An emerald green sign crowns the entrance to Murphys Park, stretched between two antique lamp posts that lead visitors into the rustic foothill town. The former mining site is now a trove of historical relics, local wine and just enough country kitsch to fill a breezy spring day of sightseeing.
Home to roughly 2,000 residents, the Calaveras County town was settled in 1848 by Irish immigrants and prospectors, brothers John and Daniel Murphy. Massive green shamrocks painted at intersections give a nod to that history, as does the annual Irish Day celebration, which draws thousands of tourists to the otherwise-quiet Main Street each year.
Northern Californians can get to Murphys via Highway 49, a mostly traffic-free road that weaves between lush green hills past sprawling orchards and farms. No flashy car dealerships or big box stores line the roadside, only produce stands, gas stations and the occasional diner. The drive itself is something like a trip back in time, transporting visitors to a simpler and more rugged California.
That gives Murphys an air of refreshing tranquility, especially in the community park at its entrance. Angel’s Creek gurgles beneath the shouts of playing children there, and a quaint white gazebo offers a view of the barnlike Murphys Library. It’s a perfect place to picnic before time spent strolling and shopping.
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The city’s Gold Rush roots live on at the Murphys Historic Hotel (457 Main St., 800-532-7684), a designated state landmark that features technology-free rooms and a Wild West-themed saloon. A few doors down, locals can be found gulping pints at the Murphys Irish Pub (415 Main St., 209-890-3350), where wooden barrels and plush couches provide cozy ambiance. Their menu features Irish mainstays such as shepherd’s pie, ploughman’s lunch, and bangers and mash.
For wine drinkers, options are plentiful. Val du Vino Winery (634 French Gulch Road, 209- 728-9911), at the western end of Main Street, pours daily in its spacious tasting room, which is far more elegant than its clapboard exterior lets on. At part-winery/part-gallery Allegorie (423 Main St., 209-728-9922), patrons can alternate between tasting and perusing the sculptures, jewelery and paintings around the room’s perimeter. Zucca Mountain Vineyards (431 Main St., 209-728-1623) is a popular three-story tasting room, part of which is underground.
Explorers can plan an educational trip to the Mercer Caverns (1665 Sheep Ranch Road, 209 -728-2101), just one mile north of Main Street and open daily for 45-minute tours. The accessible section of the cave is 3,389 feet long and 192 feet deep, and visitors can view its stalagmites and stalactites from steps and viewing platforms.
The bee’s knees
What: The all-day California Honey Festival will pay tribute to the state’s tiny pollinators by showcasing award-winning chefs, honey mead tastings and beekeeping vendors. There is an optional “V.I.Bee” opening-night party.
When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, May 5; 10 a.m.-5p.m. Saturday, May 6
Where: In Woodland, Friday events at the Barth Building, 426 First St.; Saturday’s events downtown locations
Cost: Free general admission; $65 opening night party
What: The three-day “Migrations” John Steinbeck Festival offers panel discussions about the late author’s works as well as topics such as migration, agriculture and the local environment. There’ll also be special exhibits, live music and film screenings.
When: Times vary between 10 a.m. and 7:15 p.m. Friday-Sunday, May 5-7.
Where: Friday’s events take place all along Cannery Row in Monterey. Saturday and Sunday events will be held at the National Steinbeck Center, 1 Main St., Salinas.
Cost: $10 and up
What: Kites will fly high over snow cones, spin art and barbeque.
When: Noon-3 p.m., Saturday, May 6
Where: Bedwell Bayfront Park, 1600 Marsh Road, Menlo Park
Cost: Free admission; $6 for a kite and hot dog lunch