View of the Village at Mammoth Lakes, a pedestrian friendly shopping area with restaurants. Image credit melissamn via Shutterstock.

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in California's Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada, a majestic mountain range stretching across California and Nevada, is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and legendary allure. Its dramatic landscapes feature towering peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and lush forests that captivate adventurers and nature lovers alike. Visitors can’t help but be drawn to iconic destinations like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe and historical Gold Rush towns like Groveland and Angels Camp. From the awe-inspiring granite cliffs of El Capitan to the tranquil beauty of Tuolumne Meadows, the Sierra Nevada embodies the essence of wilderness and adventure.

Tahoe City

Marina in Tahoe City, California, on a summer day.
Marina in Tahoe City, California, on a summer day.

Tahoe City, on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, is one of the most beautiful lake towns to visit in the United States. The lake's crystal clear blue waters are stunning, and one of the best ways to see “Big Blue” is to book a scenic boat cruise with The Tahoe Gal to enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. Choose from daily cruises aboard a 120-passenger paddler wheel like a Happy Hour Cruise, Shoreline Brunch, or Sunset Cruise. Although the water temperature is chilly, aqua enthusiasts can enjoy some beach time at Commons Beach, which hosts free live concerts and movies on the beach, or at nearby Skylandia Park Beach.

Explore the quaint downtown area with its shops, galleries, cafés, and restaurants, such as the Bridgetender Tavern or the Fat Cat Bar & Grill. Go wine tasting at Uncorked Tahoe City. Enjoy lakeside dining at Jake's On The Lake, or head over for Taco Tuesday at the Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge. For a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, visit the boutiques at the Cobblestone Center, like Ruffles and Ruffnecks for children’s clothing and gifts, Lather & Fizz Bath Boutique, or the Tahoe T-Shirtery.

Angels Camp

Downtown Angels Camp, California. Image credit: ShreddingTex via Wikimedia Commons.
Downtown Angels Camp, California. Image credit: ShreddingTex via Wikimedia Commons.

Angles Camp is in the heart of California’s historic Gold Country, Calaveras County. Although the town of Angels Camp is quaint and small, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in stature as the inspiration for Mark Twain’s 1865 short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Held annually on the third weekend in May, Angels Camp hosts the 4-day Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee to commemorate the story that launched Twain’s literary career. Literary buffs can visit a 1922 replica of the cabin where Mark Twain wrote the story, though the fireplace and chimney are original.

Angels Camp has a bustling downtown area that reflects the town’s architecture and rich history during the Gold Rush era. With boutique shops, restaurants, and the Angels Camp Museum & Carriage House—a museum with 30,000 square feet of exhibits on Gold Rush history and one of the largest collections of carriages and wagons in the U.S. Stroll down Main Street and visit Angels Mexican Kitchen for classic homemade tacos and enchiladas, or visit one of the tasting rooms in and around Angels Camp to sample local wines from the Calaveras wine region, like Twisted Oak. Take a tour of the winery on the Twisted Underground Wine Experience and visit their working winery cave, the length of a football field.

Mammoth Lakes

Kayakers in the picturesque Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes, California.
Kayakers in the picturesque Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes, California.

Mammoth Lakes is in the High Sierra and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise all year long. Mammoth Mountain makes it a prime destination for winter fun, but once the snow has melted, Mammoth Lakes becomes the perfect basecamp for day trips to Devils Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls. Renowned for its striking basalt columns, these hexagonal columns, some 60 feet tall, were formed over 100,000 years ago from cooling lava. Several trails within the monument include the 5-mile out-and-back loop to Rainbow Falls, where visitors will be amazed by the prism of color created when the sunlight hits the mist from the falls.

Near Mammoth Lakes, visitors can also take a scenic drive through Yosemite National Park's eastern entrance via the highest highway pass in California and Sierra Nevada, Tioga Pass, at an elevation of 9,943 feet. With breathtaking views of the High Sierra and access to Tuolumne Meadows, one of the high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada, the drive is a must-see. From the meadows, visitors can also see the Tuolumne River cascading over the granite river bottom against a backdrop of rugged mountain peaks. In 1984, the river was declared a Wild and Scenic River by the United States Congress (of which there are approximately 226 at last count). Finally, Mammoth Lakes is also a town that likes to throw a party, and from August 1 - 4, 2024, Mammoth Bluesapalooza—a festival of beers and blues—is the place to be.

Three Rivers

Scenic byway in Three Rivers, California.
Scenic byway in Three Rivers, California. Image credit Konoplytska via Shutterstock.

Three Rivers is a charming gateway community at the entrance to the sprawling 1,353-square-mile Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, where visitors will see spectacular mountains, deep canyons, and the world’s tallest tree. In Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest, visit three of nature’s wonders: the famous Tunnel Log—created when a 2,000-year-old giant sequoia naturally fell across the roadway; the General Sherman Tree is the undisputed “King of the Forest” as the largest living tree in the world; and Moro Rock, a majestic granite dome reachable via a 350-step staircase perched on the rock. There are an equal number of incredible natural sights in Kings Canyon, like Boyden Cavern, where visitors can take a 50-minute subterranean walking tour.

The nearby Kaweah River is one of the steepest river drainages in North America, falling over 10,000 feet in 20 miles until it reaches a reservoir near Three Rivers. A few tour companies, like Kaweah Whitewater Adventures, offer rafting trips down the river of various lengths and difficulty. After a day of awe-inspiring sightseeing and thrill-seeking, make a reservation for dinner and drinks on the bank of the Kaweah River at the Riverview Grill & Bar, with live music on the patio every Sunday all summer.


Aerial view of Truckee, California

Truckee is great for outdoor lovers, with its promise of 245 days of sunshine a year. Surrounded by stunning mountainscapes, the town offers the perfect combination of outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking on the Donner Pass Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail, while nearby Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe provide lots of opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The Donner Memorial State Park is a stunning state park high in the Sierra Nevada at 6,000 feet in elevation and a must-see for visitors interested in the history of the ill-fated Donner Party who set out for California from Springfield, Illinois, in a wagon train in May 1846. The story of the hardships faced by the group is the stuff of legends, as they got lost near Truckee Lake (now Donner Lake) in heavy snow with dwindling supplies.

Enjoy craft cocktails and farm-to-table eats at Moody's Bistro, Bar & Beats, or comfort food at Jax at the Tracks, a classic diner. Beer lovers can enjoy Truckee’s Five Craft Breweries Tour, car-free, using the town’s TART Connect shuttle that provides rides around town to Donner Creek Brewing, FiftyFifty Brewing Co., The Good Wolf Brewing Company, and two more.


Scenic drive through Groveland, California
Scenic drive through Groveland, California. Image credit Sundry Photography via Shutterstock.

With just under 800 permanent residents and several historic mining-era buildings, Groveland is one of the prettiest towns in the Sierra Nevada. Visitors will enjoy strolling through the old Gold Rush town, looking at the restored homes and hotels, and visiting the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum indoor exhibits on Groveland’s early settlers and its outdoor display of gold mining artifacts. Groveland’s best-known landmark is the Iron Door Salon, built of granite in 1852 and considered California’s oldest continuously operating saloon. The one-time store and post office gets its name from the imposing iron doors imported from England that traveled around South America’s Cape Horn before arriving in Groveland.

Groveland is, of course, most well-known as a charming gateway town to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite offers world-renowned natural beauty with iconic sites like El Capitan—the mecca of modern rock climbing, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. It’s well worth the drive along scenic Highway 120 to reach Yosemite National Park, as the route offers incredible views of the Sierra Nevada foothills and plenty of photo opportunities. Another must-visit destination for nature lovers is the Stanislaus National Forest, which has more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails and surrounds the town of Groveland.

The Sierra Nevada region is home to several picturesque towns, each offering unique charm and attractions. With its rich Gold Rush history, Groveland serves as a gateway to Yosemite National Park, while Tahoe City welcomes visitors with stunning lake views and a vibrant downtown. Angels Camp, famed for inspiring Mark Twain’s jumping frog tale, celebrates its heritage with annual festivals and historical museums. The towns of Mammoth Lakes, Three Rivers, and Truckee are an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, providing access to spectacular National Parks full of awe-inspiring natural wonders.

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