Geese at Bass Lake


Nestled in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Oakhurst, California, leaves a lasting, unforgettable impression. While the small mountain town is most prominently known for being one of the gateways to Yosemite National Park, there are countless other incredible things to do in Oakhurst, California, as well. 

Located next to scenic Bass Lake and within an easy (and jaw-droppingly gorgeous) drive from Mariposa Grove and numerous epic hiking trails of all difficulty levels, Mother Nature is undoubtedly the most prominent reason for a visit but it shouldn’t be even close to the only one.

Oakhurst was completely transformed by the California Gold Rush, with the infamous 19th Century frenzy still leaving its mark on the community today.

Notable influences from gold mining, Native American culture, and Old West pioneering are woven throughout all fibers of daily life in Oakhurst. The area’s history still feels tangible somehow, showcasing the rise and continuous development of California and, along with it, the American Dream.

Regardless of what brings you to town, Oakhurst is an ideal basecamp for exploring all of Madera County and the Sierra Nevadas due to its central location and abundance of excellent accommodation and dining options.

With a population of just 5,000, Oakhurst, California, punches well above its weight class — especially in the food and drinks department. Breweries, wineries, and distilleries abound in the small town, almost reason in and of itself to stay a night or two (or more!). 

Last but not least, Oakhurst bursts with quaint, almost old-fashioned, small-town charm. Truly, the town’s hospitality is unparalleled. You’re sure to encounter the warmest people with each and every interaction, ranging from local restaurant waitstaff to gallery owners and park volunteers.

And with lovely, mild weather much of the year and iconic Half Dome and El Capitan towering over the entire Yosemite Valley, there’s never a shortage of fun things to do in Oakhurst, California.

TLDR – Things to do in Oakhurst, California

In a hurry? Here’s a quick overview of all the best things to do in Oakhurst!

  • Most significant landmark Yosemite Valley tour
  • Best park – Nelder Grove
  • Best free activity – Lewis Creek Trail
  • Best activity for kids – Golden Chain Theater
  • Best activity for adults – Idle Hour Winery
  • Best food – South Gate Brewing Company
  • Best nightlife – Oakhurst Spirits
  • Best all-around accommodationChâteau du Sureau

Best & Fun Things to do in Oakhurst, California

Is Oakhurst, California, worth visiting?

That would be a resounding YES!

With easy access to Yosemite’s premier attractions, Madera County historic sights, great drinks and dining, and plenty of family-friendly fun, there is so much to do and see (and eat and drink!) in Oakhurst.

Here, we’ve outlined 17 of the best so you can maximize your time here. 

1. Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park

Address: 49777 High School Rd, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Looking for activities in Oakhurst that aren’t just about nature or visiting Yosemite?

This rebuilt historical Fresno Flats Historic Village showcases how pioneers first lived in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

The complex features two painstakingly refurbished homesteads, complete with original machinery, interiors, kitchens, a small jail, and more!

Fresno Flats Historic Village is run by enthusiastic volunteers, who go above and beyond, sharing incredible stories during their tours.

Even when they’re unavailable, there are plenty of brochures and audio guides to shed light on how these 19th Century merchants and farmers defined California history.

More of a cultural center than a museum, Fresno Flats Historic Village also hosts a delightful local artisans’ market on the 3rd Saturday of every month. Make sure to stop by the gift shop, too – there are plenty of memorable, one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

2. South Gate Brewing Company

Address: 40233 Enterprise Dr, Oakhurst, CA 93644

A universally loved Oakhurst institution, easy-going Southgate Brewing Company delivers delicious local craft brews and tasty American classics. Combined with a convivial, relaxed backdrop, it’s easy to see the appeal.

The beer utilizes local ingredients and creatively reflects the area, with offerings like the piney Sawtooth IPA or nutty and smooth Pecan Brown.

You can enjoy the drinks inside, in the mountain tavern atmosphere, or on the super cute patio with views of the surrounding Sierra National Forest. 

South Gate’s food ranges from expertly made pizza to satisfyingly crispy fish and chips to Asian-inspired dishes like Banh Mi wraps and spicy curries. An excellent dining option for groups, there’s bound to be an entree for everyone, doubly so when washed down with a brew!

Looking for a side quest?

Book a Yosemite Valley Hiking Tour From Oakhurst.

See Related: Best Things to Do in California

3. Bass Lake

Geese at Bass Lake

Address: 39744 Road 274. Bass Lake, CA 93604

A short drive on an incredibly scenic route highway from Mariposa Grove, postcard-worthy Bass Lake is one of the most relaxing places to visit in Oakhurst.   

