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By Nora Heston Tarte


Murphys is best known for its Gold Country setting, its numerous wineries and surprisingly chic restaurants. But there’s another side of Murphys that often goes unexplored. Those in the know are keen on the quaint gold mining town’s secret identity as an adventursome escape for families.

So grab your brood and head toward the Sierra Nevada. Tucked away in Calaveras County, just a couple of hours from the hustle and bustle of the bay, sits a spot brimming with opportunities for family fun in the great outdoors.

First off, pick your hotel. The Murphys Historic Hotel on Main Street, for example, is walking distance to all the downtown attractions you’ll want to visit, and it’s fun to explore the historic landmark’s rich history; the hotel first opened in 1856. Chat up the staff to find out more about the inn’s place in gold mining culture, and sneak in a few history lessons about some of its notable guests, including President Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony and John Wayne.

Once you’re checked in, take a short walk down to the water, where a playground awaits, perfect for getting the wiggles out after a couple of car-bound hours. There’s a small out-of-order jail nearby, too. Kids will get a kick out of visiting the cell’s only resident — a (fake) skeleton who has lived there for quite a while. The jail is a photo op these days, but it once played a more serious role, holding town drunks overnight.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the no-fuss Firewood eatery. You won’t find foie gras or seafood specials here, but the menu brims with kidfriendly dishes that adults will enjoy, too. It’s the type of place where patrons won’t get mad if your kids get up to explore the firehouse decor, including axes for door handles and an upstairs reminiscent of a real firehouse, while adults sip a cold beer.

It’s easy to explore Murphys’ compact downtown, with its Victorian architecture and towering trees, which provide ample shade in summer. Shops sell everything from home decor to cookware, but kids’ favorites undoubtedly will be the Murphys Village Toy Store, a darling toy shop filled with Melissa & Doug favorites and Bruder trucks, and JoMa’s Artisan Ice Cream, where the mint chip is white and counter staff can tell you why.

When you’re done exploring the wine-and-dine downtown, seek adventure in the forest. The rugged outdoors is more country than town, boasting cavern spelunking and treetop zip lines — adventures hard to come by at home.

Family-friendly activities abound at Moaning Caverns, for example, all year round. Anyone 12 and older who meets height requirements can go spelunking in the caves.

Younger guests can hit the zip lines to tandem zip with their parents. When you’re done, climb the custom- built 32-foot-tall climbing tower and take a walking tour of the caves.

End the trip with some culture. On September weekends, the Murphys Creek Theater company is presenting Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” — and tickets are a steal.

First opened in 1856, Murphys Historic Hotel has hosted famous guests such as Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain.


Stroll down to the park in Murphys, where a graceful gazebo stands tall.


Rappeling down one of the state’s largest vertical chambers is one feature of Moaning Caverns in Vallecito.


An eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms line Main Street in Murphys.


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