On the southwest shore of pristine Mono Lake at an elevation of 6781 feet (2067 meters), Lee Vining is situated in some of California’s most gorgeous mountain scenery. During the winter, this mountainous region becomes a cross-country skier’s paradise. Hotels in Lee Vining are popular with visitors who enjoy winter recreation sports like skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing and snowmobiling. Only 15 miles south of Lee Vining, June Mountain Ski Resort offers comparatively lower winter skiing rates on their downhill runs for both novices and experts. Lee Vining Canyon draws many adventurous visitors because it’s one of only two ice climbing venues in California. During the spring, summer and fall, the region is a fisherman’s paradise where trout-filled streams and lakes are abundant. Local fishermen recommend Mill Creek, Rush Creek, Lee Vining Creek, Lundy Lake, Saddlebag Lake, Ellery Lake and Tioga Lake.
Of course, Yosemite National Park, which is only 12 miles west of Lee Vining, attracts tourists from all over the world and the scenic drive from Lee Vining to Yosemite along Highway 120 climbs almost 10,000 feet to Tioga Pass as it winds through old-growth forests and passes by lakes and meadows. Another tourist attraction near Lee Vining is Bodie State Park because it features the famous ghost town named Bodie. Other picturesque locations to visit include Mono Lake County Park and nearby South Tufa with its strange mysterious limestone tower formations.
Lee Vining originated as a small mining camp in 1852. In 1953 it was officially named Lee Vining after Leroy Vining who founded the original mining camp and in the 2010 census the population was only 222 people. Because the economy depends on tourism and the town is so small, you’ll find family owned businesses such as Beaver’s Sporting Goods & Hardware at 51328 Highway 395. Owned by the Beaver family, the store specializes in fishing, hunting, and camping supplies, RV parts, tools, hardware and casual sports clothing. Open all year round, Nicely's Restaurant at 51343 Highway 395 is a 1950's-style classic American diner serving breakfasts, lunches and dinners daily. Be sure to see the unique Upside-Down House that was built by Nellie Bly O'Bryan, a silent film actress.
It’s about 300 miles from San Francisco to Lee Vining along I-80 east to US-50 toward Lake Tahoe, then connecting to US-395 south, and the total driving time is over 5 hours. While you’re in Lee Vining, you can visit the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center and the Mono Basin Historical Society Museum to see interpretive displays and learn more about the area’s natural history.