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Are you a foodie and wine lover taking a weekend trip to Yosemite? I highly recommend entering Yosemite through the Southern Wawona gate via Highway 41 in Madera County.
FUN FACT: Did you know Yosemite has five entrances?!
Coming from San Francisco, most pass through Groveland, entering via Big Oak Flat on Highway 120. Or, route through Mariposa and enter via Arch Rock on Highway 140.
Mix it up and explore Oakhurst attractions enroute to Yosemite’s south entrance. Given all the things to do in Oakhurst, California, you’ll thank me later for encouraging you to indulge along this enticing route.
While in the area, venture along Scenic Route Highway 49 to continue exploring all the gold rush towns along the Golden Chain highway. Use my California gold rush towns road trip itinerary to help you plan.
Fun Things to Do in Oakhurst, California
Yosemite Axe Throwing
Have you ever tried axe throwing? Do yourself a favor and partake in this surprisingly cathartic and stress relieving activity at Yosemite Axe Throwing. After failing miserably for 15 minutes with my axe spinning through the air, clattering to the ground and missing the target by a large margin, I hit my groove and started consistently hitting bulls-eyes!
The staff tips on feet positioning, using one arm instead of two and axe swinging dramatically improved my accuracy.
TOP TIP: The key is experimenting with different axes to identify the ideal one for you. Short, light axes worked best for me while Jason preferred longer, heavier axes.
Since both indoor and outdoor lanes are available, you can throw even in inclement weather. Be forewarned your hour in the lanes will fly by with lots of laughs and a deep sense of satisfaction. For safety, you must wear closed toe shoes. Axe throwing is my favorite thing to do in Oakhurst, California.
Yosemite Gateway Art Center
After axe throwing, head 1/3 mile down the road to Yosemite Gateway Art Center to peruse beautiful pottery, jewelry, paintings and photography. Admiring local photographers’ stunning creations will inspire and excite you for your Yosemite adventure.
If you are visiting from mid-October to December, you’ll be treated to the Yosemite Renaissance, founded in 1985 to promote the arts in Yosemite.
TOP TIP: Be sure to check out the mixed media pieces on display.
Hiking Near Oakhurst (Waterfalls, Giant Sequoias, Yosemite History Center & Wildflowers)
Lewis Creek Trail – Waterfalls
If you are a waterfall lover like I am, definitely hike the 3.9-mile round-trip Lewis Creek Trail from Corlieu to Red Rock Falls. This hike is very close, only 7 miles (11 minutes) north of downtown Oakhurst.
TOP TIP: Arrive early as it’s a small parking lot that fills up by 10AM, especially on the weekends.
If you want to opt for a shorter and easier hike, head right at the fork to Corlieu Falls. While this is the bigger of the falls, the view is more obstructed. For a longer hike, head left at the fork to Red Rock Falls. We loved the way the dappled sunlight filtered through the trees as we hiked along early in the morning.
From 7:30-9AM, we had the trail to ourselves. Listening to the rushing water and watching the reflections uninterrupted is a wonderful and rejuvenating way to start the day.
After working up an appetite, make sure to grab brunch at Wild Fig Kitchen or donuts from Judy’s. More on our favorites below!
Mariposa Grove – Giant Sequoia Trees
Despite my numerous visits to Yosemite National Park, I just experienced the towering Sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove for the first time on my most recent visit. Located 16 miles (36 minutes) north of Oakhurst, this is a wonderful place to immerse near Yosemite’s South entrance on your way from Oakhurst to Yosemite Valley.
With snow cover, it’s particularly enchanting as a result of the contrast.
Since the shuttle wasn’t running when we visited in February 2022, we hiked two miles each way from the Mariposa Grove welcome plaza to the Lower Grove trailhead. We clocked 6.9 miles total.
TOP TIP: To mix it up, hike up to the Mariposa Grove via the Washburn Trail with a 500 foot elevation gain and return via the road.
