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Yosemite National Park, CA

Best Restaurants in Yosemite National ParkOur favorites include some of this destination's best local restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

Let's be honest—Yosemite isn't about food. When you're face to face with some of the most awe-inspiring views on Earth, dinner isn't the first thing that pops into your head—although raising a glass to the heavens from atop Half Dome makes perfect sense for acknowledging the grandeur of it all.

Of course hiking, backpacking and rock climbing—or just seeing the sights from the comfort of a tour tram—will work up an appetite. But Yosemite isn't about restaurants, either. This is more of a “pack a picnic lunch” or “grab something on the go” destination than a place to sample adventurous fusion cuisine or savor the gastronomical delights of a multicourse meal.

There is one stunner of a restaurant within the park, though: The Ahwahnee Dining Room in The Ahwahnee . This magnificent space has 34-foot-tall beamed ceilings, massive wrought-iron chandeliers, granite pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Yosemite Valley . Breakfast, lunch and dinner are uniformly excellent, but go in the evening for the full impact of the restaurant's understated elegance. Resort casual attire—long pants and a collared shirt for men, and dresses, skirts or long pants and blouses for women—is required.

The food is executed with special flair, whether it's an appetizer of Dungeness crabcake with sweet white corn relish and roasted red pepper gazpacho, Caesar salad gussied up with fried capers and sourdough croutons, or a roasted chicken breast sharing the plate with chorizo risotto, green beans, currant tomatoes and a peppery chardonnay sauce. Suggestions from the extensive wine list accompany each entrée.

Otherwise, dining options in Yosemite Valley tend to focus on cafeterias, delis and carry-outs. One of the most popular things to do is to spread out a picnic feast surrounded by the natural glories of Tuolumne Meadows or within sight of one of the park's spectacular waterfalls. Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village creates made-to-order sandwiches, along with salads and snacks.

Also at Yosemite Village is the Village Grill, convenient for a quick burger or sandwich. The food court in the Yosemite Valley Lodge offers burgers, pizza, sandwiches, salads and baked goods and is open all year, not always a given at this seasonal destination. Stock up on supplies or picnic fixings at the grocery stores and markets in Mariposa, Oakhurst and El Portal.

The following places to eat are within 10-20 miles of the SR 120 and SR 41 park entrance gates. Due to traffic (heaviest in the summer months) and the twisty, winding roads, count on an hour or more of travel time to reach Yosemite Valley from any of these places, or to get to them from the valley.

Oakhurst offers choices from down home to divine. Perhaps the most exquisite spot in the Sierras for a special eating occasion is Erna's Elderberry House Restaurant , in the equally exquisite Château du Sureau . Surrounded by—appropriately enough—elderberry bushes, both the lovely restaurant and the intimate 12-room inn could have been whisked straight from the French countryside. The three dining rooms are graced with antique furnishings, oil paintings and beautiful tapestries. Entrées emphasize seasonal ingredients: pan-seared Tasmanian sea trout with heirloom tomatoes, polenta and a braised leek puree, or grilled Angus beef accompanied by sweet potato bread pudding and rosewater-glazed asparagus. And from the beginning amuse bouche to meal-ending petit fours, service is impeccable and unfailingly gracious.

Big Trees Lodge, on Wawona Road near the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, has been receiving guests since the late 19th century. This Victorian-style lodging has an equally quaint dining room—high-backed chairs and tables set with cloth linens. It's a bright, airy setting for breakfast (pancakes, French toast, build-your-own omelets) or a buffet-style lunch. One fun thing to do with friends is to sit on the outdoor patio; it’s a great spot to watch the sun set. And if you're departing Yosemite, the bountiful Sunday brunch will leave you with fond memories of this little corner of California.

See all the AAA recommended restaurants for this destination.

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Yosemite National Park, CA

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Best Western Plus Yosemite Way Station Motel

4999 Hwy 140. Mariposa, CA 95338

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3228 Main St. Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

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Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn

40530 Hwy 41. Oakhurst, CA 93644

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