The ghosts of gold mining and Old West lore aren't counted in the population of Bodie. It stands at zero -- officially. But don't let the whispers on the winds, and the rattle of gold pans and spurs spook you. This ghost town sits in the midst of history nearly 150 years deep, history that welcomes 200,000 visitors each year.
The story of Bodie unfolds in the 19th century buildings -- saloon, church, mills ... and gymnasium? -- and 20th century cars, left to rust into the landscape. When you get into town, stop by the old gas station ... just don't expect to fill up.
To get to Bodie from San Francisco, the quickest route is 5 hours, 40 minutes. The first step is to jump on I-80 across the Bay. Tilt south on I-580 and hold on until you clear Livermore. As you get close to Tracy, the number will change to I-205. On the east side of Tracy, the interstate doubles up briefly with I-5 until you hang a right on Highway 120.
Highway 120 will bang into Highway 108 dead center in Oakdale. Turn left (east) and keep on truckin'. Highways 108 and 120 double up for a good stretch. When you curve north going by Keystone (don't blink), the highways will kiss each other goodbye. Around the time you see signs for Chicken Ranch Casino, you'll wonder how you ended up on Highway 49. No worries, you're where you need to be ... It's still Highway 108, too. And stick with it, 108 is your friend, long after 49 cuts north.
Take Highway 108 until you turn south on Highway 395. You're getting there. At Dogtown, you hit the home stretch. Ride Highway 270 to Bodie.
Willing to take a little longer route to run through Yosemite Valley? Where Highways 108 and 120 breakup, take 120 instead. That's your ticket all the way until you reach Highway 395 south of Dogtown. From this direction, turn left (north) on 395 until Dogtown. And then you know what to do ... take Highway 270 east all the way til the ghosts grab you in Bodie.
The Bridgeport Inn holds history in its walls. Built in 1877, this gold mining property is a five-minute walk from East Walker River. It's 12 miles from Bodie, and only 25 miles from Mono Lake and a dip into Yosemite National Park. There is a family-friendly restaurant on-site, serving three meals a day. Lounge and private-label wines also on-hand.
The Silver Maple Inn and The Cain House Country Suites rates among the best in the area for its friendly service and clean comfort. It also offers free bicycle rentals for rockin' and rollin' through town. From here you're a short 15-minute drive to the ghost town in Bodie or daytrip into the heart of Yosemite National Park (one hour each way). Free WiFi, use of barbecue grills and continental breakfast also are included. Pets also are welcome.
The Lake View Lodge in nearby Lee Vining gives you location, location, location if you want a central spot near Bodie, Yosemite National Park and Mono Lake. It's also only a half-hour north of Mammoth Mountain, if you're stoked to strap on a plank or two and hit the winter slopes. And Lake View Lodge has all the amenities you would expect -- refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and cable TV -- to make your stay comfortable.
Epic Cafe in Lee Vining reaps the love with a five-star average rating on Yelp, with more than 100 reviews. Outdoor seating (in season) and a killer tuna melt sandwich are a couple highlights. But paninis, desserts, soups, salads. It's on.
Virginia Creek Settlement Restaurant has it all: steaks, salads, pasta, pizza, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, country-friend steak ... It's the spot for some good old mountain ambience and full-belly eating. It might cost a little more than a quick burger bite, but this unassuming road-side stop will become part of the story you tell your friends when the getaway is gone.
The Burger Barn in Bridgeport. Pretty clear, right? But wait, there's more! If it's Mexican food you're craving, they sling tacos and mean, big-boy burritos (for two?), too. And you can pile up a breakfast platter to kick off your day of playing ghost hunter in Bodie or hanging off walls in Yosemite. Did we mention "large portions"? Reviewers on Yelp often do.
The ghost town once named Bodie was named Bodie State Historic Park more than 50 years ago. It's a town preserved in "arrested decay," a mind-blowing trip through town. Walk the streets and peek in the windows. Admission to the park is $8 for adults and $5 for children 17 years and younger. There are free walk-and-talk history tours, and a stamp mill tour ($6).
The Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport are an area favorite. If you love a hot soak, this is a must-do. The views can't be beat. You can drive to the first pools and, with a short hike, reach deeper into thermal bliss with the jagged Sawtooth Ridge stretched in front of you. Find the springs off Jack Sawyer Rd., east of town.
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve near Lee Vining lays out the outdoor life in spades. Rent kayaks or take canoe tours in summer. Join naturalist-led walk-and-talk sessions, like the one-hour walking tour of the world-famous South Tufa grove, in which you will learn about Mono Lake's million-year old ecosystem. Of course, you can venture on your own hike, too, or wet a line and breath easy while the sun sets in pink.
If a slow cruise is your style or you just want a break from the heat of summer, there are few drives that rival this one. Tioga Road cuts and curls through breath-taking Yosemite National Park. Get out and hike or rope up to climb some of the most storied rock walls in the sport. Or just capture photos from your window and as you pass through, jaw-dropped and in love. There is no wrong in a place that feels so right.
If riding trail on horseback is your thrill or just a first-time/one-time "let's do this!" Leavitt Meadows Pack Station will get you there. They offer one-hour ($35 per person), two-hour ($60) and half-day ($75) rides. Of course, if you want to go all-in for an overnight pack ride, they've got you covered for that, too. It's your adventure. Saddle up!