A winter weekend getaway: top activities in Murphys, California

Last Christmas break, we had planned a short getaway to the winter wonderland (as Sophia says). We had booked three nights at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa And Casino and were very excited about our trip.

The weather in the Sierras is very unpredictable in winter, it can be dry and sunny, or it can snow for days and wreak havoc on the traffic. December 2021 turned out to be the snowiest December on record for the Sierra Nevada, breaking all the previous records. Central Sierra Snow Lab recorded 214 inches (544 cm) of snow that month!

That being said, both major highways leading up to South Lake Tahoe were closed to motorists. Even with the possibility of short-term re-openings, we didn’t want to overload the roads as it was already hard for locals to get home or get food supplies and gas.

The day before our departure, we called the Hyatt Globalist line and asked to cancel our reservation at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa And Casino. A concierge put us on a quick hold meanwhile reaching out to the hotel to see if they could make a cancellation that close to our check-in time and after a few minutes of waiting, the concierge got back to us with some great news: the hotel was very understanding, and they were able to cancel our reservation and refund us the full points amount without any fees.

Since we still had a few days of the winter break left, we decided to look for something a little closer to home with the minimum chance of road closures.

Where to stay

It was a very last-minute decision, and the only available hotel we could find in the proximity to the Sierra Nevada was Murphys Suites in Murphys, CA.

We booked a one-bedroom suite with two queen beds and a little living room. The hotel is located within walking distance of the Historic downtown Murphys. It had an outdoor pool and a hot tub which was closed for the season. Unfortunately, they did not provide breakfast but offered us complimentary mini donuts, coffee, and juice in the morning.

1. Visit Downtown Murphys

The little town of Murphys is located right in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range; it’s about 20 minutes to Arnold and the Calaveras Big Trees State Park and 50 minutes to the Bear Valley ski resort.

In the 1800s, Murphys was one of the gold mining settlements; today, the charming historic downtown offers wine tasting from local wineries, art galleries, antique shops, and fine dining.

2. Play in a snow

When we arrived, it had not snowed yet, and the locals said they were rarely getting snow at this elevation, but they were expecting it this year nevertheless.

The very next morning, we woke up to a completely different scenery; everything was sparkly white!

After breakfast, we went for a walk around the hotel to play in the snow. It was Zoe’s first time being in the snow, and she wasn’t very impressed, to say the least. Snow was still falling in the morning, and she didn’t like the snowflakes on her face most of all.

Somehow we managed to build a snowman anyway; Sophia was really excited despite her facial expression in the picture below.

3. Have hot cocoa at one of the cozy diners in the area

From the beginning, we did not plan skiing or snowboarding; this trip was just a short getaway to experience the “real winter” and to get into the Christmas spirit, where kids can have fun in the snow. So we didn’t even have a specific plan and just played it by ear.

The road to Arnold was open, and we decided to take a short drive there for lunch. We stopped at Bristol’s Ranch House Cafe and enjoyed brunch and some hot cocoa while watching the snow falling; the warm Christmas atmosphere was all around in every little detail.

4. Have dinner at the saloon in Murphys Historic Hotel

For dinner, we ventured out to the Murphys downtown and went to the saloon at Murphys Historic Hotel. The hotel was built in 1856 and is one of the longest-operating hotels in California! The saloon was serving the menu from the restaurant and, to our surprise, had gourmet food.

5. Visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park

The next morning welcomed us with clear skies, and we could finally go higher into the mountains. We drove to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park to see the majestic sequoias in winter. It was pretty impressive to see these giants covered in snow.

Living so close to the redwoods, we absolutely love being in the forest, but we are also so accustomed to the evergreen colors that this winter forest looked so different but equally stunning.

The fresh and fluffy snow was ideal for sledding, so we went looking for a perfect hill for the occasion and found it! The girls took turns sledding down the hill with dad and were happily giggling.

6. Have dinner at V Restaurant, Bistro & Bar

For dinner, we went to the V Restaurant, Bistro & Bar at the Victoria Inn on Murphys Main street. The menu offered small bites, entrees, and quality drinks, and the staff was very friendly and understanding (one of the ladies brought us some bread for Zoe, saying, “I noticed the little one is a little fussy. Maybe this would help.”) ❤️.

After the dinner, we took a short stroll down the Main street to enjoy fresh air and Christmas lights. That concluded our third and last evening in the town.

Bottom Line

Overall, it was a great trip. Murphys is rich in gold rush history and has a charming downtown with historic architecture, great restaurants, and wine-tasting rooms. The little town hosts festivals all year round and welcomes guests from all over the country for a big St. Patrick’s Day celebration and an Irish Day parade!

We grew up in a place where winters are long and harsh, and as much as we love snow, now we feel like a couple of little trips to the snowy mountains per year is enough for us. The kids don’t like bundling up in extra layers of clothing and getting wet. Also, driving on winter roads is always challenging; even if you’re an experienced driver, you must always use extra caution and slow down!

We loved Murphys’ proximity to the mountains yet being within a relatively short drive from home. This time the weather did not permit us to explore the area thoroughly, but we are definitely coming back!

Leave a Comment