The Best Day Trips From Sacramento

categories: Central Valley
Sutter's Fort Sacramento

Sutter’s Fort Sacramento

Are you ready for an adventure? Look no further than Sacramento. This city is bursting with excitement and offers an array of activities for every type of traveler. With its alternate names such as The River City, the City of Trees, or the Capital City, Sacramento is a destination that is sure to impress.

Despite not being a well-known tourist spot, Sacramento has so much to offer that it’s hard to know where to begin. With a vibrant nightlife scene, a foodie haven, and great outdoor spots, this Californian city will keep you busy and entertained throughout your stay.

Delve into the city’s rich history that dates back to the California Gold Rush era, which began with the discovery of gold nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848. This event is one of the largest in American history, and today, the city is proud of its heritage and offers a plethora of historical sites to explore.

Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or just having fun, Sacramento has something to offer for everyone. So come and explore this dynamic city, and discover for yourself why Sacramento is a hidden gem of California.

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California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum

Within Sacramento

Sacramento is a treasure trove of exciting activities for travelers. For starters, the Sacramento Antique Faire is a haven for antique lovers, with over 70 shops to explore across two blocks. You’ll find unique, one-of-a-kind items that are sure to leave a lasting impression and make for great mementos.

If you’re interested in history, Sacramento has you covered with its top-notch museums. The California State Railroad Museum and the California State Capitol Museum are popular destinations that provide fascinating insights into the area’s past.

The Sacramento River is a must-see attraction in the city, stretching over 400 miles and offering plenty of opportunities to explore by boat. Take a leisurely riverboat cruise and watch the sunset over the water while enjoying a delicious dinner. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including otters, beavers, gray foxes, western pond turtles, and more.

For a unique and exciting experience, take a ride on the River Fox Train and enjoy a murder mystery dinner. If you’re looking for an active adventure, book a ride on one of the two-seater rail bikes and explore the Sacramento River and Yolo Countryside.

Old Sacramento

Step back in time in Old Sacramento, a historic area located in the heart of downtown along the Sacramento River. Stroll through the shops and restaurants and soak up the old Western atmosphere. And don’t forget to check out the premier Californian art dating back to the 1800s.

Whether you’re looking for history, adventure, or a unique shopping experience, Sacramento has something for everyone. So what are you waiting for? Come and discover all that this exciting city has to offer.

An Hour’s Drive from Sacramento

If you have an hour to spare, take a drive from Sacramento to Volcano, a charming town with just over 100 residents. Grab a walking tour map from the general store and immerse yourself in the historic sites that showcase the best of the area.

Just a short distance from Sacramento is Apple Hill, a fun farm experience with family-friendly events held throughout the year. Whether it’s Easter egg hunts, berry picking, or pumpkin carving, there’s always something to enjoy. And don’t forget to choose your perfect Christmas tree.

If you’re in need of some relaxation, visit Vichy Springs, where carbonated water sourced from deep under the earth’s surface tickles the skin. There are also many other natural springs in the area to enjoy. Choose from a variety of campsites that feature hot springs and natural pools, or indulge in a geothermal hot tub outdoors under the stars.

But why stop there? Sacramento serves as a perfect base for a range of weekend getaways. With numerous options available, you’ll never run out of ideas for day trips or longer stays. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top ten-day trips you can enjoy from Sacramento.

Nevada City

Distance from Sacramento to Nevada City: 54 miles

Don’t be fooled by the name… Nevada City is in California, not Nevada State as one might think.

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum

Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum

If you’re in the area, this is a must-do. Friendly locals are happy to share the rich history of the area with you. Step out and join a guided tour around the museum learning about the trains and the way of life back then.

Most often, the highlight for older visitors is chatting with the local volunteers while they work on restoring the old trains and rail cars. Kids enjoy the little train trip onboard a restored cart that bumbles along into the woodsy forest.

This railroad museum, even if you’re not a train fundi, is a recommended stop for the entire family.

Independence Trail

The Independence Trail is one of the popular walks in the area. It is a flat trail, and with 1.5 of the 3.1 miles being wheelchair friendly, this is an easy walk to enjoy. At the end of the trail, locals recommend taking the dirt road to get down to the deep blue Yuba River.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range lying in eastern California. It runs 400 miles from north to south, and it ranges between 50 – 80 miles from east to west.

