Sacramento is the lovely state capital of California, located along the confluence of the picturesque American and Sacramento Rivers. After exploring city attractions like quaint Old Sacramento State Historic Park, visitors can use the city as a launching-off point for traveling through some of the Pacific Northwest's top wine regions, including the charming Napa and Sonoma Valleys and Lodi, the "Zinfandel Capital of the World."
Many regional mining boom towns have been preserved since the 19th-century California Gold Rush, operating as living history museums today offering underground mine tours and gold panning experiences for families. Visitors can also take a day trip to areas around the San Francisco Bay, including hip towns like Berkeley and Oakland.
Benicia is a charming waterfront city in Solano County, located within San Francisco's North Bay area along the banks of the Carquinez Strait near Vallejo and Martinez. The city is known as a top outdoor recreation destination in the Bay Area, home to over 20 parks, including the lovely Benicia State Recreation Area, which attracts cyclings, joggers, and equestrian riders throughout the year.
Its historic downtown district is home to beautiful 19th-century landmark buildings, including the Jefferson Street Mansion, the Clock Tower, and the Camel Barn. Quaint boutiques, antique stores, art galleries, book stores, and restaurants line the city's lovely First Street Promenade, which is filled with Victorian-era buildings. Unique attractions include the lovely Benicia Historical Museum, which preserves the region's history of United States Army camel operations, and Arts Benicia, which showcases dynamic art exhibitions throughout the year. Each year, the city hosts the annual Benicia Peddler's Fair, one of North Carolina's largest street fairs.
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2. Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is a quaint fishing town on Northern California's Bodega Head peninsula, located approximately two and a half hours from Sacramento's downtown district. The charming Sonoma County town is best known as the filming site for the acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock film The Birds, which was inspired by an actual attack of shorebirds in the town in the 1950s, and is home to several preserved attractions showcased in the film. Visitors can view the historic Fort Ross, originally erected in 1809 as one of the first permanent structures in California by Russian settlers. The town's lovely harbor offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the year, including opportunities for paddleboarding and kayaking. Nearby, the Russian River wine region is home to top national wineries such as Russian River Vineyards and Korbel Winery.
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Berkeley is a hip, liberal city on San Francisco Bay's eastern shoreline, known as the birthplace of several major free speech and political movements during the mid-2oth century. The delightful day trip destination is home to a wide variety of cultural attractions, including the renowned Berkeley Repertory Theater, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and the beautiful restored Hearst Greek Theatre, a concert venue that presents major live music performances by internationally-recognized independent rock musicians. The University of California Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union make the city a popular college town, which is populated by hip cafes, eclectic bookstores and shops, and delicious restaurants along its Telegraph Avenue district. Family-friendly attractions include lovely Tilden Park and the interactive Habitot Children's Discovery Museum.
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4. Apple Hill
Planning to go apple picking in the fall? Apple Hill is a charming farm district in Sacramento, originally founded in 1964 to represent 16 local apple ranches. Today, the conglomerate represents more than 50 local farms, including fruit and vegetable farms, flower and Christmas tree farms, and lovely wineries.
Visitors can explore sites like lovely Rainbow Orchards, operated by the Campbell family since 1977 and known for its famed fried-to-order cinnamon sugar cider doughnuts. Denver Dan's Apple Patch, established in 1961, offers pick-your-own orchards, a family-friendly petting zoo, and delicious fresh-baked apple pies, while Delfino Farms is home to a fully-stocked bake shop serving up Walkin' Pies with cinnamon cider sauce. Families can enjoy great opportunities for pony rides, caramel apples, and face painting throughout the fall months, while adults can sample delicious wines and brews at Jack Russell Farm Brewery or Lava Cap Winery. (website link)
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Auburn is a lovely Placer County city that is designated as a California Historical Landmark in its entirety for its significance to the state's Gold Rush history in the 19th century. Today, the city's restored Old Town district is home to a number of preserved landmarks from that era, including a preserved mid-19th-century post office and fire station building. The Placer County Museum preserves gold mining artifacts and exhibits related to the region's Chinese immigrant workers, while a memorial honors native citizen and acclaimed fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith. A wide variety of recreational opportunities abound throughout the year at Auburn State Recreation Area, which hosts the annual 100-mile Western States Trail Ride and Endurance Run, the American River 50-Mile Endurance Run and Equestrian Ride, and the Auburn Century 100-Mile Bike Ride. The region is also known as an up-and-coming wine destination, home to a variety of lovely wineries and tasting rooms.
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6. Brannan Island State Recreation Area
Brannan Island State Recreation Area is a gorgeous California state park unit in Sacramento County, located near the cities of Isleton and Rio Vista. The park protects a beautiful stretch of waterways within the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, offering amazing opportunities for striped bass, catfish, sturgeon, perch, and bullhead fishing throughout the year. Visitors can windsurf at the Windy Cove day-use area or enjoy seasonal summer swimming opportunities at Seven Mile Slough's public swimming beach. More than 76 species of birds call Frank's Tract home, along with beavers, muskrats, and river otters. A six-lane boat launch ramp is also offered, along with more than 140 overnight campsites.
