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Say hello to Mariposa, California. If you’re heading on a California road trip to Yosemite National Park or planning a weekend in California Gold Country, this historic town should be on your radar.
The town of Mariposa (pronounced “Mair-eh-pose-ah” by locals FYI) is an ideal home base for exploring the western Sierra Nevada. It’s less than a one-hour drive to the Yosemite Valley floor, near some of the best rock climbing and hiking in the area, and is near some historic spots.
The town is worth a visit on its own thanks to a quaint historic quarter that’s tiny but big on Old West pioneer vibes. Even so, many a California resident has never heard of it.
On my most recent visit to Mariposa, I was there to dive into the wine scene but I ended up also exploring all the other things the town has to do from shopping to museum visits. Here is a bit about Mariposa as well as where to stay, where to eat, and what to do when you visit.
Where Is Mariposa California?
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa is a town of 1,100 full-time residents set at the southern end of California Gold Country. Most think of historic towns like Placerville, Jackson, and Sutter’s Creek when you say “Gold Country,” but the region extends south to the southern edge of Mariposa county.
Mariposa sits around 2,000 feet in elevation meaning it’s above the heat of the San Joaquin Valley but low enough that it rarely snows. It’s about 30 miles west of the Yosemite Arch Rock Gate Entrance and is due east of the Central Valley city of Merced.
California’s Highway 49 — a two-lane highway that weaves north to south along the west side of Yosemite, past remote lakes and creeks. and through other small historic towns — runs right through downtown Mariposa.
What Is The Background Of Mariposa California?
The town and country share the same name and the county is nicknamed the “Mother of Counties” because it once covered 1/5 of the state. The main indigenous group who inhabited this area was the Miwok, who, FYI, also occupied most of Gold Country and the area that is now Yosemite National Park.
Mariposa was founded in 1850 as a mining and railroad town at the height of the California Gold Rush and was a major player in the era’s history thanks to the likes of John C. Frémont.
What Is There To Do In Mariposa Town?
Most visitors end up in Mariposa because of its proximity to Yosemite, but there are loads of things to do in town. For a small town, Mariposa is a popular destination because it has a lot of culture including three museums and a symphony orchestra!
10 Things To Do In Mariposa California
If you want to explore Mariposa on foot, be sure to check out this walking map of the town. Here are ten of the things to do in Mariposa to get to know it better:
California State Mining And Mineral Museum
Head a few miles south of town to the Mariposa County Fairgrounds and check out the California State Mining and Mineral Museum. Highlights include gems, minerals, and historic artifacts like the 13-pound “Fricot Nugget” — said to be the largest crystallized gold piece from the California Gold Rush.
Casto Oaks Fine Wine
Try a wine from the local winery, Casto Oaks, at their tasting room in historic downtown. Then, cross the street to the Local Grape to try even more local wine.
CostaLivos Mountain Gold Olive Oil
Head a few blocks down the road to keep things hyperlocal and try locally-produced olive oil at CostaLivos Mountain Gold Olive Oil.
The Hideout Saloon
Dive into the Gold Rush vibes by sidling up to the bar at the Hideout Saloon, a classic right down from CostaLivos. Head here for comfort food, beers on tap, and live music.
Mariposa Farmers Market
If you’re in town between May and October, visit the Mariposa Farmers Market, a certified farmers market that occurs on Wednesday evenings. Get a taste of what grows in California from honey and meat to artisan goods.
Mariposa Museum & History Center
Make time to explore the Mariposa Museum and History Center – named one of the country’s best small museums by the Smithsonian Institute. They have an incredible collection of local artifacts and the staff is passionate about their regional history.
Old Mariposa County Jail
This historic jail was built in the mid-1800s and in operation until 1963. The granite blocks used to build the jail were even quarried in an area close to nearby Mormon Bar.
Mariposa County Courthouse
The historic Mariposa County Courthouse dates back to 1854 and is the oldest superior courthouse west of the Mississippi and the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Rockies.
For such a small town, Mariposa has a surprising about of shopping. A few local boutiques worth checking out include Anahata Fair Trade, Brickwall Boutique, Chocolate Soup, and Mae It Be Home.
Yosemite Climbing Museum
The Yosemite Climbing Museum, opened just a few years ago thanks to the help of climbing pioneer Ken Yager. Head here to check out historical gear and photos and to learn about those who helped make Yosemite a world-renowned climbing spot.
