Small towns, old hotels and new wineries in Calaveras County

As part of a media tour two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit several family-run wineries for tastings and I photographed several historic hotels and hotels in historic buildings in different towns across the Gold Country of Highway 49. Many of the hotels are buildings that date back to the 1850s. Many of the wineries have only been bottling vintages during the past decade.

Angels Camp, Murphys, Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia and Groveland are modern day towns in Calaveras County and Tuolumne County. Most of these towns were founded as gold mining camps in 1848-49 during the first two years of the California Gold Rush. At their peak, these small Sierra Nevada foothills towns had populations from 5,000 to 15,000 residents in the 1850s, larger than they are in 2014.

Tourism and forestry are the big money industries in these parts of California which contain the few public access roads across the Sierra Nevada. Wineries are mostly family-run small businesses in a growing industry today for commercial development. Most tourism revenue is concentrated in the summer months.

Murphys Hotel

Murphys Hotel (1856) Murphys, California off Highway 4 in Calaveras County.

Murphys lobby

Murphys Hotel lobby.

Murphys Hotel was opened in 1856 as the Sperry and Perry Hotel located on the stage route from the railroad to Calaveras Big Trees, California’s famous 19th century tourist attraction of giant Sequoia trees discovered in 1852 about 17 miles east of Murphys on Highway 4. The Calaveras trees along with Yosemite Valley helped create the California State Parks system preserving natural wonders for public enjoyment.

Murphys Hotel is one of California’s oldest continuously run hotels.

Calaveras Big Trees

Giant Sequoia at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The only way to get a sense of the size of a giant Sequoia in a photo is in relation to a familiar sized object standing beside the enormous tree, like an adult person in white.

Buildings from the 1850s are old for California architecture. Aside from the California Missions built of adobe in the 1770s-1790s and a few adobe churches, homes, businesses and public buildings remaining from the 1830s and 1840s in Monterey and San Diego and a few other towns, there are few buildings in California dating earlier than 1860. Most buildings in California were built of wood and brick and periodic fires and earthquakes in all parts of California destroyed and removed much of the mid-19th century architecture from the state.

In contrast to old buildings in Gold Country, the wineries of the Gold Country are relatively new. It is not like this area of California just discovered grapes. At the peak of the gold rush era in the 1850s, more than 100 wineries operated in the Sierra Foothills.

Ayrael Vieux

Bob Eisenman and Linda Stockstill run a small family winery at Ayrael Vieux in Douglas Flat near Murphys, California. This is truly a homegrown business with an annual capacity of only about 400 cases from 1,600 vines on 1.5 acres. I was there on bottling day when the garage was the bottling and packing house for about 150 cases.

Bottling at Ayrael Vieux

One of my favorites out of nearly 20 wine tastings I had over three days, was an Ayrael Vieux 2009 Montepulciano.

Ironstone Winery in Murphys

Our tour of Calaveras County started with meeting in Angels Camp, followed by a trip to Calaveras County Fair to experience the jumping frogs competition and then visits to several wineries. The last winery visited was like the Disneyland of wineries at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, California. This single winery produces 90% of the wine in Calaveras County. More impressive to me is the place handles big corporate events, weddings and has an outdoor concert venue capable of holding over 6,000 guests with regular big name acts in summer. Lady Antebellum is playing there Friday, June 13. ZZ Top and Jeff Beck are playing Friday August 15.

Ironstone amphitheater


Angels Camp, California

In 1849, George Angel started a mining camp here in what turned out to be one of the richest quartz mining sections of the California Mother Lode. Over $100 million in gold was mined in the vicinity. Angels Camp and Murphys, both Calaveras County towns named after people, do not use an apostrophe in their town names.

Angels Hotel

Former Angels Hotel, Angels Camp, California

Angels Hotel dates back to 1851 when it was erected as a canvas tent hotel. The ground structure dates to 1855 and second floor 1857. This building is no longer a hotel. Legend is Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, heard the jumping frog story at Angels Hotel in the winter of 1863-64 and this tale became his first nationally acclaimed story launching his literary career. Mark Twain’s 1865 ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ is still celebrated at the annual Calaveras County Fair on the 3rd weekend in May with bullfrog jumping contests.


The population of Angels Camp grew from 3,000 to 3,800 between 2000 and 2010. Angels Camp at 1,300 feet in elevation is the largest town of Calaveras County today.

Highway 4 Calaveras County maps and location relative to San Francisco

Google Maps Angels Camp

Google Maps Angels Camp and Murphys in Calaveras County in foothills of Sierra Nevada along CA Highway 4. [click to see full-size].

Google Maps Angels Camp in CA

Angels Camp is 135 miles and about a 2.5 hour drive from San Francisco.  Murphys is 8 miles east of Angels Camp on Highway 4. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is 23 miles east of Angels Camp, California, a few miles east of Arnold on Highway 4.

Blogger Disclosure: Calaveras and Tuloumne Tourist Centers and local businesses sponsored a Gold Country media tour I attended May 19-21. Ayrael Vieux Winery and Ironstone Winery were part of the media tour as was my visit to Frogtown at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds for the frog jumping event. Murphys Hotel was not part of the media tour. I photographed the hotel while in Murphys to eat dinner at The Victoria Inn V Restaurant and Bar as part of the media trip.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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