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Take time to explore this Central Valley city’s historic downtown, nearby wine country, and many farm stands

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For generations, Vacaville has been a popular and convenient stop for anyone driving along Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. But give yourself time to explore this Solano County city on the edge of the Central Valley and you’ll quickly discover that Vacaville is a destination unto itself, with all sorts of unique attractions.

If travelers know Vacaville for one thing, it’s The Nut Tree, originally just a simple farm stand but now a major retail and dining hub. Cool off with a scoop or two of ice cream at The Nut Tree’s branch of Fenton’s Creamery, an Oakland classic since 1894, then climb aboard the Nut Tree Railroad for a quick ride with the kids. The Nut Tree even has an airport, and the Rowland Freedom Center displays a wide range of rare aircraft, from a 1912 biplane that was one of the first flying machines in California to a Huey helicopter that returned to service after getting shot down during the Vietnam War.

Just across Interstate 80 from The Nut Tree, you can shop at nearly 90 stores, including ones from such top brands as Nike and The North Face, at the Vacaville Premium Outlets. A short drive from The Nut Tree, Vacaville’s historic downtown comes as a surprise for many visitors. With vintage commercial buildings on Main Street and residences on Buck Avenue, in a mix of styles from Victorian to Mission, downtown retains the atmosphere of a classic California small town. Self-guided walking tour brochures are available at the Vacaville Museum on Buck Avenue.

Downtown Vacaville is also a dining destination, thanks to such restaurants as the Backdoor Bistro Wine Bar, a farm-to-table favorite. Or for a quick-and-casual lunch, it’s tough to beat an artisanal sausage paired with a California-brewed craft beer at Hank & Hazel’s Really Good Sausages. For authentic Mexican food, Taqueria Los Arcos and El Patron are two local favorites.

With the Creekwalk Trail along Ulatis Creek, the Great Wonders Playground, and summer’s annual Creekwalk Concert Series, Andrews Park is like downtown Vacaville’s backyard. On Saturday mornings from late April through October, you can sample the local bounty at the park during the Vacaville Farmers Market.

Or head straight to the source: Just outside town, Pleasants Valley is a vibrant agricultural region where you’ll find popular destinations like Brazelton Ranch, known for producing great peaches. Shop for lavender, natural yarns, and olive oils at Soul Food Farm, and say hello to the adorable alpacas at Menagerie Hill Ranch (tours by appointment). For a helpful guide to local agriculture, be sure to download the Vacaville’s Farm Trail map, a guide with information on visiting nearly 40 area farms.

Another easy side trip from Vacaville is the wine country of the Suisun Valley, a historic region where more than 20 grape varietals thrive. Taste premium wines from three family-owned micro-wineries at the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op. Or right on Main Street in downtown Vacaville, you’ll find wines from La Borgata Winery & Distillery at La Borgata Italian Deli—and be sure to pick up a few cannoli, too.

Vacaville is also a nice destination for outdoor recreation. Whether you’re interested in gentle hikes or a challenging bouldering adventure on basalt outcroppings, Browns Valley Open Space is a quick natural escape from the Bay Area. And just off Interstate 80, Lagoon Valley Regional Park gets its name from a 100-acre lake that’s open for fishing and non-motorized boating like canoeing and kayaking. Hiking trails explore the surrounding hills, and you can fling your cares away on the park’s 27-hole disc golf course. The park also includes the Peña Adobe Historical Area, home to an 1842 adobe residence that’s Solano County’s oldest surviving building.

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