Last Updated on June 4, 2021 by Paroma
Are you looking for some of the best day trips from Sacramento? If so, this post has you covered on the top destinations in Northern California that can be covered in a day with Sacramento as your base. Read this post to find some of the best small towns, cities and attractions that you can visit from Sacramento along with itinerary ideas for each of them. I’ve done the legwork for you already with my trips, so sit back, relax and enjoy these Sacramento day trip ideas!
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Day trips from Sacramento: What’s there to see near California’s capital?
I’ve often ranted in my previous posts about Sacramento (California’s capital city) which does not get as much love as the more glamorous coastal cousins like San Francisco or Los Angeles. Home to the largest number of farm to fork restaurants in the state and some envious street art, Sacramento is also located strategically in Northern California and is near to some of its most beautiful cities and attractions.
From lesser known small towns to more popular attractions, there are several interesting destinations near Sacramento that can be easily covered as day trips from the city. Much like day trips from the Bay Area, these getaways from Sacramento are the perfect way to get a taste of the diversity that Northern California has to offer, especially this part of the state that is known for its verdant farmlands.
Since day trips are best enjoyed with the least amount of driving involved, I have chosen almost all destinations that qualify as Sacramento day trips which are within driving time of 2 hours and under (one way, traffic conditions favoring), barring one which is the very last in this list (but also the most enchanting one that I simply could exclude). For each of these spots, I will provide several bucket list or itinerary ideas to fit in your day trip schedule.
Things to know before you plan your Sacramento day trips
Here are several things to keep in mind while planning for day trips near Sacramento. These are as follows:
a) Except for traveling to San Francisco, you will need a car/private vehicle for your day trips. You can easily rent a car at Sacramento airport or in the city itself.
b) Sacramento gets extremely hot during summer because it is landlocked. No wonder then that city is also an excellent winter getaway if visiting California during Nov-March. For the best day trip experiences from this city, I highly recommend traveling anytime except summer.
c) Sacramento is an extremely dog friendly town and so are almost all of these day trips. So please don’t leave your dog behind while exploring these towns and attractions near Sacramento.
And now, without further ado, here are the best day trip ideas to explore if you’re in or visiting Sacramento and have some extra time on your hands. For your convenience, the destinations are listed on the order of distance (nearest ones first).
Interested in more Northern California Posts? Then check these out:
Best day trip ideas to explore near Sacramento
1. Take a break in Davis
Distance from Sacramento: 15 miles
Davis is a charming university town in Yolo county, right next to Sacramento county and is a mere 20 minutes drive west of Sacramento. Home to UC Davis, this university town is brimming with good eats, culture and arts and is a perfect mini break from Sacramento. The small size of this town makes it perfect for exploring during a short visit. Here are a few things to do when in Davis:
- Explore downtown Davis and the many art installations on the streets (they have a 2nd Friday artwalk as well)
- Enjoy outdoor dining at Davis Commons
- Get a scoop of handcrafted ice cream from the famous Davis Creamery
- Stop by one of the several art galleries to enjoy local art-I highly recommend the Artery
- Enjoy the outdoors-go hiking in Putah Creek Riparian Reserve or stroll through the T. Elliot Weier Redwood grove
- Visit the UC Davis Arboretum-best time to go is definitely Spring!
2. Enjoy California’s farm life at Winters and Woodland
Distance from Sacramento: 20 miles (Woodland), 31 miles (Winters)
Both Winters and Woodland are primarily agrarian towns in Yolo County, west and north-west to Sacramento. Yolo County is the nut capital of the state from where we get our precious almonds, pecans and other goodies (California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, by the way).
The best time to visit these towns is undoubtedly Spring to see the delicate, ephemeral almond blossoms that are a vision of white beauty. Visit between mid Feb-mid March after which these short lived blossoms are gone. Your best bet to see them is at farms along county road 98, Highway 16 and almond orchards outside of Winters. Please be respectful of the fact that these are private farms and do not trespass if there signs asking you to stay out. Here are some of the best things to do in Winters and Woodland on a day trip from Sacramento; fit in whatever you can based on your schedule:
- See the apple blossoms (mid February-mid March)
- Visit the charming downtown in Winters
- Go wine tasting at Main Street Cellars (downtown) or visit one of the nearby wineries/vineyards (see list here)
- Go on a farm tour of the historic Olive Mill at Seka Hills in Capay Valley
- Enjoy the outdoors at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve
- Stop by for an happy hour at The Palms Playhouse for food, drinks and live music
- Hike around Lake Berryessa to see the wildflowers in bloom in Spring
- Visit the retro automobile Reiff’s Museum, Yolo County Historical Museum or California Agriculture Museum in Woodland
- Catch a show at the historic Woodland Opera House Theatre
- Grab a bite to eat at the Burger Saloon, indulge in upscale dining at Kitchen 428 and savor some beer at Blue Note Brewing Company (voted best brewery in Yolo county)
- Stop to smell the roses at the beautiful rose garden surrounding the public library in Woodland
- Go river rafting in Cache Canyon river
- Visit the Lavender farms in Capay Valley or enjoy the yearly lavender festival at Cache Creek Lavender farms
3. Indulge in some wine tasting at Lodi
Distance from Sacramento: 36 miles
Sacramento is pretty close to the world famous Napa Valley, the crowning jewel of California’s wine country. Although thousands of wine enthusiasts flock to Napa every year, the one tiny city that is often passed up is Lodi, the Zinfandel capital of the world!
