If you are a foodie and wine lover taking a weekend trip to Yosemite National Park, I highly recommend entering majestic Yosemite through the Southern Wawona entrance via Highway 41 in Madera County.
FUN FACT: Did you know that there are five entrances to Yosemite?!
Most travelers coming from San Francisco pass through Groveland and enter via Big Oak Flat on Highway 120 or route through Mariposa and come in via the Arch Rock entrance on Highway 140.
Mix it up and explore Oakhurst enroute to Yosemite’s south entrance. Based on all the things to do in Oakhurst, California, you’ll thank me later for encouraging you to indulge along this route.
With all the innovative Madera wineries, delectable Oakhurst restaurants and myriad outdoor activities near Oakhurst, I recommend extending your Yosemite trip by a few days to fully immerse.
While in the area, you should also 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.
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.
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. Be sure to check out the mixed media pieces on display.
Things to Do in Bass Lake
Bass Lake Water Activities
Located only 10 minutes from Oakhurst, 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.
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, 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.
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. More on this below!
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.
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.
Things to Do Near Oakhurst, California
The Gnarly Carrot
After Bass Lake, travel 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
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.
Things to Do Around Oakhurst, California: Coarsegold Historic Village
After exploring North Fork, head onto Coarsegold Historic Village for more gold rush history.
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 into 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. After 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.
If you need to restock on any food or snacks before heading into Yosemite, stop at Coarsegold Market across from the historic village.
Make sure to grab lunch at Wild Fig Kitchen too. More on our favorite dishes below!
Madera Wine Trail
Prior to visiting Oakhurst, I had no idea there were so many wineries in Madera, California. As a frequent Anderson Valley, Healdsburg and Sonoma County wine taster, I reveled in the unique varietals and innovative winemakers on the Madera Wine Trail and Yosemite Sierra Wine Road.
FUN FACT: When visiting the wineries in Madera County, you’ll typically be served and educated by the winemakers, making for a more intimate and immersive wine tasting experience.
If you are a tawny or ruby port fan, Ficklin Vineyards is a place you can’t miss! After port wine tasting at Seppeltsfield in Australia, we’ve become huge port fans.
FUN FACT: Ficklin, a family owned vineyard, has been creating ports with Portuguese varietals since 1946! It’s the oldest and most awarded Port winery in the United States!
Seeing the historic oval casks and wooden basket press while tasting ports in Ficklin’s naturally temperature controlled brick adobe building is a fun experience.
Peter Ficklin, a third generation winemaker, exudes passion and enthusiasm as he pours and proudly shares the stories of their award-winning ports. Neutral barrels at least seven years old are key for creating their 50 port types. Peter describes their younger ports as “exuberant” and the older ports as “rich and smooth.”
FUN FACT: Did you know it takes 7-8 years to develop a tawny characteristic in ports?
TOP TIP: If you have a sweet tooth like I do, make sure to indulge in their port filled chocolates. Ficklin Vineyards also sells a chocolate port sauce to elevate your sundaes, a hazelnut ruby port to spice up your milkshakes or a raspberry port to add decadence to your brownies.
Fasi Estate Winery
Do you enjoy Malbec, an Argentinian varietal? If so, stop at Fasi Winery. When visiting Mendoza, Argentina, we fell in love with this varietal and are ecstatic whenever we find it in the United States.
TOP TIP: Make sure to try the Malvasia Bianca. With its tropical notes, it’s an ideal white wine to sip on a warm summer day.
Westbrook Wine Farm
Ray Krause searched for 10 years to locate the ideal spot for Westbrook Wine Farm, ideally situated below the snow line and above the fog at a 1400-foot elevation.
Westbrook Wine Farm is one of two vineyards that grows all eight red Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Gros Verdot, Carmenere and Barbera. After wine tasting in Tuscany, we relish any opportunity where we find Barbera.
As an indicator of how much we liked the wines, we bought a case, which is rare. Westbrook wines have been deservedly recognized with awards from Wine Enthusiast and Sunset International Wine competition.
FUN FACT: Ray crafts his wines by co-fermenting grapes. Many winemakers opt to blend wines after they create single varietals. We love that he “celebrates vintage variations each year.”
TOP TIP: While touring the property, Ray will show you the original 120 square foot wine making building where he’s crafted his award-winning wines.
The Fait Accompli is Westbrook’s flagship wine. This complex wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. Do yourself a favor and purchase a bottle or two of this exquisite wine to enjoy for special occasions.
Idle Hour Winery
Anna Marie Dos Remedios, Idle Hour Winery’s owner and winemaker, crafts 2500 cases of aromatic single varietals using only native yeast and neutral barrels. Given how rarely we’ve encountered female winemakers, it’s quite the treat to learn firsthand from Anna Marie.
FUN FACT: Idle Hour is named after a “Chinese Junk” boat Anna Marie’s grandfather owned when she was growing up in Hong Kong.
We relished tasting and pairing Tannat, Tempranillo and Vin Rouge, a delicious blend of Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Petite Syrah and a late harvest Viognier, with a cheese and charcuterie plate. The carbonated grapes on the cheese plate are a delightful surprise. The late harvest Viognier dessert wine is on point as well.
TOP TIP: Make sure you stop in Idle Hour Winery’s market to purchase their flavorful and addictive creations including a spiced honey, red chili olive oil (we wish we’d bought a case!), and a whole grain viognier mustard. I also appreciate that the market sells other female proprietors’ soup mixes, sauces and dried fruits.
Despite my sustainability focus, I hadn’t realized until our discussion with Anna Marie that wine bottles are not recyclable in California! To combat the waste associated with wine bottles, Anna Marie opted to offer some of her wines in 1.5L recyclable bags with spouts.
Winemaker, Nicholas DeHart, describes Karine wines as a “liquid expression of a time, place and state of mind.”
Nick’s complex and elegant wines are complemented by artistic labels created from his wife Karine’s oil paintings.
TOP TIP: Try Karine’s Rose of Primitivo, Accomplice – a Zinfandel wine, and The Storm – a Petite Syrah with a label that transports you.
Best Places to Eat: Oakhurst Restaurants
After visiting Madera wineries, indulge in all the restaurants in Oakhurst, California. Given the creative and highly addictive offerings, my husband and I have already vowed to route via Oakhurst for our next Yosemite visit.
South Gate Brewing Company
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!
The beer battered artichoke hearts and crispy fried brussel sprouts with apple cider and honey will convert even the most reticent vegetable eater on the spot.
TOP TIP: Order all three appetizers and you’ll have plenty for leftovers. We reheated and ravenously devoured 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!
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
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 eat the gravy by the spoonful.
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.
Idle Hour Winery & Kitchen
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
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 my snap pea risotto. Since I make a mean risotto myself, I have a high bar for them!
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.
Sweet treats and Snacks in Oakhurst
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.
Red Barn Coffee
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, but we abstained since we didn’t want to impact our palates prior to wine tasting.
FUN FACT: They offer pup-a-chinos for dogs, which they enthusiastically lap up.
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 didn’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 – always a good sign!
Millers Landing Resort
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 are also delicious. 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.
The Fork’s Resort
Given my obsession with mint Oreo pies, we made a special stop at The Fork’s Resort on our way back to San Francisco as I’d been dreaming about it 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.
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).
As I mentioned above, make sure to wine taste, shop at the market and indulge in Sunday brunch. On Saturday nights, Queen’s Inn 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.
I hope all these things to do in Oakhurst, California have inspired you to route through here on your next trip to Yosemite National Park.
This post is sponsored by Yosemite Madera – all opinions and reviews are my own.