If you’re interested in going out on the water, you can explore the shores of Folsom Lake in a paddle boat. It is a reservoir on the American River in the Sierra Nevada that falls within the Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, which houses the historic 1895 alternating current hydroelectric power station, one of the first in the USA.

For those interested in seeing giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world, you’re also in the right place. Here is where they live and thrive – they’re native to this region and grow naturally in a mixed conifer forest on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

 

El Dorado National Forest

Distance from Sacramento to El Dorado National Forest: 62 miles

The El Dorado National Forest is the gateway to the Sierra. This forest is located smack-bang in the central Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The wildlife is incredible here: you could see the commonly spotted Columbian black-tailed deer and California mule deer, to the less common smaller mammals such as the coyote, porcupine, badger, and bobcat. Very rare, but they are there, are the wolverine, red fox, and pine marten. Black bears, as well as mountain lions, are also found here.

El Dorado has over 400 miles of hiking trails, lakes, and streams filled with fish, campsites, picnic areas, and even alpine and nordic skiing during winter.

Donner Memorial State Park

Distance from Sacramento to Donner Memorial State Park: 98 miles

Donner Lake is laced with a history of resilience. The two best-known features of the park are the Emigrant Trail Museum and the Pioneer Monument. These pay tribute to the members of the Donner Party who lost their lives during the harsh winter of 1846 – 1847. Members of the Donner Camp immigrants were trapped here without adequate shelter or supplies, and legend goes that they had to resort to cannibalism to survive.

Today, the campsite explodes with sun worshippers basking on the sandy beaches and cooling off in the fresh lake.

Even though day visitors are popular, you’ll need more than a day to enjoy this park. There are miles of excellent hiking trails, trout fishing, and boating available.

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Empire Mine State Historic Park

Distance from Sacramento to Empire Mine State Historic Park: 57 miles

The Empire Mine State Park is another historic site worth a day trip from Sacramento. Here, more than 367 miles of underground tunnels run through one of the oldest and richest mines in the state of California. It’s a popular park with over 850 acres of land, miles and miles of trails, the mine buildings, the “Cottage” built from rock excavated from the mines, the clubhouse, and the gardens.

Passionate volunteers dress up in period clothing over the weekends from May to October and offer insightful guided tours.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Distance from Sacramento to Calaveras Big Trees State Park: 101 miles

If standing at the bases of the world’s largest trees is your thing, then get down to this park. Situated in the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada, this state park consists of two groves of giant sequoia trees.

A popular hike is the Calaveras South Grove Trail which will take approximately 2 hours to complete. This park is home to Californian black bears that are seen more often during the day in the warmer months as they come out of their winter hibernation. Do your research before you go and be ‘bear aware.’ In addition, if you’re quiet and observant, it’s possible that you could spot raccoons, foxes if you’re lucky, and even a flying squirrel.

Lake Tahoe

Tahoe Area

Distance from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe: 104 miles

Yes, technically, Tahoe does fall under the Sierra Nevada area, but because there are so many incredible activities here, we feel it should have its own section.

Tahoe City

You’re probably more familiar with the name Lake Tahoe, rather than Tahoe City, but this mountainside town is quaint and possibly one of the friendliest towns you could ever explore.

Resting on the northern banks of Lake Tahoe, this is a popular spot for travelers in all seasons as active people get out hiking and kayaking, exploring the farmers’ markets, visiting local art galleries, and even taking in an art class.

During the winter months, the snowy slopes nearby call out to snowmobilers, skiers, and of course, snowboarders. For something a little unusual, nighttime snowshoe historical tours are a different way to take in the town.

Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National Park is 4 miles from Sacramento and accessible by tram. It’s worth setting aside a full day to explore these gorgeous coniferous forests. Motorbike riders enjoy cruising down the well-maintained State Highway. On the northern fork of the Yuba River, mountain bikers test their skills on the technical trails around Downieville.

For those looking for nature’s beauty, there are many gorgeous stops along the roads where you can snap that perfect selfie.

 

Emerald Bay State Park

Emerald Bay State Park falls north of South Lake Tahoe. The area is more challenging to access, which means the hiking trails are peaceful and undisturbed.

Fannette Island is the only island found in Lake Tahoe in Emerald Bay and is only accessible by boat. It is tiny and has the shell remains of an old “Tea House” built around 1928 – 1929.

