Northern California Weekend Getaway: Murphys

DSC07993It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Murphys that I began to believe all the hype about Gold Country being California’s hidden gem. Imagine a Main Street littered with gourmet restaurants, wine shops, art galleries, bakeries that would make a foodie do cartwheels. Throw in a sweet central park with a river slicing through it that kids play in on warm summer days, wineries and majestic green spaces just a short drive from town, and sophisticated inns to lay your head.

Yep, Murphys might just live up to her nickname as the queen of the Sierra Foothills.

Where to Stay: Check into the Murphys Historic Hotel, a registered Historic Landmark Hotel (1856) with a modern lodge as well as 29 historic rooms. The historic guest registry can make for a fun read. As long as you aren’t put off by some noise from the bar/restaurant and shared bathrooms, you’ll appreciate these modest quarters.

Otherwise, romance seekers should consider a room at Dunbar House 1880, an Italianate home and country inn promising decadent bathtubs and a fanciful breakfast.

When I visit with my kids, I like to reserve a cabin or cottage in this charming Sierra foothills village.

Where to Eat: In the morning the whole town seems to congregate at Aria Bakery, for outstanding pastries and mountain-style coffee. When it comes to lunch, I like to grab sandwiches at Alchemy Market for a winery picnic.

For dinner, from the vegetarian gourmet restaurant Mineral that convinces carnivores that veggies can be delicious as well, to the more modest, but no less outstanding, Firewood, which serves up pizza and pasta in a family friendly atmosphere, the cuisine in Murphys is quite impressive. If you crave food that looks as if it jumped off a Miro painting,, V Restaurant and Bar serves a tasty dollop of mussels in white wine and butter broth, or petite lamb chops; and desserts like the cheesecake or flourless chocolate cake draw plenty of appreciative oohs and aahs from the crowd.

What to Do:  After breakfast, travel east on CA-4 to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, just 4 miles past Arnold. This dramatic park was set up in 1931 to preserve the North Grove of the giant sequoias. Wander along some of the planet’s tallest (and widest trees), soaking up the rich mountain air.


After hiking grab a picnic and head out to the wineries scattered around town. The ladies at Chatom Vineyards craft award winning red wines, and offer a sweet tasting room to enjoy them. Alternatively, Indian Rock Vineyards churns out fantastic Barbera. Parents can sip by the pond while kids throw bread in to feed the trout population.

Murphys’ Main Street features an array of art galleries and tasting rooms for people who don’t want to drive to sip vino. If you are with your kiddos, they can play at the town park, just behind Main Street, while mom and dad tag team their wine tasting and window shopping experiences.

In summer and fall, check Ironstone Vineyards’ website; they may be hosting a silent movie night or concert. Favorites like Don Henley, Sammy Hagar and Willie Nelson have graced the stage. Sit on blankets on the grass and sip Ironstone wines under the stars.

For more information on tasting rooms, shops and galleries, accommodations, hiking trails and yummy food, order my Northern California: An Explorer’s Guide.


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