19 Day Trips From Sacramento • Tips from a Local (+Map)

A car is driving under a yellow bridge.

You might find it hard to choose from the long list of incredible day trips from Sacramento, from historic towns of Gold-Rush-era California to adventure meccas like national parks! BUT not to worry! As a California gal, I’ll give you the low down on all the day trip possibilities and help you choose the best ones for you.

If you find yourself in California’s state capitol, Sacramento, take advantage of its phenomenal location in Northern California. It sits at the base of the American River and Sacramento River and is flanked by the Sierra Nevada Mountains offering amazing opportunities to venture outside the city limits. 🚗

Ready for a whirlwind adventure beyond Sacramento’s city limits? Let’s do this! 😎

Quick Picks for Your Stay

Need to make some decisions ASAP? If you’re pressed for time, look below at my top 3 favorites to book in advance:

And here are the best hotels: Kimpton Sawyer Hotel (luxury), Hyatt House Midtown (mid-range), Arden Star Hotel (budget)

Every gal needs an option or… 10, am I right? Check out our related article with an extensive list of the top Sacramento hotels in every neighborhood.

The day trips from Sacramento venture out into all different directions, so I went ahead and included a map below to help you get acquainted. All distances are recorded from Sacramento as the starting point.

1. Enjoy the turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe

aerial view over the Lake Tahoe and mountains in the background

Just 2 – 3 hours from Sacramento, Lake Tahoe is a paradise oasis sitting in a phenomenal forested wonderland! If you’re a nature lover, adventurer, or active family, this day trip is great for you as it grants access to picturesque nature at Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is one of my top vacation destinations, as it offers such a wide range of activities. By far, my favorite is to visit Emerald Bay State Park, located on the southwest shore. It’s known for its crystal clear waters and the iconic Fannette Island in the middle of the bay.

If you have the time, I highly recommend hopping on this amazing sightseeing cruise of Emerald Bay – it’s SO beautiful!

Hiking trails around Tahoe, like Eagles Fall Trail, open up to picturesque vistas of the bay and are the perfect way to get your heart pumping a bit, but don’t worry, this is an easy hike.

If you love winter sports, North Lake Tahoe has world-class skiing and snowboarding, like Palisades Tahoe, formerly Squaw Valley Ski Resort.

TOUR PRICE: US$120 per person

Book your sightseeing cruise

2. Leave your heart in San Francisco

A woman is standing on top of a hill overlooking the golden gate bridge.

Visit San Francisco Bay Area (a mere 2-hour drive away) and cross the iconic Golden Gate Bridge off your bucket list!

This exciting journey takes you to the vibrant city life of San Francisco. Within San Francisco, there are unlimited attractions to explore! Brimming with history, culture, and iconic sites, anyone can benefit from a trip to this gem of a city on the bay.

Relaxing in Golden Gate Park is an awesome choice for some nature amidst the city’s hustle and bustle. Visit de Young Museum (tickets at US$20), or explore art galleries displaying a diverse range of creative work. Hop on a cool bike tour (from US$60/person) to cover more ground on your park journey!

Stroll through the neighborhoods throughout San Francisco, all with their own vibe and flavor. Don’t miss Haight-Ashbury, known for its counterculture history, or explore the antique stores and boutiques of the Mission District.

And, of course, chow down on some delicious seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, the waterfront district with killer views!

3. Tackle a great adventure at Yosemite National Park

landscape in Yosemite National Park

One of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been, Yosemite National Park, within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is the definition of raw beauty and offers hiking and sightseeing in the stunning Yosemite National Park.

Only 3 – 4 hours of scenic driving, and you’ll leave Sacramento behind for this outdoor paradise.

Yosemite has so many outdoor recreation options: hike to iconic spots like Half Dome or, for a less intense experience, explore the park’s numerous other trails.

For simplicity, I like Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, which gives you an easy and scenic opportunity with granite cliffs, lush valleys, and pristine waterfalls.

The outdoor fun at Yosemite extends way beyond hiking – mountain biking, rock climbing, and extreme sports are all common practices at this stunning national park. Read our article on things to do in Yosemite for the full rundown.

PRICE: US$35 per vehicle

4. Learn about the Gold Rush Era in these historical towns

The Gold Rush era in California gave birth to charming towns that still welcome visitors with fantastic historic buildings and a deep history and understanding of the gold country.

4.1 Nevada City

a street in a town

Tucked in the beautiful South Yuba River Canyon, Nevada City is a Gold-Rush-era gem that will transport you back in time. It has the most charming historic streets, vibrant arts scene, and lovely proximity to the South Yuba River. A trip here takes 1 hour by car and facilitates immersive history lessons in the Gold Rush town of Nevada City.

