Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Davis, CA

  • Published 2023/01/24

As a forerunner in bicycle infrastructure, Davis, California, has earned the nickname “the bike capital of the United States.”

This vibrant city is the county seat of Yolo County and is home to most of its residents.

Davis is also home to the UC Davis campus, which has a significant cultural and social impact on the region.

As one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, the city has broad roads, level terrain, pleasant temperature, and plenty of bike routes, making biking one of the free fun activities in the city.

Many people frequently overlook Davis because of its proximity to Sacramento; nonetheless, the city boasts a wealth of unique and mostly free activities.

Davis’ natural beauty is practical and inspiring, with incredible agriculture, critical regions for wildlife habitats, and accessible trails.

It’s easy to take pleasure in your surroundings in Davis, with such spectacular events as the bat talk and walks, sunflower season, and the harvest season for the area’s vineyards.

Read on to discover the free things to do in Davis, California.

Immerse Yourself in Nature at UC Davis Arboretum

The waters of UC Davis Arboretum

AlessandraRC /

The UC Davis Arboretum is a must-see if you’re a nature lover and planning a trip to Davis.

The University of California, Davis Arboretum, was founded in 1936 as a 100-acre botanical park and research center along the former northern channel of Putah Creek.

Seventeen different gardens and collections are at the nursery, such as the Arboretum Terrace Garden, Lois Crowe Patio, and California Foothill.

Welcome sign of UC Davis Arboretum

AlessandraRC /

The Carolee Shields White Flower Garden and the Gazebo in the Eric E. Conn Acacia Grove are only two of the many collections available to visitors.

The Australian, Conifer, Desert, and East Asian Collections are also on site.

The UC Davis Arboretum, located on the campus of the University of California, is open all year and welcomes visitors at any time.

Trail at UC Davis Arboretum

AlessandraRC /

Learn about the Natural World at UC Davis Bee Haven

UC Davis Bee Haven is a unique outdoor museum and garden that provides essential nutrients for bees and other pollinators.

This area is also excellent for studying and observing bees and the plants that support them.

Visitors will learn about the importance of bees and their role in maintaining ecological balance.

Visitors are also encouraged to take the initiative to create their pollinator habitats outside of the garden.

The UC Davis Bee Haven lies near the UC Davis Honey Bee Research Facility, named for Harry H. Laidlaw, Jr., on Bee Biology Road.

Haagen-Dazs generously presented the park to UC Davis.

You may enjoy it year-round during the daytime.

See Hunting Birds at California Raptor Center

Injured and orphaned raptors are cared for and studied at the California Raptor Center (CRC), a nonprofit institution dedicated to teaching and research.

The center takes up to 350 raptors each year and can successfully rehabilitate up to 60% of them so they may be released back into the wild.

The center hosts educational programs for local schools, nonprofit environmental groups, and the adjacent university community and offers hands-on training in the care and management of birds of prey.

When it comes to their health, these extraordinary birds have a strong ally in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which provides comprehensive services ranging from cutting-edge diagnostic imaging to skilled surgical procedures.

Public hours at the California Raptor Center (CRC) are on weekdays and Saturdays.

Self-guided visits do not incur any entry fees.

To reduce the birds’ stress, self-guided tour parties should include no more than six individuals.

Discover Creepy Critters at Bohart Museum of Entomology

Insect collection in Bohart Museum of Entomology

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are more than seven million specimens of aquatic and terrestrial arthropods in the Bohart Museum of Entomology‘s collection.

On the grounds of UC Davis, the museum has been open since 1946.

Now housing insects from Australia, Indonesia, and the Americas, the museum boasts the seventh-largest entomological collection in North America.

Butterfly board in Bohart Museum of Entomology

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum is part of UC Davis’s Entomology Department.

It serves as a research resource for the department in addition to housing a teaching collection of insects used in the department’s undergraduate entomology classes.

