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Best Day Trips For Under $100 In The Sacramento Area

What's your pleasure? A trip to the past, a trip to the future or a sampling of right now? Gardens, lakes, mountains and gold mines are all on the docket for a day trip that will keep you smiling without having to look for a loan. Pack a lunch, your camera, fill up the tank and head off into the world of low-cost wandering.

arboretum davis
(credit: arboretum.ucdavis.eedu)

UC Davis Arboretum
1 Shields Ave.
Davis, CA 95616
(530) 752-4880

Just a very short drive away, the arboretum at UC Davis is spectacular all through the year. It's not actually possible to see it all in one day, but whatever you can see is more than worth the gas to get there. To start, there are 100 acres of gardens to explore. Wandering through here, you might just find a spot that beckons you to slow down, or maybe even stop, for a needed respite from the vigors of the city. Plan your trip to take advantage of the many tours and talks or plant sales that are offered on a regular basis. There is no charge to visit the arboretum, which is open 24 hours a day throughout the year.

gold bug mine
Gold Bug Mine
2635 Gold Bug Lane
Placerville, CA 95667
(530) 642-5207

Placerville is an historic gold rush-era town that had its start when James Marshall found gold in nearby Coloma. Gold Bug Mine was established in 1888. It is a hard rock mine, meaning that tunnels were bored into the hillside to get at the gold. This well-preserved old mine is a trip to the past, just a short drive from Sacramento. The mine and park are free to visit. With an ore cart full of history, sitting in a beautiful spot, this is a natural for a day trip. When you are done exploring the mine and store, head back into Placerville for lunch or dinner along historic Main Street. It's good all the way around.

Food & Drink - Lake Tahoe Food & Drink Finds - lake tahoe - juliet farmer
Lake Tahoe (credit: Juliet Farmer)
Lake Tahoe Visitors Center Taylor Creek
3 miles north of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 89
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-2674

Two hours east of Sacramento, Lake Tahoe is worth a day trip anytime. The USFS Taylor Creek Visitors Center is a perfect place for a family to spend a nice long day. This one spot features a nature walk, complete with an underground stream profile chamber and a boatload of information about the lake. The entire center is wheelchair accessible. Take part in one of the daily ranger programs or one of the speaker programs at the Amphitheater. Taylor Creek flows into Lake Tahoe, so take a walk down to the lake, spend some time on the beach and take full advantage of this extremely family-friendly spot on the lake. Children especially will be enthralled with all there is to see and do. It's free, which is even better.

Related: Out In Style: Most Comfortable Wilderness Retreats Near Sacramento

sutter creek
Sutter Creek Visitor Center
71A Main St.
Sutter Creek, CA 95685
(209) 267-1344

A hop, skip and jump away and you're in what is known as the Jewel of the Mother Lode. Head to the Sutter Creek Visitor Center and line up your day. The old town is spectacular and a real trip back in time. Antique hounds will salivate over the plethora of shops specializing in antiques. Visit the Black Chasm Caverns, take a gold rush tour or simply walk the old town. Take a picnic or have lunch or dinner in one of the fine eateries on Main Street. The list of things to do is extensive. Tailor your day to fit your budget, an easy and enjoyable way to tour a great part of the gold country.

Sly Park Lake (Jenkinson Lake)
4771 Sly Park Road
Pollock Pines, CA 95726
(530) 295-6824

An hour away, Sly Park Lake is out of the valley heat and surrounded by forest. Bring your hiking shoes and explore the Hazel Creek Trail. A mountain bike will come in handy if you'd like to ride the trails that serpentine through the woods. Your boat, motor or human powered, will float nicely on this large mountain lake. Perhaps just a day of swimming and relaxing are what you'd like to do, along with a delicious picnic lunch or dinner over the grill. Horses can clomp around the woods just outside the park area. Sly Park is a refreshing multi-faceted recreation area for the whole family and is open throughout the wonderful seasons that grace the mountains.

Related: Ask A Sacramento Guide: Packing List For Your Next Campout

Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. In 2010 he retired from teaching after 36 years . He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at

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