4.2 Sutter Creek

a street in a town

Sutter Creek is a quaint town in California’s Gold Country, holding historic charm and scenic beauty. It is less than a 1-hour drive from Sacramento and is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, making it a really appealing destination!

4.3 Folsom Lake

A lake surrounded by trees and mountains.

Located in the Sierra Foothills, Folsom Lake offers you a perfect day trip escape for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. With its crystal-clear waters and miles of scenic shoreline, it’s a great spot for boating, hiking, picnicking, and unwinding in the mountains, just 30 min drive from Sacramento.

TIP: if you’re curious about the area’s history, don’t miss a visit to the Folsom History Museum (US$9)!

4.4 Grass Valley

a street in a town

Gold and rolling hills filled this charming mountain town back in the day! At only 1 hour drive away, you’ll love its picturesque streets, historic buildings, and cool art scene. Discover the town’s Gold Rush history, wander through its quaint downtown, and don’t forget to visit the Grass Valley Museum for a window into the area’s past.

4.5 Apple Hill

an apple orchard

Within the Sierras and less than 1-hour drive from Sacramento is this remarkable little town called Apple Hill, a great day trip destination for families and foodies. The rolling orchards, fresh apple cider, and enticing pastries are enough to make anyone love a visit to this place! Try the apple cider doughnuts, you won’t regret it!

4.6 Jackson

a street in a town

Only a short drive from Sacramento, Jackson sits in Amador County and offers a rich history and artifacts from the Gold Rush past. Visit the Amador County Museum, stroll the town’s historic downtown, admire historic buildings, and splurge at the local shops. If you love outdoor adventure, you’ll dig the nearby hiking and biking trails, while foodies will drool over the farm-to-table cuisine and local wines in Jackson.

PRO TIP: if you don’t feel like visiting all these little historical towns, but you’re completely taken by the history of California’s Gold Rush past, why not hop on this incredible river cruise that will take you on a 1-hour ride with interesting guided narration?

TOUR PRICE: US$31 per adult

Book your Gold Rush river cruise

5. Watch the big wave surfers at Half Moon Bay

a view of a beach from a hill overlooking the ocean

A 2 – 3 hour drive from Sacramento, Half Moon Bay is a beautiful day trip destination that will give you a complete change in scenery. This coastal gem has a stunning shoreline, charming downtown, and yummy coastal cuisine.

The actual drive from Sacramento to Half Moon Bay is a scenic journey, as Highway 1 provides stunning coastal views along the way.

Love outdoor fun? The rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and lush trails at Half Moon Bay offer so many opportunities to explore this natural paradise!

6. Enjoy the day at Bodega Bay

aerial view of a beach on a bay

Bodega Bay is also renowned for its connection to the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds.

Escape the city and head west from Sacramento to the tranquil beauty of Bodega Bay, just a 2.5 – 3 hour drive away.

Located along the rocky Sonoma Coast, Bodega Bay is the perfect spot to take leisurely strolls along the sandy shores, breathe in the fresh Pacific Ocean air, and contemplate your next-day trip. 😉

I love the coastal vibe of this casual beach town, with local seafood restaurants serving up the day’s fresh catches. Nature lovers will love the various hiking trails and birdwatching opportunities in the area.

Check out the Bodega Head Trail for stunning coastal views and possible whale-watching during migration season (Jan – Mar).

7. Explore Muir Woods National Monument

trail in a redwood forest

If you need a good dose of nature, Muir Woods National Monument is just under 2 hours away. It is located in Marin County and offers you the opportunity to walk among towering ancient redwoods, some of the tallest trees on Earth.

It’s impossible not to be struck by the sheer SIZE of these ancient giants. You’ll appreciate the park’s well-maintained, easy trails that meander through lush, cathedral-like forests.

The Redwood Creek Trail is a popular choice, offering a moderate hike along the creek and access to some of the most impressive trees. Before you embark, stop at the visitor center for great tips and valuable insights.

8. Take in the charm of Sausalito

view of a city on the coast

Only 1 hour’s drive from Sacramento, Sausalito is a beautiful seaside town tucked on the northern shores of San Francisco Bay. Sausalito has jaw-dropping waterfront views and a laid-back coastal atmosphere.

Marvel at the picturesque sailboats and vibrant houseboats lining the water, the town’s quaint streets lined with boutique shops, impressive art galleries, and charming cafés.

For panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, head to the Marin Headlands, a short drive away.

