murphys to take a paid tour through Mercer Caverns, a short cave filled with a large number of speleothems, stalactites, and stalagmites.
- 6 Mi-Wuk Village
|Routes through Sonora|
|Auburn ← Columbia ←||N S||→ Jamestown → Oakhurst|
|Modesto ← Jamestown ←||W E||→ Twain Harte → Jct N S|