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Groveland

By CARY ORDWAY

Country inns and lodgings of all kinds are working overtime nowadays coming up with marketing ideas to call more attention to their offerings, but one combination in particular really caught our eye: outdoor concerts at a historic inn just a half hour from one of the nation's premiere national parks, Yosemite.

If there's a getaway that seems to hit all the buttons, this one is it. Outdoor concerts are fun anytime, but combine that with a unique lodging experience and unforgettable scenery and you have one of those getaways that people will travel some distance to experience.

The Groveland Hotel is located in the small town of Groveland, California, and offers something they call the Yosemite Courtyard Theatre in which they take their outdoor patio and convert it to a concert venue a half-dozen or more times each summer. Over the past few years the concerts have been so successful that the hotel now has a big-time venue seating chart on its website where you can choose exactly which of the 100 available seats you will occupy.

Yes, it's an intimate setting – but that makes it even better.

The artists tend to be tribute bands – groups that copy the appearance and sound of famous bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and, of course, Elvis. Tickets are reasonably priced, ranging from $15 to $35 a seat. The most expensive act this year was Paperback Writer, a Beatles tribute band that plays regularly at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

According to Front Desk Manager and Event Coordinator Jim Novak, concert-goers are about evenly divided between visitors and local residents. Lodging packages are available if you're staying at the Groveland Hotel, which has 17 uniquely decorated rooms. The historic inn features Victorian furniture, plush featherbeds, private baths, a full-service saloon and free wifi/internet access for all rooms. This is a bed-and-breakfast inn so, included in your stay, will be a breakfast that includes a variety of fresh-baked goods, egg dishes, cereals, yogurt, coffee, tea, juices and fruits.

The Groveland Inn also has received excellent reviews for the "California-fresh cuisine" served in its restaurant, which has also been recognized by Wine Spectator Magazine for its extensive wine list. The menu includes sales, fish, pasta and steaks all prepared with seasonal ingredients.

The tiny town of Groveland is on the most direct, scenic route to Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay area – Highway 120. Just about 26 miles up the road is Yosemite National Park's north entrance.

Another great accommodation in Groveland is the Hotel Charlotte, also a historic property that was purchased a few years ago by Lynn Upthagrove and her husband, Victor. As Lynn explains it, the hotel was "a little tired" when they bought it, but they then began extensive renovations with just about everything in the hotel replaced except the walls. The result is a charming Old West kind of hotel layout that is more bed-and-breakfast than it is hotel. When we stayed at the hotel, our room was not especially large, but it was well furnished with an antique-style bed, flat-screen TV, sitting area, bathroom and an over-size oval bathtub with shower curtains surrounding it.

The breakfast that is included with the room at Hotel Charlotte features pancakes and eggs and several other items such as cereals and pastries. At night, the breakfast area becomes a gourmet restaurant where Victor cooks up a variety of dishes he has mastered while working with various specialty chefs and by growing up in a restaurateur family.

The town of Groveland is one of several former Gold Rush towns in this part of the state and it still has that Western Main Street feel to it. Across the street from Hotel Charlotte is the Iron Door Saloon, where it feels like a bar out of your favorite Western - and where they serve surprisingly good food. Up the street a piece is the old Town Jail that has been lovingly restored just for the tourists to come and view what Frontier Justice was really like.

On our trip to Groveland, we found it to be a quick and scenic climb from there into Yosemite National Park. The Sequoia forests and scenery didn't just start at the entrance to the park - these special vistas were evident well before we approached the park boundaries and visible in every direction. It's not far from the Highway 120 entrance to the Yosemite Valley where we soon were enjoying grand views of the rock walls that have made Yosemite so famous. It's not hard to see why Yosemite is considered to be the "Crown Jewel" of the National Park System - the towering granite cliffs are the result of earthquakes, glaciers and other forces that have been at work here for millions of years. In all, the park encompasses about 1,170 square miles of pristine forests, waterfalls, and alpine lakes, but visitors are most awe-struck by these walls of granite that dwarf their surroundings.

Soon after entering the Valley we encountered Bridal Veil Falls, one of the park's most famous sights and easily visible after an easy 10-minute walk from the parking lot. The runoff during the fall season undoubtedly is less than in the springtime, but even the relative trickle of water cascading down the sheer rock cliff was impressive. Visitors couldn't help but be tempted by the stair-step rocks leading to a closer view of the falls - even though a sign offers a stern warning that "fatalities have occurred" climbing on these sometimes slippery rocks.

Further down the road, there it was - El Capitan - perhaps the most famous of the park landmarks, and a stunner the first time you view it up close. Even during our off-season visit, dozens of cars were parked alongside of the road while their occupants stood by staring upward at this 4,000-foot rock wall. It was difficult to imagine people actually climbing El Capitan, but they do. As they say, each to his own. And so it goes when you're visiting Yosemite - a different spectacular sight every few minutes as you drive through stands of Sequoia or Pine trees, stopping at trailheads to walk even further into the wilderness where you cross babbling brooks and enjoy numerous sightings of wildlife such as the Western Gray Squirrels, Golden Eagles or Peregrine Falcons.

Combine that with a historic inn and a fun outdoor concert and you have the makings for a memorable California getaway.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Yosemite National Park is in Northern California, about 90 miles east of Fresno and is accessible from Highway 99 by taking Highway 120, Highway 140 or Highway 41. You'll find Groveland on Highway 120, about 26 miles west of the north entrance to Yosemite National Park.

WHAT: Yosemite National Park is considered the "Crown Jewel" of the National Park System and is one of California's most popular tourist attractions. The variety of scenery and numerous natural attractions can be explored for days, even weeks. Add to that an outdoor concert and you have a getaway experience that is quite unique.

WHEN: Year-round, although some lodgings are closed in winter, and roads can be treacherous. If you're bothered by crowds, consider visiting in fall and spring when there are fewer visitors, yet natural beauty abounds. The Groveland concerts, however, are only offered during the summer season.

WHY: Yosemite National Park offers a wide variety of scenic and natural attractions for all ages. The concerts at the Groveland Hotel are fun, and the town itself is a charming place to stay that is a little bit away from the crowds of Yosemite.

HOW: For more information on the concerts at the Groveland Hotel, phone 1-800-273-3314 or visit www.groveland.com. Upcoming concerts include the BluesBox Bayou Band, July 10; Johnny Cash Tribute, July 24; The Unauthorized Rolling Stones, Sept. 4; Jack Foltyn as Elvis, Sept. 11 and 12. For more information on Yosemite National Park, phone 209-372-0200 or visit www.nps.gov/yose/. For more information on Hotel Charlotte, phone 209-962-6455 or visit hotelcharlotte.com.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: Be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Laguna Beach, La Jolla and Coronado.



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