9. Comb for seashells at Point Reyes National Seashore

a scenic view of the ocean from a cliff

About 3 hours west of Sacramento, Point Reyes National Seashore is a pristine coastal sanctuary and a wonderful day trip.

Explore rugged coastlines, serene beaches, and a remarkable diversity of wildlife. Adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts will love hiking along the breathtaking coastal trails and climbing to the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse, perched on the rugged, dramatic cliffs.

My favorite thing about Point Reyes is the diverse wildlife – if you’re lucky, you may spot the resident tule elk!

10. Experience the Lassen Volcanic National Park

aerial view over the lassen volcanic national park

This day trip is so unique and exciting – visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park, just a few hours’ drive from Sacramento.

This otherworldly landscape offers geothermal wonders and allows you to experience this unique volcanic terrain. Hike the picturesque and famous Blue Lake Trail for some of the best views in the park.

If you’ve never been around a volcano before, you may be shocked by the hydrothermal features you get to see up close, from the bubbling mud pots to roaring smoke holes.

Check out Bumpass Hell, a boardwalk trail that takes you through an active hydrothermal area!

PRICE: US$10 per vehicle

11. Dive deep into the Empire Mine State Historic Park

an old stone cottage

Empire Mine State Park, just a short drive from Sacramento, is such a fun day trip destination taking you back for a dose of the California Gold Rush era. 

Tour the preserved mine yard, historic buildings, and the Empire Cottage – all providing a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the mine’s owners.

My favorite part of the park is the Empire Mine, a gold producer for over a century! Even if you aren’t a history buff, you’ll find this super cool. 

If you love the outdoors, stick around for awesome hiking and biking trails that wind through the park’s scenic woodlands. Check out the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge, a perfect spot for picnicking, or you can try your luck at gold panning in the creek that runs through the park.

PRICE: US$5 per adult

12. Enjoy the Pacific Ocean at Stinson Beach

a bird's eye view of a beach and ocean

Stinson Beach, just a 2 hours drive, is an incredible beach oasis in Golden Gate State Park.

Relax on the pristine shores, explore nearby hiking trails, and enjoy a peaceful day by the Pacific Ocean. You’ll love the soft, sandy shores and the gentle sound of waves breaking on the shoreline – the perfect spot for sunbathing, picnicking, or building sandcastles.

The Stinson Beach Park provides a great setting for a family adventure, complete with picnic areas and a playground.

13. Sip and savor in Sonoma & Napa Valley

vineyard in Napa Valley

Oh, how I love wine country! Sonoma and Napa Valley are located just about 1 hour from Sacramento and are the ideal day trip for wine and nature lovers.

A day trip here invites explorations into the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma Valley.

Visit Sonoma and discover its historic town plaza, explore well-preserved historic buildings, and of course, sip on phenomenal wines.

Enjoy the varietals from a plethora of amazing wineries and savor some of the region’s finest vintages. Try Buena Vista Winery, one of the oldest in the valley, and among the most beautiful wineries in Sonoma, for dynamite Cabernet Sauvignon.

Napa Valley, just a bit further north, is smaller and a bit more upscale, offering lush vineyards and world-renowned wineries (see full comparison of Napa vs Sonoma here).

The Napa Valley Wine Train offers a unique experience, allowing you to savor gourmet meals and exceptional wines while drooling over the views of the valley.

Check out Domaine Carneros for some of the best Pinot Noir you’ve ever had in your life! If you have time, explore the most beautiful Napa wineries which you can find on this list.

14. Cruise the coast at Big Sur

three people standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean

An incredible day trip option, Big Sur is a mesmerizing stretch of California’s Highway 1 and just a 3 hours drive southwest of Sacramento. The journey to Big Sur itself is an adventure, with scenic routes showcasing breathtaking coastal views.

Known best for its rugged cliffs, dramatic coastline, and lush forests, Big Sur offers an unforgettable experience for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Scared of heights? Be warned, these are sheer cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean – BUT you also have the soothing sound of crashing waves to calm you. 😭

Check out the awesome hikes that wind through redwood groves, along coastal bluffs, and to hidden waterfalls like the iconic McWay Falls Trail. It’s incredible to see waterfalls that tumble directly onto the beach.

Rather chill? Pfeiffer Beach offers a peaceful spot with unique purple sand and a stunning sea arch.

15. Discover Donner Memorial State Park & Emigrant Trail Museum

people walking around and taking photos of a monument with a family

About 3 hours from Sacramento, you’ll discover Donner Memorial State Park, surrounding the beautiful Donner Lake.

The actual journey to the park is a scenic drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, giving you an up-close look at the region’s rugged charm.

