5 ways to play in charming Groveland

GROVELAND, Calif. — Like many Gold Rush towns, Groveland has a checkered history, one rich in booms, busts, rogues and miners. Of course, the town’s name was not nearly as bucolic back in 1848, when it was part of the Savage Diggins. To be fair, the place was named after settler James Savage, but connotations tend to stick when you’ve got mining camps named after hanging trees.

Garrote was the happening place in the 1850s, not just a spot for summary executions — both here and at nearby Second Garrote — but a thriving town filled with saloons, dining halls and gambling establishments. By the 1870s, the bustle had subsided and the 100 townsfolk who remained thought it might be time to rebrand their town with something less strangle-y.

By the time miners flocked back in 1875, wooed by rising gold prices and the promise of riches deep underground, Garrote had become Groveland. By the early part of the 20th century, this town of 10,000 had become a popular way station on the Big Oak Flat, the road that leads to Yosemite’s northernmost gateway.

You can still see the vestiges of that Wild West past in this cozy town, where the main drag is lined with historic inns, along with some great spots to nosh, sip and browse. Here’s just a sampling.

DRINK: The Iron Door Saloon

You cannot visit Groveland without popping into California’s oldest continuously operating saloon. The bar opened its doors in 1852 as Peter King’s Granite Store, a general mercantile, where miners could belly up to the bar — planks plunked atop barrels — and get a drink. From the 1860s to the 1880s, the bar functioned as both saloon and post office. You can’t buy stamps here anymore, but you can enjoy a cold IPA and a burger, as you listen to live music, gawk at the moose heads and rub elbows with locals and visitors alike.

Details: Open daily from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. at 18761 Main St., Groveland

EAT: Fork & Love

With chef Aaron Haas at the helm, this charming restaurant at the renovated Hotel Charlotte offers creative, seasonal cuisine and tasty craft cocktails. We’re talking Sierra Pack Mule ($9) and High Plains Drifter ($11) cocktails, chimichurri-drizzled squash ($8) and gnocchi ($15) to die for. During the sleepy winter months, the restaurant is only open for Sunday brunch and special events, but it reopens in March with Sunday brunch and dinner service on Fridays and Saturdays, expanding to five days a week in April.

Details: Hotel Charlotte, 18736 Main St., Groveland; www.forkandlove.com

DRINK: Mountain Sage

Don’t miss this quirky coffeehouse-boutique-gallery-nursery, even if you’ve already enjoyed breakfast at your hotel, whether it’s the Charlotte or the historic Groveland Hotel, where the rooms are winsomely divided into “decadent,” “truly decadent” and “extremely nice” categories.

Wander through the maze of rooms at Mountain Sage — the lounge, art gallery and clothing boutique are near the front, the coffee bar is at the back. Grab a latte or Americano, then mosey outside to check out the gardens. Did we mention the summer music series?

Details: Open daily from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. at 18653 Main St., Groveland.

PLAY: Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum

If history’s your thing, pop into this small museum inside the Groveland Library. Staffed by enthusiastic docents from the Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society, the museum traces the diggins’ Gold Rush history and the decades that followed, including the building of the controversial O’Shaughnessy Dam that turned Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley into a vast reservoir. There’s a model of the Longfellow Mine and Mill, complete with moving parts, and exhibits on the families that settled this area — including the Ewing family, which produced three generations of Yosemite park rangers.

Details: Open 1-4 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday-Saturday at 18990 Main St., Groveland; www.grovelandmuseum.com.

EAT: Kevin and Randi’s Old Fashioned Meat Market

If you’re heading to Yosemite, swing by this little butcher shop and deli first for picnic fare. Everything’s made to order and the menu ranges from veggie wraps and Italian subs to ciabatta rolls filled with corned beef and swiss, roast beef and chipotle-cheddar or turkey, cranberry and cream cheese ($7.95 each). Then hit the road for Hetch Hetchy, where picnic tables come with spectacular views.

Details: Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 18687 Main St., Groveland