5 Things: A Local’s Guide to Davis, California

As we head into the new year, I am excited to be relaunching the Five Things Travel Series! I’ve found that when asking people advice about visiting their city, it’s best to ask them “where would you take a friend?” The results are more passionate, personal takes on cities around the world, with insider travel tips on where to eat, shop, stay, and play in their neighborhoods. We’ll get started with contributors next week, but I thought I’d begin with a more extended version of this, featuring my own home town! 

I pretty much jump at any chance I get to tout Davis, California—partly in hopes that friends scattered about the country will decide to move here.

With the highest number of bikes per capita in the U.S., a walkable downtown core, a world-class performing arts center, and a steady stream of students that keep the city youthful and multicultural, Davis may be small but it has a lot to love. Our little university town is just a 20-minute drive from Midtown Sacramento, two hours from Lake Tahoe and, in the other direction, an hour from the San Francisco Bay.

Here are some of the places I’d take an out-of-town friend…


“But first, coffee.” You have options—Sacramento-based Temple has a location in Davis, and Mishkas has been roasting beans downtown for years. (Aron spilled hot tea all over me here, on one of our fist dates!) The Pachamama Coffee Cooperative—made in Sacramento, owned by coffee farmers around the world—serves its coffee at the farmer’s market. Lately, you can also find me at Philz, an exciting new arrival in town. Philz started in the Mission district of San Francisco and specializes in custom pour-overs.

The best food in Davis is probably to be found at the Davis Farmer’s Market—we are surrounded by some of the most incredible farms in the country and bountiful growing seasons.

And our local grocery stores, Nugget Markets and the Davis Co-Op, are great places to find all of it if you don’t pass through on a market day—plus each have some really delicious food options of their own (try the bakery at Nugget and the sushi at the Co-Op). Honestly, I could probably recommend the Farmer’s Market in every category here, but I’ll save a more in depth description for the “Play” section of the guide.

Restaurants have a history of shuttering in Davis if they don’t appeal to the students, so you’ll find lots of counter service and casual eateries. We often lament that there need to be some cooler options for bringing friends, or going out on dates, but we appreciate that our community supports a mix of cuisines from around the world. In fact, everyone jokes about the number of Thai restaurants in town, but they’re delicious! I’m partial to Sophia’s for sit-down and Thai Canteen for street-food-style snacks.

On weekend mornings, (or whenever I’m lucky enough to grab brunch with friends), I tend to pick Cafe Bernardo. We also have a wonderful Austrian Pastry cafe, Konditorei, that’s I’ve been visiting since college (always order the specialty crêpe with vanilla sauce), but it’s a bit further out of the downtown core.

For dinner, we often find ourselves ordering ramen or izakaya-style snacks at the Japanese restaurant, Yakitori Yuchan or getting poke bowls from Zuma. You can also eat dinner outside at Bistro 33 (the best setting, but also—I’d caution—notoriously the slowest, at the old town hall) or on the patio at Seasons. Other popular spots are Burgers and Brew (with a view of the park), or the classic college-pizza joint, Woodstock’s.

For drinks, you have plenty of options—especially for beer!

There’s Three Mile, Dunloe, and Super Owl, but my pick would be Sudwerk, Davis’s very own microbrewery for the past 25 years. They pour California Dry Hop Lager and Märzen Amber Lager alongside a rotation of five experimental drafts on tap at The Dock. The beers are award-winning, and there’s a lot of science that goes into getting that cold-one just right: The UC Davis Master Brewers program is just upstairs and, no surprise, the head brewer is a graduate.

The atmosphere is low-key and friendly—kids are welcome (family dogs, too)—and it’s not uncommon to find live music on the weekends. There’s usually a food-truck around, or you can order take-out and grab a table between rounds of corn hole.

For the best cocktails, I’d head to Our House and sit at the bar. And to finish off, nothing beats the Irish Coffee at DeVere’s. (If you happen to stop in on a Monday, join in on the Pub Quiz!)


On a walk around downtown, I’m most likely to spend time in Newsbeat—a newsstand with rare and lesser-known magazines that has expanded to carry all sorts of gifts and miscellany (even some locally-made ice cream)—or Avid Reader, a bookstore with a secondary children’s toy store. Equally fun to browse, Armadillo Music is one of the only independent record stores I’ve known to expand in the last few years. You can listen to almost any CD in the store at listening stations, sell or buy new or used music, or come in for one of the shows they host on their in-store stage. (I believe they just added a beer license!)

