A leafy Sierra foothills Main Street lined with rustic restaurants, smart tasting rooms and welcoming boutiques. Dozens of wineries nestled in the surrounding hills and valleys. That quiet, restful Mother Lode ambience. Let’s face it: there’s never a bad time to visit the tiny town of Murphys.
There is, however, a best time and it is upon us. The Calaveras County town takes on another dimension in the months stretching from late spring to early fall, thanks not only to ideal weather but the infusion of some serious nightlife.
The crown jewel is the summer concert series at Ironstone Amphitheatre. Its 2015 lineup features Steve Miller Band and Buddy Guy (August 1), the Band Perry (August 11) and Daryl Hall and John Oates (August 27). If your tastes run more toward the stage, there is live drama courtesy of Murphys Creek Theatre, which is presenting “Equivocation” by Bill Cain (August 7-September 6) in the intimate confines of the Black Bart Playhouse adjacent to Murphys Park just off downtown. That’s followed by Yazmin Reza’s “God of Carnage” (September 18-October 18). Meanwhile, another local theater company, Shakespeare on the Vine, is staging “The Taming of the Shrew” (July 31-August 22) at Brice Station Vineyards.
Simply put, Murphys is one of the acknowledged gems of the Mother Lode, a small town with roots stretching back to the earliest days of the Gold Rush. Its post office opened for business in 1851; the stone Peter L. Traver Building – currently home to a not-for-profit regional history museum – survives today having withstood the Murphys-scorching fires of 1859, 1874 and 1893.
Vintners have been producing wine in Murphys for nearly as long and those vintages are among the chief reasons to visit today. Oenophiles have their pick up wineries to visit in the surrounding square miles but keep in mind you also can sample dozens of fine vintages without ever leaving Main Street.
The tasting rooms, as is customary, reflect the wineries’ sensibilities or at their least marketing campaigns. Twisted Oak, 350 Main St., goes for laughs, with emphasis on the rubber chickens – yes, that’s right, rubber chickens – that are essential to its public profile. Hatcher, 425 Main St., and Newsome Harlow, 403 Main St., by contrast present a more polished appearance, pouring fewer wines but with more style. Other Main Street tasting rooms include Tanner, 202 Main St.; Black Sheep, 221 Main St.; Stevenot, 458 Main St.; and Broll Mountain, 106 Main St.
If your tastes run more toward craft beer, check out Prospector Brewing, 415 Main St. A recent addition to the Main Street scene, Prospectors boasts of being part of two historic California communities, Murphys and the closer-to-Yosemite Mariposa. Prospector pours a wide variety of craft beers in a no-frills, low-key establishment that’s perfect for dropping in on a hot day, particularly when a spouse insists on prowling Main Streets many shops.
There are a handful of boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Murphys but do not overlook the Murphys Hotel, 457 Main St. This historic structure was built in 1855 and the names that have appeared in the register include Mark Twain, Horatio Alger and U.S. Grant. The adjoining bar is open late and occasionally features live music, presenting visitors the opportunity to bring a touch the 19th century to their 21st-century evening.
For those looking for a bite amid the wine, beer and shopping, check out Firewood, 420 Main St. The name nearly says it all, as this eatery specializes in pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven. You also can stop by for burgers, fish, tacos and more. Grounds, 402 Main St., features great food and drink, to be sure, but also boasts one of the town’s most appealing environments, with its big windows overlooking Main Street.
Also don’t miss Alchemy, 191 Main St. Hugging the intersection of Main and Scott, Alchemy does it all, combining a restaurant and wine bar with a deli and market. A Mother Lode must-see.