While there are a few trail options to choose from, I recommend the Grizzly Giant Loop trail ( 2 miles/353 feet elevation gain). This moderate trail will take you 2-3 hours to complete. Highlights of this hike include:
- California Tree Tunnel – the base of this giant Sequoia was carved in 1895 to allow vehicles to pass through
- Grizzly Giant – this lone Sequoia towers 209 feet (64 meters), is 28 feet (8.5 meters) in diameter and has a circumference of 96 feet (29 meters)
- Bachelor & Three Graces – this grouping of four Seqouias is beautiful to behold
Yosemite History Center
While more of a leisurely walking exploration than a hike, I recommend stopping at the Yosemite History Center. Located only 7 miles (17 minutes) from the Mariposa Grove and 21 miles (34 minutes) from Oakhurst, it makes sense to combine visiting Mariposa Grove and the Yosemite History center, since they are just inside Yosemite’s south entrance.
TOP TIP: Visit in the early morning for beautiful light and no crowds.
Wander and explore structures dating back to 1890, including a covered bridge, calvary office, log cabins, old jail, and two-story home that have been relocated from the Yosemite Valley. Since we love historic buildings, we spent an hour here photographing. Most people probably wander through in 30 minutes.
Since you are entering Yosemite National Park, you will need to pay the $35 daily entrance fee or use your annual America the Beautiful pass.
TOP TIP: If you will be visiting National Parks more than two times in a year, the annual pass makes sense. I purchased my America the Beautiful Pass from REI and got my money’s worth visiting Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and four Utah National Parks during the past year. I’ve heard the National Parks sometimes sell out of the America the Beautiful Pass so it’s best to purchase it in advance.
Eastman Lake Trail – Wildflowers
If you are visiting Oakhurst in the spring (from late February to April), I highly recommend journeying ~30 miles (55 minutes) southwest to Eastman Lake in Raymond, California, to marvel at hillsides carpeted in bright orange Fiddleneck flowers.
Since the fields are full of bees pollinating flowers, make sure you have an Epipen handy if you have a bee sting allergy.
TOP TIP: Given that it’s on the way back to the Bay Area, it’s a nice way to break up the drive home. Or, you could start your day here and then wine taste after, which is what we did. If Google maps suggests you take road 607, I’d avoid this route as it’s a narrow, rutted, unpaved road where you could get stuck if the road is muddy after a rain.
Depending on the effort you want to exert, exploration options include:
- Pulling over at various parking lots and wandering amongst the wildflowers
- Hiking the Monument Ridge Trail – a 3.6 mile out and back trail. Beware of rattlesnakes on this trail during spring and summer and potential tarantulas.
- Hiking the Lakeview Trail – a 7.4 mile out and back trail with 938 feet of elevation gain. Since this trail is exposed and gets hot, it’s best to hike it from October to April. Some people mention seeing tarantulas on this trail, so be aware!
Things to Do Around Oakhurst, California: Coarsegold Historic Village
Only 8 miles (12 minutes) south of Oakhurst, you can immerse in gold rush history at Coarsegold Historic Village.
FUN FACT: Coarsegold was established in 1852 after sizable gold nuggets were discovered in the area.
During its heyday, Coarsegold Village had a population of 10,000. It served as an important stop for gold miners. After Highway 41 was completed in 1876, travelers heading from Oakhurst to Yosemite on horseback or with stagecoaches stopped to rest at the inn, saloon, hotel and theater en-route to the park.
TOP TIP: Most of the shops in Coarsegold Village are only open on the weekends. Stopping into the Visitor Center, exploring the museum, perusing the art gallery or buying goat’s milk lotions and soy candles are fun things to do in Coarsegold, California.
If you need to restock on any food or snacks before departing from Oakhurst to Yosemite, stop at Coarsegold Market across from the historic village.
Craving a caffeine pick me up? Grab a coffee or chai at Zander’s Coffee in Coarsegold Village.
Looking for a sweet treat or burger? Pop across the street from Coarsegold Village to Robert’s Frosty to choose from one of their 32 shake and malt flavors.
TOP TIP: I highly recommend the Reese’s Pieces or mint Oreo shake. Since they offer an Oreo and a mint chocolate chip shake, I asked if they could combine to make a mint Oreo shake and they kindly obliged!
We declined their plastic straws and spoons and used our metal ones we always travel with from my favorite sustainable travel items to devour our sweet treats.
