The simultaneous use of several thermochronological methods on replicate sedimentary rock samples can reveal their pre- and postdepositional history. Single grain U/Pb dating of zircon, zircon and apatite fission track dating, and vitrinite reflectance measurements were performed on Cretaceous through Miocene sedimentary rocks of the Great Valley Group and the Temblor Formation near Coalinga and New Idria, California. The data show that the Sierra Nevada was exhumed and cooled at ∼0.5–1 km/m.y. or ∼20 °C/m.y. during the Cretaceous. After deposition in the Great Valley forearc basin, Sierra Nevada erosional products were buried at great depth under low thermal gradients. At ca. 12–14 Ma, northward progression of the Mendocino triple junction triggered folding on the eastern flanks of the California Coast Ranges and rapid exhumation of the New Idria serpentinite diapir. This middle Miocene event caused the deposition of spectacular deposits of sedimentary serpentinite (Big Blue Formation). The rapid rise of the hot serpentinite body created a thermal pulse that may have provided the enigmatic heat source for oil fields in the shallow Vallecitos syncline, a few kilometers north of New Idria.