Established by Mexicans digging for gold—reminiscent of the Sonora State in, Mexico—during the California Gold Rush, Sonora was a booming trade and industry center in the California Mother Lode. Most of the removable gold using conventional mining techniques was quickly removed, leaving miners to utilize more complex and costly mining methods to reach the deep pockets of quartz and gold. Sonora along with other mother lode mining towns experienced financial hardship when the value of gold diminished. When easier available gold deposits dried up, miners and businesses realized mining the gold was more costly than it was worth. As "gold fever" faded away, Sonora's size and populace steadily diminished over the years.
A town museum helps to remind visitors and locals of the the Gold Rush time and what Sonora was once like.
The local economy was once based upon the mining and timber industries, yet now depends on tourism. One of two lumber mills in Tuolumne County was closed down in 2009, although reopened in July 2011.
As the nearest city to Yosemite National Park, Sonora provides goods and services to many of Yosemite's guests. The city additionally benefits by being close to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
Similar to most of the other mining towns, fire was a constant threat in Sonora. For the most part Sonora escaped the danger of fire in its first years, having just a single little fire in 1849. However, in June, 1852 the Sonora Great Fire happened, burning just about every building in the town which resulted in the streets being widened and a Fire Department was created. The town was rebuilt, with brick being the preferred building material. Two small fires during 1853 and a fire in 1854 were kept from spreading by fire fighters