Things to Do in Bass Lake (10 minutes from Oakhurst, California)
Bass Lake (Madera County) Water Activities
Located only 7 miles (10 minutes) east of Oakhurst, California, Bass Lake offers myriad water activities. Whether kayaking, pontoon boating or jet skiing strikes your fancy, all are offered at Bass Lake. Hourly, half-day and full-day rentals are available from Miller’s Landing Resort. Rentals are typically offered late March to early October. They close for the winter season.
TOP TIP: Scan the sky and treetops for bald eagles that might be circling or resting.
For a truly unforgettable experience, immerse in early morning forest bathing atop kayaks on Bass Lake with Susan Madden from Mindful Café. While I’ve forest bathed with walking meditations amongst trees in Mendocino, engaging all five senses while paddling around elevates the sensory connection, especially if you are a water lover like I am.
- Listen to the waves lapping against the kayak
- Watch light rays dance across the ripples
- Dip your hand into the surprisingly warm water
- Smell the trees towering above you
- Savor the texture of the homemade treats Susan brings
After paddling around Bass Lake and soaking in the serenity, Susan will guide you to a small beach. She’ll tantalize your taste buds with juicy strawberries, homemade spiced nuts and her peanut butter power bites. The recipes for the nuts and power bites are on her blog. Absorb your surroundings while sipping green tea served in delicate teacups from Japan.
Millers Landing Resort
After working up an appetite kayaking or stand up paddleboarding, stop at Miller’s Landing Resort and get a Reese’s Pieces shake. We loved it so much that we made a 30-minute detour to get another one the next day! Since they offer compostable straws, I didn’t need to use my metal straw, one of my favorite sustainable travel essentials.
Their tomato basil soup, grilled cheese and chicken strips hit the spot. They also offer burgers, bowls (including acai) and salads, which are great to refuel after renting a kayak, pontoon boat or jet ski from them.
Bass Lake Hiking
After forest bathing, drive four miles to Way of the Mono Trail to admire Bass Lake and all the homes dotting the lakefront from an elevated perspective.
TOP TIP: Pop Little Denver Church use area into your GPS and you’ll find the trailhead just across the street.
This half-mile trail has informative placards from the Mono tribe throughout. Keep your eyes peeled for circling birds and you might just spot a bald eagle or two!
If you are hankering for something sweet after hiking or kayaking, make a quick pit stop at The Forks Resort for their mint Oreo pie, which is only a mile away.
The Fork’s Resort
Given my obsession with mint Oreo flavored anything, we made a special stop at The Fork’s Resort on our way back to San Francisco as I’d been dreaming about the pie since first seeing it on their menu.
Be forewarned this ice cream pie slice is HUGE. The two of us could barely finish the massive piece drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream.
Things to Do Near Oakhurst, California
The Gnarly Carrot (North Fork, California)
After Bass Lake, travel 10 miles (15 minutes) south to North Fork and stop at The Gnarly Carrot.
This adorable family-run natural food market sources local produce and goods within a 50 miles radius. In addition to fresh food, they stock locally made honey, goat’s milk soap and rose geranium essential oils in glass packaging.
TOP TIP: Try a lovingly crafted smoothie or juice. I personally enjoyed the Very Berry Citrus. I commend them for using paper straws. See my favorite sustainable essentials for other ideas to aid with conservation.
Historic Stagecoach Stop (North Fork, CA)
After visiting The Gnarly Carrot, pop next door to see the historic stagecoach stop.
FUN FACT: Initially established in 1852 as a storage area for wagons and supplies, this location served as a post office in 1888 and became the headquarters for the US Forest Service in 1893.
Red Barn Coffee (North Fork, California)
Red Barn Coffee, an adorable drive through, is tiny but mighty. The banana walnut bread and coffee cake hit the spot as an afternoon snack.
If you are craving something more substantial, they have breakfast burritos and wraps. Of course, you can also get coffee, chai and green tea.
FUN FACT: They offer pup-a-chinos for dogs, which they enthusiastically lap up.
