If someone asked you what the capital of California was, would you say Sacramento? It’s not a city that you usually think much about when you think about California, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a ton of great stuff to do in and around Sacramento.
Sacramento is a cool city, but sometimes you need to branch out and see other parts of the state you live in or are visiting. All of these day trips are super close to Sacramento, so you can have a great day and still be home at a reasonable hour.
It seems much further, but Lake Tahoe is only a two-hour drive from Sacramento, and you can quickly turn it into a day trip if you’re staying or live in the Sacramento area.
Lake Tahoe is part of both California and Nevada; the border of the lake goes right down the middle. Both sides offer breathtaking views of mountains and crystal clear water.
While you can go any time of the year, it’s best to visit Lake Tahoe in late summer and early fall. Making the drive to the lake in the snow can be tricky, and they usually get a ton of snow.
If you do go in the summer when the water has finally warmed up enough, you can pack a lunch and layout on the beach. But just be warned that even in August, the water is still going to be freezing, it’s snowmelt after all.
If packing lunch isn’t your thing, Base Camp Pizza and beer will bring you back to life after the sun’s sucked all the energy out of you. You might also get lucky enough to be there on a night when they have live music.
Tahoe is great for outdoor lovers and those looking for family-friendly day trips. There are plenty of hikes around the lake, but if you have kids and want to set them loose on the beach, Tahoe is a great option.
Napa is just a short hour-long drive from Sacramento and will deliver on wine and sights. The gorgeous rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see will make you feel like a high roller.
If you love wine, Napa Valley is your dream come true. The only problem you’ll have is trying to choose which wineries to visit out of the 400 in the area. No choice will be a bad one, though; Napa Valley produces some of the best wine in the world so you won’t be disappointed.
And if you need some time in between wineries, you can visit some of the beautiful art galleries, art walks, and museums that Napa Valley has to offer.
If you’re looking for a city with a little more ocean, make the two-hour drive to San Francisco and get your fix. And if you want to sound like a local, call it SF.
SF is obviously a big city, so you can stay inland and find a lot of great activities, but you’re on the coast, so you’re going to want to head down to the water. Take a walk down Fisherman’s Wharf to get yourself some fresh seafood and sourdough bread.
This area is a little touristy, but it’s worth it. You might be able to see some ocean life while you’re there too. Sea lions often hang out around Pier 39, and there’s nothing cooler to a kid than being able to see animals when you’re not at a zoo.
And of course, if you’re going to San Francisco and you haven’t seen it before, the Golden Gate Bridge is something worth seeing. You’ve probably seen photos, but it’s so much better in person and worth dealing with all the other tourists.
Eldorado National Forest
For all of you, nature lovers, the hour and a half drive to the Eldorado National Forest is well worth the trip.
Here you can find spectacular views and excellent hiking trails for you and the family. The Eldorado National Forest also offers fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and if it’s warm, you can swim and boat in the park.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can also white water raft in the warmer months. The upper and lower parts of the South Fork American River have great rapids and even better scenery.
If you’re looking for a break from the city to get in touch with nature again, this short drive to the Eldorado National Forest is a perfect day trip.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery, you can take a short two-hour drive to San Jose, which has a little bit of something for everyone.
Whether it’s shopping you’re looking for or museums and breweries, you can find it in San Jose. And even though San Jose is part of the technology epicenter of Silicon Valley, you can find culture and sports games as well.
The Winchester Mystery House is another excellent tourist attraction in San Jose. This Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is supposedly haunted. The house is also famous for its colossal size and unique architecture.
If you decide to stay in town a little longer, San Jose has an awesome nightlife too. After dark, you can find tons of cool bars and clubs with live music and entertainment.
Back in the day, Reno used to be the divorce capital of the world. Newlyweds in Las Vegas who realized their mistake would make the long drive up to Reno to null their hasty marriages.
But today, Reno is becoming hipper while still being “The Biggest Little City.” The Midtown district is sprouting more artisan restaurants like The Depot, an old train station that’s been turned into a hipster brunch joint that serves “man-mosas,” a mimosa containing an entire bottle of champagne.
Of course, many people are attracted to the casinos, and there’s no short supply of those. It’s probably not the most kid-friendly place in the world, but if you’re looking for an adults-only day trip, the two-hour drive to Reno is just right.
If Napa Valley feels a little too fancy for you, Apple Hill is perfect, and it’s less than an hour away from Sacramento. As you might have guessed from the name, you can find a lot of apple orchards in the area, but wine tasting in Apple Hill is fantastic as well.
Apple Hill is best in the fall because you’ll get to take advantage of all of the produce from the many farms in the area. At Denver Dan’s Apple Patch, you can pick your own apples with the kids.
And for the parents, Apple Hill has a ton of spectacular wineries that you can stop in and do a tasting in. Grace Patriot, Lava Cap, and Boeger Wineries are some of the most popular but certainly not the only ones.
For the drive home, make sure you stop at Rainbow Orchards and pick up some fresh apple cider donuts, perfectly crispy and tossed in cinnamon sugar.
If you’re looking for a super short day trip, the city of Davis is only about 25 minutes away from Sacramento.
Davis is a college town, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do there. The city is well-known for its arboretum, where you can see landscaped gardens and exotic plants.
If you’re familiar with the area, you also probably know about the Davis Farmers Market, which operates twice weekly. Since it’s such a short drive, you can easily make a trip to the farmers market a fun Sunday morning and enjoy fresh produce, live music, and restaurant stands.
If historic cities are your thing, Nevada City is only an hour’s drive away, and no, it’s not in Nevada.
This old mining town is nestled among evergreen forests and is home to some of the most well-preserved buildings in California. You can stroll through town and see historic buildings, gift shops, and cafes if you’re looking for a laidback day trip.
And if you love museums, Nevada City has converted its old firehouse into a museum that showcases artifacts from gold mining settlers and indigenous people.
Nevada City also offers outdoor recreation and film festivals held at the historic Nevada Theater. The “Sundance of the Sierra” festival has been going on for 19 years and features world-class independent films.
In Northern California, there’s no shortage of wineries. The city of Sonoma and the Sonoma Valley is only an hour’s drive from Sacramento, and they have much more to do than taste wine.
Sonoma is another historic city in California, so you can enjoy well-preserved historic buildings in between whatever you choose to do that day. You should stop by the Sonoma Plaza, though. This is a colonial-era plaza with 19th-century buildings that surround it.
If you’re looking for a super laid back day trip, you can visit the Sonoma farmer’s markets, and browse the many stands that are set up throughout town in the spring and summer months.
And of course, wine tasting in Sonoma is unbelievable as well. If you don’t feel like walking or driving, you can take a ride on a Wine Trolley so that you can take in the sights and the wine in a replica of a San Francisco cable car.
Berkeley, as in the home of Cal Berkeley, is a hip, liberal city that was the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s. Today, it’s still just as cool, and you can find a ton of eccentric attractions if you take a short hour-long drive there.
If you’re a foodie, you can enjoy the product of the organic food movement from the 70s and go to restaurants like Chez Panisse.
Berkeley also has a beautiful botanic garden and rose garden, but if you want even more nature, you can take a walk through Tilden Park where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride.
For some more great views, you can head down to the Berkeley Marina. César Chávez Park is part of the 100 acres of the marina, and you can see San Francisco Bay’s three bridges, Alcatraz, and Angel Island.
If you’re looking for a day trip in the winter months, you can make the hour and a half drive to Truckee, home of Northstar Ski Resort. If you already have the Epic Ski Pass, you can get into Northstar, but they offer day passes as well.
After a day skiing, you can relax at Jake’s on the Lake with excellent food and a great view of Lake Tahoe.
If it’s a little warmer out, Donner Memorial State Park offers great views of Donner Lake and pretty easy hikes. This park is one of the more popular attractions in Truckee. Emigrant Trail is a lovely scenic trail that’s pretty easy as well.
If you want to spend more time in town, you can check out Truckee’s historic downtown. There are plenty of old-timey buildings and lots of shops, restaurants, and art galleries that you can peruse during your day trip.
Sacramento is a really cool city, but when you’re so close to so many other awesome places, it seems silly to stay in one place. These places that we’ve listed are only some of the great day trips that are all less than three hours away from Sacramento.
If you’re a nature-buff, there are tons of places to go to get away from the city and relax. If you love wine, there’s no shortage of wineries near Sacramento. And if you need to find somewhere that you can bring the kids with you, we have day trips for you too.
Traveling doesn’t mean you have to get on a plane and spend a lot of money; it can just be a short drive to somewhere you’ve never seen before. Get out and see something this weekend!