A Guide to Oakhurst, California – Gateway to Yosemite

California’s Sierra Nevada town of Oakhurst is located only 14 miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park, making it a great jumping-off point when visiting the park. Not only is it a great place to start your Yosemite adventures, but there is also quite a bit to see and do in and around the Oakhurst area as well.

We recently got back from spending a few days in Oakhurst and wanted to share our tips for getting the most out of your trip to Oakhurst and Yosemite.

Where is Oakhurst

Oakhurst is in the Sierra Nevada region of California’s Madera County and is about 14 miles (23 km) from Yosemite National Park’s South Gate. California State Route 41 goes right through town and also intersects with California State Route 49 in Oakhurst.

Things to Do in Oakhurst

Despite being a small town, Oakhurst has quite a few interesting things to check out when you are in town.

Oakhurst Visitor Center

Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau – Oakhurst – The visitor center provides free information and maps to travelers. A lot of the information is available outside so that you can stop by any time of the day. If you stop by during their operating hours, they are staffed with 30 volunteers trained on what to see and do in Yosemite and Madera County, according to their website. This is a must-stop location to begin your visit to the area if you haven’t made final plans on what to do on your visit. The Oakhurst visitor center is located at 40637 Highway 41 in Oakhurst.

The Oakhurst Trolley

The Oakhurst Trolley – Beginning in 2021, there is a two-year pilot program with Crossroads Tours that provides free trolley service around the town of Oakhurst. The Oakhurst Trolley will run on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 10 pm, and Sundays from 11 am to 9 pm from May through early September (and with additional dates September and October). The Oakhurst Trolley stops at fifteen locations throughout the town and is an effortless way to explore the town.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad – Located a few miles outside of Oakhurst in Fish Camp, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is a historic railroad offering scenic train rides through the Sierra National Forest. The railroad follows a portion of grade originally carved into the mountain by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company in the early 1900s. They currently offer two different tours, The Logger, which lasts an hour, and three-hour The Moonlight Special. The property also features gold panning, a rail museum, and a gifts and collectibles store. This is open from April to November.

Fresno Flats

Fresno Flats – Oakhurst was once known as Fresno Flats, and the Fresno Flats Historic Village is a park that attempts to recapture the flavor of 19th Century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains of Central California. The village has a couple of restored homes, a one-room school, the town of Raymond’s jail, and more. It’s really a fantastic place to learn about the area’s history, and it’s completely free. They also offer self-guided tours if you stop by after hours.

Golden Chain Theatre – Starting in 1967 as a tourist attraction that put on 19th Century historical theatre and melodrama, The Golden Chain Theatre is the home of live theatre for Yosemite’s Southern Gateway. Over the years, they expanded to more than just melodramas, putting on more traditional large production musicals such as Annie, but they still perform melodramas as well. Melodramas are a blast as it is encouraged to boo and hiss the evil villain, sigh for the poor heroine, and cheer the hero. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Golden Chain Theatre has been holding its shows as a drive-in experience.

The World Famous Talking Bear

Talking Bear – The World Famous Talking Bear of Oakhurst is a replica of a California Grizzly that stands in front of a Century 21 Real Estate office. With the push of a small button below his paws, the bear talks (mainly about wildlife conservation). The bear has been around since 1963, when Hugh Shollenbarger installed it. Hugh later installed the voice technology and was the original voice of the bear before eventually donating it to the town because what town doesn’t need a talking bear statute? 

Art/Antiques – Oakhurst has several antique stores and art galleries to stroll through. The Oakhurst Trolley stops at a few of them as well. 

Shopping – Oakhurst features several major chain grocery stores such as Vons and Raley’s as well as sporting goods stores like Big 5, making it a great place to stock up on supplies for a trip into Yosemite and surrounding areas.

Places to Eat in Oakhurst

Oakhurst is the closest town to Yosemite that features a number of national chain food places like McDonald’s, Dennys, and Carl’s Jr. Still, we definitely recommend checking out some of the local restaurants, as there are a few gems in town.