You may visit the Bohart Museum of Entomology from Monday to Thursday, and it’s a great addition to your Davis itinerary.

Exhibit in Bohart Museum of Entomology

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Explore Local History at Hattie Weber Museum

Hattie Weber Museum is a must-see for anybody interested in Davis’s past.

Dedicated to showcasing the history and development that have defined Davis and its environs, the Hattie Weber Museum is an integral part of the community.

Founded in 1911 and given her name in honor of Davis’s first salaried librarian, Harriet Elisha (Hattie) Weber.

Multiple spectacular interactive exhibits and displays highlight the city’s rich cultural heritage and historical background within the museum’s expansive halls.

On the northwest corner of C and Fifth, on the west side of Central Park, you’ll find the museum housed in the gorgeously restored old public library.

On Saturdays only, you may visit the Hattie Weber Museum.

Check Out Young Talent at the UC Davis Design Museum

As a student-run museum, the UC Davis Design Museum investigates common design patterns’ economic and cultural effects on consumer goods.

Rotating exhibits at the museum provide various displays that change every three months.

It is an annual exhibition of the best work produced by university students in the spring of each academic year, including those enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs.

Exhibition descriptions and images from previous exhibitions are also available at the UC Davis Design Museum.

Installation designs, object manipulation, and preparation are all tasks for which it enlists the aid of graduating college students from the Department of Design.

See Artworks at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

Building sign of Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

Chris Allan /

The University of California, Davis, is home to the charming Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.

In the early 1960s, Richard L. Nelson established the department that would become world-famous for its art programs.

Exterior of Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

AlessandraRC /

Take Photos with Public Art through Davis Transmedia Art Walk

Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, and Roy DeForest are just a few illustrious artists who called Davis home.

Davis has been a significant player in the California art scene since the 1950s.

Thanks to world-class artist cooperatives, the public may enjoy works by renowned artists during the Davis Transmedia Art Walk.

Many murals and sculptures along the Davis Transmedia Art Walk are lighted in the evening, although you may take the tour anytime.

Grab Davis Transmedia Art Walk maps from the Yolo County Visitors Bureau or the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts.

John Natsoulas Centre for the Arts also offers artist and curator-led group and family tours for a minimal charge.

Ride a Bike through Davis Greenbelt

With the Davis Greenbelt at your disposal, maintaining your fitness level in Davis is a breeze.

The Greenbelt, or Davis Greenbelt, is a natural urban space that spans the city from east to west and north to south.

It features bike lanes and paved walkways.

The Davis Greenbelt is a small component of a more extensive network of greenways stretching for tens of miles around the city and linked by only a few miles.

The Greenbelt spans 60 miles, with only ten square miles within Davis.

The Greenbelt features a greenhouse, expansive grassy lawns with chairs and picnic tables, and many locations to run, stroll, or cycle through tunnels and bridges that allow bikes.

Several parks dot North Davis, such as the Covell, Northstar, Senda Nueva Greenbelts, and Perimeter.

Conversely, Rose, Willow Creek, and Putah make up the South Davis Greenbelts.

Appreciate Local Art at John Natsoulas Center for the Arts

Sculpture on the grounds of John Natsoulas Center for the Arts

ZikG /

In the heart of downtown Davis stands the expansive John Natsoulas Center for the Arts.

The gallery’s mission is to promote an appreciation for art and its history via exhibitions of local talent and state masterpieces from California.

The art center has four stories, a sculpture roof garden, and an art roof garden.

Catch cultural events, conferences, and other public functions at the art center.

Many cultural events in the arts (music, literature, and the visual arts) also occur year-round at the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts.

It also oversees the Log Cabin Gallery in a converted Boy Scout cabin.

Enjoy Quiet Time at Mary L. Stephens – Davis Branch Library

As a branch of the Yolo County Library, the Mary L. Stephens – Davis Branch Library serves the city of Davis, California.

The former librarian of Yolo County was recognized for their dedication and service by having their name engraved on the door.

