Given my love of wineries, boutiques and the peaceful outdoors, I’m delighted I discovered Murphys California in October 2020. One of the silver linings of this past year has been the opportunity to road trip and explore closer to my home in San Francisco. Murphys exudes charm and is reminiscent of Carmel, California, 25 years ago. If you are seeking an indulgent weekend getaway from the Bay Area or Sacramento with your partner or friends, Murphys is a perfect retreat. Read on for the best things to do in Murphys California and surrounding Calaveras County.
Not surprisingly, many San Francisco and Silicon Valley residents have moved here due to its ideal location above the fog and below the snowline. After spending only a day there, I understand the appeal. Unlike larger cities, the ~2000 residents know and greet one another. They revel in the festivals and celebrations hosted throughout the year (except in 2020), including the Jumping Frog Jubilee.
FUN FACT: John and Daniel Murphy founded Murphys in 1848. The two brothers established the town as a trading post after discovering gold in the area.
I highly recommend exploring Murphys as part of my California Gold Rush Towns road trip itinerary. Since Murphys is between Yosemite and Tahoe, consider adding them on too. If you journey to South Lake Tahoe, indulge in expansive views of Lake Tahoe and Desolation Wilderness during the Mt Tallac hike.
TOP TIP: Visit Murphys Wednesday to Sunday since many places are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Things to Do in Murphys California: Shopping
Wondering what to do in Murphys California? Perusing the unique proprietors lining Main Street is the best place to start to get a feel for the Queen of the Sierras.
FUN FACT: While strolling around, you’ll notice elevated sidewalks, which allowed people to easily exit their stagecoaches during the gold rush.
Given that I’ve embraced cooking and baking from scratch this year, the Spice Tin is a place I could spend hours. Upon entering, countless spice scents wafting through the store will greet your nose. Whether you are seeking spices, risotto, unique rubs, or maple syrups, this place seems to have it all. Elevate your culinary game or gift items to friends and family to experiment. A freeze-dried butternut squash risotto handmade in Italy had my taste buds salivating.
TOP TIP: Make sure to pick up Queirolo Girl’s Pesto, which a Murphys local raved about, telling me it’s his absolute favorite. Two types are available: a sun-dried tomato pesto with no dairy and a green basil pesto with Parmesano Reggiano. While I’ve tried to make my own pesto, it never comes out exactly the way I like. So, I’m happy to support local businesses by purchasing it from someone who has perfected the recipe.
Moon Alley Candles
Whenever I travel, I seek out unique candles for myself and as gifts. While candle scents typically spark memories, the riotous colored Moon Alley Candles captivate you and grip your imagination. After peeking through the window and gawking at the hand poured candles with cherry blossoms, cranes, and lotus flowers, I returned the next day to purchase some. The delicate Asian-inspired designs transported me back to Japan, one of my favorite places in the world to visit.
These exquisite candles are offered in three different heights, ranging in price from $38-$68.
TOP TIP: Once the candle interior burns down, the exterior stays intact so you can put a tea light inside and continue to display and appreciate the gorgeous design.
Murphys Village Toy Store
If you are seeking holiday or birthday gifts, stop in and check out Murphys Village Toy Store. This family-owned business sells stickers, Legos, board games, air forts, 3-D models (including a stagecoach model), and more.
Fun Things to Do in Murphys California: Winetasting
Murphys became known for wine when Italian, French and German immigrants moved to the area during the gold rush and imported their wine knowledge.
With the Calaveras County climate, numerous varietals are grown, including Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Grenache, Malbec and Zinfandel.
Given that 25 tasting rooms flank Main Street, you can pop in and imbibe in between perusing the shops, history and ambiance.
Wondering about the best winery in Murphys California? Here are some fun tasting rooms to try.
Newsome Harlow is a tasting room worth checking out. Scott Klann, the founder and winemaker, has crafted wines for the past 20 years. Currently available by appointment only, you can relax and taste in their outdoor patio area.
Newsome Harlow is well-known for small batch Zinfandels. Although I’ve primarily been a red wine drinker, I’ve found myself enjoying crisp white wines more these days. During 2020, they were one of the first wineries to pivot and offer virtual tastings, an innovative way to stay connected with their wine club members.
TOP TIP: Try Newsome Harlow’s Drama Queen, a Chenin Blanc.
If you are seeking lesser-known varietals, Twisted Oak offers Tempranillo, Grenache, Mouvedre and Viognier. Since I’ve always been a fan of Viognier, I’m excited to try theirs next time.
You can opt to taste at the winery, located between Murphys and Angels camp, or in the Murphys tasting room.
