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Scenic Sacramento: Drives and Picnic Spots in Northern California

Sacramento Capital City Bike Tour

With its near-perfect weather and big-but-small city vibes, Sacramento offers an excellent little slice of Northern California culture when you want to experience a bit of natural beauty, history, and great food all in one trip. Known as the City of Trees, California’s capital has many great spots where you can unwind amongst beautiful scenery, whether it’s in a city park or out along a never ending stretch of highway. Either way, it’s all accessible from HI Sacramento, where you’re guaranteed a good night’s rest after a day of exploring in wonderful places. 

Capitol Park 

You don’t have to go very far from the hostel for a scenic experience because one of the city’s most iconic pretty spaces is only a few blocks away. Sacramento’s Capitol is surrounded by beautiful gardens begging to be picnicked on after you’ve seen the domed building’s gorgeous insides. The green lawns are dotted with benches, historical statues, and trees from all over the world, and on a hot day this is a great spot to relax and do some people watching.  

                                                                                                 

Highway 49 

Pack some snacks and songs and set out early for a day trip cruising along Highway 49, which not only features panoramic vistas of wild California and the Sierra Nevada foothills, but it’s also dotted with historic towns and sights from the Gold Rush era. Head east from Sacramento to the towns of Sutter Creek and Jackson to immerse yourself in the history, or just drive along the route and stop somewhere pretty for a picnic. 

Emerald Tower Rooftop Park 

One of Sacramento’s hidden gems includes a serene rooftop park at the top of the Emerald Tower right in the heart of downtown. Here you’ll find professionals stealing away for lunch at the shaded picnic tables and in-the-know locals checking out the public art on the green lawns. Sitting at the top of an 18-story parking structure, the rooftop garden is also a great spot to take Instagram-worthy shots of the Sacramento River and Tower Bridge. 

                                                                                                  sutters fort historic park sacramento

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park 

“Our parks are the greatest!” Says HI Sacramento’s Guest Services Lead Briana. One of her favorites is Sutter’s Fort Historic Park, which is located in Midtown about a 12-minute bicycle ride or half-an-hour walk from the hostel. The park not only has a historic fort associated with California’s Gold Rush and the establishment of the city of Sacramento, but there’s also a nice pond you’re likely to encounter turtles, ducks, and geese. Once you’re done reveling in this little piece of nature you can just hop down the street to all the fun Midtown happenings.

Old Sugar Mill

Take the scenic 20-minute drive from downtown to the Old Sugar Mill, a real, live former beet-sugar refinery that is now home to a collection of wineries. Here you’ll get to taste some delicious featured wines from all over Northern California, and once you’ve picked your favorite bottle, you can enjoy it with a picnic on the pretty grounds. Bonus point if your picnic spread includes fresh goodies from a farmer’s market or roadside produce stall. 

Capay Valley 

Just about an hour to the north-west of Sacramento, you can experience the farm part of the farm-to-fork culture of Northern California with a drive to the Capay Valley. Orchards, vegetable fields, and vineyards will pass by your window against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the Cache Creek meandering alongside for ultimate road trip pleasure. Stop at one of the small towns on Highway 16 and pick up something fresh to prepare back at the hostel. 

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HI USA Tip: Cool down this summer with at these sweet swimming spots in Northern California, and if you’re wondering how to get to Sacramento, how about taking the train from San Francisco.