5 of my Favorite Stops En Route to Yosemite

Last weekend, we were fortunate enough to get another yearly tradition squeezed into our busy month, a trip to Yosemite.  I know I’ve been spending so much time camping in October, but this trip was different.  After two weekends of backpacking, and as the park was going to have the first winter storm of the season, I was happy to glamp it up with a yurt.  Yurts are canvas structures; imagine a round cabin but instead of walls like we would normally see on cabins, its wrapped in canvas.

Not only are we generally excited to spend a weekend in a yurt, but we are able to spend it at one of my favorite National Parks.  It still seems a little unreal that I am so close to it now, about 3-4 hours away.  A short drive from the hustle and bustle of the city is the amazing views and fresh air of this park.  We’ve had years where we had been sprayed by water at the bottom of Yosemite Falls and built a snowman with pine branch arms and pine cone eyes. The first time we went as a family, we left recharged and reenergized.  There really was no signal anywhere (now, it is a little different as there are some places with signal) so we couldn’t check our phones.  The tech detox was strange at first, but now it’s something that we look forward to.  Just to be walking around in this magical park, where you are like an ant next to the tall trees and impressive peaks… I cannot recommend it enough.

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It still sometimes surprises me how many times I hear Californians talk about how they had never been there.  It’s actually pretty common to hear friends tell me that they had not yet visited the park.  Of course, some of those friends are just not campers or outdoors people, but we stay in a pretty comfortable yurt each time.  Our yurt has a lot of conveniences of home, so we aren’t roughing it.  There are hotels and nicer places close by, so I can’t imagine that’s the reason people avoid going.  After some consideration, I have concluded in my mind that it’s probably the drive there.

3-4 hours doesn’t seem that long when you can break it up with some fun things along the way, so I decided to list a couple of my favorite places along the way to and from the park.

Denise’s Farmer’s Market

They have 2 locations, in Lathrop and Ripon, but we usually go to Ripon.  You pull up to a playground and picnic tables, where I can let Evie out and watch her run out some road trip energy.  The market has a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables where I may grab some groceries to bring to the yurt.  They have a good selection of nuts, dried fruits, and trail mixes packaged in little baggies.  These are perfect for snacking in the car or bringing with us for daytime exploring in the park.  This time we grabbed some salt and pepper corn nuts, dehydrated beet chips, and onion chips, and a small pumpkin that Evie wanted to decorate.  If we are a bit hungry and looking for food, we can pick up warm BBQ sandwiches there and picnic at the playground.  We are pie people, so we’ve been known to pickup a pie for breakfast the next morning.  Local vendors have also stocked the place with jams, jellies, honeys, various butters, pickled produce, and more.  I love looking through all of them to see if maybe there is something interesting that I haven’t tried yet.  Since this was our first time visiting in the fall, we had never seen their pumpkin set up, which is super sweet.  Even in the drizzling rain, Evie ran out the car to explore all the different types of pumpkins in their field.

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Yosemite Lakes Yurts

So technically this place is outside of the park, so I’m counting this as a place to go on the way to Yosemite.  Really, you should stay here and rent a yurt.  We expected a canvas hut, but we came to find out it has all the comforts of home and more.  With a futon sleeper, a full bed, and a bunk twin bed, it sleeps 5 people comfortably.  The yurts have a private bathroom (with shower) and a fully stocked kitchen.  We usually come with a fun group of friends and end up having a great time making family dinners and exploring around together.  We all have our own picnic table and fire pit, but for rainy weekends, the grill on our patio will do… yes, it comes with each yurt.  Walk around the grounds and you’ll find the clubhouse (with wi-fi), a mini-golf area, playground, a river, and even a laundromat.  Seriously, we are not roughing it here.  Initially, we found it with an amazing Travelzoo deal which dropped the price considerably.  The popularity of the yurts have increased that price we originally got it at, but they still come out to about the price of a cheap hotel room on the weekends.  Also, quick tip, the deals usually are clear about having a “no dogs” policy.  During this visit, we were informed by the check in team that there are 2 yurts now made to be pet-friendly.  Toaster is going to love it here next year.

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Oakdale Cheese

A beautiful bit of Holland in the middle of California… oh, and cheese.  Really. Tasty. Cheese.  This place has been making some award-winning wheels for generations.  They do cheddars, goudas, goat milks, and have rooms full of it.  With picnic tables around the grounds, you can grab some tasty treats and hang out to enjoy the day.  Large koi fill the pond and you can purchase feed to give to the farm animals hanging out on the lot.  I always remember them larger than they really are, but they do a fantastic grilled cheese sandwich with a cup of creamy tomato soup (with large croutons of toasted sourdough bread) for about $3.  Perfect lunchtime meal if you had passed on the BBQ sandwiches at Denises’.  We grab a bag of their curds and some of their goat cheese for home.  We also score some interesting looking blue cheese from one of their partners.  If you have a sweet tooth, some fun variations of cheesecake are in the case up front.  Make sure to check out the viewing windows in back to see where or how they make, store, and age the cheese.

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Iron Door Saloon

(Arguably) the OLDEST SALOON in CALIFORNIA.  Seriously.  Groveland, California happens to be located on an old trading route, bringing around miners from the gold rush.  Built in 1852, it was the general store, post office, and saloon all rolled into one.  Now the bar is a little nicer than just a plank over some barrels, and is filled with historical eye candy everywhere.  Old rifles, taxidermy, crumpled dollar bills hung to the ceiling (an old miner tradition that has carried on), and other bits of history are all over the place like it was a museum.  The place has lots of character; not just a historical gold miner saloon, it was also a biker bar, a favorite (and serious) karaoke spot, and some owners with serious musical connections.  We stopped in for a bloody mary and a beer on the way out from the park, and just enjoyed the break from the rain and the roads.

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Sweets in the Kitchen

As soon as we walked in we were offered a free tasting of fudge.  Yep, this place makes my list.  It’s Groveland’s cute little candy shop… with a kitchen shop attached.  Evie spent some time investigating the barrels of candies as I got to check out bulk spices and locally made sauces.  We picked up some goodies before heading to the Iron Door Saloon, so she was perfectly content with her bag o’ candy as I enjoyed that bloody mary.  Everyone wins.

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There are other places that we’ve stopped at to explore in the past, but I feel like they may have been interesting just that one time.  On the other hand, I would gladly return to any of these places.  I also feel like there are more places that I have yet to explore on the road to Yosemite.  With yearly trips to the park, I will have some other opportunities to go check more out, but if you know of anything special, leave it in a comment or email me.  I’d love to hear recommendations!

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