Every year visitors stream through Mariposa en route to take in the grandeur of Yosemite National Park. If they’re lucky, they will spare some time in downtown Mariposa because it is brimming with a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, a creative art collective, welcoming shops, unique experiences and historic treasures that make this town a worthy destination all on its own.
“Downtown Mariposa is like a breathing, living being,” said Kari Kisela, the membership, communications and events coordinator for the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. “There is always something new blossoming.”
Mariposa is rich with history and the Mariposa Museum and History Center is an excellent starting point for those visitors ready to explore the past. Founded in 1957, the museum tells the stories of the indigenous people, Spanish settlements, gold miners, town founders and the history of Mariposa County and Yosemite. The Smithsonian Institute called it “the best little museum of its size west of the Mississippi.”
The museum has an impressive exhibit highlighting the Miwuk history and culture, including a collection of hand-woven baskets, tools, artifacts and a cedar bark covered teepee.
The museum also has an excellent recreation of what Mariposa looked like during the Gold Rush, with visitors able to peak inside a miner’s cabin, a homestead, the schoolhouse, a saloon and old shops.
Outside the museum is the 5-Stamp Mill, one of the few stamp mills still in operation in the state. There’s also the original Gazette building, which was the home of the Mariposa Gazette newspaper for 70 years. The original press is still operational.
The museum’s gift shop features the works of several local artists and authors.
“There are so many wonderful things to see at the museum,” said Barbara Gunnells, the museum’s office administrator and bookkeeper.
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. It is located at 5119 Jessie Street. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children 12 years and under. First responders and active military with ID cards also get free admission.
Not too far from the museum is the Mariposa County Courthouse, located at 5088 Bullion Street. Built in 1854, the courthouse is the oldest superior courthouse west of the Mississippi and the oldest courthouse in continuous use west of the Rockies.
Mariposa’s attractions are not limited to the past. The downtown area offers several unique experiences to delight the senses. There’s olive oil tasting at CostaLivos Mountain Gold Olive Oil, sound therapy at Hidden Treasure, the collected works to take in at the Sierra Artists’ Gallery and a peaceful stroll along Mariposa Creek in Mariposa Arts Park.
CostaLivos is owned and operated by Don and Kim Costa, who use the olives grown on their seven-acre farm in Mariposa to create an array of flavored olive oils that are particularly good at stimulating the taste buds because of the full-bodied nature of the fruit.
To compliment the olive oils, Kim found balsamic vinegars made in Italy that are 100 percent natural, with no added sugars and aged in casks.
To properly taste olive oil guests are encouraged to follow the four S’s: Swirl to release the aromas; smell the notes in the olive oil; slurp the olive oil around in your mouth to release all the flavors; and finally swallow.
CostaLivos is located at 5029 Highway 140 in Mariposa.
Hidden Treasure is an apt name for Mary Britt’s Mariposa store. Tucked away on the second floor on a side street, it would be easy to pass by this little shop. Britt sells an assortment of gifts for body and soul, but the real treasure is her sound therapy room.
“Sound is an ancient modality of healing and is a method that is used worldwide,” said Britt, who is a certified sound therapist.
Britt uses a variety of instruments in her sound therapy, from chimes to singing bowls to a specially designed gong. The benefits are just as varied, according to Britt.
“It can restore balance, promotes good sleep and help people get into a meditative state,” Britt said. “It’s a very relaxing experience and a real mood-elevator.”
Sound therapy sessions are made by appointment only. Hidden Treasure is located at 5031E Highway 140. To make an appointment call (209) 769-3053.
The Sierra Artists’ Gallery is a cooperative of more than 20 artists from around the region that are able to utilize the gallery space to showcase their art. The art gallery has original art, prints and gifts, including paintings, pastels, sculptures, photographs, cards, drawings, ceramics and jewelry.
“We have a diverse group of artists that together we can promote arts in the region and in the process we all become better artists,” said Hannelore Fischer, the co-president of the cooperative.
The group hosts two major exhibits each year. In March they hold the Elizabeth Specht Memorial Miniature Show and in October they host the Gold Rush Art Show and Sale.
The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily during the summer and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday in the winter. The gallery is located at 6th Street and Highway 140.