This small Madera County lake is perfect for swimming, boating, and, as its name implies, pristine fishing water from pine-covered shores.

Hikers can tackle a few trails, like Angels Falls or Way of the Mono. However, for those yearning for a laid-back lake day, there are plenty of spots to simply swim and picnic by the shore, especially on the western side. If you’d like to make a day of it on Bass Lake, bring your boat, kayak, or SUP.

If you don’t have your own water toys, boat and kayak rentals are available from the Pines, right next to multiple low-key cafes and restaurants, perfect for a midday hang-out. 

Consider booking accommodation right on the shores of Bass Lake to make the most out of your visit! There are a couple of campgrounds around the lake, or you can stay at the Pines Resort, which has a large marina, pool, and a restaurant serving delicious food.

You can also rent watercraft on site, and the Pines Resort is within walking distance of several other restaurants, bars, and shops!

The Bass Lake local community is absolutely adorable, so just walking around is one of the most fun things to do! Insider tip: The Pines Resort is an excellent alternative to staying in Yosemite Valley, which can be extremely difficult to nab lodging in. 

4. Yosemite Valley Tour

Yosemite Valley Scenery

Address: Tioga Rd Hwy 120 & Hwy 140 Yosemite National Park, CA 95389

What is Oakhurst, California best known for? The answer is unequivocally its access to Yosemite National Park, one of America’s most iconic and dramatic landmarks. Although the park is absolutely massive, it’s fortunately easily accessible by booking a day tour. 

The imposing granite walls, draped in waterfalls and wildflowers and speckled with rock climbers, are a jaw-dropping UNESCO heritage sight. Thundering Yosemite Falls tumbles dramatically down more than 2,400 feet, making it North America’s tallest waterfall.

Nearby, the iconic Half Dome mesmerizes with its unique shape the moment it comes into view. If there’s any question about what to do in Oakhurst, a tour to discover Yosemite and its grandest sights is a great start. 

Book an eco-certified 9-hour tour to cut down on the logistics of traffic and take the stress out of planning where to park.

Discover Yosemite by hitting all the major sights, including a hike along the Mist Trail and views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and waterfalls, all backed by an informative audio tour.

Yosemite park entrance fees and lunch are included, allowing you to simply relax and fully immerse yourself in the astounding nature.

See Related: Northern California vs Southern California: What’s the Difference?

5.  Mariposa Grove 

Trees at Mariposa Grove

Address: Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is located at the end of Mariposa Grove Road, off Highway 41. 

With the town being located not far from Yosemite’s South Gate, it’s no surprise the national park is home to many of the best things to do in Oakhurst, California. 

World-renowned Mariposa Grove is located near this southern Yosemite Park entrance, a cluster of some of the largest Sequoias in the world! To access this magical phenomenon of towering trees, you’ll need to take the free park shuttle or hike about two miles on a level, paved road with a gradual incline. 

The efforts are worthwhile; you can walk through a cut-out in a tree, examine the knotty roots system, and gaze up at their incomprehensible height. Truly, you cannot fathom the scope of these “gentle giants” until you’ve seen them with your own eyes!

There are also a few great hiking trails to choose from in the Mariposa Grove area.

The short and easily accessible Big Trees Loop showcases some of the most famous examples among these impressive trees, while the more moderate Grizzly Giant passes through the Tunnel Tree and its namesake, 3,000-year-old Sequoia.

Finally, the Guardians Loop and Mariposa Grove trails are great options for those looking for more of a challenge!

If you’d really like to experience Sequoias away from the crowds (not an easy task in a park as famous as this one!), consider booking a private Jeep tour to explore Yosemite National Park.

A knowledgeable guide will explain the area’s ecology while transporting you to a remote corner of Yosemite park, where you’ll likely have the Sequoias all to yourself!

6. Yosemite Axe Throwing

Address: 40761 CA-41, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Keen to try out a unique sport that’s exhilarating, memorable, and more than a little bit adrenaline-inducing?

Yosemite Axe Throwing in Oakhurst, California, is the perfect spot for an afternoon of fun, with knowledgeable staff and an energetic vibe. Each throwing session starts with an in-depth tutorial, both for safety and technique.

Getting an ax to actually stick in the wood is surprisingly hard, but the staff are the perfect people to teach you how it’s done. After the informative training session, the lane is all yours, with 1.5-2 hours of ax-throwing fun.

A competitive game that keeps everyone involved, it’s the perfect Oakhurst activity for couples, a group of friends, or even coworkers.

And during the times when you’re not throwing, look around at the intricate log structures – in addition to throwing, the owners are great at carving too! 