Things to Do in Madera, California: Madera Wine Trail Itinerary
Only 40 miles (50 minutes) from Oakhurst, you can indulge in wine tasting at the Madera vineyards along the Madera Wine Trail. Adding a day or two for wine tasting in Madera will make a wonderful addition to your trip to Oakhurst, California, and Yosemite National Park. To help you plan, I’ve created a separate post with a detailed Madera Winery Tasting Itinerary. The wineries I recommend visiting include:
- Idle Hour Winery – delicious food pairings are available
- Karine – beautiful wines and labels from a passionate wine maker
- Westbrook Wine Farm – all eight Bordeaux varietals are grown here
- Fasi Estate Winery – try the Malvasia Bianca
- Toca Madera Winery – known for Tempranillo
- Birdstone Winery – located amongst an almond orchard (blooms mid-February to early March)
- Ficklin Vineyards – award-winning ports
- San Joaquin Winery – award-winning sparkling wines and unique sangrias
Dive into more details about the Madera Wine Trail winemakers, wines, and tasting experiences on my other post. You won’t want to miss indulging in award-winning ports, cabernet sauvignons, and sparking wines at these Madera wineries.
Best Places to Eat: Oakhurst, California Restaurants
After visiting Madera wineries, indulge in all the restaurants in Oakhurst, California. Given the creative and highly addictive offerings, my husband and I routed through Oakhurst again for our most recent Yosemite visit.
South Gate Brewing Company (Oakhurst, California)
Have you ever tried fried pickles? If not, you MUST make a special trip to South Gate Brewing Company and try their house made pickles paired with sriracha aioli. We considered stopping here on our way home from Yosemite to get more – they are that good! After first discovering fried pickles here, I delighted when I found them in Missoula, Montana.
The beer battered artichoke hearts and crispy fried brussel sprouts with apple cider and honey will convert even the most reticent vegetable eater.
TOP TIP: Order all three appetizers and you’ll have plenty for leftovers. We reheated and ravenously consumed ours after a 14-mile Yosemite hike.
I also proceeded to gobble up Jason’s beer cheese macaroni while he was devouring his pulled pork sandwich. The menu is amazingly diverse as they also offer scrumptious salads, curry bowls and pizzas.
During our second visit to this restaurant, I couldn’t stop raving about my kale salad complemented with butternut squash, cranberries, pumpkin vinaigrette and pumpkin seed granola while Jason noshed on the Deadwood Porter BBQ burger.
TOP TIP: If you are a wine drinker like I am, opt for the Sour Gate Mimosa Beer, a sweeter sour ale. If you like Guinness, definitely try their award-winning Oaktown Pecan Brown.
Wild Fig Kitchen (Coarsegold, California)
After devouring the most incredible fried chicken at Five Church in Charleston, South Carolina (after a 30 year hiatus from eating chicken), I now delight whenever I find it on menus, especially when paired with waffles!
Wild Fig Kitchen elevates their buttermilk-fried chicken with a flavorful black pepper gravy. Don’t be surprised if you are tempted to drink the gravy.
Jason couldn’t stop commenting about his brisket sandwich and the delicious BBQ sauce. Breakfast burritos, pancakes, scrambles and salads are also offered for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday.
TOP TIP: Save room for sweet treats! We opted for a decadent key lime dessert, which I am still dreaming about, an apple cake slice and marzipan cookies. Their orange honey glaze scones and blueberry almond cake deliver as well.
Idle Hour Winery & Kitchen (Oakhurst, CA)
In addition to offering wine tasting, Idle Hour Winery & Kitchen offers lunch Thursday – Saturday 12-4, Sunday brunch 10-2 and a three course supper club with wine pairings on the first Saturday of each month. Anna Marie collaborates with her chefs to develop the innovative menu, which might feature carpaccio with quail egg, arugula foam or lemon cake with olive oil.
After thoroughly enjoying our lunch (crispy artichoke and red pepper salad and an Asian spring veggie stir fry), we shifted our weekend schedule around so we’d make Sunday brunch at Idle Hour.
The Rose Chantilly cream on the strawberry French toast is divine. I need to find a way to recreate the spicy hummus that accompanied my avocado toast and poached eggs.
TOP TIP: Pair the Viognier sangria with your brunch; it’s both pretty and delicious!
Elderberry House Restaurant (Oakhurst, California)
Seeking a special occasion prix fixe dinner? Elderberry House Restaurant is your place. After being treated to an amuse bouche, we savored our carrot ginger bisque while admiring all the beautiful dining room details. I adore all things ginger and this soup paired perfectly with their homemade sundried tomato bread.
