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Weekender: For a Rugged Twist on a Winery Town, Head to Murphys

A tiny hamlet with deep cellars, deep spelunking, and deeper history.


Bay Area road-trippers are always switching between Tahoe, the Russian River, and towns along the Pacific, but if you're not heading east—way east—you're missing out. The foothill towns of California are full of gritty Gold Rush charm, outdoor adventures, and, in the case of Murphys, wine. Take 580 out from the bay and head across the state for about three hours, until you hit the tiny Calaveras County outpost of 2,000, near the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest. The town's main street has a couple dozen tasting rooms (stay the night and you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving), plenty of places to eat along the way, hikes and camping nearby, and, oh yes, a few local ghosts. 

Food and Drink
You can drink your way through more than a dozen tasting rooms while walking only a few blocks. (Although, for obvious reasons, we recommend breaking this up over more than one night.) If you’re not claustrophobic, head to Zucca, a winery with a basement tasting room whose cavelike vibe suggests that you drop your pickax and gold pans at the door.

Along the way, stop at Magnolia Café for a breakfast burrito or Filipino breakfast bowl with eggs, coconut sticky rice, and sweet chili sauce, or grab some post-tasting dinner at Alchemy Market and Café, where you can throw down slow-smoked spare ribs or seafood pad thai before calling it a day.

Hotel with a History
The Ritz-Carlton it’s not. But if you’re into folksy charm and taxidermy, the Murphys Historic Hotel is a great place to lay your head. It’s been operating continuously since 1856, hosting everyone from Mark Twain to Ulysses S. Grant, from Susan B. Anthony to John Wayne. Hit up the saloon for live music on weekends or the hotel’s old-school steak-and-potatoes restaurant. As an added bonus, locals have it that the hotel’s haunted by a couple of ghosts: John, believed to be a onetime manager, and Eleanor, a lovelorn 19th-century hotel maid.

Just a mile outside of town you’ll find Mercer Caverns. Drop $20 on a 45-minute guided tour through the massive cave (which, at 55 degrees, might be a welcome relief from the summer heat), or, if you want to really commit, drive ten minutes more to Moaning Cavern, where you can rappel 165 feet down into a vertical chamber so big it could hold the Statue of Liberty.

Music in the Sun
Ironstone Vineyards' summer concert series has some pretty sweet throwback acts for a teeny-tiny mining town. From now through the end of the summer, you can enjoy the musical stylings of some of your old faves, from REO Speedwagon to Steve Miller Band with Buddy Guy to Hall & Oates. Camping out on the amphitheater’s lawn will run you about $60 a ticket.


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