Sacramento is California’s state capital, and also the major commercial and transportation hub of the northern Central Valley. Fun fact: the old Pony Express used to end its westward run here. There are plenty of incredible Sacramento vacation rentals, which range from lovely cottages to spacious houses set in the quiet suburbs. Look forward to trying new spots for dinner, going out dancing, and spending romantic evenings out on the town. If you’re looking for more excitement, Sacramento is surrounded by an abundance of great weekend vacation destinations. Here are seven of the best.

1. Gold Country, California

mountains trees forest
Source: Flickr/Ray Bouknight

Gold was discovered just uphill of Sacramento, and it’s still there if you know where to look for it. A 45-minute shot east on Highway 50 takes families and schoolkids up the hill to Coloma, where the first flakes of gold were discovered at Sutter’s Mill. You can still pan for gold here, and they let you keep what you find. If it’s just the two of you, you can start the day with a romantic rafting trip down the south fork of the American River, courtesy of OARS, which rents rafts and supplies, and wrap up with dinner for two at Squally’s – On The River, which serves upscale Italian right next door to OARS.

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2. South Lake Tahoe, Nevada

lake rocks mountains
Source: Flickr/Ken Lund

A bit farther up Highway 50, less than two hours’ drive from Sacramento, you cross the state line into Nevada at South Lake Tahoe. Local legend has it that nobody has ever worked out how deep this lake is (not true, but a good story), and several companies offer daily tours. Some of these, such as Emerald Bay, offer lunchtime cruises and have you back to your vacation rental by sunset. Others, such as the Wine & Harvest Tour, last into the evening and ply you with the best local wines and farm-fresh produce.

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3. Reno, Nevada

reno nevada
Source: Flickr/Ken Lund

S. Lake Tahoe is on Highway 50, but if you two take I-80 into Nevada instead, you’ll be in Reno within three hours. Here, there’s no end of fun to be had in the Biggest Little City in the World, which they print right on their sign at the edge of downtown. Hit up the great casino resorts here, such as Harrah’s, Caesar’s Palace, and the Horizon, then spend some of your winnings at romantic restaurants inside the hotels themselves, such as La Strada, located in the El Dorado.

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4. Redding, California

lake trees mountains
Source: Flickr/annepoptart

Head up I-5 from Sacramento, about three hours with traffic, and you’re in Redding. This is the romantic vacation destination of choice for young couples in Sacramento, for several reasons. Here, NorCal Trail Rides leads city slickers out over the rough trails on horseback, and Clearie’s Restaurant & Lounge offers fine dining with a view of the amazing Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River.

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5. Walnut Grove, California

historic city street
Source: Flickr/Bradley Stemke

Walnut Grove is just a few miles south from the crowded Florin neighborhood in Sacramento, but the drive down Highway 99 is so long and twisty, it can feel like a visit to another country by the time you get there. Open farmland hugs the river, the banks of which are lined with immense mansions that are open to the public. Sacramentans plan weddings here, and there’s always something going on at Snug Harbor Resorts, where dinner, dancing, and evening get-togethers can give couples a chance to spend some time with each other.

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6. Clearlake, California

sunset ocean
Source: Flickr/Stephen Nakatani

The city of Clearlake, California is composed of a chain of communities that ring the lake that shares the town’s name. These communities, with alluring names like Nice, Rose Place, and Lucerne, have plenty to do for couples on a short vacation getaway. The Brassfield Estate Winery operates out of a huge building on a vast estate. This spot, which offers wine tastings and tours, is perfect for a couples’ picnic or a stroll through the parklike setting. Lunch over, RushCube can have you hovering over Clearlake’s breathtaking scenery all afternoon in one of its couples-friendly helicopter tours. These tours set off several times a day, weather permitting, and it’s best to call ahead to make sure they have a spot for you.

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7. Wine Country

vineyard flower garden
Source: Flickr/Chris Nuttall

Drive just 50 miles west of Sacramento, up the twisty, scenic roads into the Coastal Range, to find California’s world-famous Wine Country. Here, the red volcanic soil that’s all over the Napa Valley brings up French-hybrid grapes that form the bedrock of California’s immense wine industry. Couples can dine at Celadon of St. Helena, which bills itself as a cozy spot for upscale eclectic cuisine. On your first full day in town, book one of the dozens of winery tours that can take you both around the Napa Valley, stop by local wineries for a tasting, and deposit you safely back at your vacation rental, where you can cuddle up together to watch the sun set over the hills at the end of the day.

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