We arrived at San Jose airport at dusk and spent the two-hour drive to Lazy Z Resort in winding darkness. When the sun peaked through our cabin’s curtains the following morning, I was up and out, breathing in the forest and marvelling at a herd of startled, galloping deer. It was as though I’d stepped into Narnia’s wardrobe; London felt very far away.
Where to Stay: Lazy Z Resort
Lazy Z, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is as much loved by Californians escaping to the national forests and parks for their annual family vacation, as it is for jet-setters seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience. The hideaway offers 13 cabins and cottages, a pool edged with waterfalls (that send you into a meditative state), and a model American clubhouse. Staying here situates you nicely between Tuolumne County’s stunning Stanislaus National Forest and historic Gold Rush towns, Alicia’s Sugar Shack and Cover’s Apple Ranch (drool below), and leads you quietly into Yosemite National Park, free from crowds driving straight from San Francisco.
- Overnight stay at Lazy Z Resort($140-$285 per night depending on cabin size)
Where to Eat: Alicia’s Sugar Shack
“It’s Just A Coffee House Made Out of Wood, Espresso Coffee Tastes’ Mighty Good!”
A 10-minute cruise down Highway 108 into Sugarpine will land you at Alicia’s Sugar Shack. Alicia, one of the friendliest people on the mountain, lures in hungry nature-lovers about to embark on a day of outdoor activity, as well as a troop of loyal locals. The smell of freshly baked handmade pastries and brewed Italian coffee fills the shack and makes you feel at home.
The menu is a hearty balance of sweet and savoury. I opted for the Açai Bowl with all the toppings, and others dove into the Eggs and Bacon, the Breakfast Burrito (winner), and as a table, we shared the Biscuits and Gravy, a hearty Southern American stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish. Delicious. Alicia candidly toured us around her Italian-equipped kitchen, where she bakes fresh for her cafe as well as for private clients. I had to ask as she bid us farewell with a complimentary bag full of cookies (snickerdoodle, oatmeal, chocolate chip), “Alicia, where do you put it!”, to which she chuckled, “Oh my, I don’t eat it!”. Words of warning for the loyal locals.
What to Do: Kayaking on Pinecrest Lake
A 25-minute drive out of Sugarpine towards Pinecrest Lake allowed our food to digest and kept our claws from grabbing at the cookie bag. Reluctantly, we locked our cameras in the car and made our way to the recreation centre, passing, what I’d like to imagine was a Boy Scout meeting. We wobbled into our kayaks and worked our paddles onto the 300-acre lake, wonderfully fringed with pine trees parted by the occasional vacation cabin. If you own more than one kayak you should consider the best kayak carrier.
The summer sees an influx of locals enjoying the cooler climate of the mountains, 5,600 feet in elevation, but while we were there the lake was calm, warm, and beautifully untouched by other paddles. We swam, chatted, and like snakes, lay on large flat stones soaking up the autumnal sun. If you’re not into kayaking, I’d recommend the 6.5-mile hike to Cleo’s Bath, a gorgeous and secluded swimming hole.
Where to Eat: Cover’s Apple Ranch
We arrived at the perfect moment: apple-picking season. The ranch, family-run for generations, serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon cakes and coffee-on-tap (which our kayaked-out bodies were in the market for). We went for the infamous Mile High Apple Pie and pancakes (we’re on holiday), accompanied by Cover’s homemade apple sauce. The ranch, with its fascinating history of economic boom – Tuolumne County once sold itself as “The land of promise for apple growers” – as well fire-destroying tragedy, continue to:
“perpetuate the long-standing reputation of quality homemade pies, turnover and breads”
They’re certainly doing a great job. When your energy levels are back up, visit the Ranch’s farm, tour the apple cider factory, and take a ride on the mini model steam train that tours visitors around the orchards.
Retreat back to Lazy Z
On the verge of a pie-coma, head back to Lazy Z, chill by the pool and read your book. Your time in Tuolumne County is about to go from kayaking to haunted saloons. Stay tuned for my next post on California’s incredible (and heavily overlooked) Gold Rush towns: Sonora, Jamestown and Groveland.
Plan your trip
Head to visittuolumne.com
Nearest airports include San Francisco and San Jose – Tuolumne County is a 2.5-hour drive from there.
British Airways flies from London Heathrow to San Jose from £387 return including taxes/fees/carrier charges.
To book, please visit ba.com or call 0344 493 0122.
Car hire from San Jose with Hertz (starts from £25 a day)
For an epic road trip behind the wheel of an iconic American vehicle, check out Hertz new American Collection