Where To Eat
1850 Restaurant And Brewery
Named for the year the town was founded, 1850 Restaurant And Brewery is a lively restaurant. Head here for house-crafted beer, local wine, some delicious fried chicken, and properly-made burgers.
Charles Street Dinner House
A few blocks down the road, you’ll find Charles Street Dinner House which is a classic steakhouse set in a historic building with an Old West vibe.
Frederick’s of Savourys
This upscale (but laidback) spot, Savoury’s is the nicest restaurant in town. Go for perfectly-cooked steaks and comforting dishes like wild mushroom ravioli and stay to enjoy the lively bar and the well-curated wine list.
Just a block up from 1850 Restaurant and Brewery, you’ll find the nostalgic diner that is Happy Burger. Here they serve all the requisites like fries, shakes, and, of course, burgers but their extensive menu even includes Mexican food and numerous ice cream desserts.
High Country Health Foods
The main gourmet grocery store in town, High Country Health Foods, has a small cafe too. This family-owned spot serves breakfast and lunch including loads of sandwiches, soups, and salads.
Little Shop of Ramen
As the name suggests, the Little Shop of Ramen is all about ramen. Their homemade broth is top-notch making it a perfect spot to refuel after a day of adventuring. Also, check out their on-site wine shop, the Local Grape, for a taste of local wine.
Pony Expresso Coffee House
This long-standing coffee shop is a local favorite, having been voted best coffee in Mariposa for more than a decade. Head to Pony Expresso Coffee House for house-roasted coffee and a selection of pastries.
Dive into the local scene by grabbing a cup at Sticks Coffee, which is part of the River Rock Inn. Open all day this spot serves quality coffee, housemade bread, and excellent pastries, and they often have live music in the evenings!
Where To Stay
Trying to decide where to stay near Yosemite National Park? You’ll want to check out our pick of spots near every major park entrance including options for Mariposa lodging such as the Mariposa Hotel Inn.
Day Trips From Mariposa
Adventure outside of Mariposa for everything from hiking to waterfalls and wine tasting to visiting Yosemite National Park.
Enjoy El Portal
Just outside the Yosemite entrance along the Merced River is the small town of El Portal. Take a page from local hikers and head to Hite Cove (great for wildflowers in the spring!) then peruse the shops, galleries, and restaurants in El Portal.
Explore Mariposa County Waterfalls
The county of Mariposa is home to some of the region’s most prized waterfalls including Vernal Fall in Yosemite to Wildcat Falls near the Briceburg Recreation Area. The falls are at their mightiest in the spring so plan to visit then if you want to check out their beauty.
Go Wine Tasting In The Sierra Foothills
Though the northern part of the Sierra Foothills is best known for wine, there is a handful of wineries near Maripsosa that you can visit as well including Casto Oaks and Butterfly Creek Winery.
Visit Yosemite National Park
Last but not least, enjoy nearby Yosemite National Park – the reason most tourists end up in this corner of California, to begin with! Head to the Yosemite Valley floor to see Half Dome and El Capitan or hike along the Mist Trail. Or head farther afield to explore the groves of giant sequoias, Glacier Point, Badger Pass, and more.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit?
Locals joke that there are two seasons in the Sierra Nevada: green (wet season) and brown (dry season). In reality, Mariposa’s elevation means that it has four seasons, with temperatures topping out around 95°F in the height of summer and dropping to the low 30s in the middle of winter. It rarely snows in Mariposa, and rain is infrequent like in most of California.
While the high season runs from May to October, Mariposa is worth visiting year-round. If you want to avoid crowds, head there from November to January. We prefer the early spring when the famed Yosemite waterfalls are at their fullest though the fall months allow you to take in the fall foliage.
How To Get To Mariposa
The easiest way to get to Mariposa is to drive via the 99 to Highway 140 from the west or to drive up Highway 41 from Fresno. These are well-maintained highway that is very easy to drive. If you continue on Highway 140 you will pass the small outposts of Midpines and El Portal before reaching the Yosemite Arch Rock entrance.
Meanwhile, Highway 49 is known as the Golden Chain Highway and it passes through other small historic towns like Oakhurst, Bootjack, and Coulterville.
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Photo Credit: Mariposa Museum Stamp Mill photo by Tony McDaniel; Road photo by Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz; Arch Rock Entrance photo by N8Allen; all other images by Salt & Wind Travel