Pair winter sports with dining, sipping microbrews, and sampling local olive oil on a winding tour starting in the Gold Country, then moving on to the Central Valley, into the mountains and the Shasta Cascade region.
Length of trip: 3-5 days
Total distance: 993 miles/1598 km
Sacramento. Start in the state capital, an emerging hotbed for locally sourced, seasonal dining. At Mulvaney’s B&L , chef-owner Patrick Mulvaney serves up meaty, modern fare. At Grange chef Michael Tuohy’s sophisticated cooking ranges from house-made charcuterie to gnocchi with Niman Ranch short rib ragu. For more information: Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau .
Fresno (172 mi/277 km; 2 hr 52 min). Shop and stroll at Fresno’s upscale Fig Garden Village , which boasts numerous specialty and culinary shops. When you get hungry, visit family-owned favorite The Lime Lite or try Cal-Ital specialties at Five . For more information: Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau .
Madera (25 mi/ 40 km; 28 min). Take a jaunt along the peaceful Madera Wine Trail , whose hidden gems include Quady Winery . Then head to The Vineyard Restaurant , which showcases local ingredients. For more information: Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau .
Oakhurst (43 mi/69 km; 53 min). This little town is the gateway to Yosemite’s pristine winter wonderland and cross-country skiing trails—not to mention sleigh rides and skating. Fuel up at the elegant and widely acclaimed Erna’s Elderberry House . For more information: Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau .
South Lake Tahoe (210 mi/338 km; 4 hr 45 min). After enjoying the slopes at Heavenly and Kirkwood, get cozy at lakefront Riva Grill or neighborhood favorite Nepheles (locals know not to miss the relaxing spas out back). Thirsty? Raise a glass at Après Wine Company . For more information: El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce .
Fair Play (68 mi/109 km; 1 hr 47 min). Tucked in an isolated valley down the road from South Lake Tahoe’s dazzle, you’ll find the hidden gem of a wine region around tiny Fair Play, with acclaimed wineries and intimate bistros like Zachary Jacques . For more information: El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce .
Placerville (17 mi/27 km; 35 min). The rolling foothills surrounding Gold Rush–era Placerville are rich with culinary treasure these days. Enjoy barrel tasting at El Dorado’s excellent wineries or sample olive oil at Winterhill Farms . Placerville’s charming downtown offers numerous dining options, including Cascada and Sequoia . For more information: El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce .
Chico (130 mi/209 km; 2 hr 23 min). Break up your drive with a leg-stretching hike in sprawling Bidwell Park. Then stop by small-town-brewer-gone-big-time Sierra Nevada Brewing Co . for a free guided tour—and a frothy glass in the handsome bar. For more information: Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association .
Chester (66 mi/106 km; 1 hr 17 min). Remote, snowy, and peaceful, the high country around Chester affords unforgettable cross-country skiing and snowshoeing around Lake Almanor. Warm up with hearty dining at Chester’s Red Onion Grill . For more information: Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association .
Redding (102 mi/164 km; 1 hr 51 min). Work up an appetite wandering the botanical garden at Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Then dig into deliciously prepared seafood at Buz’s Crab Stand , a local favorite. For more information: Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association
Sacramento (162mi/261km; 2 hr 37 min). Raise a glass at the end of your journey in historic Old Sacramento. The Firehouse boasts a legendary wine cellar and fabulous upscale cuisine, while The Pilothouse at the Delta King , a restaurant aboard a restored riverboat, serves locally sourced fare. For more information: Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau .