Gold Country Comes Alive on a Drive around Sacramento

Sacramento day trips

If it’s striking scenery, quaint towns or fascinating history you’re after, then buckle up and plug Sacramento and the surrounding Gold Country into your GPS. California’s interior in and around the state capital offers a wealth of options for multiple day drives or short road trips, whether you wish to sit back and enjoy the lush and rustic landscape or stop and explore the many historic sites and attractions along the way.

It’s a region that continues to grow and evolve with a variety of new offerings for day-trippers. “Sacramento is undergoing a distinct transformation,” says Lucy Steffens, director of travel media at Visit Sacramento. “Redevelopment is happening across the region, with a thriving culinary and craft beer scene and new and exciting attractions, restaurants and activities around every corner.”

The California Delta

River Road (Highway 160), which hugs the banks of the Sacramento River, offers a great place to start in the California Delta – a vast system of rivers, channels and canals formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Set below sea level, California’s “Holland” features marshes, expansive islands and huge populations of migrating waterfowl, making it one of the most popular birding spots in the state.

At the town of Rio Vista, cross the half-mile-long Rio Vista Bridge, one of many historic drawbridges along the route, and meander north along the river toward the towns of Walnut Grove and neighboring Locke. Established in 1915 by Chinese laborers, the entire town of Locke has been designated a historic district, with its main street featuring preserved buildings with balconies and covered sidewalks. You can also stop by the Dai Loy Gambling Museum with artifacts from the town’s earliest days.

Downtown Sacramento

The road continues north along the river bank to the hamlet of Clarksburg, where Old Sugar Mill, a former beet sugar mill originally built in 1934, now houses 11 boutique wineries and their tasting rooms. From here, it’s a 15-minute drive along the river to downtown Sacramento and a host of city attractions, including the famed Crocker Art Museum, the longest continuously operated art museum in the West. Don’t miss the state’s majestic domed Capitol building on the lush 40-acre Capitol Park, a gleaming neo-classical achievement of art and architecture built in the late 1800s, which also serves as a museum.

East Sacramento

Another drive embarks on the eastern edge of Sacramento near Folsom Lake. Hop on Green Valley Road and continue east from the floor of the Central Valley toward Placerville, just inside El Dorado National Forest and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Drive along the rolling hills through rustic farmland, old ranches and former gold-mining areas. The town of Placerville, or “Hangtown” as it was known during the gold rush days, features historic buildings set along its Main Street, with creaky wood floors and Old West character.

Drivers can continue east along Lincoln Highway (Highway 50) or one of several back roads, toward the many orchards of Apple Hill. Rolling hills and valley oaks give way to steeper terrain, mountain streams, and pine, cedar and madrone trees. Stop for some apple picking and stunning views or pick up some fresh pies and produce.

Gold Country

Another day-trip option is one of the most popular and photogenic drives in the Sacramento and Gold Country region. Golden Chain Highway (Highway 49), or the Gold Rush Trail, offers up rich history and a variety of scenic vistas. The north-south highway winds through one historic town after another, amid pastoral valleys, and twisting mountain roads that offer exquisite canyon views.

Sonora, not far from Yosemite National Park, was founded by Mexican miners during the gold rush era, and it retains much of its historic charm and early architecture, featuring quaint antique shops and museums offering insight into its gold rush mining days.

The drive north twists and climbs past hillsides and rocky meadows resplendent with multi-colored wildflowers, as well as numerous lakes, rivers and streams. Trees vary from oaks and pinyon pines to tall firs and redwoods ranging across higher slopes. Cruise through the town of Sutter Creek and past the many hillside vineyards of the Shenandoah Valley wine-growing region.

Stop at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma, where the first tiny flecks of gold were discovered, kicking off the Gold Rush of 1849. Then continue on to the northern point of Highway 49 to Grass Valley, a thriving foothill community with an integral role in the state’s gold mining history.

Sacramento is full of natural beauty, history and local flavor – you and your passengers are bound to have fun. Whether you’re planning a day trip or a full vacation, make sure you have the right coverage to protect yourself and others on the road.