17645 CA-160, Rio Vista, CA 94571, Phone: 916-777-6671
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7. The California State Railroad Museum
The California State Railroad Museum is a lovely museum in Sacramento that preserves the history of the region's railroads and their relation to the nation's development of railroad system. The charming Old Sacramento attraction dates back to 1937, founded by the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Its first public museum opened within the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station in 1976. Today, the museum is a Smithsonian-affiliated organization, showcasing a collection of nearly two dozen restored locomotives and railway cars that date back as far as the mid-19th century. Its beautiful Sierra Scene recreates a large-scale mockup of a Sierra Nevada railroad construction site at Donner Pass dating back to 1867, showcasing the Gov. Stanford locomotive. Other exhibits detail the impact of railroads on American society, travel, and commerce.
125 I St, Sacramento, CA 95814, Phone: 916-445-7387
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Davis is a delightful city located just west of Sacramento, best known as the home of the University of California Davis and its beautiful arboretum, which showcases landscaped gardens with international plants organized around the banks of Putah Creek. Visitors can explore unique museums such as the Bohart Museum of Entomology or the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame, which showcases historic bicycles and inducts important biking figures each year. The UC Davis California Raptor Center rehabilitates orphaned birds of prey, offering up-close opportunities to meet and greet with birds. The famed Davis Farmers Market, located within the city's Central Park, is operated twice a week, known for its delightful live music performances, restaurant stands, and locally-grown produce. Each year, the university campus hosts Picnic Day, the United States' largest student-run festival.
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9. Donner Memorial State Park
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Donner Memorial State Park is a beautiful California state park, located at the site of the infamous pioneer Donner Camp, where the ill-fated Donner Party spent a brutal winter in the mid-19th century without adequate supplies. Today, the site within the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been declared a National Historic Landmark, home to the Emigrant Trail Museum and the Pioneer Monument, which honor the travelers of the pioneer-era Emigrant Trail. Visitors can observe the California Historic Landmark monument, which sits atop a 22-foot pedestal at the site of the former Schallenberger and Breen Cabins. Regional history and culture exhibits are showcased at the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center, including exhibits on area indigenous groups. Over eight miles of hiking trails traverse the park, which is also home to trout fishing lakes and more than 150 campground sites.
12593 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161, Phone: 530-582-7892
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10. Emerald Bay State Park
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Emerald Bay State Park is one of Lake Tahoe's most beautiful state parks, located on the banks of the National Natural Landmark Emerald Bay, a protected region since 1969. The park is best known as the home of Vikingsholm, an incredible 38-room mansion that was constructed by Leonard Palme for Lora Knight and is considered today to be one of the United States' top examples of Scandinavian-style architecture. Visitors can explore the home as part of guided tours, which are offered daily between May and September, and learn about the history of its construction and use. Paddlewheeler boats like the M.S. Dixie II traverse the bay throughout the year, along with private yachts that can be rented through companies like Lake Tahoe Boat Rides. The park is also home to the underwater Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail, which protects the shipwrecks of a number of fishing boats and barges from the 20th century.
138 Emerald Bay Rd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, Phone: 530-541-3030
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11. Empire Mine State Historic Park
Empire Mine State Historic Park is a National Register of Historic Places-listed mine and surrounding park located in Grass Valley within the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The mine, which is also protected as a National Historic District, has been overseen as an historic site by the California state park system since 1975, preserving one of the state's oldest, largest, and richest gold mines. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the mine produced over 5.8 million ounces of gold. Visitors can learn about the mine's operations at the park's visitor center, which offers a variety of historic exhibits, including a scale model of the mine's network. The entrance to the mine shaft is also preserved and on display throughout the year outside on the center's grounds. Guided tours of the former mine yard elaborate on the mine's workers and operations throughout the years.
10791 E Empire St, Grass Valley, CA 95945, (website link)
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12. Folsom Lake
Folsom Lake is a charming 11,500-acre manmade reservoir nestled into the foothills of California's gorgeous Sierra Nevada Mountain range, serving as the anchor for popular day-use recreation site Folsom Lake State Recreational Area. The recreational area is one of California's most-visited public parks, attracting over two million annual visitors. Its 19,500 acres offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities throughout the year, including opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, biking, water skiing, and boating. Visitors can fish for a variety of species throughout the year on the lake's waters, including catfish, trout, and bass. Tours of the nearby Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park detail the operations of the former Sacramento electrical power plant, which operated throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Campgrounds near the lake include the Beals Point Campground, offering opportunities for tent and RV hookups.