Once you arrive at Donner Lake, you’ll find a sparkling alpine lake surrounded by pine-covered tree slopes. You can swim, fish, kayak, and paddleboard in these crystal-clear waters all day long!

Don’t miss the Emigrant Trail Museum and Pioneer Monument, which help to put into perspective the entire area’s cultural significance.

For outdoor adventures, the park has amazing hiking trails, with opportunities to explore the surrounding wilderness and enjoy panoramic views of the lake and mountains.

PRICE: US$10 per vehicle

16. Hop on board the River Fox Train

a vintage train

The River Fox Train, in the heart of Sacramento, is a unique way to spend the day on a scenic rail ride along the Sacramento River, winding through the picturesque landscapes of Northern California.

As you board the vintage train, you’re transported to this bygone era of travel, with restored carriages overflowing with old-world charm. The train’s relaxing pace allows you to unwind and take in the beauty of the natural surroundings.

Rolling vineyards, lush farmlands, and the tranquil waters of the Sacramento River provide a mesmerizing backdrop for your trip.

Various themed excursions are available throughout the year, like wine-tasting tours and family-friendly adventures.

If you’re loving the rail ride experience, I found this guided rail bike tour incredibly fun and worth the time!

TOUR PRICE: US$150 per person

Check the rates

17. Go back in time with the California State Railroad Museum

an old train in a museum

Spend a day at the California State Railroad Museum, situated in the heart of Sacramento, and journey through the state’s rich railroad history. If you’re in downtown Sacramento, this museum is just a short walk or drive away, making it super convenient to add to your itinerary.

Kids will love the locomotives, vintage rail cars, and railroad artifacts. Adults do, too, of course! The museum does a really good job portraying the pivotal role the railroad played in shaping California’s development and connecting the West Coast to the rest of the country.

The excursions aboard these meticulously restored historic trains are so cool! You get to ride inside a vintage railcar, complete with era-specific decor.

If you’re super into history, the museum offers a ton of information on the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad and the hardships faced by early pioneers.

NOTE: The excursion train rides are closed until fall 2023 for track maintenance.

PRICE: US$12 per adult, US$6 per child

18. Spend time at the Old Sacramento Waterfront

A boat sails under a bridge.

The Old Sacramento Waterfront in downtown Sacramento is a great way to spend a whole day in Sacramento.

Explore the national historic district along the scenic Sacramento River. The vibrant area along Main Street is overflowing with history, entertainment, and cultural attractions.

If you’re traveling with kids, I highly suggest the Wonders Science Museum for fun learning and interactive exhibits.

As you make your way to Old Sacramento, you’ll be transported to the bygone days of California’s Gold Rush Era. The well-preserved historic district features charming brick buildings, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages, creating an immersive experience in the state’s rich heritage.

Stroll along the riverfront promenade, watch riverboats pass by, and enjoy picturesque views of the Sacramento River.

If you’re a lover of good food or just a lover of a great time, try this food tour through downtown – great eats and interesting history!

TOUR PRICE: US$100 per person

See availability

👪 Family-friendly score:medium
🏛️ Best museum:California State Railroad Museum
🎢 Top paid attraction:Guided Rail Bike Tour
🚶🏽‍♂️ Best free activity:Stinson Beach
👧 Best attraction for kids:World of Wonders
🕺 Nightlife:Downtown San Francisco

FAQs about day trips from Sacramento

aerial view of a city

🚘 What cities are 1 hour away from Sacramento?

Sutter Creek, Napa Valley, and Sonoma are only about 1 hour away from Sacramento and make for a delightful day trip destination.

🌆 What cities are about 2 hours from Sacramento?

San Francisco and Lake Tahoe are amazing cities located 2 hours away from Sacramento.

🌊 What cities are 3 hours away from Sacramento?

The charming historic towns of Big Sur, Bodega Bay, and Half Moon Bay are all about 3 hours away from Sacramento.

🚶 Can you do a day trip to Yosemite from Sacramento?

Yes, it is possible to do Yosemite as a day trip from Sacramento, but it is a 12 – 14 hour day.

Conclusion

tower bridge at night

Clearly, no shortage of day trips from Sacramento! From a few minutes’ drive to a few hours’ drive, there are incredible, interesting, and exciting trips from Sacramento’s home base.

As I mentioned earlier, the charming town of Sacramento and the surrounding areas get busy, so don’t wait to make your reservations, book your hotels and activities in advance.

Which day trip did you love? Which made you cry? Kidding! 🤣 Dish it all below!

Aloha & safe travels,

Hayden G.


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