Yosemite Axe Throwing is also unique in its environmental approach. All of the targets are made from salvaged wood from a drought; no axes are used for chopping live wood here!

See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in San Diego, California

7. Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Address: 56001 CA-41, Fish Camp, CA 93623

All aboard! A magical vintage steam train that runs through the woods awaits you, further proving that there’s so much more to a Yosemite trip than hiking and waterfalls.

Preserved by the Schuaffer Family, the Sugar Pine Railroad has been offering rides on turn-of-the-century steam engines for over 50 years. These beautiful machines were built for logging, so the ride is open-air, unlike typical carriages!

Whether underneath fresh snow or on a hot, sunny day, there’s no better way to take in the forest scenery of the central California mountains than while marveling at the bellowing steam. All the while, a conductor narrates the historical importance of such engines and the gauge railway industry in California!

To add even more magic to the experience, add in live music! The company offers a jazz train, which transports guests to a live concert via train. Check the website for dates and a list of musicians.

And for a memorable night on the rails, book the moonlight special! The narrated evening train ride is followed by a fireside dinner in the woods, also complete with live music or a theater performance!

8. Oakhurst Spirits

Address: 40300 Greenwood Way, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Despite being a small town, Oakhurst, California, boasts a large assortment of spirits production! At this distillery, vodka, along with several varieties of whiskey, gin, and even rum are produced locally.

Stop by for a tasting of their products and tour the 1,200-square feet facility. The owner is knowledgeable and outgoing, and he loves to enthusiastically converse about his production!

For those who don’t enjoy their spirits neat, Oakhurst Spirits also crafts delicious specialty cocktails, like the unique Firefall Old Fashioned, made with wheat whiskey and jalapeno syrup, or the gimlet with lavender vodka and ginger syrup.

The distillery also acts as an art gallery, showcasing work by local artists. From paintings of nature, pets, and abstract work, it’s delightful browsing the work of local talent. More than simply a drink, Oakhurst Spirits is worth a stop for a taste of the local community!

See Related: Best California Road Trips

9. Golden Chain Theater

Address: 42130 CA-41, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Oakhurst, California, is home to its very own production theater company, the Golden Chain Theatre. Started in 1967 to promote Ablehurst, the original building was a bowling alley purchased by the town’s board members.

Through community efforts, they completely renovated the space to build the stage and auditorium.

Today, the Golden Chain Theatre has a cozy barn-like setting lined with antique furniture. It hosts crowd-favorite shows like the Sound of Music and Shrek the Musical. Each production runs about a month-and-a-half long, and the calendar is constantly updated with new performances!

One of the best things to do in Oakhurst, California with kids, the Golden Chain Theatre nearly always has family-friendly shows perfect for a night of interactive entertainment.

During your visit, make sure to check out the saloon for drinks, tasty small bites, and sweet treats.

10. Lewis Creek Trail

Address: Cedar Valley Dr, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Are you craving some hiking time or other outdoor activities outside of Yosemite National Park (and away from the crowds?!)?

Beautiful Lewis Creek Trail is located just six miles from Oakhurst, California.

Like a little slice of paradise, this verdant forest is full of evergreen trees, a burbling creek, and moss-covered rocks. The easy-going 3-mile trail weaves through the canyon to two scenic waterfalls.

The lower cascade, called Corlieu Falls, is an 80-foot rapid that runs across a series of boulders. Reached via a 20-minute walk from the trailhead, the Forest Service recently completed a viewing platform to view the running water!

It’s worth proceeding past Corlieu Falls to Red Rock Falls, too. This portion of the hike is the most relaxing, snaking through the shade along the running water. Perfect on sunny days, the trail arrives at the Upper Falls, which has a shorter drop but a wider, more intense volume of water.

For the most dramatic water flow and greener scenery, venture to this trail in the spring. Enjoying the outdoors is one of the best free things do in Oakhurst, and Lewis Creek Trail is a great place to do so!

See Related: Best Holiday Destinations for Couples

11. Golden Chain Highway

Running 300 miles through the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the Golden Chain Highway (also commonly called the Gold Chain Highway) traces gold-mining history through small towns, museums, and abundant natural attractions.

Starting in Oakhurst and ending in Vinton near the California-Nevada border, the road is also known as State Road 49, a reference to the 1849 California Gold Rush — the Gold Rush Trail.

Some of the best historic sites en route include Empire Mine State Historic Park, which tells the story of California’s richest gold mine, and the Columbia State Historic Park, where actors in full period costumes recreate the 1800s Gold Rush experience.