Even as tricky as it is for some to reach this park, divers and snorkelers can enjoy a unique opportunity to explore this large body of water. Water babies can silently explore the remains of Lake Tahoe’s recreational watercraft and barges resting on the lake bed. This tour is part of a ‘guided’ maritime heritage underwater trail.

San Jose Santana Row

San Jose

Distance from Sacramento to San Jose: 117 miles

San Jose is California’s third-largest city, the capital of the Bay Area, and the largest city in Silicon Valley. San Jose is the cultural, financial, and political center of Silicon Valley, the place where dreams begin, and tech companies are born. When out for coffee, you could well run into folk from popular global techie companies such as Google, PayPal, Pinterest, Meta Platforms Inc, and many others. But whether you’re into tech, art, or just looking to explore and have a fun time, know that the folk around here are some of the richest on the globe.

Another highlight of San Jose is the San Jose Sharks – a world-class ice hockey team with a dedicated die-hard fan base. Watching a match is electric, so book your seats when you’re in town.

San Jose Mountain Winery

In the mood for a boozy afternoon? Visit some of the wineries around town or book tickets for incredible live music concerts at the Mountain Winery, featuring true classics such as Pat Benetar, Smokey Robinson, and even The Beach Boys.

National Parks

Nature lovers will love the opportunity to explore so many national parks around Sacramento. National forests and parks make the best places for a scenic drive and a nature-filled getaway. We’ve mentioned a few above if you’re keen to explore the Sierra Nevada, but here are a few others that are worth their weight in pine trees… er, gold.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Distance from Sacramento to Yosemite National Park: 142 miles

Yes, it is a bit of a long drive from Sacramento to Yosemite National Park, which lies in the western Sierra Nevada, but it is a popular place to visit. Yosemite Valley lies within the national park and is a glacial valley between 3,000 – 3,500 feet deep. There are mountain biking trails and horseback riding available, or you can plod along at a slower pace on the back of a mule.

Yosemite National Park is supposedly the home of the legendary Big Foot, albeit the stories that come from these woods are more frightening in nature. Whether Big Foot is a bear, a strange human-like feature, or a figment of someone’s imagination, you’ll have to visit and find out for yourself.

Lassen National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Distance from Sacramento to Lassen Volcanic National Park: 180 miles

Lassen Volcanic National Park is an exciting park to explore, even though the last eruptions were small and occurred between 1914 and 1917.

“Devastated Area” within the park, has an easy 30-minute looping trail winding around a luscious forest, offering occasional views of the peak. Various volcanic rocks are strewn around, with sign boards telling the story of the eruption.

If you have more time available, Bumpass Hell might interest you as a massive hydrothermal area with steam vents and bubbling mud pots.

Besides visiting Emerald Lake, Helen Lake is also worth a visit. Lassen Peak reflects perfectly in the still waters, and photographers can snap some mirror images here.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore

Distance from Sacramento to Point Reyes National Seashore: 96 miles

Technically not a national park but a park reserve with gorgeous scenery north of San Francisco, Point Reyes‘ coastline is gorgeous. From bird watching to spotting local wildlife to visiting the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse built in 1870, the area is also a perfect viewpoint for spotting whales during whale season.

As beautiful as it is, it is not recommended as a beach destination for swimming due to rough seas, rip currents, and strong tides.

San Francisco

San Francisco

Distance from Sacramento to San Franciso: 88 miles

San Francisco is one of the popular day trips from Sacramento with its intensive flavors and pumping nightlife. You can easily travel this distance by car or bus, and it won’t take more than 90 minutes to reach the city.

The diversity of San Francisco makes it a fun city to explore, and it’s voted as the most walkable city in the USA, so lace up your sneakers and hit the streets

The San Francisco International Film Festival in April is fun for movie lovers and it features over two hundred top films from around the world.

For art lovers, San Francisco’s eclectic contemporary art scene is filled with international and local pieces comprising paintings, photography, and sculptures.

Golden Gate Park houses the De Young Museum, a fine art museum housing collections of American art, and art from Africa and Oceania as well as a separate textile and costume division, housing over 14,000 textiles and costumes from around the world.

