It will take around 2 hours from Sacramento but you can head to the coast towards San Francisco to enjoy the culture, the food, the history, and all of the city has to offer. Although San Francisco is known for the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars, you can also go to see Golden Gate Park.
You can easily spend a day or more exploring the park’s 1000 acres. Luckily the park has free shuttle rides to get you around, and you could rent a segway and explore with a tour or ever on your own. Whether you are looking for a playground or a museum, the park has it all, including its own aquarium.
Ride the carousel, explore the conservatory or the flowers, Marvel at the wonders inside the California Academy of Sciences, and take to the art and the De Young Museum. Or even simply enjoy a picnic in one of the lakes in the park.
You can also take the Alcatraz Prison tour during your visit to San Francisco. The toughest inmates in the United States were housed in this old federal jail on Alcatraz Island. It was shut down in the 1970s and is now a national monument that visitors can visit.
If you're going to the island in the summer, book the ferry early because it gets really busy!
Even if you have been to San Francisco before, we’re betting there is something new for you to see.
Head a little further south to Santa Cruz, and the beach awaits. Spend the day in the sand or head to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park for some excitement.
The 24-hour amusement park has classic carnival games, snack booths, and a wooden roller coaster called a Giant Dipper, which can be seen throughout the city.
Since this city is on the coast, there are several beaches to choose from. If you head to the main beach or the casual beach, you will be able to visit Santa Cruz Wharf, which sits in between. It’s the longest pier on the West Coast.
If you want to see butterflies and beaches, check out the National Bridges State Beach, which is true to its name, has a natural bridge across the beach. It’s also home to Monarch Grove, which is a natural preserve for Monarch butterflies, which could be seen during their migration over the fall and winter months.
Beaches, boardwalk, butterflies! You can definitely find plenty to do in Santa Cruz.
The Mystery Spot
Just outside of Santa Cruz in the Redwoods, the Mystery Spot, opened in 1939 by George Prather, is a gravitational anomaly that must be seen to believe. Visitors experience demonstrations that appear to defy gravity, on the short but steep uphill walk and inside a wooden building on the site. This location is only 150 feet in diameter, but the mystery is larger than the space that occupies, and it’s defied perception since its discovery, it should definitely be on your day trip agenda.
Mystery Spot now offers online ticket reservations. The total charge per advance ticket is $8.00. Children 3 and under are free. Parking is $5 per vehicle payable upon arrival by cash or checks only.
It is approximately a 45-minutes tour.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Head a little further down the coast, and you’ll see the Cannery Row in Monterey, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This may be more than a day trip because exploring the history, culture, shopping, and cuisine of Cannery Row, and not to mention spending the day among the creatures of the sea might be worth more than a day.
The oceanside location of the aquarium offers breathtaking views and often glimpses of wildlife in their natural habitat. Inside the aquarium, it offers a unique experience with a variety of sea creatures and educational exhibits. The incredible exhibits contain over 35,000 sea creatures, including creatures from the Monterey Bay itself, a giant pacific octopus, a kelp forest, an open sea exhibit, and so much more. Absolutely unbelievable!
Sea Otters are the favorite of the aquarium. You can observe them frolicking and playing. The two stories exhibit at both the surface and underground. They’re an exciting animal to watch. They’re super cute, super fun!
In addition to the sea otters, there are also penguins, sharks, jellyfish, and so much more.
It is an exciting and educational location that should be on your day trip agenda.
Palo Alto and Stanford University
The main attraction of Palo Alto is Stanford University. Stanford has served as a high-tech incubator in Silicon Valley, with graduates founding Nike, Hewlett-Packard, Electronic Arts, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Cisco Systems, and Google are only a few examples.
The large campus is a great place to explore, stroll through the gardens, and take in the architecture of the campus. You will definitely want to take time to immerse yourself in the art and culture that can be found throughout the campus and the Cantor Art Center. This Cantor Art Center is dedicated to a vast variety of art spanning 5,000 years. This jewel of a museum is easy to visit in a day, with everything from ancient Chinese ceramics to 19th century American drawings to one of the best collections of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris.
Take a public tour through the art center, and use the online arts map to discover all the sculptures throughout the campus. If you’re an architecture fan, make sure you take time to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the Hannah House!
The Stanford Shopping Center is a shopper's paradise, with over 140 stores, scores of restaurants and coffee shops, and public works by nationally renowned artists. This open-air shopping center is one of the best in the region and can meet all of your shopping needs.
