A little in-between Sacramento and San Francisco (ok, much closer to Sac) lies Davis, home of UC Davis, one of the campuses in the prestigious University of California system. This small/medium-sized town offers large parks and open fields, cheap eateries, coffee shops to study in, bars, a small yet bustling downtown, and walkable (and bikeable!) streets.
While everything centers around UC Davis and its students and faculty, people of all ages can enjoy what Davis as a town has to offer…even the campus itself! From couples to families to teenagers, you will not find yourself lacking in fun things to do in Davis, CA.
Davis is where Cecilio grew up, and he graduated from UC Davis while I graduated from Sac State, so I’m very familiar with the area 🙂 even postgrads like us love it!
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Know Before You Go
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF) — 25-minute drive
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) — 1 hour, 20-minute drive
- Oakland International Airport (OAK) — 1-hour, 10-minute drive
- By car: The only way to get to Davis is through I-80 both ways unless you are coming from Woodland, then you take 113.
- By Amtrak: Davis has an Amtrak station, so if you are coming from the Bay Area, you can come on over!
It’s so easy to walk around Downtown Davis, especially because it’s within a few blocks from UC Davis. Once you step outside of the downtown area, it’s a little more challenging and residential.
Davis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. It’s said to have more bikes than people! There is a 12-mile bike loop around the city and 100 miles of lanes, trails, and paths. Also, Davis is a completely flat city with no hills, making biking even easier.
If you do not have a bike, you can rent one at any of the many shops listed.
Short for “University Transport”, the Unitrans is UC Davis’ bus system that students drive. There are 20 routes around the campus and around the city as a whole and is inspired by the red buses in London (there are even a few double-decker buses!). A single ride costs only $1.25, and UC Davis students, seniors, and disabled people have unlimited access.
Where to Stay:
Most of Davis’ hotels are 3-star chains catered towards families with high schoolers touring UC Davis. If I didn’t live in the area, I would want to stay in Aggie Inn, a cottage-style boutique hotel. Aggie Inn offers plush and comfy bedding, a gym, rental bikes, and minutes to the campus and downtown. If you are willing to drive, I recommend staying in the following hotels in Downtown Sacramento:
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Sacramento River Promenade
- Holiday Inn – Sacramento Downtown Area
- Delta King Hotel
- Hyatt Regency Sacramento
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Sacramento Airport Natomas
- Sheraton Grand Sacramento
- The Citizen Hotel
- Governor’s Inn Hotel
- Inn Off Capitol Park
- Kimpton Sawyer Hotel
Fun things to do in Davis, CA
UC Davis Arboretum & Public Garden
The Arboretum on the campus is like no other. At 100 acres with over 3 miles of walking loops and over 30,000 plants, trees, and flowers, the UC Davis Arboretum is open to the public all year round. It’s a great place to go jogging, biking, sunbathing, or even taking a leisurely stroll! It’s also a perfect date idea for couples; I would know since the Arboretum was where I had my first date with Cecilio! What makes it even more romantic are benches and small hills overlooking Putah Creek, which runs along the Arboretum.
There are some parts of the Arboretum where you feel like you are lost in an isolated forest. This is where many couples get their engagement, wedding, and/or maternity photoshoots.
You might even encounter animals, such as birds (there are up to 135 species of birds!), reptiles, insects, and amphibians!
Jan Shrem & Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
You can call it Manetti Shrem Museum for short. It is located on campus and has been open since 2016. It’s also free and open to the public and has housed 6,000 works of art. It is a small art museum but they have fabulous collections from local artists.
While Manetti Shrem Museum displays fine art such as painting and sculpture, they also have interactive art using video and film installations. Cecilio and I went when the Moment to Movement exhibit was there, and it was filled with thought-provoking pieces that show how humans protested for their rights since the beginning of time.
If you are an art aficionado, you can’t miss the Manetti Shrem Museum!
No, you’re not going to go Easter egg hunting. But you are going to walk around scoping out the famous Egghead sculptures spread across the UC Davis campus quad. There are five egghead sculptures, created by the late artist/ceramics professor Robert Arneson. His work is known for its political and social commentary, but the eggheads do provide entertainment for the onlookers and students 😀
Also known as “the MU”, Memorial Union is located in the heart of the campus and is the hub of all things fun for students! However, you don’t have to be a student to enjoy the amenities the MU has to offer, such as a bowling alley, console games, and billiards. There are also board games, card games, and a life-sized Jenga and Connect Four! This is a great place to go with a group of friends.