For those looking to spend some quality time taking in some natural beauty and fresh air, head to Mariposa Art Park. Nestled at one end of downtown Mariposa, the Arts Park is home to a summer concert series on Friday and Saturday nights. These free concerts begin at 7 p.m. and feature folk, bluegrass, rock, jazz, reggae, country, and world music bands hailing from the Sierra Nevada, Central Valley, and San Francisco.
Flowing alongside the park is the Mariposa Creek and the park offers the start of a nature trail that follows close to it.
Downtown Mariposa has a plethora of unique shops for guests to step into and find one-of-a kind items. Among the many shops are: Bucio Fine Arts and Antiques sells unique art, furniture, and collectibles; Lone Wolf Designs Jewelry and Gifts sells handmade sterling silver and gold jewelry set with a variety of precious stones; Chocolate Soup is a gift shop with a variety of home décor and garden items as well as specialty foods, soaps, candles, children’s toys, kitchen gadgets and more; Brick Wall Boutique and Brick Wall Haberdashery is the go-to stop for fashionable clothing for women and men in Mariposa.
Mariposa is an emerging destination for wine-tasting and there are two great options located in downtown.
Casto Oaks Winery in Mariposa got its start as a hobby for Harold and Kris Casto, but over the years turned into a passion. They went from making wine in their garage that their neighbors didn’t even want to taste, to winning multiple honors. Harold passed away in 2019, but the winery that he and Kris built is continuing to grow with the help of grandson and winemaker Jason Smith. All of the grapes used in Casto Oaks’ red wine varieties are grown in Mariposa County.
The Casto Oaks Fine Wine and Art tasting room is open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Sunday and Monday; and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It is located at 5022 Highway 140 in Mariposa.
The Local Grape is a place to find and taste locally grown and made wines. The wine bar and bottle shop specializes in wines of Mariposa County and the entire Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area. Travis Medlock and his partner Melissa Takahashi opened The Local Grape a couple of years ago and he has led the effort to create the nonprofit Mariposa Wine Alliance to promote the region and attract new wineries and vineyards to the area.
The Local Grape selection of wines includes Gianelli Vineyards, Butterfly Creek Winery, Rauch Ranch Zinfandel, Madrona and Starr Vineyard among many others.
The Local Grape is located at 5021 State Highway 140.
When it comes to dining experiences, Mariposa has plenty of options to delight different palates.
Happy Burger Diner is one of Mariposa’s better known eateries, especially among those making the trek to or from Yosemite. It has been family-owned and operated by three generations since 1995. The menu features classic diner faire and they are known for their burgers, fries and milkshakes. The restaurant is located at 5120 State Highway 140.
1850 Brewing Company was opened by locals Jake and Hanna Wackerman and has rightly gained a name for their impressive menu and craft beer selection. They are open for lunch and dinner and have options that range from burgers, salads, pastas and small plates like the ahi nachos. The grilled salmon, smoked rib eye and the tri tip have all earned reputations as signature dishes at the eatery. They also offer vegan patties or Portobello mushrooms for those wanting a meatless burger option.
The beer menu has seven flagship beers and more seasonal options that are rotated in and out.
1850 Brewing Company is located at 5114 Yosemite All Year Highway.
One of the newer restaurants to the Mariposa dining scene is Little Shop of Ramen, which shares the same space at The Local Grape at 5021 State Highway 140.
The ramen shop was the brainchild of Melissa Takahashi, who abandoned her childhood dream of owning an ice cream shop for ramen.
“Here in Mariposa, the ice cream avenue had been fulfilled, so I thought about what foods I missed the most and the answer was ramen,” Takahashi said.
Takahashi took her time in honing her skills and trying out different recipes. As much as ramen may be marketed as instant, it is in fact a dish that takes time to truly come together. The broth is a triple stock that takes six to eight hours on a slow simmer to meld the flavors. Then Takahashi rests it for 48 hours.
The dough for the noodles takes a half hour to make, followed by a 24 hour rest period. Then the dough is pressed out 20 times and rested another 24 hours before cutting into noodles and ideally, getting a 12 hour rest at that point.
“This is real slow cooking,” Takahashi said with a laugh.
The results have been earning rave reviews. The menu has four types of ramen with different options to customize it, like making it spicy or vegan.
There are plenty of other dining options in downtown Mariposa, like Charles Street Dining House, Savoury’s, Castillo’s Mexican Food and the Pizza Factory.
For more information and resources for visiting Mariposa, visit mariposachamber.org.