Downtown Palo Alto, which is adjacent to Stanford, is pedestrian-friendly, has plenty of parking, and top–rated restaurants and nightlife. When you've had your fill of wandering and people-watching, take a break at the revived Stanford Theater, which shows classic films.
The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which preserves some of the few surviving salt marsh and mud-flat areas on the West Coast, provides year-round birding, walking, and hiking opportunities for the more adventurous tourists.
Approximately 57 miles from Sacramento, Napa Valley is best known for its incredible vineyards and wineries, but there is so much more to see and do there.
No trip to Napa will be full for a budding sommelier without a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train; it's simply the best.
This antique locomotive also serves as a traveling restaurant, making for a memorable, fulfilling, and high-class day out.
For those who aren't interested in wine, a day trip to Napa would be more interesting if they visited the Sharpsteen Museum or the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.
El Dorado National Forest
The Eldorado is within 3 - 4 hours of the San Francisco Bay Area and about 1 - 1.5 hours from Sacramento. It has pine trees, tranquil lakes, and easily accessible hiking trails.
The El Dorado National Forest is a peaceful park with no crowds. It is a welcoming contrast to Sacramento, which is a hustling, buzzing area. If you arrive and don't want to leave, you can camp overnight in this national forest.
Tahoe National Forest
Approximately 136 miles from Sacramento, Tahoe National Forest is ideal for first-time hikers or those looking to improve their fitness. You can pick up a map of the roads at the visitors center and plan your day's adventures.
The Tahoe National Forest is an ideal location for a picnic, with several shady places to spread out the blanket and crack open the sandwich box.
Truckee is a sleepy California town with many secret treasures to discover.
The Emigrant Trail Museum has some amazing artifacts on display as well as fascinating insights into the region's history.
A relaxing afternoon walk through Donner Memorial State Park is recommended.
You could go for a stroll around Donner Lake itself if you're feeling really energized.
Truckee is better known as a ski area, with a large number of ski fields towering over the town. The most popular resort is Northstar California, which is closely followed by the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area.
Around 2 hours drive from Sacramento, Reno is a buzzing city that can compete with other destinations, but it's frequently compared to Las Vegas. It’s affectionately known as the “Biggest Little City” in the world. It’s close to Lake Tahoe and a popular spot for gambling and casinos however the city has a lot more charm and a great place to spend the weekend.
Reno is a huge art town with art and murals all over the downtown part of the city.
Rock Climbing at Whitney Peak Hotel is an incredible experience in the city of Reno. The climbing wall is one of the tallest in the world at 164 feet tall. Right next to the Reno Arch, this rock wall is definitely not for those who are afraid of heights.
The National Automobile Museum, Nevada Museum of Art, and Wilbur D. May Museum are also worth exploring.
Skiing is popular here! Just 30 minutes from some of the best ski slopes in the west, Reno offers close access to Mt. Rose, which has the highest base elevation of the Tahoe mountain resorts at 8,260 feet. Some of the other slopes include Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Heavenly, and Squaw Valley (host of the 1960 Olympics).
Folsom is an easy and accessible day trip from Sacramento. Lying just a 30-minute drive from Sacramento city centre, Folsom has a wealth of history to explore.
Hundreds of rescued wild and domestic animals are housed at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. Touring the zoo sanctuary is a great way to spend the day and see animals that live there, such as bears, wolf-hybrids, monkeys, birds, raptors, foxes, cougars, snakes, butterflies, and more.
Take a stroll on scenic pathways that wind through the zoo sanctuary’s wooded landscape while you learn the history and story of each special animal. Then, take a ride on the Folsom Valley Railway through Folsom City Lions Park.
You can also visit Folsom State Prison, which is the second oldest prison in California. This museum will show you confiscated items from inmates, weapons, things they’ve made, and Johnny Cash memorabilia. There is also a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs to take home. When you visit, avoid wearing blue jeans because that is what the prisoners in the jail wear!
Carmel By The Sea
Monterey County’s smallest village, Carmel By The Sea, is around 3 hours (approximately 190 miles) away from Sacramento.
This seaside town is jam-packed full of adventure, culture, history, great food, and plenty of activities to entertain anyone looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or some time away.
To fully experience the charm of Carmel-by-the-Sea, take an electric bike and head down 8th Avenue to Scenic Road where you will arrive upon pristine Carmel Beach. Take a breather and simply soak in the sights and sounds of crashing waves, dashing dogs, and dolphins swimming in the surf.
Mendocino National Forest
The approximate distance from Sacramento to Mendocino National Forest is 114 miles.