There are plenty of cute mining-era towns to stay overnight along the way, too, like Nevada City and Auburn, which still retain historic 19th Century buildings, now filled with cute shops and eateries.

Passing through the mountains on this scenic route highway, these memorable cultural stops are sprinkled in with the mountain views and dramatic scenery.

From whitewater rafting to hiking to sipping wine in vineyards, there are many ways to enjoy the beauty of the Sierras. So rev up your engine, and hit the road – the Golden Chain Highway is a journey to remember!

12. Idle Hour Winery

Address: 41139 CA-41, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Tucked away in the hills next to Oakhurst, Idle Hour Winery produces award-winning wines available for tasting or purchasing by bottle. Committed to natural processes, the winery ferments with only native yeasts found on the grapes and uses gravity-flow gear that’s non-intrusive to the vineyard.

While the available varietals may change from year to year based on specific environmental and weather conditions, typical sample offerings include Idle Hour’s single-vineyard Viognier, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Petite Sirah.

In addition to fantastic wines, the Idle Hour Winery kitchen serves tasty lunch fare prepared with local ingredients, like crispy artichokes or paninis with garden salads.

The patio is the perfect setting to enjoy a meal and a glass of vino, surrounded by lush trees in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, all in a casual atmosphere.

The winery is run in conjunction with the Queen’s Inn, a casual hotel perfect for an overnight stay after a tasting. For those who prefer a cold brew over a vineyard offering, there’s also a local beer garden that serves microbrews from Southgate Brewing Company.

Found just minutes from town, Idle Hour Winery is a fantastic place to relax after a day of exploring Yosemite National Park or Fresno Flats.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Big Bear, California

13. Glacier Point Tour

Glacier Point Scenery

Please note that Glacier Point Road will be closed for all of 2022. Here is more information on how this impacts your visit to Glacier Point. 

A visit to Yosemite National Park isn’t complete without a stop at its most commanding vista, Glacier Point. Located over 3,000 feet above the valley floor, all of Yosemite’s major landmarks unfold in front of the viewpoint.

Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Mist Falls, and countless dramatic peaks… the gang’s all here!

A supremely memorable experience, book a personal van tour to be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide and not stress about the travel logistics.

The national park often closes the vista to drivers, allowing only shuttles and tour operators on the road, so this is a great way to ensure seeing Glacier Point from Oakhurst!

In addition to Glacier Point, the tour also stops by Tunnel View, the uber-famous viewpoint showcasing El Capitan and Yosemite valley.

Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots, too – you’ll get to approach Yosemite Falls for views of North America’s tallest cascade. Backed by the driver’s deep knowledge of the history and significance of Yosemite, this tour will imprint lifelong memories of the dramatic park.

14. Château du Sureau and the Elderberry House Restaurant

Address: 48688 Victoria Ln, Oakhurst, CA 93644

Looking for a taste of luxury right next to Yosemite?

The stunning Château du Sureau castle resort is complete with gardens, a spa, and the fantastic Elderberry House restaurant.  

Rooms are styled with a 19th Century French flair, complete with period paintings, exquisite furniture, and ultra-comfortable king beds. There’s also a terrace with views of the Sierra Nevadas and a seasonal pool.

The spa facilities are divine after a day of exploring Yosemite, with specifically-designed hiker massages and European-inspired facials and cleansers. Book a room for the most luxurious, relaxing stay in Oakhurst, California.

The onsite restaurant, which is open to the public and not just visitors staying in the hotel, serves delicious meals in a fine-dining French-Californian fusion.

Utilizing ingredients from local farms, the menu is available to sample via a three- or four-course meal. To match the superb food, the sommelier pairs local California and international wines with each dish.

The restaurant also makes excellent cocktails for mixology fans, with many guests noting that the Old Fashioned is superb. This isn’t the typical dining experience you often find near national parks!

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Long Beach, California

15. Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park

Address: 43469 CA-49, Ahwahnee, CA 93601

The picturesque, 400-acre Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park is the perfect place to go with your pup or simply for some fresh air. Filled with wildflowers in springtime or beautiful yellows in fall, there’s scenic appeal in every season – don’t forget your camera!

A small creek weaves through the park, which is sprinkled with oak trees and benches to enjoy the view. A short trail climbs the hill, revealing the mountains in the background and the park’s full expanse. Don’t forget to stop by the barn, which is perfect for a family photo-op! 

This nearby park is home to some notable historical events, as it was at one time a battleground. A clash took place in the meadows between the Ahwahnee Native Americans and Anglican miners.

The miners won and set up a tavern, which Theodore Roosevelt visited on his way to Yosemite. Travelers continue to stop here for fresh air before heading to the park!

