Bishop wears a lot of hats; once a year it’s the mule capital of the world, it’s been voted one of the best small towns in the country with the best trail running opportunities, it’s a rock climbing mecca, home to one of the most popular bakeries in the state, there’s world-class fishing, a rich Native American culture, extensive OHV trails and beautiful Bishop Creek Canyon that should be designated a National Park.
It’s a unique place where real cowboys stand in line next to dreadlocked rock climbers and County Supervisors at the annual Lion’s Club Pancake Breakfast.
Named after Samuel A. Bishop in 1862, the City of Bishop was incorporated in 1903. The city proper has a population of about 4,000, with another 10,000 living adjacent to the city limits, and rises to about 30,000 on Mule Days. Situated at 4,100 feet, it lies in one of the deepest valleys in the world, the Sierra Nevada range rising to 14,000 feet.
The jewel of Bishop is the City Park. There are acres of well-groomed grass and shade trees, a pond with ducks, a meandering creek and a dog park. It’s the center for Earth Day celebrations, Christmas Tree lighting, arts and crafts shows and fishing clinics.
With one of the largest non-motorized parades in the world, Mule Days has been invading Bishop every Memorial Day since 1969. It’s part equestrian show, part festival and party. There is a mule days celebrations in all 50 states, but Bishop’s is considered the show.
Nearly every local lodging establishment in Bishop was remodeled in 2016, with prices to fit any budget or life-style from the chains like Motel 6, Ramada, Holiday Inn and Creekside to the locally owned Trees Motel, the Thunderbird and the Elms. Each has its own charm.
The only department store within 150 miles, Kmart, is located next to Vons at the north end of town. Don’t forget Manor Market and its massive beer and wine selection in West Bishop or the slower pace of Joseph’s Bi-Rite Market in the center of town. There are great Mexican markets popping up around town with specialties and a little spice.
Erick Schat’s Dutch Bakkery Located across from the City Park, is a landmark and for many travelers a destination and a tradition, to buy pull-apart or chile cheese bread. Opened it 2003, Great Basin Bakery has been giving Schats some competition with cookies, salads and sandwiches including vegan and vegetarian options, look for the bagel sign on Main Street.
For a pick-me-up, get to Looney Bean Coffee or Black Sheep Coffee across the street. Both places are groovy hangouts to chill in the sun with a Dirty Hippie or cappuccino. More local color can be found at Hing’s Donuts, conveniently located next to Starbucks. If you get there in the morning, say hello to the Thunder and Lightning Group, a local think tank fueled by maple bars and town gossip.
The superb climbing at Buttermilk Boulders and the Owens Valley Gorge had been a secret for decades, but in the last 25 years, word has spread and climbers flock from around the globe to the local rocks, and have created some of the hardest climbing problems in the world.