The Mendocino National Forest is located in northwestern California, on the eastern spur of the Coastal Mountain Range, just three hours north of San Francisco and Sacramento. The Forest's 65-mile-long and 35-mile-wide mountains and canyons offer a variety of outdoor activities, including camping, climbing, backpacking, boating, fishing, hunting, nature research, and photography.
There are so many miles of trails available to you at the Mendocino National Forest to select from. Plan your journey by location or the sites you can see along your route. Be sure to notice the trail difficulty as well.
The distance from Sacramento to Capitola is 150 miles.
Capitola, a charming seaside village, started as a simple tent camp along the Monterey Bay coast. Camp Capitola, as it was called, opened its doors to its first visitors in 1874, making it California's first beach resort. A few years later, it opened Hotel Capitola, a majestic wood-frame Victorian hotel that recalled grand contemporaries including the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego and the Hotel del Coronado in San Francisco’s original Cliff House.
It's all about Capitola Beach and the bench-lined Esplanade Park that sits in front of it. Beachgoers take in the panoramic beach scene from a large, arcing sea wall lined with colorful tiles painted by community members. During the summer, a nearby bandstand comes alive with live music and a free movie series that screens famous films.
If you want to take something along with you then visit the Village Mouse, a family-owned business with a fantastic interior filled with souvenirs, beachy home decor, and holiday decorations. The Thomas Kinkade Gallery, which is connected to the store, is brimming with studio-proof paintings of bucolic American scenes, including a few local landscapes.
Also, visit Craft Gallery, which features the work of local artists and craftspeople, such as manager Josie, who welds sheet metal into seaside imagery, beginning with the metal hood from her old car. She refers to it as "drawing with flames."
Capitola Beach's complex of vivid houses is an unmistakable feature of the seaside scenery. They were designed as condominiums in 1925 with the intention of bringing the beauty of Venice to Capitola. The Capitola Venetian Hotel is made up of brown houses that used to be part of the same complex. Get a multi-bedroom space with a kitchen and a lounge area and be close to everything!
If you have an interest in the events and forces that shaped the local landscape, drop by the Capitola Historical Museum for a peek into the town’s rich history.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Park
The approximate distance from Sacramento is 46 miles.
It's hard to imagine the quiet stretch of twisting Highway 49 between Auburn and Placerville was once the thriving nucleus of one of California's most significant events. Here, in a stretch of the snowmelt-fed American River that slides past the don’t-blink town of Coloma, a sawmill employee named James Marshall first noticed glints of the precious metal in the river’s silt. That Gold Rush of 1849 had begun.
Coloma grew to a population of 10,000 inhabitants, and a schoolhouse, a general store, and a tin-roofed post office were built. These and other historic buildings are now protected as part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. There's a fun Gold Discovery Museum where kids can try their hand at gold panning.
Find a shady picnic spot near the river's leafy trails. Stay for dinner; the local ingredients shine in dishes like free-range chicken roasted with shallots, bacon, and crimini mushrooms at Café Mahjaic, which is located in an 1855 brick building in the even smaller nearby town of Lotus.
About 57 miles from Sacramento, this Gold Rush-era town offers a great selection of stores that are mostly independently owned. The town also has a historic landmark hotel and some tasty restaurants. There is an abundance of outdoor activities nearby as well.
The pedestrian-friendly downtown area of Grass Valley offers events such as film festivals, car shows, night markets, Cornish Christmas events, and all sorts of celebrations.
Historic landmarks from the Gold Rush era can be found in the city. There are gold rush artifacts, mining supplies, and machinery that was used to pound tons of gold during the gold rush's heyday on display. These fascinating objects can be found around town, both in the downtown area and on residential streets.
Downtown consists of two main streets and a variety of shops filled with candy, clothing, home decor, art, and many with healing and spiritual items.
Visit the vineyard, which offers stunning views of the Sierra Nevada mountains. From the growth of the grapes to the creation of the wine, you will see the whole winemaking process at the vineyard.
One of Grass Valley California's hidden gems is the Grass Valley Museum, which is located on the second floor of St. Joseph's Cultural Center. A guided tour will highlight vintage wedding dresses and the story behind the area's convent orphanage. It is rich in the heritage and memorabilia of the small town that created two of California's richest gold mines.
A guide to the North Star Powerhouse Mining Museum is the best way to get a sense of the Grass Valley's mining history. This museum is in a historic stone building. Take your time to explore the exhibits and learn about many different tools, used to carry miners down into the mines or move water from the mine shafts.
Don’t miss the Northstar House, a 10,000 square foot home that was designed by California’s first licensed female architect, Julia Morgan.
Empire Mine State Park
The distance from Sacramento to Empire Mine State Park is approximately 57 miles.