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13. The Locke Historic District
The Locke Historic District preserves the historic city of Locke, located within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta agricultural region. The city was developed in 1915 by immigrants from China's Heungshan County, the modern-day site of Zhongshan, in Guangdong Province. Today, it stands as the United States' most complete preserved example of a rural agricultural Chinese-American community from the 20th century. Many former Chinese-American buildings are still in operation throughout the city, maintaining their historic character due to the city's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Attractions include the Chinese School, the Dai Loy Museum, the Chinese Cultural Shop, and the delightful Al the Wop's Saloon cocktail bar.
Walnut Grove, CA 95690
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14. Jelly Belly Factory Tours
Jelly Belly Factory Tours explore the operations of the famed Jelly Belly Factory, which is known throughout the world as the top producer of creatively-flavored jelly beans. The company, which was founded in 1898, operates out of Fairfield, California and produces more than 50 flavors of unique jelly bean flavors, ranging from traditional flavors like orange, lime, and lemon to specialty flavors like cappuccino, Tabasco sauce, eggnog, piña colada, and Harry Potter-themed Bertie's Botts Every Flavour Beans. Visitors can explore the Fairfield factory facility as part of self-guided tours daily during business hours, with the exception of major national holidays. Factory operations are broadcast on high-definition television, while interactive exhibits detail aspects of production and company history. The Jelly Belly Bean Art Gallery showcases unique jelly bean-themed artwork, while the Jelly Bean Cafe serves up clever jelly bean-shaped pizzas and hamburgers.
1 Jelly Belly Ln, Fairfield, CA 94533, Phone: 707-428-2838, (website link)
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15. Lake Tahoe
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Lake Tahoe is one of the most renowned tourist destinations in Northern California, known as a mecca for year-round outdoor recreational opportunities. The region is best known as one of the best skiing destinations on the Pacific Coast, home to delightful skiing areas like Alpine Meadows, the Heavenly Mountain Resort, and the 1960 Winter Olympic Games-associated facilities of Palisades Tahoe. Visitors can enjoy excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing, snow tubing, jet skiing, parasailing, and stand-up paddleboarding throughout the year or relax at beautiful summer destinations like Kings Beach and Tahoe City. On the Nevada side of the lake, legal casinos include the lively Calneva, formerly owned by 20th-century singer Frank Sinatra.
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Lodi is a delightful San Joaquin County city that is known as a major wine production region in Northern California, rivaling popular viticultural areas Napa and Sonoma as the "Zinfandel Capital of the World." The region, which was named the 2015 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, is home to world-renowned wineries like Mondavi Winery and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi. Each year, the city hosts the annual Zinfest festival, honoring the region's internationally-acclaimed zinfandel varietals. Other wine-related events held throughout the year include the Lodi Grape Festival and the Wine and Food Festival. The town is also known as the birthplace of delicious A&W Root Beer, showcasing the beverage's production history at its A&W Museum. Visitors can also explore the preserved 1901 Hill House Museum, the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum, and the family-friendly World of Wonders science museum.
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Murphys, formerly known as Murphy's Camp, is a former gold mining village located deep within the Sierra Nevada Mountains foothills in Calaveras County. The town, which is commonly referred to as the "Queen of the Sierra," has been transformed from a 19th-century gold mining village into a modern wine mecca, known throughout the Pacific Northwest for its award-winning wineries and vineyards. More than 25 winery tasting rooms line the town's Main Street, all within easy walking distance for downtown visitors. Historic homes and structures preserved from the region's mining era include the Old Mining Camp of Brownsville, which thrived throughout the mid-19th century, and the Murphys Hotel, which once hosted international luminaries like Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant. Annual special events include a July vineyard tour hosted by the Calaveras Wine Alliance, an October Grape Stomp, and an Irish Days parade that attracts over 35,000 spectators.
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18. Napa Valley
Napa Valley is one of the top wine-growing regions in the Pacific Northwest, acclaimed for its delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot wine varietals. The region gained international prominence following its noted successes at the prestigious 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition. Today, it is home to over 400 wineries located along the picturesque Silverado Trail, including renowned wineries like Harlan Estate and To Kalon Vineyard. Visitors can enjoy tastings and tours at many of the region's lovely wineries and vineyards throughout the week or explore the region as part of vintage locomotive dinner excursions operated by the Napa Valley Wine Train. Michelin-starred restaurants line the region's business districts, known for their creative Californian cuisine and excellent wine pairing menus. Browse our California weekend getaways guide for more ideas.
