15 Best Day Trips from Sacramento

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Contrary to popular belief the city of Sacramento is in fact the capital of California. Home to half a million people Sacramento lies at the confluence of the American River and the Sacramento River.

Having played a pivotal role in the Gold Rush Sacramento is now somewhat overshadowed by Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nevertheless there is plenty to see and do in the California state capitol. The Railroad Museum, Sutter’s Fort and the Crocker Art Museum are all waiting to be explored. Don’t miss the opportunity to get up close with the giraffes at Sacramento Zoo.

Once you’ve ticked off all the must-do activities you can venture outside the city limits and get to experience more of what California has to offer.

Let’s explore the best day trips from Sacramento:

1. Napa

Napa ValleySource: Andreas Koeberl / shutterstock
Napa Valley

You could spend a whole vacation in Napa and only just scratch the surface.

Best known for its incredible vineyards and wineries there is so much to explore and discover in Napa Valley.

For the budding sommelier no visit to Napa would be complete without a jaunt on the Napa Valley Wine Train, it’s just the best.

This vintage locomotive doubles as a traveling restaurant and makes for a wonderful, fulfilling and high class day out.

For those unfused by wine, perhaps the Sharpsteen Museum or the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park would be of more interest during a day trip to Napa.

2. San Francisco

San Francisco - View From Twin PeaksSource: ESB Professional / shutterstock
San Francisco – View From Twin Peaks

There is a wealth of history and culture to discover in San Francisco.

Another of California’s cities where a day is not enough, you’ll have to stick to your timings to tick everything off.

Naturally, the first port of call would be the Golden Gate Bridge.

This iconic art deco bridge was first opened in 1937 and has been the symbol of the city ever since.

Alcatraz Island is of great interest to many who visit San Francisco for it was once the world’s most notorious prison.

It is possible to take guided tours around the island complex and learn about the lives of those who resided there.

Pier 39 is perhaps a more family friendly way to spend a day in San Francisco.

3. San Jose

San Jose, Silicon ValleySource: stellamc / shutterstock
San Jose, Silicon Valley

San Jose is the gateway to the Silicon Valley.

The highlight of any visit to the city of San Jose is surely a visit to the Tech Museum of Innovation.

This hands on, interactive museum features its own IMAX theatre and exhibits on innovation of all kinds across the eras.

In the afternoon a visit to the Winchester Mystery House makes for a great addition to a day trip to San Jose.

The Winchester Mystery House is a quirky, old mansion with a series of rather odd design features that is said to be designed specifically to confuse ghost.

Make sure to look out for the staircase that leads to nowhere.

4. El Dorado National Forest

El Dorado National ForestSource: Bryan Brazil / shutterstock
El Dorado National Forest

The El Dorado National Forest is a truly wonderful landscape to explore.

Featuring pine forests, tranquil lakes and easily accessible hiking trails if you want to reconnect with nature this is the place.

Sacramento is a hustling, bustling city and as such El Dorado National Forest provides a welcome contrast.

It is possible to camp overnight at this national forest should you arrive and not want to leave.

The El Dorado National Forest is a quiet park that is never overcrowded or particularly busy meaning that all too often day trippers have the hiking trails to themselves.

Pretty perfect indeed.

5. Tahoe National Forest

Tahoe National ForestSource: Nestor Montes Ochoa / shutterstock
Tahoe National Forest

When it comes to national forests in California you are totally spoiled, especially when it comes to Tahoe National Forest.

With simple, easily accessible routes, Tahoe National Forest is perfect for novice hikers or those who are working on improving their fitness levels.

At the visitors centre you can pick up a map of the routes and set out on your day’s explorations.

Tahoe National Forest is the perfect place for a picnic and there are countless shady spots in which to open up the blanket and bust open the sandwich tin.

The Grouse Ridge Trail and Blue Lake Trail are particularly popular hiking routes.

6. Truckee

Truckee, CaliforniaSource: Marc Venema / shutterstock

Truckee is a small, sleepy Californian town with a heap of hidden gems to explore.

The Emigrant Trail Museum shares fascinating insights into the history of the region and has some really interesting artefacts on display too.

The Donner Memorial State Park makes for a relaxed afternoon stroll.

Perhaps if you’re feeling a little more energised you can take a walk around Donner Lake itself.

Truckee is best known as a ski town as there are a great selection of ski fields that tower over the town.

Northstar California is the most popular resort, closely followed by the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area.

7. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National ParkSource: shaferaphoto / shutterstock
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular natural wonders in all of the United States of America.

You could spend a week or more hiking through this incredible landscape but it is more than possible to tick off the highlights of Yosemite on a day trip from Sacramento.

Walk through the forest hugging one ancient sequoia tree after another.

Be sure to make time to visit Bridal Veil Falls, as well as the jagged cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Budding photographers will feel in their element at Yosemite National Park, as will any nature lover.

The village of Yosemite is home to dozens of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants to explore away from the hiking trails.

8. Tahoe City

Tahoe CitySource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Tahoe City

If you are keen on skiing then a visit to the tiny Tahoe City is in order.