Lodi’s is home to some of the most beautiful, yet affordable wineries in California and is perfect for those of you who love the wine tasting experience minus the steep price tag and crowds. Lodi is an easy day trip from Sacramento (40 minutes drive south) and here are the best things to do in this town:
- Goes without saying, but go for some wine tasting here. My guide on the different Lodi wineries can come handy
- Spend some quiet time near Lodi Lake
- Explore downtown Lodi which is supercute and charming
- Try the “Lodi Grape Pie” pizza at Smack Pie Pizza
- Go for a romantic dinner at Towne House Restaurant
4. Explore Napa Valley as a day trip from Sacramento
Distance from Sacramento: 71 miles
Napa Valley is synonymous with California wine country and is one of the most romantic getaways in Northern California. Although the primary attraction here is undoubtedly tasting the delicious, bold red Cabernets at the different big and small wineries, there is a wealth of things to do this region if you’re not into drinking wine. Napa’s unparalleled natural beauty, rolling vineyards and a world class dining scene is perfect for an indulgent day trip from Sacramento!
Since a day trip to Napa from Sacramento does not involve a lot of time, I highly suggest picking one or two towns in Napa Valley for wine tasting and other activities. Also, remember to make prior reservations for all your wine tasting. Here are some of the best things to do in Napa Valley on a day trip:
- Go wine tasting (and, winery tour) in large wineries or small, boutique wineries to taste Napa’s delicious, bold Cabernets-here are some of the best Napa wineries for first timers
- Get a seat on the popular Napa Valley Wine Train -a three hour round trip through the heart of Napa Valley with world famous dining and stops at some of the best wineries in the valley
- Drive down the scenic Silverado Trail (stretches from Napa to Calistoga)
- Explore downtown St. Helena and Yountville
- Visit the petrified forest in Calistoga
- Check out the “Old Faithful” mini geyser on Tubbs lane in Calistoga
- Enjoy the outdoors at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park (5 miles north of St. Helena)
- Book a spa massage in Calistoga
- Dine at some of the best restaurants in the world: French Laundry, Bouchon Bakery, Ad-Hoc, Restaurant at Meadowood, Gott’s Roadside, Farmstead, La Calenda, Boon Fly Cafe and Solbar
- Visit Napa’s popular Oxbow Marketplace
- Discover the many art galleries, museums and art installations scattered all over Napa
5. Discover the quirky charm of Murphy’s in Calaveras county
Distance from Sacramento: 87 miles
Murphys is that charming dog friendly small town in California that mostly lies under the radar (like me finding it out from another colleague who is a dog parent) and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Calaveras county. Calaveras county was made famous in Mark Twain’s prose when he wrote about “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, so expect to be greeted by quirky bull frog statues strewn everywhere in this tiny town. Although and 1hr and 40 minutes away from Sacramento, you can spend a fun day in this small California town doing the following:
- Explore downtown/Main street
- Get some baked goodies at Aria bakery
- Go wine tasting at Gossamer Cellars, Twisted Oak, Frog’s Tooth and Chatom winery
- Have a picnic at Murphys community park (with a gurgling brook to keep you company)
- Hike the Arnold Rim Trail
6. Spend a day in San Francisco
Distance from Sacramento: 88 miles
San Francisco and Sacramento are not as far apart as most people think they are, in fact the city by the bay is only 1.5 hours away from the capital! The best part about this trip is that you don’t even need a car cause Flix Buses ply between these two cities regularly! However, driving by car is still the fastest way to get to San Francisco from Sacramento.
San Francisco has been my home for the last 11 years and I can tell you one thing with 100% confidence-a day trip from Sacramento to San Francisco is not enough to see this popular tourist destination, despite it being pint sized. However, that does not mean you don’t venture out at all and just sit tight at home with a glum face. As a resident, here are my top tips on what do in San Francisco on a day trip to make the best of your time:
- Treat your day trip like a layover (but with the added advantage of having a car if you’re driving in)- choose from the 8-12 hour longer itinerary to see the best of SF in a short time. It lists some of the best attractions in San Francisco that you can see in a short time
- If you’re driving into San Francisco, I suggest exploring one or two of some of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco. This guide has all the information you need on where to eat and best things to see in every neighborhood (and how to get there if you don’t have a car)
- San Francisco is a foodie haven-check out at least one of these foodie experiences, where to find the best desserts (including artisan chocolate stores), cheap eats, vegetarian restaurants and where to enjoy some sumptuous afternoon tea!
