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Just a stone's throw east of California's capital, Rancho Cordova has only been an incorporated city since 2003—it's already the recipient of a fair share of accolades, mind you, including an All-America City Award—but the community's history extends a heck of a lot deeper. This is country that served as homeland for the Miwok and Maidu, which saw booming placer mining during the Gold Rush days, and which has long been partly defined by all the vineyards and orchards in its hinterland. Speaking of, oenophiles have a lot of winery-hopping at their disposal with Rancho Cordova as their headquarters: Getting your Zinfandel on in the Amador or El Dorado County foothills or down in Lodi wine country makes for easy and delightful daytripping.

The heart of Rancho Cordova has always been the American River, that mighty stream shunting Sierra Nevada snows and runoff into the Sacramento Valley. Here you've got prime alluvial access via the American River Parkway, which includes a paved bike path and numerous boat launches. Besides the family-friendly rafting and floating (not to mention salmon and steelhead fishing) on this stretch of the mainstem, you've got the world-class Sierra whitewater of the South, Middle, and North forks of the American within easy reach. Lake Natoma, formed by the Nimbus Dam and part of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, makes another outstanding on-the-water (and around-the-water) destination. Hike or bike the shore, or do some sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, paddling, jet-skiing—you name it, basically—at the lake's Sacramento State Aquatic Center, which rents watercraft and also offers classes. Just below the Nimbus Dam lies the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, established to give a helping hand to the American River's Chinook salmon and steelhead in the wake of spawning habitat lost to the impoundment. During fish runs, you can swing by the hatchery, run by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, for interpretive presentations.

History buffs, take note: Gold Country historic sites abound in the region, from Rancho Cordova's own Matthew Kilgore Cemetery, established in 1874 and home to many pioneer families, to Sutter's Mill in Coloma's Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, where the California Gold Rush ignited. When you're not investigating Gold Rush landmarks, touring vineyards, or playing on the American River or Lake Natoma, you can bring the little ones to Rancho Cordova's branch of the Sacramento Children's Museum, enjoy shopping, dining, and entertainment in nearby Folsom, or of course bop over to Sacramento for its big-city pleasures. All things considered, Rancho Cordova makes quite the delightful Sacramento Valley base camp!