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Scenic Drives Near Sacramento That'll Take Your Breath Away
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Scenic Drives Near Sacramento That'll Take Your Breath Away

Lush greenery, glimmering waters, and historic landmarks will make you forget about the woes (but not the bravoes) of everyday life.

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5 min read

June 07, 2021

Don your cat-eye sunglasses, lather on mineral-based sunscreen, and quell your wanderlust—you’re going on a scenic drive near Sacramento. From historical museums to farm-to-table food, there’s plenty that make the Golden State capital stand out. Perhaps it’s the Old Sacramento Waterfront, perhaps it’s the state fair—whatever it is, ordinary days don’t exist here. 

Don’t just stop in Sacramento; the good times are right around the corner. Lush greenery, glimmering waters, and historic landmarks will make you forget about the woes (but not the bravoes) of everyday life. Let the highways roll. 

The Best Scenic Drives near Sacramento 

Highway 49 passes through a number of cities that are filled with rich Gold Rush history, including Coloma, Auburn, Grass Valley, and Sutter Creek.

Highway 49

Pack your favorite healthy snacks and refresh your feel-good playlist, because this scenic drive near Sacramento is about to blow your mind. Windows down, cruisin’ around with the spectacular Sierra Nevada keeping you company. Ditch the day trip in Sacramento and head east of Sutter Creek and Jackson to begin your journey.

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Immerse yourself in Gold Rush history as you encounter giant polished granite boulders and enticing emerald pools along your way. You’ll be surprised to know that you can still pan for gold. Want to try your luck?

Located northwest of Sacramento in Yolo County, Capay Valley is a primarily rural area featuring the serene waters of Cache Creek.

Sacramento to Capay Valley

The Sacramento region is renowned for its farm-to-fork culture, so why not make a trip out of it? A scenic drive to Capay Valley will expose you to orchards, vegetable fields, and vineyards—it wouldn’t hurt to stop and admire the scenery. 

Extend your trip by driving through Davis; extraordinary views and mouth-watering meals will greet you. If you’re getting hungry, Farmer’s Kitchen Cafe will take you to seventh heaven. 

Transform your scenic drive to an overnight adventure and camp at Cache Creek Regional Park, a fabulous place to pitch a tent by the river

Established in 1839, Sutter's Fort was originally called New Helvetia and was the first non-Indigenous community in California's Central Valley.

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

The road to Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park never ceases to amaze. Located in Midtown—a short drive from downtown—this scenic Sacramento drive will refresh your Gold Rush history and uncover how much things have changed since then. The open-air museum exhibits how early Californian pioneers lived and worked, as well as showcases their first settlements through a series of historical reenactments. You can view most of these displays without having to get out of your car.

Marvel at the verdant landscapes and learn about the history of the area through photographs, videos, and moving exhibits. There’s also a nice pond at Sutter’s Fort, where you’ll likely encounter turtles, ducks, and geese.

Apple Hill is a must on any foodie's ideal road trip. Make a detour to the Greater Placerville Region to try local apple jam and pies.

Highway 50 to Apple Hill

Cruise down Highway 50 toward the Gold Rush town of Placerville and you’ll come across Apple Hill, a regional treasure. This agricultural area is a long-time staple of nature lovers' road trips. Fiery red grapevines and orchards stretching as far as the eye can see make it one of the best driving roads near Sacramento. Drive past u-pick farms and roadside stands to try tart Granny Smiths, thin-skinned Galas, and other delicious varieties of apples. Make a quick stop to pick your own produce and purchase homemade jam to enjoy in the mornings.

Known as the "Bass Capital of the West," Clear Lake is all about panoramic views. The journey to this destination doesn't disappoint either.

Sacramento to Clear Lake

The two-hour scenic drive from Sacramento to Clear Lake is not only magnificent, but it’ll also benefit your health—this area is said to have the cleanest and purest air. Switch to California 29 from Highway 128 and take in the vistas that look almost too good to be true. There are plenty of worthy detours to make along the way, so choose your own adventure. Soak in the rejuvenating waters at Wilbur Hot Springs, snap a photo of Little Blue Peak, and explore abandoned ghost towns

When you arrive at Clear Lake, feast your eyes on more than 100 miles of shoreline at this watersport mecca—the largest natural freshwater lake inside the state. Boat marinas abound, so you’re sure to find the perfect watercraft rentals. And if you wish to have a nice lunch, Park Place Restaurant is a lakeside spot that serves the best pesto Genovese and honey mustard chicken.

Lake Tahoe was formed about two million years ago as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, and its modern extent was shaped during the ice ages.

Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe

There are two ways to get to Lake Tahoe from Sacramento—Interstate 80 or Highway 50. But everyone knows that the latter is by far the more scenic. The mighty American River rages alongside the road as you drive east of Placerville and towards the alpine lake. Need to stretch your legs? Pay a day-use fee to check out the Caltrans lot at Twin Bridges. From here, take a short walk to Pyramid Creek and arrive at the base of the 800-foot high Horsetail Falls, one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the Golden State.

After your break, continue along the winding road for about half an hour and it won’t be long until you see the glimmering waters of Tahoe. Blue as topaz and surrounded by towering peaks, the massive Lake Tahoe is a bucket list essential. This freshwater stunner can fill a record book with its statistics—it’s the 16th deepest lake in the world, second deepest in the U.S., and has the same purity as distilled water (a whopping 99.9 percent).

Dip your toes at the lake’s edge and hang around to watch the sun disappear behind Mount Tallac. Whatever you decide to do here, expect a rosy-pink alpenglow to light up your scenic drive from Sacramento.

Twain Harte is both a summer and winter vacation community situated at the transition zone between oak and mixed pine forests.

Sacramento to Twain Harte 

Twain Harte is a hidden gem northwest of Yosemite. This scenic drive from Sacramento is one of the longer routes you’ll take—it’s about 105 miles each way, but the experience is well worth your time. The road to this quaint town is filled with picturesque vistas at every turn. Start at State Route 16 and head east of Sacramento. Then, cruise along Highway 49 all the way down to Jamestown. From there, Twain Harte is a short drive east from State Route 108.

There’s so much to see along the way. You’ll want to make several detours to explore historical towns like Angels Camp, Jamestown, and Sonora. Much like any scenic drive in Sacramento, you’ll feel the Gold Rush history come to life. Twain Harte is not too far from Stanislaus National Forest—one of the best in California. Extend your road trip and keep driving until you run out of gas.

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