Bridgeport, California. Image credit: travelview -

7 Picturesque Small Towns In California's Sierra Nevada For A Weekend Retreat

The Sierra Nevada is a California mountain range spanning 400 miles north to south and 50 to 80 miles east to west. Though remote, rustic, and rugged, this range is peppered by small communities where millions of people stay while exploring in-town and out-of-town wonders. These communities are so perfectly situated as to provide enough sites to satiate tourists over a single weekend. Massive mountains, alpine lakes, national forests, hot springs, historic mines, delicious restaurants, relaxing inns, and quirky festivals can all be accessed from Friday to Sunday in the following Sierra settlements. 

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes, California.
Lake Mamie Boat House near Mammoth Lakes at sunrise.

Mammoth Lakes is abundant in natural attractions. In fact, many of them are in the town's name. Below the 11,000-foot Mammoth Mountain are numerous alpine lakes, which include Horseshoe Lake, Lake Mary, Crystal Lake, and Twin Lakes. Tourists can spend a weekend at Mammoth Lakes, covering thousands of feet of elevation, starting by swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and/or fishing the luxurious lagoons and ending by skiing, hiking, biking, and/or climbing the marvelous mountain. Of course, being in the Sierra Nevada means the town is a short drive from other scenic spots, particularly Yosemite National Park. After wandering those wonders, tourists can unwind in Mammoth Lakes proper, which has roughly 7,000 residents and dozens of restaurants and hotels. The Westin Monache Resort is an all-in-one accommodation.

Bass Lake

Aerial view of Bass Lake, California.
Aerial view of Bass Lake, California.

Another Sierra Nevada haunt named for nearby water, Bass Lake's namesake reservoir, was completed in 1910. As such, it has many of the same attractions as Mammoth Lakes but with one-twelfth of the people. Swimming, fishing, and boating are available on the lake, while hiking, camping, and skiing are available in the surrounding Sierra National Forest. With just about 600 residents, the community is more laid-back than others in the region, but it is still popular with tourists and supplements natural attractions with commercial ones. Casa Velasco Mexican Restaurant, Ducey's Bar & Grill, and Pines Village Bakery-Pizzeria offer good eats; Good Ol' Daze and Pines Market offer good treats; and The Pines Resort offers good sleep. You can get it all during a weekend at Bass Lake.


Shops at Main Street in Bridgeport, California. Editorial credit: Marc Venema /

Bridgeport is a bridge to Nevada, being situated just 13 miles from the border on Route 182. Like Bass Lake, Bridgeport lacks a natural water body, so one was built in 1923. It is called Bridgeport Reservoir and, combined with nearby Walker River, Robinson Creek, Buckeye Creek, Virginia Lakes, and Twin Lakes; it makes Bridgeport a prime destination for boating and fishing. Salmon and trout are the most prized species, with the latter tipping the scales at 26 pounds. But if you are not into water sports, Bridgeport has loads of attractions for landlubbers. They can dine at Rhino's Bar & Grill, shop at Sierra Strange, put away a pastry from High Sierra Bakery, and take a siesta at Walker River Lodge. Moreover, Bridgeport is a gold nugget's throw from Bodie State Historic Park, which displays a town that was once flowing with minerals and miners and is now a graveyard of past prosperity. Cap off a weekend trip to Bridgeport/Bodie at neighboring Yosemite National Park.


The charming town of Bishop, California.
The charming town of Bishop, California. Editorial credit: MarieKaz /

Named for one of its first settlers, Bishop has around 3,800 residents and sits nearly 4,150 feet above sea level. At that altitude, the sights are beautiful and bountiful. They comprise Piute Mountain, Wheeler Crest, Little Lakes Valley, Keough's Hot Springs, and Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a sanctuary of trippy 4,000-year-old trees. This area is so picturesque, in fact, that it has been captured by myriad Western films.

Visitors can stay at Eastside Guesthouse & Bivy or Creekside Inn while exploring the cinematic outskirts of Bishop, plus its epic outleggings like Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park, which are both within 100 miles of town. Best of all, Bishop has an airport, which means you can fly in on Friday and out on Sunday.

Angels Camp

Photo of downtown Angels Camp, California.
Photo of downtown Angels Camp, California. Image credit: ShreddingTex via Wikimedia Commons.

The only incorporated city in Calaveras County, Angels Camp has roughly 3,700 people and almost as many pseudonyms. It has been known as City of Angels, Angel's Camp, Angels, and Angels City. An early settler named Angel (or Angell) inspired these monikers, so they have nothing to do with angelic sites such as Mercer Caverns, Wally Hill, and Bear Mountain.

After rising to those heights, visitors can crash in Angels Camp proper, where Mark Twain heard the tale that he turned into his fame-making 1865 short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." It inspired ribbiting events like the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee and businesses like Frogtown RV Park and Jumping Frog Motel. Hop on over for a wonderful weekend.

Nevada City

Caption Editorial credit: Chris Allan /

Nevada City was originally a gold mining town and its attractions reflect that fact. The Miners Foundry Cultural Center on Spring Street began as a metal forging factory in 1859 and is now an entertainment and community venue hosting everything from concerts to weddings. Broad Street's Nevada Theatre was built during the gold rush days and is said to be the oldest continuously operating theater on America's west coast. Similarly, Broad Street's National Exchange Hotel opened in 1856 and is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels west of the Rockies.

In Nevada City's radius are Empire Mine State Historic Park and South Yuba River State Park, expansive preserves where you can explore natural wonders, learn about mining history, and even pan for gold in Yuba's case. Just outside the radius is Lake Tahoe, but it is definitely worth the 60-mile drive.


Mariposa Grove, California.
Tourists board free Yosemite shuttle service bus at Mariposa Grove, California. Editorial credit: Michael Vi /

Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. Appropriately, this 1,500-person community was named for the butterflies that populate the area. Said butterflies continue to be celebrated at the Mariposa Butterfly Festival, which features a parade, food vendors, live music, and the release of thousands of butterflies into the Sierra Nevada foothills. This year, the festival is scheduled to run from Saturday, May 4, to Sunday, May 5. Attendees can stay at the 5th Street Inn and check out downtown's historic and commercial haunts.

From Mariposa, butterflies and humans flock to Yosemite National Park to enjoy the stupendous sites and sights. The best of these are Tunnel View, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Mariposa Grove.

The Sierra Nevada is a legendary California mountain range brimming with attractions. Thanks to the small communities that were built into this rugged terrain, visitors need only a weekend to enjoy a life's worth of natural and manmade sites, comprising mountains, lakes, waterfalls, giant trees, gold mines, hot springs, historic buildings, and so much more. Mammoth Lakes, Bass Lake, Bridgeport, Bishop, Angels Camp, Nevada City, and Mariposa are great bases from which to explore the Sierra Nevada. What are you waiting for?

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