Smokehouse 41 – I love barbeque, and everyone recommended this place, and it lived up to the hype. Be prepared for a wait though, as there was a long line on our visit, and they have signs on the doors warning that meats could sell out. The customer in front of us actually ordered an entire brisket, so when it was my turn to order, it would have been 30-40 minutes if I wanted brisket. The meats were delicious and perfectly cooked, and the sides were great as well, especially the twice-baked potato casserole. If you like barbeque, you’ll probably love this place.

Reimer’s Candies & Ice Cream – After a day of hiking and exploring, the ice cream from here is amazing. I’m pretty boring when it comes to ice cream, so I had a two-scoop cone, but both scoops were the same flavor. That flavor was Sierra Blackberry, and it was delicious, so I have no regrets. My wife had her ice cream as a milkshake, and she thought it was great too. In addition to delicious ice cream, Reimer’s also has a large selection of candy available.

The Elderberry House – This is constantly the number one rated restaurant in Oakhurst and is part of the Château du Sureau hotel. This is a fine dining restaurant, so expect the prices to be higher than elsewhere, but the quality of the food and service is top-notch. 

South Gate Brewing Company – This is a great place for pub fare such as burgers and sandwiches. And of course, beer if that is your thing. There is also a nice selection of appetizers, and we recommend the beer-battered artichoke hearts.

Plazuelas Mexican Restaurant – The desk clerk at our hotel told us that this was the best Mexican food place in the area and maybe the best in Central California. The portions were a pretty good size, the price is reasonable, and best of all, the food is delicious. It always pays to get the desk clerk’s advice. 

Fast Food – If big chains are your thing, Oakhurst had a number of chain restaurants such as McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Pizza Factory, Dennys, etc. We always recommend trying things you can’t get at home, but with the chains, you do always have the peace of mind that the quality and taste will be pretty consistent. 

Places to Stay in Oakhurst

There is quite a selection of lodging places in and around Oakhurst, from camping to high-end hotels. Oakhurst is also the closest place to Yosemite that you can find some of the national hotel brands like Marriott and Holiday Inn. So if you are in a hotel’s member program (like Marriott Bonvoy) and want to earn or use points, there is no other option anywhere near Yosemite.

On our most recent visit to Oakhurst, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn, so we can’t really give first-hand advice on any of the other lodging options in the area. The Fairfield Inn in Oakhurst was nice, though, and the property appeared to be brand new. The staff was friendly, and everything was clean.

We have a friend who swears by the Hounds Tooth Inn, which is a moderately priced small luxury hotel. There you can get a room with a fireplace or even a jacuzzi. 

Nearby Oakhurst

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

There is plenty of stuff to see and do outside of the town of Oakhurst. Obviously, Yosemite National Park is the big attraction in the area, but there is a couple of other places worth taking a look at too.

Bass Lake is a small resort community along the north shore of the Bass Lake reservoir and is less than 10 minutes from Oakhurst. With its temperature reaching up to 80 degrees in the summer, Bass Lake is classified as a “warm water” lake. That makes it an excellent place for water sports such as boating, kayaking, and jet skiing.

A really nice hike that isn’t in Yosemite, so not as crowded as some of the ones you will find there is to Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls via the Lewis Creek National Scenic Trail in the Sierra National Forest. It is a 3.9-mile out-and-back trail that takes you to a picturesque waterfall.

Things to do in Yosemite could take up its own entire article, but with Oakhurst being near the south entrance to the park, visiting Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove is not a very long drive at all. There you can see some of the tallest Giant Sequoias on Earth. You will also find the tunnel tree there, a tree that you can walkthrough. There is a shuttle that takes you two miles from the Mariposa Grove parking lot to the grove entrance, or you can hike it.

Hopefully, this guide helps you get the most out of your visit to Oakhurst and Yosemite National Park. Oakhurst is a great little town and an easy and convenient place to stay when exploring Yosemite and California’s Sierra Nevada region.

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