16. Nelder Grove

Address: off Road 632, (Sky Ranch Road ), 10 miles south of Yosemite Park’s south entrance

A few miles outside Yosemite Park’s southern entrance, Nelder Grove features a secluded and much less-visited stand of giant Sequoias.

In fact, the tallest, the Bull Buck Tree, is both taller and wider than the infamous Grizzly Giant inside Yosemite! There’s also another tree you can walk through the trunk of and plenty more gentle giants to marvel at.

There are a few hikes to enjoy near Nelder Grove, like the wonderful Chimney Trail. Just under two miles long, it weaves through the redwoods, deadwoods, Douglas firs, and other diverse species of trees.

The route passes by the Bull Buck Tree, and hikers often spot birds, including owls, amidst the foliage. To fully immerse in this beautiful ecosystem, consider staying at the Nelder Grove campground!

Nestled among historic cabins, camping in the forest is especially breathtaking when colors turn in fall.

See Related: Things About Long-Term Travel You Can’t Miss

17. Wassama Round House State Historic Park

Address: 42877 Round House Rd, Ahwahnee, CA 93601

An active ceremonial site of the Southern Sierra Miwok tribe, this roundhouse is preserved in a state park open to the public. Upon visiting, it’s possible to book an informative tour that sheds light on the Sierra Miwok culture and their tensions with pioneers during the Gold Rush.

The first evidence of a roundhouse in this location dates to the mid-19th Century, but the grounds were likely considered sacred for longer. Per tradition, the roundhouse was burned at the death of a chief and rebuilt.

Sadly, the Miwok were forced off of the land first by pioneers, and again later by the federal government. The land became privately owned, and the small number of Miwok people left were prohibited from visiting the sacred site.

In the 1970s, the Miwok tribe fought to acquire the land through the federal government. They succeeded, and this culturally significant park continues to be celebrated today.

18. The World Famous Talking Bear

Address: 40307 (in front of Century 21 Real Estate) CA-41, Oakhurst, CA 93644

To say that you’ve seen and done everything there is to see and do in Oakhurst without visiting the World Famous Talking Bear doesn’t just mean you’re a shameless fraud; it also means you’ve missed out on one of the most poignant and moving landmarks in the entire country.

Who’s the real victim here? You, that’s who.

Okay, it’s not the Washington Monument, and its only claim to being “World Famous” seems to be the sign behind it, donating the “World Famous Talking Bear”. That said, this quirky piece of Americana that spouts info about local nature and wildlife is about the most Oakhurst thing there is.

Climb on his back. Grab a selfie. Listen to his tinny growl. There; now you’ve done Oakhurst, California.

See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families

Getting Around Oakhurst, California

Very small in size, Oakhurst’s in-town tourist attractions are easily navigable by foot. In fact, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk through the main strip! However, most popular attractions aren’t within city limits but instead require a drive through gorgeous scenery.

Naturally, renting a car or driving your own is the easiest way to travel! Car rental is available in Oakhurst, California, through trusted brands like Hertz and Enterprise. Check Kayak for the best rates.

It’s possible to visit many local attractions even without your own transportation. Many Yosemite Tours include transportation and pick you up from your accommodation.

There’s also a bus network operated by Madera County that connects Oakhurst with Bass Lake. Make sure to check timetables, as departures are infrequent. 

Finally, if you’d like to explore Oakhurst, California, by bike, there are a couple of rental services in the city. For example, both Pedal Forward and Yosemite Forward offer mountain bike rentals.

FAQ

What are the best tourist attractions in Oakhurst, California? 

ALL the natural attractions are gorgeous, but Yosemite is the star. Book a tour for a full day of sightseeing to take in the park’s most stunning attractions, or pick just one or two. Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View, and Yosemite Valley are all excellent choices.

What are some fun things to do in Oakhurst, California?  

Explore the outdoors and follow that up with a night out on the town. If you don’t want to go into the park, head to Bass Lake and rent a kayak or lace up your boots and visit Red Rock Falls. Return to Oakhurst afterward to grab a burger and beers at Southgate Brewing Company.

What is the best thing to do with kids in Oakhurst, California? 

Catch a show at the Golden Chain Theatre. Often featuring family-friendly productions, kids will love the costumes and cheerful vibe! There’s also Oakhurst Community Park and several nearby places to view giant Sequoias.

What are some things to do in Oakhurst, California, when it’s raining? 

Get competitive at Yosemite Axe Throwing or keep it low-key and explore a local art gallery.

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Published for: Valentino Pattaya