Empire Mine State Park was one of the most prominent gold mines in California that yielded more than 5.6 million ounces of gold before the mid-1950s when operations ceased.
Visit the Empire Mine State Park to see live demonstrations in the living history exhibit, visit original structures, and examine authentic mining machinery. The onsite picnic areas are pet-friendly, and surrounding areas include biking and hiking trails.
The distance from Sacramento to Nevada City is approximately 60 miles.
With a population of just over 3,000, Nevada City got its start during the gold rush and is rich in history from that time. Several sites are on the National Register of Historic Places. Firehouse No. 2 and the National Hotel, which is the oldest, still-operating hotel west of the Rockies, are two of these locations. Three museums in Nevada City will both educate and entertain you.
The Nevada County Railroad Museum, located in the Seven Hills Business District, is one of the most special. For model railroad enthusiasts, this narrow-gauge railroad is a sight to behold. It's well-kept by volunteers who want to preserve the history of rail in this area.
Check out Nevada City's range of small shops and restaurants if you want to do something more relaxing during your stay. Broad Street is lined with small shops and eateries, so if you're looking for a bite to eat, you've come to the right spot.
Broad Street is the place to go if you want something special to remember your time here. Souvenirs, jewelry, sweet food, outdoor clothing, and other products are sold in shops. Another benefit to Broad Street is the family of merchants who sincerely appreciate the fact that you enjoy their little town. They can give you inside information that only locals know.
Depending on when you visit Nevada City, you may be able to attend one of the city's annual events. The Wild & Scenic Film Festival takes place in January. Nevada City hosts Gold Rush Days in June. The 4th of July Parade and a storytelling festival are also held in July.
California State Capitol Museum
The California State Capitol Museum is a must-see stop on any Sacramento itinerary. It's a living museum dedicated to sharing California's history while still helping to shape the future of the state. The grounds and building are open to the public seven days a week for exploration.
Each of the 58 counties has a showcase that features the best of the best. As you continue through the hallways, you'll come to the Capitol Rotunda, which is one of the building's most stunning architectural features. The rotunda separates and unites the Senate and Assembly, the two chambers of the California State Legislature, which are located in the south and north wings of the Capitol, respectively.
Keep an eye out for the portraits of all of California's governors as you walk through the house. Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown (first term), and Ronald Reagan, California's first governor who went on to become President of the United States, are among those worth noting.
Be sure to make your way down to the Governor's office to take a picture with the giant bronze bear, gifted by Schwarzenegger. On the first floor, there are also historic rooms that have been renovated to embody various architectural and legislative periods, reflecting the progression of California's culture and philosophies through the leadership's legacy.
The 40 acres Capitol Park has a World Peace Rose Garden, and several memorials and monuments to visit and learn about. Capitol Park includes memorials for the Mexican-American War, Father Junipero Serra, firefighters, peace officers, the Spanish-American War, the USS California Bell, the Vietnam War, and more.
Sacramento History Museum
The Sacramento History Museum, located in the historic Old Sacramento Waterfront, tells the story of how the city established, how it survived, and how it evolved from a Gold Rush gateway to California's capital. In addition to the Museum, several programs like walking tours of the historic district, underground tours are designed to engage and connect through history and make history accessible to all.
California State Railroad Museum
Sacramento is home to the largest railroad museum west of the Mississippi, which contains various locomotives, rail cars (including dining and mail cars), and a model train display, as well as telling the story of the transcontinental railroad's construction and involvement in the development of California and the western states.
The California State Railroad Museum is also your place to book holiday train trips like the Polar Express and other rail excursions departing from the Old Sacramento Waterfront.
Yosemite National Park
The distance from Sacramento to Yosemite National Park is 170 miles.
Yosemite has long been a place of inspiration for climbers and nature lovers. Adventure junkies come here to lose themselves in the park's magnificent mountains and valleys. The most famous and beautiful section of the park is Yosemite Valley, home to big-name tourist attractions, like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.
Glacier Road and Tioga Road provide seasonal connections to other parts of the park outside of the valley. Glacier Road has breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley. Tioga Road runs east-west through the preserve, passing through alpine scenery and offering beautiful, and much less crowded, hiking trails. Tioga Road opens later in the spring than Glacier Road due to its higher elevation.
You can find things to do all over the park, from hiking, biking, and climbing, to visiting museums and galleries.
We hope that this list was helpful for those of you planning day trips from Sacramento. Be sure to check out GAFFL to find a travel buddy for your upcoming day trip.
Looking to learn more about other popular day trips in the United States? Check out these guides: