If you want try your own hands at watercolor painting, photography, or journaling during your Yosemite vacation, there are plenty of opportunities for adults and children of all ages to do so, whether you're looking for a short introductory class or a multi-day field trip. Throughout the year, there are also vibrant art, music, and cultural festivals happening throughout the Sierra Nevada region, many conveniently inside or nearby Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite Valley and Wawona Arts
If you're feeling inspired, there's no better place to start on a path of creative self-expression than in Yosemite Valley. There you'll find the Yosemite Art and Education Center, which is run by the nonprofit Yosemite Association. The center schedules free art classes and workshops in everything from watercolor painting to travel sketching between May and October. Classes are usually offered from Wednesday to Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. and finishing around 2 p.m. Advance registration is only accepted in person the day before the class. If you left your art supplies at home, the center also sells everything you'll need. For more information, visit www.yosemite.org or http://yosemiteart.blogspot.com online.
In summer, the Yosemite Theatre next to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center stages live evening performances, sometimes with historical reenactors presenting characters like John Muir or "buffalo soldiers," the African American veterans of the Civil War who were first assigned to protect many of the parklands in the Sierra Nevada region.
Also in the valley, The Ahwahnee Hotel hosts arty festivals and events, especially during winter. In mid-December, the Bracebridge Dinners transform the hotel's dining room into the manor of a Renaissance English lord, complete with live music and entertainment. In early March, the Heritage Holidays celebrate the Roaring Twenties with costumed revelry, dancing, and live period music, from big bands to torch singers.
The park's official music historian, pianist Tom Bopp, often performs during special events like these at the Ahwahnee. But his most regular gig is entertaining the crowds with vintage songs and stories about the history of Yosemite in the lobby of the Wawona Hotel, typically between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday evenings during peak summer season.
Tuolumne Meadows Arts
When summer arrives in Yosemite National Park, the Tuolumne Meadows highlands area off Tioga Road is one of the most visually appealing places to visit. Any day of the week, you can make your own photo safari by taking nature walks among the meadows or by hiking to alpine lakes and waterfalls. Viewpoints atop granite domes and rocky promontories like Olmsted Point are also meccas for photographers, who know to show up around sunset to capture the rosy alpenglow on nearby peaks.
Also in the Tuolumne Meadows area, the historic Parsons Memorial Lodge dates from 1915 and was once home to the Sierra Club, founded by conservationist John Muir. In mid-August, the lodge hosts the Tuolumne Meadows Poetry Festival. Free to the public (no tickets or reservations required), this musical and literary festival features writers' workshops and spoken word and musical performances.
Note that the Tioga Road through the Tuolumne Meadows area is usually only open from early June until mid-October.
Hetch Hetchy Arts
Over Memorial Day weekend in late May and Labor Day weekend in early September, the Strawberry Music Festivals take place at Camp Mather, just outside Hetch Hetchy in the northwestern corner of Yosemite National Park. During the festivals, multi-generational families gather for musical concerts, swimming, storytelling, arts-and-crafts workshops, and lots of other good, old-fashioned fun. For more information and advance ticket sales, visit www.strawberrymusic.com or call (209) 984-8630.