Yolo County’s Davis Is Much More Than a University Town
The city of Davis is first and foremost known for its University of California campus. Future winemakers, micro brewers, sustainable crop growers, and humane husbandry proponents are studying here, making their family members proud and giving them a reason to visit often. My first visit to Yolo County made me realize that there were many wonderful things this flowering fertile land had to offer, and not just in terms of agricultural bounty.
Farm-to-table restaurants, intriguing wineries, excellent art galleries and festivals, crafty gift shops, a year-round farmers market, and even a state-of-the-art bicycle museum make a weekend trip to Davis well-worth a ride from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here is my modest account of what can be accomplished in one weekend in multifaceted YOLO, which some fans prefer to see as an abbreviation of “You Only Live Once.” And if you live in California, there is no excuse to miss out on this experience – rich, inspiring, and one of a kind.
Staying at the Hallmark Inn in Davis means that you are in the very center of the city, within walking distance of everything. On the night my husband and I checked in and checked out the swimming pool and the hotel lounge featuring mildly hoppy, crisp and clean Aggie Lager produced by the UC Davis students, we went for dinner to the Seasons Restaurant on the premises.
Crisp refreshing Albarino from the local winemaker Route 3 Wines was nicely paired with baby spinach and strawberry salad made with walnuts, dates, goat cheese, and dressed with honey and balsamic vinaigrette. I also liked my thick smoked bone-in pork chop with velvety Route 3 Grenache.
Since it was the second Friday of the month, right after dinner we followed the route of Second Friday ArtAbout, an evening of art viewing and artist receptions at galleries and businesses coordinated by the Davis Downtown Business Association.
The four-story John Natsoulas Gallery is chock-full of amazing contemporary art pieces – ceramics, photography, paintings and drawings – many created by the UC Davis students. On every corner of the safe walkable downtown there is a sculpture by a young local artist, and regularly happening art events bring out more and more talent.
On Saturday morning, we visited the overflowing-with-fresh-produce Davis Farmers’ Market. It’s an amazing institution that puts together an array of entertainment events, like the annual Fall Festival, the Pig Out (in celebration of the National Pig Day), various Cookbook Days, and a seasonal weekly Picnic in the Park with live music concerts.
Next to the market, there is U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, occupying 8,000 square feet and containing the most exciting bicycle models from the first three-wheelers to the latest world-record-breakers.
Our further exploration of Yolo County outside the city of Davis started with a short visit to Woodland, known for its many well-preserved examples of Victorian architecture.
It’s also home to the Heidrick Ag History Center and Hays Antique Truck Museum, with the most comprehensive collection of agricultural machinery used in the area since the time of its farming pioneers.
After a light lunch of classic pulled-pork sliders with house-made barbeque sauce and coleslaw at Mojo’s Kitchen 428, we left Woodland for Esparto.
Here, we took part in the Second Saturday Farm Tour at the Capay Organic Farm, known to the San Francisco dwellers through its home delivery service, Farm Fresh to You.
The monthly event included tractor tram tour of the peach and pistachio groves, live music, a market stand, a petting zoo, and gathering sweet pea blossom bouquets in the colorful field.
In Brooks, we visited the brand-new Seka Hills olive crush facility and tasted organic oil from Arbequina olives produced by the agricultural holdings of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation based in the Capay Valley. The oil won a gold award at the 2012 Olive Oil Competition from the California Olive Council. The tribe also produces wine from its own grapes, and operates the Cache Creek Casino Resort.
From the tribal-art-decorated Yocha Dehe Golf Club at the resort, we observed the green-and-gold patchwork of the surrounding valleys framed by the blue mountain ridges.
Then we drove to the small picturesque Winters, where at the city park local artists and vintners were presenting the fruit of their labor to the public as part of the Roots to Wine Art in the Park festival. The festival was well-attended by the weekender crowd that spilled onto the main drag, next to the park, studded with wineries, restaurants, and boutique shops.
For dinner, we stopped at Putah Creek Café, attracted by the sight of a pizza chef pulling hot pies out of a sidewalk clay oven. We realized that we came to the right place as soon as we tried Horseshoe Chardonnay from the local Berryessa Gap Winery paired with a house-special warm goat cheese salad made with lightly breaded and fried Sierra Nevada cheese and lots of fresh arugula, spinach, and berries.
Across the street, at Root Stock Specialty Gifts and Tasting Room, we indulged in wine-and-truffle pairings as well as in some gift shopping before heading back to our hotel for the night.
Our Sunday started with a farm-fresh breakfast at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine in Davis, a supporter of the Slow Food Movement. All produce comes to the restaurant’s kitchen from Yolo County vendors, so spinach, asparagus, or broccoli grace your omelet depending on the morning supplies.
On our way back to San Francisco, we headed toward the Sacramento River Delta into historic Clarksburg to visit the Old Sugar Mill, a local landmark built in 1934, and currently home to six tasting rooms serving eight wineries. Another weekend festival, called Wine, Berries, and Chocolate, was happening there. We had to stay and taste some more of Clarksburg Wine Company’s excellent Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
Driving home, I caught myself regretting that we didn’t have a family member who would be studying at UC Davis and whom we’d have to visit almost every weekend. On the second thought, nothing precludes us from traveling to Yolo County as often as we wish. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE!
Additional information at the Yolo County Visitors Bureau.