TOP TIP: During normal times (years other than 2020), they host “Twisted Fridays” from 5-8pm. Indulge in their wines while noshing on bites from caterers and jamming out to the local musicians in their Enchanted Garden by the creek.
Focusing on Rhone-varietals (Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache), this organic winemaker, Lavender Ridge Vineyard, offers flights that you can pair with artisan cheeses. If you love lavender’s soothing scent like I do, they offer a wide array of bath salts, body oils, soaps and more in their lavender boutique.
Ironstone Vineyards is a place that transports you through history for a few hours. This family-owned winery, founded by John Kaust in 1995, offers multiple activities.
FUN FACT: If you have a chance to explore the Ironstone Vineyards wine caves, you’ll see the waterfall they use to control humidity and maintain the ideal temperatures for aging their reserve wines.
Ironstone’s heritage museum houses the largest single piece of gold mined since the 1880s. Found near Jamestown in 1992, this 44-pound monstrosity is enveloped in a glass display case, allowing you to admire it from all angles.
As an ode to the area’s history, Ironstone has an extensive outdoor gold mining museum with a water wheel, flume and carts. If you want to explore more gold rush era history, my California Gold Rush Towns post provides the highlights to see in seven gold country towns.
TOP TIP: Make sure to look up at the trellises to see some old mining carts.
If you are like my husband and love classic cars, Ironstone typically hosts the second largest car show in California each September. Only Pebble Beach is larger.
In 2020, Ironstone Vineyards pivoted and began offering drive-in movies during the summer, projecting them onto the huge screen previously used for concerts, which will hopefully resume in 2021.
TOP TIP: Don’t miss the organ in the Alhambra music room. Saved from the Alhambra Theater in Sacramento, Ironstone Vineyards sometimes offers silent movies accompanied by the organ! They were showing Phantom of the Opera the day we visited.
Best Things to Do in Murphys California and Calaveras County
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Did you know that Calaveras Big Trees State Park’s discovery in 1852 put Murphys on the map? The colossal trees were deemed natural world wonders.
Growing up to 250 feet (76 meters) tall, behemoth Sequoias’ bark is two feet (60 centimeters) thick. Sequoias thrive at higher elevations, 5000 – 7000 feet above sea level. Their twisted trunks spiraling towards the sky resemble elegant dancers, buffering the Sequoias from unforgiving winds that violently jostle them.
FUN FACT: The giant Sequoias can weigh up to 2600 tons, the same as 18 blue whales!
TOP TIP: Give yourself 90 minutes to explore the park’s highlights. Admire the sunlight piercing the canopy above while reading the signage at the 27 stops along the flat, 1.5 mile North Grove Trail.
Some of the notable trees in the park include:
- The Discovery Tree Stump & Log – discovered in 1852, speculators stripped and felled this 1,244 year old tree with a 25 feet diameter base in 1853, ultimately erecting a dance floor on the stump and a bowling alley and bar on the trunk
- Hercules – walking through the path intersecting this giant’s two halves that fell in 1861 gives you an appreciation for its massive size
- Father of the Forest – this enormous tree had already fallen when discovered in 1852. Stairs lead you down a path so that you can walk through its hollow bark, allowing you to appreciate its length/height
- Mother of the Forest – sadly, greedy speculators commandeered her bark in 1854 so that they could display the bark in New York and London, ultimately leading to the tree’s death
Seeking a place to indulge in a relaxing picnic or have your dogs romp while listening to gurgling water? Boards Crossing is an ideal place to wander amongst the pathways and boulders.
Upper Natural Bridges
If you are looking for a short two-mile round-trip hike, check out Upper Natural Bridges.
Discovered in the 1840s, Moaning Caverns‘ vast interior is large enough to house the Statue of Liberty. Depending on what activities strike your fancy, you can opt for a walking tour, rappelling into the cave, scaling a climbing tower or ziplining.
Found in 1885, Mercer Caverns is one of the oldest in California. The cavern’s claim to fame is an area with delicate aragonite crystals known as flos feri for which it won an award at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. Guided tours are usually available (just not in 2020).
If you want to delve into historic transport, the Angels Camp Carriage house is one of the two largest in the United States.
FUN FACT: Did you know Angels Camp is the original city of Angels, not Los Angeles?
Countless carriages are displayed, including those used for delivering milk, transporting water for fires and moving gold mining equipment with massive draft horses. I personally loved learning that a women discovered buttermilk as a result of the bumpy roads churning her milk as she delivered it to customers.
TOP TIP: Don’t miss the carriage displayed at the front, which once transported Mark Twain.
Jumping Frog Jubilee
Since 1928, in Angels Camp (only eight miles from Murphys), they host the Jumping Frog Jubilee during the third weekend of May each year. Kick back with live music, carnival rides, wine tasting and the frog jumping competitions.