19. Nevada City
Nevada City is one of Northern California's most picturesque towns, located just an hour northeast of San Francisco in Nevada County. The tree-lined city, which was originally settled in 1849 as a mining town, is home to some of California's best-preserved historic buildings, including the 1865 Nevada Theatre, the state's oldest-operating theater, which has hosted performers such as Mark Twain and Mötley Crüe throughout its history. Visitors can explore the city's history at its converted firehouse museum, which showcases indigenous artifacts alongside artifacts related to the region's early European and Chinese pioneers. Delightful gift shops, antique stores, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants and cafes line the city's downtown historic district. Just outside the city, the charming community of Grass Valley is home to acclaimed wineries like Sierra Starr Vineyards and Lucchesi Winery. Annual special events include the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, the Nevada City Storytelling Festival, and one of the nation's oldest and largest Constitution Day celebrations.
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Oakland is the largest city in Alameda County, located along San Francisco's East Bay adjacent to the city's downtown district. The city, which developed quickly following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, is known as a major cultural and progressive hub in the Pacific Northwest today, recognized nationally for its top-tier sports teams, political activism, and lively tourist attractions. Visitors can explore a plethora of cutting-edge art galleries in the city's Old Oakland, Jack London Square, and Chinatown neighborhoods, which have earned the city a reputation as one of the nation's most vibrant artist communities. Family-friendly activities include the Oakland Zoo, home to more than 650 animal species and a wildlife center, the storybook-themed Children's Fairyland, and the Chabot Space and Science Center. Visitors can also explore attractions such as the Oakland Museum of California, the USS Hornet Sea, Air, and Space Museum, and the beautiful University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
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21. San Francisco
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San Francisco is one of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful cities, located on a beautiful hilltop peninsula overlooking the gorgeous waters of the San Francisco Bay. Visitors can explore historic landmarks such as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, showcasing beautiful Art Deco architecture since 1937, and the notorious former federal prison of Alcatraz Island, which has been converted into a living history museum offering guided tours today. Over 82,000 acres throughout the city's metropolitan area has been protected as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, making the city one of America's greenest. Visitors can also ride the city's famed cable car system, dine at internationally-renowned restaurants and cafes in hip neighborhoods like the city's Mission District, or peruse cultural sites like the DeYoung Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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22. Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Valley is one of the top wine-growing destinations in the Pacific Northwest, located less than an hour north of the city of San Francisco. The charming valley is known as the birthplace of California's wine industry, growing delicious grape varietals since the mid-19th century. Today, the Sonoma Valley and Carneros American Viticultural Areas are home to more than 400 wineries, which offer tastings and tours throughout the week at public tasting rooms. In addition to sampling wines, visitors can also explore lovely attractions like the Quarryhill Botanic Garden, Sonoma State Historic Park, the 1933 Sebastiani Theatre, and the preserved General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo Home, the historic home of the region's last Spanish governor.
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23. South Yuba River State Park
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South Yuba River State Park is a charming California state park located on the banks of the Yuba River's South Fork. The park, which spans more than 11,000 acres throughout the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountains, stretches along the South Yuba River Canyon between Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park and the charming city of Bridgeport. Visitors can explore the scenic river's massive granite ledges, calm riparian stretches, and natural swimming holes, which are among the area's best summer swimming destinations. Hiking, cycling, and mountain biking trails traverse its lovely natural areas, exploring historic Gold Country sites like the 1862 Bridgeport Covered Bridge. The Independence Trail also offers ADA-accessible nature trail experiences. Gold panning demonstrations are offered throughout the year, along with docent-led nature walks elaborating on the park's unique geology and wildflower species.
17660 Pleasant Valley Rd, Penn Valley, CA 95946, Phone: 530-432-2546
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Stockton is a delightful city located on the banks of the San Joaquin River, named in honor of Robert F. Stockton. The city, which has been named as an All-American City, is located just an hour and a half east of San Francisco and is known for its diverse cultural scene, lovely wineries, and year-round farmer's markets. It is home to two university campuses, including the California State University Stanislaus, which is home to attractions like the World Peace Rose Garden and the University Park Discovery Trail. Unique destinations include the 1930 Bob Hope Theatre, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Haggin Museum, which showcases the world's largest collection of illustrations by Saturday Evening Post artist J.C. Leyendecker. Families can play at the Children's Museum of Stockton or take in minor league baseball games at Banner Island Ballpark. Special events hosted in the city throughout the year include the Stockton Asparagus Festival and the lively Cambodian New Year Celebration. (website link)
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25. Sutter Creek
Sutter Creek is a lovely Sierra Foothill Wine County town that is commonly known as the "Sausalito of the Foothills" for its highly-walkable downtown district and charming ambiance. The quaint Amador County town serves as a great launching-off point for exploring the surrounding wine country areas of Shenandoah Valley, Fairplay, and Calaveras County wine regions. Visitors can peruse the city's Main Street shops and restaurants or explore the exhibits of the Amador County Museum, which provides glimpses into the former operations of the Kennedy Gold Mine. Families can enjoy gold panning activities at Volcano Memorial Park or the Sutter Gold Mine, which also offers one-hour underground mine shaft tours.
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