The Squaw Valley Ski Resort and the Homewood Mountain Resort both offer day passes and are open the year-round.

If you’re not a fan of the snow and ice then a visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum and Watson Log Cabin would be an enriching way to spend a day.

The Gatekeeper’s Museum features exhibits on local history and is set inside a traditional, historical log cabin.

The city itself has all the usual souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants to explore.

Charming and relaxed Tahoe City is something of a hidden gem.

9. Calistoga

Calistoga, CaliforniaSource: Wollertz / shutterstock

Tucked away in Napa Valley is the quaint city of Calistoga.

Best known for its hot springs and amazing wineries Calistoga makes for a classy and relaxed day out.

The Castello di Amorosa falls high on the bucket list of many who travel in California for it is an Italian, Tuscan, inspired castle that has its own mud baths and winery.

What more could you ask for? While visiting Calistoga is is also possible to visit the Old Faithful Geyser that regularly erupts and makes for quite the show.

You can incorporate a visit to Calistoga with a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train should you so desire.

10. Folsom

Folsom, CaliforniaSource: Hitman Sharon / shutterstock

If you are seeking an easy and accessible day trip from Sacramento then a visit to Folsom would tick all the boxes.

Lying just a 30-minute drive from Sacramento city centre Folsom has a wealth of history to explore.

For those who enjoy being in the great outdoors then Folsom Lake is calling you.

There are a number of easy hiking trails and it is possible to rent paddle boats and get out on the water too.

For those interested in local history there are two little gems to explore.

The Folsom History Museum and the Folsom History Society both offer an in-depth insight as to the history and social development of this small, but significant, city.

11. Nevada City

Nevada City, CaliforniaSource: Marc Venema / shutterstock
Nevada City

Confusingly Nevada City is a small city in California, not in Nevada state.

Confusions aside Nevada City is a great place to spend a day.

If you’re interested in locomotives and transportation history then a day trip to Nevada City is a must for it is home to the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad and Transportation Museum.

Featuring not only the locomotives themselves the museum also features countless artefacts and photographs that each have an impressive story to tell.

Alternatively, you can get outdoors and explore the Scotts Flat Reservoir which is truly picturesque or perhaps Purdon Crossing if you fancy the challenge of jumping from boulder to boulder to take in the amazing river view.

12. Carmel By Sea

Carmel-by-the-SeaSource: Lowe Llaguno / shutterstock

Escaping the city smoke and heading to the seaside is always a good idea and thankfully Carmel By Sea is just a couple of hours drive away.

This popular seaside city has everything the family could ask for; soft sand, lazy waves and even it’s own aquarium.

If you fancy taking in the rugged, rustic Pacific Coastline of California then take time out of your day to wind through 17-Mile Drive.

Point Lobos is something of a hidden gem and if you time your visit right you could even be in with the chance of spotting whales out in the distance.

Bird lovers could easily spend the whole day looking through their binoculars for the Camel Beach is home to a diverse range of bird species.

13. Mendocino National Forest

Mendocino National ForestSource: gregveen / Flickr
Mendocino National Forest

With Yosemite National Park just around the corner Mendocino National Forest all too often gets overlooked.

If you are looking for an off the beaten track nature experience then Mendocino National Forest is the perfect place to head.

It is the only national forest in California not to be transected by a major road, which makes Mendocino truly enchanting.

Lake Pillsbury is the first port of call for many visitors who travel to Mendocino National Forest and it is simply stunning.

Perfect for canoeing and swimming it wouldn’t be a shame if you spend the whole day relaxing by the lakeside and taking in the forest and mountain views.

14. Amador

The Knight FoundrySource: knightfoundry.com
The Knight Foundry

Amador is a sleepy county that falls on the border of Stanislaus National Forest.

This is a quintessentially Californian town that seems to be trapped in time.

For those looking for a relaxing and authentic day trip from Sacramento Amador County may just be the perfect place.

The Knight Foundry is a popular spot for visitors as is a cast iron foundry that opened in 1873. Other little gems to explore are the Amador Country Museum, the Monteverde General Store and the Amador Whitney Museum.

You can drop by Amador on your way to El Dorado State Forest if you want to add an extra element to your day.

15. Reno

Reno, NevadaSource: Andrew Zarivny / shutterstock

Affectionately named ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ Reno could be also called the mini Las Vegas.

Home to dozens of casinos, most famously the Silver Legacy and Circus Circus, Reno has a whole host of entertainment to explore.

The National Automobile Museum is home to over 200 beautiful vintage cars and can be found in the buzzing downtown district.

If you want to get shopping then head to Reno MidTown and if you want a moment’s peace and quiet get yourself to the Idlewild Park.

Reno makes for a fun and frenetic day trip from Sacramento that will not be forgotten in a hurry.

15 Best Day Trips from Sacramento:

  • Napa
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • El Dorado National Forest
  • Tahoe National Forest
  • Truckee
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Tahoe City
  • Calistoga
  • Folsom
  • Nevada City
  • Carmel By Sea
  • Mendocino National Forest
  • Amador
  • Reno