Davis Farmers Market
A few blocks away from campus, the Davis Farmers Market is held at Central Park every Saturday from 8 am—1 pm and Wednesday evenings, all year round. It is filled with vendors selling produce, flowers, baked goods, art, etc. It is all locally grown and made with certified organic products. And since we are near “Farm-to-Fork” Sacramento, expect your produce to be super close 🙂
You get a chance to sample some of the fruit, honey, olive oil, and pesto! Sometimes they come with bread to dip with. So delicious! There are also food trucks at the end if you’re feeling like you need a bigger meal than the samples. It’s also family-oriented with a playground, rock wall, and open space for kids to run around.
Bohart Museum of Entomology
Yes, there is a museum dedicated to insects at the university! Started in 1946, the museum is dedicated to researching entomology (the study of insects). It has the 7th largest insect collection in North America! It is open to the public from Monday to Thursday. You might be able to hold a tarantula or a beetle if you dare!
Another museum on campus, the Design Museum is operated by UC Davis’ Department of Design which hosts the fashion, graphic design, textile, and interior design major concentrations. All the exhibitions feature works from undergrad and graduate students in the department, and it changes every quarter. I got accepted to go to UC Davis a while back but ended up going to Sac State, and I would’ve been a Design major there and maybe would have gotten my own exhibition if I ended up going there, who knows?
Thrifting at Bohéme
Right next to Central Park, Burgers & Brew, and Downtown Davis lies a small thrift store, Bohéme filled with tons of women’s clothing of all sizes and styles. Be careful going on Saturday as it gets crowded with those coming from the Farmer’s Market! It can be a little difficult to find something you like (as it is with most thrift stores), but you’re bound to score a gem. They also have nifty jewelry and accessories!
Catch an indie film at Varsity Theater
There are three movie theaters in Davis, but you have got to check out Varsity Theater. Built in the 1940s, the architecture and design are Art Deco-inspired, making you feel like you are transported back to the early 20th century curiously experiencing the cinema for the first time. Only before 2006, it was a performing arts center, not a cinema. There are only 2 screens, which is what makes it special. This is where you can watch indie movies that won’t be found in the big box like Regal (which Davis has two of). This is also where Cecilio and I had one of our first dates back in 2009 watching Slumdog Millionaire.
Davis Transmedia Art Walk
Take in all the public art Davis has to offer, with 30 murals, 37 sculptures (which also includes the Eggheads), 14 galleries/museums, and 1 art garage. Davis is a haven for creatives, and their website has a map where you can find everything you need for a self-guided tour. Or you can also call ahead to schedule a tour!
Explorit Science Center
While it’s way outside Downtown and the university, Explorit Science Center is a small, unassuming, yet interactive and family-oriented science museum. Think of it as a mini Exploratorium! If you have children, you definitely cannot miss this! It is fun and educational with science experiments and workshops. For example: using goo to learn about viscosity and what’s a liquid vs. a solid.
Two major annual events in Davis, CA
Picnic Day is the biggest event in Davis and comes every April. It is the Open House for prospective students interested in attending UC Davis and getting a feel for campus life, but everyone in the city, and even out-of-towners participate in the fun! For current students, it is tradition to start their day drinking at 6 am on Picnic Day.
The festivities start with a parade from Downtown all the way to the university, featuring the marching band, cheer/dance teams, themed floats from student clubs, performances from youth organizations, etc. Other universities’ marching bands come to participate and perform in the parade!
After the parade is finished, masses of crowds walk over to the campus where all the fun is. The quad is filled with music performances, student club booths passing out information, and food trucks! Be aware that the lines in the food truck are very long, Cecilio and I had to wait an hour one time!
You can go deeper into the campus and take a look at the departments and buildings participating like the Museum of Entomology showcasing insects or a student-run fashion show from the Department of Design. My favorite activity is seeing chicks hatch and being able to hold them in the Meyer Hall building from the Animal Science Department. There are also craft fairs, petting zoos, cow milking demos, and cockroach races. You can also visit the horses at their stable. And don’t forget about chilling in the Arboretum! So no, it’s not one big drunken fest. It’s also family-friendly!
