36 Hours in the California Gold Country: Why Rancho Cordova Is the Weekend Getaway You Didn't Know You Needed

36 Hours in the California Gold Country: Why Rancho Cordova Is the Weekend Getaway You Didn't Know You Needed

In the heart of Northern California, Rancho Cordova hosts a wealth of attractions for a fun and relaxing weekend getaway.

In the heart of Northern California, Rancho Cordova hosts a wealth of attractions for a fun and relaxing weekend getaway. With a population of 74,000, this city is located amidst a vast outdoor playground, with the nearby American River and rolling foothills of California Gold Country. The natural splendor of rivers, lakes, and sunshine make Rancho Cordova an ideal destination for an adventure-minded escape, while its bustling food and drink scene invites visitors to unwind and stay a while.

To get to know Rancho Cordova in a three-day weekend, we’ve created the following itinerary that fuses the best outdoor adventures with fantastic options for eating and drinking. Enjoy!

Day 1

Ease into your weekend getaway with an artisanal brew at Pause Coffee House. Stick to your favorite brewed coffee or espresso, or sample a signature creations like a maple latte or charcoal cocoa. Fuel up with fresh pastries from local bakeries Bella Bru and Sugar Plum Bakery, both of which also have vegan and gluten-free options.

For your daily dose of adventure, head to the tranquil waters of Lake Natoma. Formed by the Nimbus Dam on the American River, this scenic spot is the place to go in Rancho Cordova for flatwater kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, swimming, and fishing. The Sacramento State Aquatic Center is the place to get started with beginner and advanced classes in nearly every water sport under the sun—check the schedule for windsurfing, sailing, canoeing, paddleboarding, kayaking, rowing, wakeboarding, power boating, and jet skiing lessons. The center also offers a fleet of watersports rentals you can take out on your own to explore the lake.

Fishing enthusiasts should head straight to the Nimbus Flat Fishing Area and try their luck with rainbow trout, crappie, bass, and sunfish. For a leisurely day of casting lines from your boat, use one of the three boat launches on Lake Natoma. Looking for some on-land adventures? The green spaces surrounding Lake Natoma offer plentiful hiking and biking trails (the Aquatic Center also rents cruiser bikes).

After a fun day on the water, unwind at Fork Rock Brewing, which is just a stone’s throw from the Aquatic Center. Since opening in 2017, Fort Rock has quickly become a local favorite for their American-style ales—choose from three IPAs—and a welcoming, family- and a pet-friendly atmosphere. Fort Rock doesn’t have a kitchen; instead, it uses an in-house ordering system so that guests can get small plates from Cattlemen’s Steakhouse and the Spaghetti Factory delivered to the tasting room.

For a full dinner, check out the creative Euro-Asian fusion cuisine at Mints. It specializes in Vietnamese fusion dishes, with a nice selection of salads, noodle dishes, and main protein entrees. Pop in on the first or third Saturday of the month, and you’ll be treated to live music.

Day 2

Fuel up for a second day of exploring around Rancho Cordova at Cooper’s Coffee House. It has all the classic coffee options you’d expect, along with dozens of iced coffee creations and blended drinks, as well as milk substitutes and 15 sugar-free flavorings. For a quick fuel-up to kick off the day, you can’t go wrong with one of their bagels, baked goods, and breakfast burritos.

The Coffee House is right on the way to your Day 2 adventure: rafting the South Fork of the American River. Half-day trips on this family-friendly river start near the town of Coloma, roughly 45 minutes northeast of Rancho Cordova. Choose from one of several rafting outfitters to run this section of river teeming with fun, splashy class I to III rapids. In between adrenaline bursts, savor the scenic hilly landscape along the river canyon and cool off by jumping into the water.

After an exciting day on the river, dig into some well-deserved food at Famous Burgers & Brew in Rancho Cordova. They don’t call it famous for nothing: These beauties between buns will surely hit the spot after the caloric burn of rafting. Along with milkshakes, a rotating craft beer selection, and a laid-back vibe, it’s a fitting finale to the day’s adventure.

Day 3

Savor the last leisurely morning of your stay in Rancho Cordova with a full brunch at Mimosa House. You really can’t go wrong with any of their delicious omelets, crepes, eggs benedict, scrambles, or breakfast burritos. And be sure to partake in the bubbles: This restaurant truly lives up to its name, with more than 40 varieties of mimosas on the menu. Specialty brunch cocktails along with an extensive list of champagnes and sparkling wines make this buzzy brunch hotspot a must-visit.

Enjoy one more afternoon of sunshine around Rancho Cordova with a bike ride on the American River Parkway. Also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, this paved, multi-use greenbelt runs for 23 miles on both sides of the river, with bridges that allow you to cross over at multiple points and plenty of nearby parks where you can take a swim in the river or simply enjoy the scenery.

Make a pit stop at Claimstake Brewing Co., a dog- and kid-friendly spot that’s open Tuesday through Sunday. On tap in the industrial-chic tasting room are tasty local brews and wood-fired pizza that makes for a casual lunch (and nice send-off) before heading home.

Where to Get a Good Night’s Rest

There’s no shortage of lodging options in Rancho Cordova, with 16 hotels to choose from, including the DoubleTree Suites, the Hyatt Place, and the Courtyard by Marriott. All are centrally located, and the DoubleTree and Hyatt offer pet-friendly rooms. All hotels in Rancho Cordova offer comfortable rooms, various amenities, and free parking and WiFi. No matter where you stay, however, you’ll find a long weekend in Rancho Cordova is full of fun—and offers plenty of reasons to come back again.

Written by Jenna Herzog for Matcha in partnership with Rancho Cordova and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.