FUN FACT: This event honors Mark Twain and his fiction book “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County,” which ultimately led to his worldwide notoriety.
Murphys Community Park
After perusing the Murphys shops, grab takeout or ice cream from one of the places detailed below or artisan cheese and crackers from Lavender Ridge and enjoy a picnic in the community park.
TOP TIP: If you love mosaic art like I do, don’t miss the colorful designs on the library steps just across the bridge or the artfully crafted creation by local school children.
On the first Friday of every month from June to September, you can listen to a local band playing from the park gazebo while enjoying dinner and wine from one of the local proprietors.
Murphys Old Timers Museum
Similar to many gold country towns, Murphys experienced fires in 1859, 1874 and 1893. Sadly, raging fires demolished many of the original wooden buildings. However, the Old Timers Museum building survived as a result of its stone construction.
If you’d like to peruse gold mining utensils, clothing and photographs, museum volunteers are happy to assist. Alternatively, if you prefer to indulge in a walking history tour, they depart from here every Saturday at 10 AM.
TOP TIP: If you are interested in learning more about the Gold Rush era in the United States, the Deadwood series on Amazon Prime provides an accurate portrayal of life during those times.
Things to Do in Murphys California: Best Places to Eat
Murphys also offers a number of great places to eat along Main Street, including Grounds, V Restaurant and Bar or the Watering Hole where you can indulge in craft draft or bottled beers along with their ever-changing menu.
Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen
I highly recommend you drive 15 minutes outside of Murphys to Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen. Hands down, some of the best Italian food I’ve had outside of Tuscany.
The tomato cream sauce on Sarah’s Favorite is mouth-watering. My friend raved about her Spaghetti Puttanesca. Sarah will happily modify any dishes to accommodate vegetarians.
TOP TIP: The bananas foster and chocolate lava cake are worth indulging if you can save room.
If you are craving sweets, don’t miss JoMa’s small batch artisan ice cream. Need something that won’t melt – you can also order fresh baked cookies or cookie dough to go.
TOP TIP: Try the Salty River of Gold, a dulce de leche with caramel ribbons snaking through it. Or, Peanutty, which is made with Reeses Peanut Butter cups. You can’t go wrong!
Make sure to stop at Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen for some decadent indulgences. Voted one of the Top 10 Sweet Shops Across America by USA Today, you won’t be disappointed. If you happen to be following my itinerary for seven California gold rush towns, you can also find Nelson’s in Columbia or Sonora.
TOP TIP: I highly recommend the chocolate covered oranges or ginger and the milk chocolate caramel turtles.
Since my husband loves donuts and I’m obsessed with apple ciders, I always seek places offering them. Locals rave about Red Apple Farm’s apple cider donuts (four miles east of Murphys on Highway 4). They also make Dutch apple pies and warm apple fritters from scratch.
TOP TIP: Come early as the apple donuts sell out quickly.
Lodging in Murphys California
Given that some people prioritize centrally located lodging that allows them to walk to downtown while others gravitate towards privacy and views, I’ve provided three options to consider below.
If you are seeking a historic experience, Murphys Hotel is likely for you. Built in 1856, Murphys is California’s oldest continuously operated hotel. Rooms range from historic to modern. While historic rooms are furnished with antiques, some of the rooms have shared bathrooms and might be located above the saloon.
TOP TIP: If you’d like the historic experience with a private bathroom, opt for one of the modern rooms.
FUN FACT: John Wayne, Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant were all hotel guests. You can peek into Ulysses S. Grant’s room through plexiglass and see the coal stove, barber chair and bed frame from when he stayed.
Prefer a centrally located award-winning B&B? The Victoria Inn might be more your speed. Special touches include spa or claw-footed tubs and fireplaces or wood stoves. If you don’t want to travel far to eat, V Bistro & Bar is conveniently located downstairs.
La Villetta is a taste of Tuscany overlooking the Sierra Foothills. Located only five minutes from downtown, this idyllic retreat is perfectly positioned so that you can relax on your patio and enjoy the sweeping views.
To me, this is the ideal place to disconnect for the weekend. With two bedrooms, a loft and 1.5 bathrooms, this unique Airbnb property can sleep eight guests. The only drawback is the small kitchen. However, with all the fabulous restaurants in Murphys, I imagine you’ll want to sample their offerings rather than cook.
I hope you enjoy immersing in Murphys magic and discovering all that “The Queen of the Sierra” has to offer. Please comment on any planning tidbits you found particularly helpful below.
Thanks to Calaveras County Visitors Bureau for hosting me – all opinions and reviews are my own.