Day Trips

The Sacramento Zoo

Sometimes you just can’t wait to put the groceries away

First opened in 1927, the Sacramento Zoo has been delighting visitors for 95 years. With animals ranging from aardvarks to zebras, it’s easy to tell why.

Located in William Land Park in South Sacramento, this zoo will transport you from the urban jungle to the Savannah of Africa and the wilds of Borneo. At just under 15 acres, this zoo has a wide variety of species for a park of its size.

A lounging lemur

On a warm Spring day, the animals enjoy sitting in the sun and watching the humans go by. The non-profit organization puts animal welfare first and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They also participate in conservation programs to reintroduce threatened species to the wild.

The zoo offers a special giraffe experience where visitors can try to feed these gentle giants by hand. Curious eyes will want to see the reptile house, full of all sorts of cold-blooded creatures.

Not only will the Sacramento Zoo transport you across the globe, it will also take you back in time. The park operates a Conservation Carousel, with hand carved wooden animals. Additionally, they have a small train which gives visitors a guided tour.

The Sacramento Zoo is open year-round, with gate hours from 9 am to 4 pm. The park remains open until 5 pm. Ticket prices fluctuate, but if you purchase online, in advance, you can save money versus paying at the gate.

If you want to experience the facility where it has been for nearly a century, you better hurry. Talks are underway to relocate the zoo to a larger location in Elk Grove. If this happens, the zoo will have room to triple in size, allowing for an increase in habitat size. But for now, it remains one of Sacramento’s treasures.

For more information, visit:

The Nevada Museum of Art

The Nevada Museum of Art – 160 West Liberty, Reno

For those not familiar with Reno, one surprising aspect of the community is the amount of arts and culture the city has available. With long-standing institutions such as the Reno Philharmonic, the A.V.A. and Sierra Nevada Ballets at the Pioneer Center, Reno has a lot more to offer than similar-sized cities. However, for over 90 years, the cornerstone of the art scene in the Truckee Meadows is the Nevada Museum of Art.

Founded in 1931 by Dr. James Church, the NMA is the only accredited art museum in Nevada. Accreditation means that the museum that is able to receive works on loan from other institutions and collectors. In other words, great works of art come to Reno. The exhibitions and displays are fresh and ever-changing.

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Located on West Liberty Street, the building itself is a work of art. Inspired by rock formations of the Black Rock Desert, this monolithic structure has 70,000 square feet of floor space spanning three floors.

The NMA offers a diverse selection of exhibitions from around the world. It’s possible to see contemporary art displayed alongside well-known pieces from grand masters. Past exhibits have included works by Andy Warhol, Maya Lin, Ai Weiwei and Raphael’s The Woman with a Veil. Other exhibits have been dedicated to the art of Burning Man and the visual history of Lake Tahoe. So even if you’ve never really appreciated art, you’re sure to find something you like.

The recent addition of The Skyroom, a rooftop event-space, makes the NMA a nice venue for banquets, conferences and celebrations.

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The Sky Room

The Nevada Museum of Art also offers many live events such as tours, performances and First Thursdays. The first Thursday of each month they host an evening of music, libations and fun. The NMA is also extensively involved with local organizations dedicated to bringing arts and education to the community.

Opening hours are from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. If you’re looking for a fun, casual way to spend the day, a visit to the NMA can be an uplifting experience.

If you’d like to find out more, visit:

For an in-depth look at the inner workings of the NMA, Reno PBS produced an hour-long documentary, which can be viewed here:

Wild Horses of Nevada

A unique aspect of living in Nevada is our abundance of wildlife. Perhaps no animal is more synonymous with Nevada than the wild horse. These mustangs have a long and storied past in the Silver State.

Technically, the free-roaming horses of the Western US aren’t wild. Some are the descendants of the horses used by the Spanish during their colonization of North America. Some are descended from those used by the US Calvary and some escaped from ranches. Since they were all originally domesticated, the modern-day equines are considered feral, if they are on public land. If on private land, they are called estrayed.

Wild Horses, as seen from above, at American Flats near Gold Hill

Regardless of their classification, they are magnificent beasts. Domestication of horses usually involves getting the animal to be comfortable around humans, and to accept a saddle and a rein. When allowed to roam free, these animals revert to their wild, instinctual behaviors. A group of wild horses is known as a harem. Like many herd animals, a band of horses is comprised of several mares, an alpha male and their offspring. When the youngsters grow up, the mares usually move to another harem, and the stallions group together as a band. Unlike adolescent human males, these bands don’t involve guitars, but they do pursue females. A stallion can either try to challenge an alpha-male for control of his harem. More commonly however these roving stallions will try to lure mares away from other groups.