San Francisco cable car

The cable cars in San Francisco are iconic – and they’re not just props used in movies. With three lines of cable cars running through the streets, the oldest being almost 150 years old. When you board, be prepared for fantastic views over The Bay, listen for the authentic clanging of the bell, and enjoy the feeling of being whooshed around corners.

Stand on the right side of the cable car on the way up to Fisherman’s Wharf for the best views of The Bay and the city, and on the left side if you are traveling down to Union Square.

For sea lion lovers, San Francisco is also an excellent place for watching sea lions, the most popular ones being the Harbour Seals, and if you’re interested in seeing Elephant Seals, head further south for another hour and a half and you can see them frolicking in Año Nuevo State Park.

San Francisco and Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

This is most likely the best-known prison in the world. Alcatraz was once home to many notorious prisoners, with the most well-known being Al Capone. It is on an island in The Bay and lies 2km offshore. It is a short 20-minute ferry ride across The Bay, and then you can explore the island, prison, and museum through an audio tour.

During the hundred years, it operated as a prison, only four inmates successfully escaped; one was captured as he reached the shore after swimming through the icy waters, and the other three were never seen again.

It is fascinating to see the hundreds of photographs and paraphernalia that were left behind. It makes it all feel more ‘real.’

Angel Island

Angel Island

Angel Island lies within the Angel Island State Park, within the San Francisco Bay area. It takes approximately 2 1/2 hours to walk the 5-mile paved perimeter road, and one for the bucket list if you are a history lover. Peek into the past through Fort McDowell or the US Immigration Station. Or hop on to a tram for a guided audio tour of the island.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a world-famous symbol, linking San Francisco with Marin County.

It is a suspension bridge spanning the area where the Pacific Ocean meets San Francisco Bay.

For the best image, arrive before sunrise and capture the sun as it slowly peaks over the horizon.

Fishermans Wharf San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf has a constant buzz about it and is hands down, one of San Francisco’s most popular destinations. If you’re a seafood lover, there are more seafood restaurant options here than whales have barnacles growing on them.

From street performers to international art galleries, boutique shopping, and restaurants with views, you can spend the day here.

Fisherman’s Wharf is the classic place for tourists to visit, and this naturally pushes the prices up, but boy, does it pulsate with a holiday vibe.

Folsom

Distance from Sacramento to Folsom: 24 miles

Folsom lies within Sacramento County and has a population of approximately 77,000, there are still miles and miles of open space, hiking, and biking trails, so you won’t feel the squeeze of the people.

The Red Bus Brewing Company is great for craft beer tasting, the local shopping is plentiful, and the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary is popular with families.

But in all honesty, this region is more about the outdoors and the magnificent wine farms of the area.

Two attractions that I feel need to be mentioned as they are popular, even today, are Folsom Prison, and Amador County.

Traveling Soon? These useful links will help you prepare for your trip.
Folsom prison

Folsom Prison

A popular attraction in Folsom is the Folsom Prison. It has a lot of history and a museum with memorabilia on display.

But, this prison is most well-known and visited for the section on Johnny Cash. Cash was a country-western singer who performed at Folsom Prison twice during his career. He wrote the song, Folsom Prison, in 1953 while serving in the US Air Force in Germany.

Amador County

Amador County is dotted with dozens and dozens of wineries near the foothills in Plymouth. Most are intimate family-owned farms and have beautiful vineyards, tasty food, and world-class wines. If you are traveling around Amador County, Sutter Creek is a quaint town for a lunch stop.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay

Distance from Sacramento to Bodega Bay: 105 miles

The fishing village of Bodega Bay, lying right on the Pacific Ocean, is a 2-hour drive north from Sacramento, and home to a small town population of around 1,000 people.

The bay has miles of pristine empty beaches, coves, and trails, perfect for the many people who visit during whale-watching season. January through May are the best months to come along and look out for the blue whales and the gray whales migrating south.

The area is popular with nature lovers too – people love to explore the hiking trails on foot or horseback. The wide diversity of habitats, and the fact that Bodega Bay sits along a migratory route, attracts fantastic bird life so keep a lookout for loons, terns, cormorants, albatrosses, and more.

In the village, meander through the local art galleries, paddle across the bay, or sip on wines at the Sonoma Coast Vineyards. If you are looking for a holiday within a holiday, Bodega Bay will tick all of your boxes.

