The old mining town of Mariposa is the perfect place to begin an adventure into Yosemite National Park. Not only does the town exude charm and historical significance, it offers a wide option of overnight accommodations and amenities a mere 40-minute drive to Yosemite Valley. Despite its modern conveniences, Mariposa offers its visitors a true sense of history that is kept alive by town citizens dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of this pristine Gold Rush town.
Right after the message that there was "Gold in them thar hills" made its way over the international telegraph lines, prospectors from all over the world descended upon this region of California in search of a quick fortune. The Mariposa mine continued to crank out gold, and in five short years, Mariposa evolved from a tent mining camp to a city of several thousand people. While wagon trains pulled in supplies, a church was built above town to tend to the residents' spiritual needs.
The classic church on the hill, built in 1863, still has a devout following among Mariposa's townspeople. Descendants of immigrant gold mining families from Italy, Poland, Germany, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Ireland, England, China and numerous other countries still make their home in Mariposa today.
Mariposa's Oldest Building Serves Up History & Comfort Food
The Fremont Adobe is Mariposa's oldest building, erected in 1850 as the office of visionary John C. Fremont, who laid out the town's original street grid. It housed many types of establishments over the decades, serving as a bakery, dry goods store, jewelry shop and saloon. Today, the building harbors the Gold Coin Bar & Tavern, where guests can enjoy hearty food and drink in the shadow of striking murals painted in the 1890's depicting maritime scenes.
Although steeped in history, Mariposa still offers the visitor a taste of the 21st Century lifestyle. The Prospectus Brewery Company is the product of five Northern California families that have worked together for years to bring a unique craft brewery to the region. The microbrewery offers a wide variety of signature craft beers and is a favorite gathering spot for visitors and locals alike, especially after enjoying a day in Yosemite National Park.
For the adrenaline seekers, the Yosemite Zipline Adventure offers a unique soaring experience through the Sierra foothills. Even neophytes to ziplining will enjoy this activity, as the six courses start easy and gradually work up to greater heights and views. The "Motherload," nearly 1,000 ft. long, soars over tree tops and across a deep ravine. For a nominal fee, less adventurous companions can ride along in an ATV to watch their partners in action.
The gold rush frenzy brought its share of criminals to town. Built in 1858 from granite blocks, the two-story, perfectly-preserved Mariposa Old Stone Jail is another "step-back-in-time" experience. Tours of the jail are not scheduled, but hit-and-miss. If you get lucky, you'll see the austere rooms where prisoners were housed. Don't miss the graffiti on the walls, scrawled by actual prisoners over the decades. The building served as the town jail until 1963.
Shopping in Mariposa is a delightful experience, as you have your choice of a wide variety of stores lining the streets of this historic town, offering items that transcend the centuries. Antiques abound, of course, but you can also find mementos of your trip at specialty boutiques that sell designer jewelry, pottery, clothing, and crafts from local artisans.
Despite its size, Mariposa boasts a surprisingly eclectic dining scene, ranging from down home Western barbecue fare to international cuisine. Trendy dining spots as well as rustic restaurants in historic buildings line the streets of town, offering menus to satisfy every palate. Located a few miles outside of Mariposa, travelers from around the world flock to the Cafe at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort for its healthy, innovative cuisine and rustic ambiance.
You'll find the “ghost town” of Hornitos (though it still has a population of 75) just a few miles outside Mariposa. Perched on a hill above town, a pioneer graveyard offers a sobering look at the lives and deaths of the town’s early inhabitants who came here from far and wide in search of the mother lode. It once housed a large population of Italian immigrants. Ruins of the store where the famous chocolatier Domenico Ghiradelli got his start before moving to San Francisco, still remain.
You'll never see Joanne without a camera or two strapped around her neck as she travels around the world, together with her photographer husband Tony, to unearth new and exciting destinations to share with her readers.
Her professional career includes a long tenure in communications with the San Diego Tourism Authority, where she gained expertise with both the camera and the descriptive word.
When she’s not adding fresh images to her Scenic Photos website, she's posting her current adventures on her popular Travel Blog.
Joanne is a member of the esteemed Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).