After being shut down in 2007 for refurbishment, the structure reopened in July 2009.

The Mary L. Stephens – Davis Branch Library is a must-visit.

There is a limited collection for browsing, several PCs with internet access, and the ability to retrieve goods placed on hold through the catalog.

WiFi access, printing, copying, scanning, remote printing, and faxing are available.

In addition to the tiny conference room, the library has two public rooms for community use at no cost.

Its knowledgeable and friendly staff will make exploring the library a breeze.

Have a Picnic at Central Park

Trail at Central Park

AlessandraRC /

Check out Central Park if you’re looking for a good time in Fort Davis.

The gardens in Central Park have won several awards and are renowned for their beauty and variety.

Central Park Gardens has been a part of the park since its inception in the 1990s.

It features many gardens, including those dedicated to drought-resistant and edible planters, native California flora, and flowers beneficial to local animals.

The grounds of Central Park

Vince Migliore, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other greeneries include Rose and Flower, California Natives, Sensory, Vegetable, and Waterwise.

Publicly viewable artworks by local artists, such as paintings and sculptures, further enhance the beauty of the gardens.

In addition to being a popular place to learn about the local flora and fauna, they are also a great place to sit and have a picnic.

Playground at Central Park

Vince Migliore, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have Green Fun at Whole Earth Festival

The Whole Earth Festival was first held on the UC Davis Quad in 1969 as a modest art class project (called an “Art Happening”).

Students used art to engage the public in activism, health, and environmental sustainability discussions.

After the UN officially recognized Earth Day in 1970, the event was renamed the Whole Earth Festival, or WEF for short.

Today, it is a student-run, free event that draws over 30,000 people yearly around Mother’s Day.

Throughout the weekend, attendees can participate in various courses and enjoy multiple musical performances.

Moreover, this is a waste-free event.

You can help by putting your “trash” in the proper containers; volunteers actively separate recyclables and compost from the bins.

Catch Musical Performances on Thursdays in the Davisphere

Thursdays in The Davisphere revitalizes Davis’s downtown, the city’s commercial, cultural, and artistic epicenter.

The Davis Downtown Business Association hosts Thursdays in the Davisphere.

Every festival has a beer garden, various food options, activities for kids, and a marketplace where people can buy and sell goods made in the area.

Every week sees a new roster of bands performing anything from rock to reggae to Latin to jazz to symphonic to pop to bluegrass to Americana to popular covers.

Check out the booths set up by businesses large and small, artists and artisans, service providers, and charities to promote their wares and programs.

Each night of the week at Thursdays in The Davisphere features a unique lineup of performances.

The event is also kid- and dog-friendly!

Stroll through Davis Farmers Market

Interior of Davis Farmers Market

AlessandraRC /

Davis Farmers Market is a weekly event taking place on Saturday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and afternoons, and it features a wide variety of locally produced goods.

Market-goers may get organically certified fruits and vegetables, Prime meats and chicken, honey, flowers, local eggs, bread, and much more at this vibrant and busy market.

Handmade tote bags, Market Shed t-shirts, and postcards are available at the Market Shed, located within the market.

Coffee vendor at Davis Farmers Market

AlessandraRC /

If it isn’t on your budget, you may catch its free events like the “Picnic in the Park,” taking place during summer.

Davis Farmers Market transforms into a party with live music, delicious food, and fun activities by hosting its annual event every Wednesday.

This farmers market is a must-see if you’re looking for a memorable experience in Davis.

Shopper and vendor at Davis Farmers Market

AlessandraRC /

Final Thoughts

Davis is an exciting place to visit thanks to its many museums, art galleries, parks, and special events that draw visitors to this vibrant university town.

Besides being a city easily navigated on foot or by bike, it is home to diverse people and cultures.

For an unforgettable budget-friendly adventure, use this guide to the free things to do in Davis, California.

© All rights reserved.