- Take in some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge from different parts of the city
- If you have more time or are into photography-check out the best San Francisco photo spots and hidden gems in the city
- If you’re visiting San Francisco for the first time from Sacramento-remember to dress in layers because of our crazy weather and check out my guide to the best time to visit San Francisco for seasonal attractions
- Some of the best views of San Francisco are experienced on a hike and SF has many urban hikes to choose from-get on a short trail to see rugged coastal views!
- End your visit to San Francisco with a gorgeous sunset at one of its two secret beaches
- San Francisco is also very dog friendly and has many dog friendly beaches–so don’t leave your pup behind on this day trip!
7. Visit Muir Woods National Monument
Distance from Sacramento: 96 miles
Muir Woods National Monument is probably the most famous Redwood Grove in the Bay Area and one of the most popular ones to visit in California (a state famous for its Giant Sequoias and Coastal Redwoods). Named after the famous Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, this protected area is home to old growth Coastal Redwoods that are 250 feet high and 400-800 years old!
Muir woods lies north of San Francisco in Mill Valley (Marin county) and is 1hr 40 mins drive southwest from Sacramento. Here are some itinerary ideas for Muir Woods (remember, prior reservations are needed to park or catch the shuttle):
- Wander around amidst the majestic Redwoods or get on one of the many trails here-there are 6 miles of hiking trails in Muir Woods!
- Check out the town of Mill Valley-downtown Mill Valley has many beautiful stores and restaurants. Get some baked goods at Flour Craft Bakery in Mill Valley Lumber Yard, feast on a Puerto Rican plate at Sol Food or get a taste of Indo-Mexican at Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos (an institution of Marin county)
- Discover a a fantastic local waterfall that you can hike to in Mill Valley
- Explore Mt. Tamalpais-a great place for hiking!
- Enjoy the views from Muir Beach lookout or drive up further west to Stinson beach
Dogs are unfortunately not allowed at Muir Woods. Also, if this is not obvious, Muir Woods is an extremely popular destination with people coming in from all over the world to marvel at the Redwoods. I highly recommend visiting on a weekday if possible come in as early as possible to avoid the crowds on a weekend.
8. Plan a brief getaway to Lake Tahoe
Distance from Sacramento: 113 miles
Lake Tahoe is the tranquil, freshwater alpine lake at the border of California and Nevada which is a popular hot spot for Californians year around. From winter skiing to water sports and from hiking to chilling out at the beaches, Tahoe has it all for outdoor and nature lovers. Clocking in at 2 hours from Sacramento (without traffic of course), this day trip is as tempting as it gets to leave the daily grind behind and soak in the goodness of Mother Nature.
I highly recommend Tahoe in Spring, Fall or Winter (if you are into winter sports which I am not) to witness the magic of seasonal change in scenery that only the Sierras can offer. Summer does get too crowded and hot everywhere. Since a day trip from Sacramento to Tahoe is not a whole lot of time, here are a few suggestions for possible itineraries-just pick and choose what you like:
- Pack a picnic basket to some of the most pristine beaches of Lake Tahoe-here are 10 fabulous ones to choose from
- Spend an entire day on the scenic drive loop of Lake Tahoe-i.e., drive around the lake for spectacular views, sandy beaches, state parks, hidden coves and alpine hikes
- Go hiking in Lake Tahoe to experience the beauty and wilderness of the Sierra Nevadas-here are 10 best Lake Tahoe hikes to choose from
- Enjoy some waterfront dining at Lake Tahoe with good food and great views
9. Answer the call of the Sierras at Yosemite National Park
Distance from Sacramento: 165 miles
At the risk of being eye rolled on a massive scale by residents of the Golden State, I’ll go ahead and include Yosemite National Park in the list of day trips from Sacramento. Sounds a bit preposterous, I agree. But, if a 4 hour drive from San Francisco to Yosemite does not deter dozens of day tour operations, then a 3.5 hour drive from Sacramento does not seem that bad to see one of the most beautiful places on earth aka the alpine wilderness that is the crown jewel of California’s National Parks.
Leave very early (let’s say at daybreak like in those historical movies) to hit the road, avoid the traffic and spend some quality time in Yosemite Valley, one of the most magical places on earth. Again, Yosemite is best visited anytime of the year except Summer (when the park gets unbelievably crowded thanks to its sky-high popularity). Spring is a great time to see waterfalls while Fall will woo you with its bejeweled foliage. Here are a few ways to enjoy a day trip to Yosemite:
- Go on easy day hikes in the Yosemite Valley
- Enjoy the grand vistas and views at several parts of the valley such as Tunnel View, El Capitan Meadow and Cook’s Meadow (great for sunrise or sunset)
- Wander through the Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove, Tuolumne Grove and Merced Grove
- Visit the famous Ansel Adams Gallery
- Visit at least one of the many alpine lakes in and around the valley (best to visit during spring). Mirror Lake is the easiest to reach
- Have at least one meal at The Ahwahnee Dining Room in the valley
I hope you enjoyed reading this post on the best day trips from Sacramento and itinerary suggestions for the same. Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you have fun exploring our capital city and the many beautiful destinations in Northern California.
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