Things to Do in Yolo County | Visit California (2024)

If California has a heartland,Yolo Countymay just be it. One of the original 27 counties formed at statehood, its 1,021 square miles of fertile farmland are located directly west ofSacramento, spanning the fruitful Central Valley and Sacramento Delta. While small-town life is in full effect in Winters or Woodland—historic towns with charming main streets lined with old brick mom-and-pop shops—the city of Davis is home to the majority of Yolo County’s residents.The University of California at Davisis the county’s largest employer, and often the center of its cultural fingerprint. Still, plenty of adventures await beyond the campus, in locales as diverse as wetlands and wineries, sunflower fields, and museums.

Get a Taste—and an Eyeful—of Yolo County’s Bounty

UC Davis originated in 1905 as a farming extension for the UC system. Today the school is ranked No. 1 in the nation for its agriculture program, owing in part to its bountiful environment that doubles as a natural teaching ground. Fortunately, enrollment is not required to experience the Yolo County countryside. Wander theDavis Farmers’ Market—an award-winning Saturdays-only event in downtown’s Central Park—for county provisions likeYolo Pressolive oil,Skyelark Rancheggs, andMcDonald Orchardswalnuts. Or hop aboard aRiver Fox Railbikefor a 10-mile, open-air pedaling excursion along a decommissioned length of track through fields of sunflowers (their nutrient-rich seeds are sourced for cooking oil at local mills like Woodland’sLa Tourangelle), almond orchards (the nut is Yolo’s biggest commodity), and seemingly endless grapevines.

Those acres of sunflowers are more than just a colorful backdrop. During high season—mid-June to mid-July—they are the star attraction, with people traveling from all over to witness and photograph their vivid grandeur. Take note that these farms are on private land, so be mindful when visiting. Before going on a sunflower excursion, take a look at thesesuggestionsfor making the most of it, and how to do so safely.

Wine in Yolo County

Yolo County is hailed by many as a gateway to wine country. With good reason: While Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties can all lay claim toHighway 128, the winery-filled 120-mile route actually begins in Winters. The town, located on the banks of Putah Creek, is the hub of a short wine trail that includes small family wineries likeBerryessa Gap,Turkovich Family Wines, the off-the-beaten-path upstartMatchbook Wine Company, andCapay Valley Vineyards, where vintages are fermented solely from estate-grown fruit. Nearby Clarksburg is also an AVA featuring more than 58,000 acres of Delta-fed vineyards. A central tasting room at the town’sOld Sugar Mill, a defunct beet-sugar refinery from 1934, features sprawling grass lawns, food trucks, and 14 local wineries pouring flights inside a handsome heritage brick building.

The county’s wine bona fides was elevated still higher in 2023 with the creation of a newly-designated American Viticultural Area, or AVA, Winters Highlands. It joined the county’s other AVAs—in addition to Capay Valley and Clarksburg, there’s Dunnigan Hills and Merritt Island—that have also been determined to have terroir distinct enough to garner such classification. Occupying nearly 2,300 acres on the inner slope of the Coastal Range, the soil and climate characteristics of Winter Highlands combine to create ideal conditions for several varietals, including Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Malbec, Garnacha (Grenache), Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño.

Where to Eat and Shop in Yolo County

Where there’s great wine, great food tends to follow—and as a cradle of agriculture, Yolo County’s dining options are quite vibrant. For the ultimate Yolo County produce sampler, head to the acclaimedFarmer’s Kitchenin Davis for the aptly named Bioregional Salad, heaped with more than 15 different fruits, vegetables and nuts from different local farms.Morgan’s on Mainis a Woodland mainstay, a cozy steakhouse famous for its fork-tender prime rib and glacier-size iceberg wedge. Head there after browsing nearby shops likeHavenfor letterpress greeting cards and doggie bowties, orSweet Ville Candyfor nostalgic and obscure confections from all over the world.

AtPreserveinWinters, the grilled pork chop is sprinkled with a confetti of in-season bounty, from chopped asparagus to torn leaves of red-oak lettuce to marigold petals. You can thwart the inevitable food coma with a post-meal stroll in Rotary Park along Putah Creek or a shopping spree atWinters Collective, a mercantile of hometown vendors like The Local Floret plant shop and Eyelet + Indigo, a women’s clothing and accessories boutique. Being a college town, Davis’ vibrant center offers independent book stores (Logos for used and Avid Reader for new; Bizarro World for comics and games), thrift and vintage stores (Bohème Used Clothing & Gifts, Treehouse Vintage), records and CDs (Armadillo Music), and countless bars and restaurants serving local wines, craft beer, and global cuisine.

Where to Stay in Yolo County

When it’s time to turn in for the night, no matter where you are in the county there’s sure to be reliable lodgings nearby—such as a Hilton, Hyatt, or Holiday Inn—but if you’d like a more local experience, head to Winters. There, you can fall into the country-estate atmosphere that reigns at the historicPark Winters. In addition to the four-room inn, the location is also a popular nuptials venue for its beautiful gardens, elegant barn, and the wedding cake–like architecture of the restored 1865 Victorian farmhouse. Also in Winters is Abbey House Inn, a 1905 cottage that has been restored and modernized, two blocks from the town’s historic district, and the 73-roomHotel Winters, which also has a spa and a rooftop lounge.

Where to Immerse Yourself in Yolo County History

For a deeper dive into the region’s rich agricultural history, pay a visit toWoodland’s 45,000-square-footCalifornia Agriculture Museum, which shows off one of the nation’s most unique collections of tractors and farming artifacts. The museum’s interactive exhibits and special events tell the story of how California, thanks to its plentiful natural resources and a lot of innovation, became one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Both docent-led and self-led tours with cellphone audio are offered. And for parents: The museum will provide a scavenger hunt on request. Also in Woodland is the Gibson House, aka the Yolo County Historical Museum, where you can peruse historic exhibits as well as fine art in the Barn Gallery. In Winters, The Winters Museum, open Thursdays through Sundays, shines a light on the city’s past with a rotating series of exhibits.

Hike Yolo’s Marshes and Canyons

The unsown wilds of Yolo County are best explored on foot. TheYolo Bypass Wildlife Area, located between Davis and West Sacramento, is a 16,600-acre wetland conservation area that’s home to 200 bird species including mallards, marsh wrens, and yellow-billed magpies. You’ll also find mammals with a particular fondness for bogs, like muskrats and river otters. In summer, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats put on a daily show at dusk as they emerge from their shady hangout under the bypass in search of a supper of insects; time yourself-guided tour of the wetlandsto witness this so-called “batnado.”

There’s another easygoing hike at the nearbyUC Davis Arboretum, a 3.5-mile loop tour featuring lush gardens sustainably planted with species suited to the region’s Mediterranean climate, from acacia trees to agave to the state flower, the California poppy. For a real quad-burner, try the popular five-mile loop at theStebbins Cold Canyon Reservein Winters, part of the UC Davis Natural Reserve System. This strenuous, hilly trail traverses wildflower fields, dense oak forests, and open chaparral—all quintessential Northern California landscapes.

Things to Do in Yolo County | Visit California (2024)


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