Other places to check out: PinkaDot for clothes; Kobe Market for Asian candies, snacks, toys, or school supplies; Mother & Baby Source for new parent gifts (and support!); and the UCD Campus Bookstore for Aggie apparel and just about anything else you could want (there’s also an Amazon delivery locker here if you need something delivered while in town).

For most of the major chains (Target, Cost Plus, and Forever21 excepted), one drives into Sacramento.


The Saturday Davis Farmers Market in Central Park is legendary—it routinely makes roundups of the best markets in the country and is probably the heart of the community. Packed with stalls of local, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables (much of it organic), meats, eggs, flowers, dry (and baked) goods, the market boasts goods grown by or made by local sellers. It’s not to be missed.

There’s also a Wednesday Picnic-in-the-Park edition that has become our beloved local ritual. Every Wednesday in the summer from 4:30-8:30 pm (March through October), you can shop the farmers market, grab dinner and drinks from the food stalls, and then spread out a blanket on the lawn for live music and good conversation.

There are also plenty of things for kids to explore—like a bicycle-powered carousel (of course), bounce-houses, and pony rides, in addition to two playgrounds. Our kids are usually lured away only with the promise of a popsicle from Fat Face—a market favorite that makes small-batch, seasonal popsicles in creative flavors like Avocado with Kefir Lime. (Look for their stand on Saturday mornings for delicious breakfast sandwiches!)

On any other given day, one might wander through campus into the UC Davis Arboretum (or follow the bike path leading out of downtown)—a 100-plus acre collection of demonstration gardens, and the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve. Here are some visitor maps; the Ruth Storer garden is one of my favorite places come spring.

For culture, we’re lucky to have both the Mondavi Performing Arts Center (where there’s something great happening almost every night, but where you might catch anyone from David Sedaris to Wynton Marsalis or Ballet Folklórico), and the Manetti Shrem Art Museum. The museum is free for all and has some outstanding exhibitions. We love going on weekends for the art labs, where everyone (kids included) can get messy and make art for free. Be sure to check opening times before coming—they tend to follow the academic calendar.

Davis Downtown also hosts 2nd Friday ArtAbout every month—a self-guided art walk featuring exhibitions and receptions in local businesses and galleries, as well as public art around town. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the city’s core. There’s usually wine and live music offered along the route. (Find a map for this month’s ArtAbout here.)

Finally, movies are best at The Varsity, a historic landmark Streamline Moderne-style building that tends to show independent films. There’s a cafe on one side, a gelato and candy shop on the other, and you can bring in items from either. It’s a favorite date-night spot.


While I can’t personally vouch for any of the hotels in town, the Best Western, above Cafe Bernardo, and the Hallmark Inn, with its row of bicycles, look the nicest to me. There’s also a campus Hyatt and—coming soon!—The Vine Inn (a mid-century makeover of the Econo Lodge). I’d also suggest checking for AirBnBs in town—there are some great ones on there.


Casual is the rule: you can’t go wrong with jeans. Davis has a Mediterranean climate, with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers—but a nice breeze off the delta can cool things quickly after the sun goes down, so it’s always wise to bring layers like this chore coat. 

Otherwise, you might consider a picnic basket and a bike helmet!

(Tip: Even if you don’t bring your own, biking is a great way to get around once you arrive. Uber-owned Jump Bikes have arrived—bright red and basket-equipped, with electric-assist motors available via app—or you can rent one from B&L or Ken’s for the day. The city is covered in over 100 miles of bike paths, lanes, and trails so be sure to print-out a hard copy of the Davis Bike Map or pick one up at a local bike shop before you ride.)

Sure, I miss the city now and then, but we’re big fans! Aron’s parents are both retired faculty and he grew up here. I came for undergraduate (when I met Aron), and then graduate/medical school and jobs took us both away for about 10 years. Now my parents have moved to town, too!

Have you visited? Anything to add? Local friends, what have I missed?

P.S. Visiting the nearby Yolo Basin Wildlife Area (where you might see hundreds-of-thousands of Mexican long-tailed bats emerging at sunset!); a perfect day in Sacramento; and some more daytrips you might also enjoy!

[Watermarked photos by Susan Yee/En Pointe Photography for City Scout. Jacket by Madewell.]


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