Wild Horses in the suburbs

In northwestern Nevada, wild horses are abundant and fairly easy to watch, especially in the Virginia Mountain Range to the east.. For those living on the outskirts of the city, the horses might even visit you. During times of drought when foliage is scarce, residents of South Reno, South Meadows and Damonte Ranch often find wild horses grazing on their lawns.

If you prefer to view them outside of the suburbs, a good place to view them is in the area surrounding Virginia City. With an off-road capable vehicle, one can simply find a well-used dirt road and begin searching. A few words of caution are in order. It is illegal to feed these horses. They are wild and can be unpredictable. If you spot some horses, find a safe place to observe them from a distance. They can, and sometimes do stampede, so staying close to, or inside your vehicle is recommended if you’re not familiar with their behavior. At times the horses may slowly approach you. This is more common in areas with a lot of human activity, and in areas where people have fed them.

A wild horse mare and her foal in the desert of Nevada

These wild horses can be indifferent to vehicles. If you encounter some on a roadway, often they are in no hurry to get out of the way. So be aware when driving in areas they frequent.

For a more remote experience, some of the areas near Lahontan Reservoir are good for viewing. In these areas the animals have less human interaction, so they’re less likely to approach strangers.

Wild stallions fighting

Most of the time if you find a harem of horses, they’ll be grazing. In Spring and early Summer you are likely to spot some foals. If you’re lucky enough to find a band of bachelor stallions, you may see them challenging each other or fighting.

When going to watch horses, consider leaving any dogs at home, or at least don’t let them out of the vehicle. A good pair of binoculars is recommended. If you wish to photograph them, a good DSLR camera with a telephoto lens is recommended.

Sierra Foothills Wineries

Vineyard and hills, Magnolia Ranch Park, El Dorado County, California.

California is renown for its wine. Spanish missionaries planted the first vines in the 1700’s. This was, of course, meant for sacramental purposes. But it was enjoyed outside of communion. When the 49er’s came in search of fortune, vineyards soon sprang up in the Sierra foothills and in the valleys of Napa and Sonoma Counties.

The North-Coast producers produced mainly inexpensive “jug” wines. Many of the vintners remained in business throughout prohibition by making wine, again, for “sacramental” purposes only. Following repeal of prohibition, normal production resumed, although it wasn’t held in high-regard among the connoisseurs of the world. That changed in 1976 when a wine from Napa’s Chateau Montelena won a blind taste-testing in Paris. This elevated the state’s reputation in the enological world. Since then, many of the area’s old orchards have been replaced by vineyards.

This also caused many to reconsider other regions of the state. With much the central valley dedicated to mass production of Zinfandel and Merlot, winemakers turned their eyes to the hills.

Grapes are a hearty plant. Their berries, as winemakers refer to them, are grown in every state of the union. However California’s abundant sunshine and relatively dry climate allow the grapes to more fully develop their sugars and polyphenols. This results in richer, more aromatic wines.

The terroir of the Sierras is excellent for wine production. The higher elevation results in warmer days and cooler nights. The soil is largely composed of decomposed granite and ancient volcanic ash. It drains well and lacks nutrients, forcing the roots to struggle to find water. This adds to the complexity of the wine.

Well drained soil helps produce excellent wine

Although plenty of winemakers have been active in the Sierra Foothills since the gold rush, it wasn’t until 1987 that the Federal government recognized it as an official American Viticultural Area, or AVA. Several sub-AVAs have since been established. They are the: California Shenandoah Valley AVA, El Dorado AVA, Fair Play AVA, Fiddletown AVA and North Yuba AVA.

These AVAs are located in Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba. Although small production foothill wineries can be found outside of these area, in places such as the North Sierra region of Butte County.

The most commonly grapes in the foothills are Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot. Although there are dozens of other varietals grown, each taking advantage of the area’s unique mico-climate.

To make your visit easier, most of the above mentioned AVAs have wine trails, highlighting their area’s wineries.

So no matter where you live in Northern California or Northern Nevada, a day of wine tasting is just a short drive away.

A vineyard in the Sierra Foothills

Here is a selection of wine trails to whet your palate:

Placer County:

Amador County:

El Dorado County:

Yuba and Butte Counties:

Nevada County:

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