9 Wonderful Winter Day Trips Within 2 Hours of Sacramento

Three Lake Tahoe cabins covered in winter snow.

9 Wonderful Winter Day Trips Within 2 Hours of Sacramento

December 21, 2023 | By The Railyards

In Sacramento, you're just a short drive away from winter rain showers along the coast or snow flurries in the mountains. Whether you're looking to stroll through a museum or hit the slopes, there's plenty of fun to be had. If you're looking for adventure this season, try a winter day trip to one of these 9 beautiful Northern California destinations.

Folsom - ½ Hour from Sacramento

Put your skates on and enjoy the Folsom Ice Rink in Historic Folsom District, which is open until January 14, 2024. While you're there, stroll through Historic Folsom, where you can shop and eat at one of the local restaurants or shops along historic Sutter Street.

Take advantage of the area's mild winters with a walk along the Johnny Cash Trail. This 2.5-mile trail winds through rolling green California countryside, beginning in Historic Folsom and ending at the Johnny Cash Overpass Bridge near the famous Folsom Prison. It is just a short walk from the shores of Folsom Lake.

Spend an evening exploring Historic Folsom, or enjoy dinner at one of the area's many incredible eateries. Grab a beer and a burger at Out of Bounds, enjoy a glass of wine and live music at Bacchus House Wine Bar & Bistro, or warm up with a bowl of ramen at Fukumi.

Nevada City - 1 Hour from Sacramento

Dive into California's past by driving just an hour up 80 & Highway 49. A day trip to Nevada City and the surrounding area is perfect for local history buffs.

Fans of railroad history will enjoy the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, which pays homage to the first woman to become Railroad President, Sarah Kidder. Take a trip back in time to the Gold Rush with a visit to the Empire Mine Historic State Park. Don't forget to visit the park's "Secret Room," which houses an incredible scale model of the mine's below-the-surface workings.

If you're visiting in late Winter, don't miss the town's annual Mardi Gras Parade in early February. Enjoy excellent local dining, an exciting street fair, and festive parade floats.

San Francisco - 1 ½ Hours from Sacramento

San Francisco is just a quick drive from Sacramento, making it a perfect family-friendly winter day trip. Grab a train to SF from the Sacramento Valley Station for a more picturesque trip.

Spend a winter afternoon by the bay by catching a show at the theater or exploring a local museum. Enjoy exploring the California Academy of Science, where you can see Claude the albino alligator, or the towering skeletons of a T. rex and a blue whale. You can also experience the interactive exhibits at the Exploratorium, catch a theater performance, or grab tickets to a Golden State Warriors game.

The elegant dome on the grounds of the Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Petaluma - 1 ½ Hours from Sacramento

Those looking to spend a quiet afternoon exploring Sonoma County and wine country will enjoy a day trip to Petaluma.

Grab lunch and a brew at Lagunitas Brewing Company, or visit famous Sonoma County wineries like Keller Estate, Azari Vineyards, and Parum Leo. Stop in for a snack at Marin French Cheese Co., the oldest continuously operating cheese manufacturer in the country. You can pair your cheese with a bottle of exceptional local olive oil from McEvoy Ranch, a family-owned farm in Petaluma.

San Jose - 2 Hours from Sacramento

A trip to the museum is the perfect way to spend a chilly winter afternoon. If you're looking to explore Northern California, San Jose has plenty to offer the curious minds in your family.

Stop by the famous Winchester Mystery House for an afternoon of architecture and ax throwing or a spooky evening ghost tour. Explore local culture at the San Jose Museum of Art, which hosts an impressive collection of roughly 2,500 modern and contemporary artworks. You can also explore The Tech Interactive, San Jose's world-renowned science and technology center. The center offers exhibits on climate change, robotics, cybersecurity, and more.

Bodega Bay - 2 Hours from Sacramento

In wintertime, gray whales make their seasonal journey south to Baja California. This time of year, keen-eyed whale watchers can often spot them in regions such as Bodega Bay. The Bodega Head peninsula juts out about 5 miles into the Pacific, making it a prime spot for whale watching - don't forget to bring your binoculars! 

After an afternoon of whale watching, head back to Bodega Bay to enjoy a bowl of the area's famous clam chowder and stroll through the art salons and shops. You can even enjoy a meal at the Tides Wharf Restaurant, which was made famous by Hitchcock's film "The Birds."

A rocky outcropping along the ocean in Bodega Bay, California.

Lake Tahoe - 2 Hours from Sacramento

The season's snowfall transforms the slopes of Lake Tahoe into a winter wonderland. There's plenty of cold-weather fun to be had in Tahoe for the adventurous type.

There are winter activities for every budget and taste. Grab a lift ticket to one of Tahoe's 11 downhill resorts and hit the slopes, or take a snowshoeing tour. Or, enjoy a day of tubing or sledding for something a bit more low-key. Are you looking to get out of the cold? Try your luck at Tahoe's casinos.

Don't forget to check to see if any chain control requirements are in place before heading into the mountains for the day.

Russian River Valley - 2 Hours From Sacramento

Winter is the perfect time of year to take a drive through wine country. Avoid the Napa crowds by heading to the more laid-back Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Cozy up next to the fire with one of the Pinot Noirs that the area is known for.

As you enjoy your drive through Sonoma County, look out for colorful cover crops blooming in the vineyard. Wineries plant cover crops between the rows or under the vines to help avoid erosion, aerate the soil, and add nitrogen to the earth. In the Russian River Valley, mustard is one of the most eye-catching cover crops. It starts blooming in late January and early February, offering a stunning display of gold throughout the vines.

A vineyard blanketed with yellow mustard flowers.

Truckee - 2 Hours from Sacramento

Just two hours outside of Sacramento, Truckee is a perfect day trip if you're looking for winter outdoor sports or a taste of California's history. Truckee was once the site of a lumber mill, stagecoach stop, and railroad station. The town became a winter sports hotspot in 1875 and, in 1960, was the site of the Winter Olympics. Stroll historic Downtown Truckee to take in the history, or pop into the Railroad Museum and Old Jailhouse Museum to learn more. When you're done, dine at Jax at the Tracks, a classic American diner featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.

Looking for a little more adventure? Truckee also offers excellent snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing.

Searching for other winter-time experiences near Sacramento? Discover local events and nearby destinations with the Railyards. Read more.

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