Visiting the glorious Yosemite Valley? If you’re driving from the Bay Area, you’re likely headed for the National Park’s popular Arch Rock Entrance near El Portal on Highway 140. And if you’re going that route, chances are good that you’ll be passing through the Gold Rush town of Mariposa, where 19th-century buildings hold bustling restaurants, hotel options line the roads, and boutiques and taverns offer other ways to play.
Consider it a little civilization on the edge of the great wilderness — and one where new hot spots pop up all the time. Here’s what to do while you’re in town.
THE NEWEST HOT SPOT: If you’re an Airstream fan or glamping devotee, here’s exciting news. AutoCamp, the glamping experts from Santa Barbara and the Russian River Valley, is opening a luxurious, shiny Airstream trailer encampment — englampment? — just outside Mariposa next month and it’s the largest one yet.
The 35-acre spread will offer 15 luxury tents, three cabin suites and 80 deluxe Airstream trailers outfitted, per AutoCamp usual, with fine linens, organic bath products and other luxe touches. Plus: a 4,000-square-foot club house, fire pits, a heated swimming pool and a pond with canoes. And yes, YARTS, the Yosemite shuttle stops here.
AutoCamp’s soft opening — i.e., expect some onsite construction and the pool won’t be open yet — runs March 1 through April 30, with rates starting at $190. Summer rates start at $265 and some weekends have already sold out.
MORE HOT SPOTS: Heading into the park? Grab a BYO (build your own) sandwich and grab-and-go salads (get the potato!) first at the 2-year-old Sweetwater Grocery and Deli in Mariposa proper. Or head for the always-stellar 1850 Restaurant and Brewery a few blocks away, order a bacon-ranch burger at the bar, then grab a seat indoors for lunch.
Heading back from Half Dome? The Grove House has taken over the digs formerly occupied by Prospectors Brewing, added a wine list to the beer tap offerings and a big deck out back for summery alfresco gatherings.
THE ICONIC HOT SPOT: Yosemite Valley is the National Park’s magnet attraction, drawing the majority of the park’s 4.3 million visitors each year. That’s hardly surprising. The valley floor is the most easily accessed area of the park’s vast wilderness, with a loop road that brings visitors to a village of lodgings, visitor services, galleries, an ice rink and a theater, all in the shadow of Half Dome and other granite grandeur. You can ice skate here, hike to waterfalls and even get hitched. The Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in 1879, does weddings.
Or you can channel your inner Greta Garbo or Winston Churchill and sleep in the grandeur of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Of course, you don’t have to actually book a spendy room at this stunning lodge, which opened in 1927 as the Ahwahnee Hotel. (Although with guest room renovations expected to finish this spring, you might want to.) Rangers offer guided, hour-long historic tours of the property daily at 2 p.m.
And that grand dining room, so Valhalla-like with its soaring ceilings, granite pillars and pine trestles, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended, but if your attempt at spontaneity has you staring down a long wait list, don’t fret. The intimate hotel bar offers a casual food menu, as well as hot chocolate, coffee and cocktails — this is, after all, the home of the Firefall cocktail. Encounter a line here, too? Step up to the bar and get that hot cocoa to go, so you can enjoy it by the fire in the Great Lounge or out on the terrace.
IF YOU GO
AutoCamp: This new glamping destination opens March 1 at 6323 Highway 140 in Midpines; https://autocamp.com.
Sweetwater Grocery and Deli: Open daily at 5016 Highway 140, Mariposa; www.facebook.com/swgrocerydeli.
The Grove House: Open Wednesday-Sunday from 3 p.m. on at 4996 Seventh St., Mariposa; www.facebook.com/thegrovehouse.
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel: 1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley; www.travelyosemite.com/lodging