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Yolo County

Yolo County

Nestled between Sacramento, Napa, and the San Francisco Bay Area, this culinary wonderland offers all sorts of small-town delights

If California has a heartland, Yolo County may just be it. One of the original 27 counties formed at statehood, its 1,021 square miles of fertile farmland are located directly west of Sacramento, 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 Davis is 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 the Davis Farmers’ Market—an award-winning Saturdays-only event in downtown’s Central Park—for county provisions like Yolo Press olive oil, Skyelark Ranch eggs, and McDonald Orchards walnuts. Or hop aboard a River Fox Railbike for 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’s La 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 these suggestions for 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 to Highway 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 like Berryessa GapTurkovich Family Wines, the off-the-beaten-path upstart Matchbook Wine Company, and Capay 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’s Old 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 acclaimed Farmer’s Kitchen in Davis for the aptly named Bioregional Salad, heaped with more than 15 different fruits, vegetables and nuts from different local farms. Morgan’s on Main is a Woodland mainstay, a cozy steakhouse famous for its fork-tender prime rib and glacier-size iceberg wedge. Head there after browsing nearby shops like Haven for letterpress greeting cards and doggie bowties, or Sweet Ville Candy for nostalgic and obscure confections from all over the world.

At Preserve in Winters, 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 at Winters 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 historic Park Winters. In addition to th