Whole Earth Festival
Also taking place on the campus quad, the Whole Earth Festival celebrates all things zero-waste. It’s every May around Mother’s Day weekend. The event is supposed to be fun, but also educate the public on how to live eco-friendly. There are art workshops, craft booths selling plants and other gifts, clothing/book swaps, Arboretum tours, and live music! All the food booths offer vegetarian/vegan options. I like to think of Whole Earth Festival as similar to Picnic Day but on a smaller scale and with an emphasis on sustainability.
Where to eat and drink in Davis, CA
Davis has a plethora of coffee shops, bars, casual eats, and sit-down restaurants! You can’t go wrong with any of them, especially because you won’t encounter a chain outside the Downtown area (okay, well maybe except for Jack-in-the-Box).
- Temple Coffee: This small popular coffee chain has made its way to the Downtown area! They were getting really crowded in their flagship Midtown Sacramento location, so it only made sense for them to open up more shops.
- Mishka’s Café: Inspired by the relaxed European coffee shops, Mishka’s is the place where students can sit, sip, and study. Or for young professionals to work remotely. There are also delicious-looking pastries and chocolates!
- Cloud Forest Cafe: A cozy coffee shop with art all over the walls!
If you’re interested in driving over to the capital, here are the best coffee shops in Sacramento!
- Crepeville: All things crepes, sweet and savory (there are also sandwiches and salads). My favorite has to be the chicken curry crepe!
- Burgers & Brew: This place gets packed, and has the best burgers in town. But the biggest draw has to be the beers.
- Delta of Venus: One of the best brunch spots in town, filled with bright-colored walls and funky artwork. They have bomb omelets and great coffee!
- Village Bakery: It’s not a sit-down restaurant, but it’s a small pizza shop where you order a slice by the counter. It smells amazing and is my favorite pizza place in Davis. I love the veggie pizza!
- Sam’s Cuisine: This homey Mediterranean spot is a local hit, and is one of mine and Cecilio’s favorites. I will say that I only like going there after 5 pm so I can get the rice plates since I prefer those over the shawarma wraps.
- Preethi Indian Cuisine: Looking for mouthwatering, authentic, Indian dishes? You’ve got to check out Preethi.
- Thai Canteen: I love Thai food, and Thai Canteen always hits the spot for me every time. They make a mean Pad Thai along with their taro fries!
- Hunan: Craving Chinese? Hunan is where it’s at! It is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants, especially because the ones closer to where I live have closed down.
- Taqueria Guadalajara: Even though it’s outside the Downtown area and more in the ‘burbs, Taqueria Guadalajara has the best tacos in town. It has the flavor without the lard. Totally love the chorizo tacos!
- Icekrimski: My absolute favorite dessert spot in Davis. They serve gelato with the biscuit wedge on top. I recommend the Bavarian mint or the Burgundy cherry flavors!
- Davis Creamery: For freshly-made ice cream, this. is the place to visit. They also serve cupcakes!
- Yolo Berry Yogurt: Sometimes you don’t want something bougie and you’re just craving for froyo where you can add all the toppings you want. Yolo Berry Yogurt is that place. It’s also a popular spot with how close it is to Central Park, and there’s a seating area right outside where you can enjoy while you people watch (and dog watch).
- Teabo Café: Venture out of Downtown for this popular boba spot! They serve delicious milk teas and slushies along with fried snacks. It closes at 2 am, so it’s a hit with students!
So many things to do in Davis, CA
And you don’t have to be a student to enjoy it all! I still love strolling around this little town to this day.
And if you are thinking of going to UC Davis as a freshman or transfer student, please save and share so you know what fun activities and delicious eats to expect!
Since Davis is close to Sacramento, you might enjoy these Sacramento posts:
- 11 Fun things to do in Old Sacramento
- The Best Restaurants in Midtown Sacramento
- California State Fair: What to do, eat, and drink
- Your Guide to Apple Hill’s High Hill Ranch
Hannah is a travel writer, graphic designer, and the founder/editor of Hannah on Horizon. She is based in Sacramento, California, living with her husband and two adorable dogs. She shares tips on how to experience luxury travel on any budget, and how to maximize time at each trip or destination, no matter what your budget or amount of vacation time at work. She enjoys making you feel like you have visited each destination with her through her storytelling and informative writing style.