The small Sierra city of Sonora, the only incorporated town in Toulumne County, was our favorite "city" we visited on our Memorial Weekend road trip. This gold rush town lies in the heart of the Sierra Foothills at the intersection of California State Highways 49 and 108.. Walking these streets allows the visitor to reminisce of days gone by; brick buildings, historic homes, and western flare (including the most hideous American flag poncho I have ever seen). The county seat and city closest to Yosemite National Park, Sonora, though small, is not lacking in amenities, grand buildings, and good food.
Sonora is central. It is en-route to Yosemite National Park and nearby are Mercer Caverns, Railtown 1897 Historic State Park, the slightly Disney-esque Colombia State Historic Park, and the colorful Black Oak Casino. We drove from Jamestown to Sonora on Highway 49.
Accommodations can be difficult to find for a holiday weekend, but we planned ahead and snagged a reservation at the historic Sonora Inn. Built in 1896, the Sonora Inn feels like an old building. The hallways are narrow and the building doesn't follow modern architectural layouts (our room, 246, was in between floors). The beds are comfortable, the water gets hot in the shower, the HBO is free, and you're centrally located; however, the hallways smell terrible (rancid corn chips), the walls are thin, the breakfast lackluster, and it's a little on the expensive side ($140/night) for what you're getting.
We were looking forward to having a nice sit down meal in Sonora after our drive and tour of downtown Jamestown. Sonora has a number of restaurants ranging from sandwiches to Thai to Taquerias. Based on the reviews in the literature we picked up from the Tuolumne County visitor's center, we selected Talulah's. Our hostess greeted us with a smile and "Do you have a reservation?". We noted that almost every table in the restaurant had a reserved sign on it, except the one directly in front of the door. Happy to sit down for our meal and not have to make another choice, we sat down and began looking at the menu. We started our meal with house made bread and olive oil. I ordered mango chutney glazed salmon with sauteed vegetables and brown rice. The boyfriend ordered Cajun pasta. The filet of salmon was large, but slightly overcooked with an overly sweet sauce, which I enjoyed. The vegetables were completely forgettable. The sauce in the boyfriend's dish drowned the pasta, sausage, shrimp and chicken. Overall, I found the food slightly better than mediocre with excellent service.
Sights and Architecture
Sonora contains a number of buildings which piqued my interest. Standing at the end of the main street with its quaint steeple is the red church, otherwise known as St. James Episcopal Church, built in 1859. Across the street from the red church is the most elegant dental office and quite possibly the world's largest street lamp. We continued our walk despite a sudden late spring downpour and made our way to the county courthouse, built from 1898-1900 and still occupied. We took some photos with bomb replicas behind the Tuolumne County Veteran's Museum. However, none of these piqued my interest like the large mysterious domed building looking over the city as a sentinel. We walked back through downtown, up a steep hill, and found ourselves in front of one of the most ornate school district buildings I've ever laid eyes on.
Known locally as the Sonora Dome, it was originally built in 1909 as an elementary school and housed the Sonora Union High School District until 2010 when costs to make it earthquake safe and ADA compliant would have been prohibitively expensive. It is now home to the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance. Looking inside, we saw mostly boxes of paperwork and old musical instruments.
Unfortunately, we were in a rush to get to a show at the Black Oak Casino and did not have time to see the historic courthouse. We'll have to save it for another trip to the Mother Lode.
We loved Sonora and I want to go back to see the historic opera hall, visit the museums we did not have time for, and check out the moaning caverns near by.