Napa Valley sign

Napa Valley

Distance from Sacramento to Napa: 84 miles

With over 1,700 wine farms in Napa Valley, (not all with tasting rooms, so do your homework), it will be tricky to decide which ones to visit. The sun-kissed fields of Napa Valley invite exploration from the novice wine taster right through to the connoisseur.

Renowned for its sun-drenched, king of red Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, the bunches of smooth-skinned Chardonnay grapes are the second largest variety grown in the region.

Napa Valley vineyard

For delectable lunch options or a scenic hot air balloon flight over the vineyards, the Napa Valley is an easy-to-reach destination only an hour and a half from Sacramento.

Book lunch or dinner onboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Exquisite meals are prepared by the onboard executive chef and enjoyed in an elevated observation dining car.

The golden hour, just before sunset, lights up the hills and vineyards with romantic hues of soft oranges and pinks, perfect for that holiday shot.

Sierra Nevada ski

Ski Resorts

As Sacramento is so close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there are at least a dozen ski resorts within a couple of hours’ drive from the city.

The slopes are great for a fun family getaway or for the person wanting to get more practice in. Most resorts have a log cabin with a crackling fireplace, perfect for your stay.

Most of the ski resorts lie within the Sierra Nevada to the east of Sacramento. The closest ski resort is Soda Springs providing you and your family with an amazing mountain adventure. There is tubing, snowboarding, and of course, skiing (and lessons and gear hire), all available.

If you’re looking for a day trip or weekend ski getaway that’s close to Sacramento, the Sierra Nevada Mountains have plenty of resorts to offer.

Just a two-hour drive from the capital, you can find slopes for all skill levels, as well as cozy mountain towns with plenty of restaurants and hotels.

Three good ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California are:

  • Kirkwood
  • Heavenly
  • Squaw Valley

Kirkwood Ski Resort

Distance from Sacramento to Kirkwood Ski Resort: 96 miles

Kirkwood Ski Resort is a great place to go for a day trip if you’re looking for some good skiing and snowboarding. They have slopes for all skill levels, and the resort is big enough that you’re never too far from the next lift.

The village at Kirkwood is also worth a visit, with plenty of restaurants and shops to keep you busy. And if you need to take a break from the slopes, the spa is definitely worth checking out.

Heavenly Ski Resort

Distance from Sacramento to Heavenly Ski Resort: 105 miles

Heavenly Ski Resort is a great place for families. The ski resort has a variety of terrain that is perfect for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, from beginner to expert. There are also activities for the kids, such as a tubing hill and a playground. And, to top it off, Heavenly Ski Resort is just a short 2-hour drive from Sacramento.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Distance from Sacramento to Squaw Valley Ski Resort: 109 miles

Squaw Valley Ski Resort is located in North Lake Tahoe and is the largest ski resort in California. The resort has over 3,600 acres of terrain, including 30 lifts and 170 trails. Squaw Valley is a great resort for skiing and snowboarding, with plenty of beginner and intermediate slopes, as well as some more challenging terrain for more experienced skiers and boarders. The resort also has a number of on-site amenities, including restaurants, bars, and spas, making it a great place to spend a day or weekend skiing.

Old Sacramento Waterfront

To Wrap Up

You might not have enough time to do it all, which means you’ll need to book another trip to this pocket of the world. If you want to search for more places to visit in California, or which attractions should be explored in Sacramento itself, we’ve got you covered. Pack your bags, get started on that road trip, and start exploring this exciting part of the United States.

Looking for a day trip from Sacramento that combines city excitement with outdoor adventure? Look no further. Our blog post on the Best Day Trips from Sacramento has all the insider tips and recommendations you need to make the most of your trip to this vibrant city. #DayTrip #Sacramento #travel #vacation #trip #holiday 

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

One Response to “The Best Day Trips From Sacramento”

Steve Thomas

Says:

Thank you for sharing such an informative and engaging piece. Your dedication to highlighting the hidden gems surrounding Sacramento is truly commendable. I’m certain that your article will serve as an invaluable resource for both locals seeking new experiences and visitors looking to explore the area.

I eagerly anticipate reading more of your captivating travel insights and discovering the wonders they hold. Keep up the fantastic work!

Wishing you continued success and many more exciting journeys ahead.

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