Jason savored his rack of lamb while I enjoyed my perfectly prepared snap pea risotto. Since I make a mean risotto myself, I have a high bar for this particular dish.
TOP TIP: Order different desserts so you can share. We thoroughly enjoyed the rich chocolate ganache and harvest bourbon cheesecake.
They also offer some uniquely flavored signature cocktails, including an Elderflower sour and spiced pear Manhattan. Alternatively, opt for the Ficklin Estate ten-year tawny or Karine Syrah so that you can relive your memorable port and wine tasting experiences on the Madera Wine Trail.
Seasons Bistro – Buffalo Bar (Fish Camp, California)
Seasons Bistro, located at the Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp, 12 miles (20 minutes) from Oakhurst, California, is a fantastic new addition to the dining scene.
Chef G and Chef Lindsay relocated their restaurant from Shaver Lake in 2021 and innovate their menu four times a year to showcase farm to table creations sourced from local farmers.
TOP TIP: On chilly nights, ask to be seated next to the fireplace to indulge in their delectable offerings.
If you like sweet drinks, start with a passionfruit mai tai. If bourbon is more your speed, try Grandpa Jack’s Old Fashioned.
The maple roasted brussels sprouts, garnished with candied walnuts and maple glaze, provide the perfect combo of sweet, savory and crunchy. (They will gladly accommodate bacon on the side.)
As a vegetarian, I wholeheartedly recommend the Yin and Yang Power Bowl with Jamaican Jerk vegetables.
TOP TIP: Request extra ponzu sauce on the side and don’t be surprised if you want to eat it by the spoonful!
My husband loved his ribeye with merlot reduction sauce and perfectly crisped fries.
TOP TIP: Make sure to save room for dessert and a dessert cocktail. I recommend the chocolate lava cake, fruit crumble and Grasshopper (Godiva mocha vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, and Creme de Menthe).
What to Do in Oakhurst, California: Indulge in Sweet Treats
Since I have an insatiable sweet tooth, I seek out all the yummy treats every place I travel. We stocked up on tasty items to refuel with after our Yosemite hikes.
While I didn’t used to be a donut connoisseur, Jason has converted me. Without fail, we always order two favorites and try one unusual item at any donut shop we visit.
The maple old-fashioned and buttermilk donut don’t disappoint.
TOP TIP: Try the Cherry Crepe Burrito, delightfully crispy and sweet. We also heard great things about the jalapeno ham and cheese croissant.
In the 10 minutes we spent perusing at 7am, the friendly ladies greeted 10 different locals who came in requesting their favorites, which is always a good sign.
Where to Stay in Oakhurst, California
Stay at Queen’s Inn by the River. This intimate 12-room inn is on the same property as Idle Hour Winery and Kitchen. Owned and operated by Anna Marie and her business partner, Deb, the cozy cabins get beautiful light from the skylights and are ideal for two people.
Since they are outfitted with a microwave and refrigerator, you can easily reheat and store leftovers. A table and two chairs on the deck allows you to sit outside and enjoy your meals after you return home from Yosemite. Yosemite’s southern entrance in Wawona is only 20 miles (30 minutes) away.
If you have time, wine taste, shop at the onsite market and indulge in Sunday brunch. On Saturday nights, Queen’s Inn Oakhurst hosts musical performances in their garden area, which draws both locals and visitors. And, once a month, they host a supper club with a three-course dinner and wine pairings.
Where to Stay in Coarsegold, California
If you like cozy cabins or yurts, you might also consider the Yosemite RV Resort. Their mountain cabins have a queen bed plus a small room with bunk beds. Since we travel with a lot of luggage, we used the bunk room to store our bags.
Relax on your patio, cook up burgers on your charcoal grill or make s’mores over your fire pit. The mountain cabins are equipped with bowls, cups, plates, coffee cups, a toaster, microwave and mini refrigerator.
Distances to places in Yosemite:
- Yosemite’s south Entrance via Wawona = 26 miles (35 minutes)
- Yosemite’s Tunnel View = 50 miles (80 minutes)
- Yosemite Valley = 55 miles (90 minutes)
I hope all these fantastic things to do in Oakhurst, California, have inspired you to route through Yosemite’s south entrance on your next trip to Yosemite National Park.
Thanks to Yosemite Madera for hosting me – all opinions and reviews are my own!