Hidden gems at the University of California, Davis: Exploring the unseen corners of campus

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In the 5,300 acres of the beautiful University of California Davis campus, there are secret spots and hidden gems that are uniquely delightful. During your study abroad program at UC Davis, exploring the campus to find the university’s quieter, quirky, and utterly fascinating nooks, crannies, and experiences will help you realize why UC Davis is ranked so high in uni rankings and make you feel like a true Aggie. A real Davis local. Home.

Putah Creek Riparian Reserve

Hardly a hidden gem, but in Putah Creek, you can take a step back in time for a glimpse at the land as it was in 1906 before the agriculture university farm took hold and blossomed into UC Davis. The serene Putah Creek Riparian Reserve is an ecological sanctuary, a living laboratory for environmental science, as well as a perfect escape for a moment of peace. 

You could adventure into the reserve, map free, for a sense of the old Wild West California or download the trailhead maps if you prefer a plan. Wander along the creek, spot local wildlife, and just enjoy the solitude under the canopy of native trees. Over the years, UC Davis has preserved and nurtured this rare ecosystem, building a network of trails, re-establishing native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and restoring the original habitat. 

The vibrant colors of the creek are stunning against a golden sunset, but catch the creek on a foggy day for a truly mystical experience.

Impressive campus buildings

Shields Library ranks as one of the top 100 academic libraries in North America, with 10 million items and 1.7 million visits annually. The library alone is an impressive building with a fascinating history, and the rows of books and quiet study areas create a welcoming, rich community of quiet learners and thrilling debates in its many study spaces.

The Plant and Environmental Sciences (PES) Building—also, fun fact, the first ever green-certified BREEAM® USA In-Use Excellent rated building—is a green oasis with an experimental garden. Walk around the side of the building to the Picnic Garden at harvest time to pick your own produce for a little lunchtime snack.

Rumor has it that the Social Sciences and Humanities Building (SOCSCI)—the Death Star—is a deliberately confusing building to navigate to encourage social interaction and to get people talking. Its Escheresque architecture inspired the Davis Nerf Club to run Nerf games every Saturday from 6pm to 9pm, and it’s popular for live-action role play too. 

Bohart Museum of Entomology 

Yes. This is a bug museum open to the public—and free if you visit without your class—but it’s more of an open lab. So if you join a tour, studying entomologists are likely to be your guide and be very happy to share with you why they study insects and what we learn from them.

Founded in 1946, the Bohart Museum of Entomology  was named for Dr. Richard Mitchell Bohart, a member of the UC Davis department for 50-plus years, who was instrumental in gathering many of the specimens now in the museum. His work totaled more than 200 articles and three of the leading books about wasps, bees and ants (aka Hymenoptera). He revised how we group insects, and even described many new species—his importance in the world of insects can’t be overstated. And a visit to the museum is equally impressive.

Aggie’s Student Farm

At the very heart of this green and gold campus, the Student Farm is a living classroom. It’s the place to dig into sustainable agriculture and connect with the earth. You can visit to wander through organic vegetable plots, medicinal herb gardens, and fruit orchards—or you can really get involved and make this your happy place during your study abroad program at UC Davis. 

To learn about growing fruit and vegetables for your table—and see where your dorm dining hall produce comes from—head to the Market Garden. If you like what you see, and you’re study abroad program at UC Davis is long enough, you could volunteer for any part of the growing, harvesting, and selling or give tours to children in spring.  

The Domes

A quirky, super-inclusive eco-friendly community and cooperative space, Baggins End Innovative Housing, or The Domes, offers an alternative living experience on campus or in the college town. This little village celebrates its sustainable living practices and tight-knit community vibes. You could apply to live in the Domes for your study abroad summer program or the whole academic year or pop by to visit a friend or attend a community workshop, to see a different way of campus life. 

University of California Davis campus creatures

As the top veterinary medicine school in the country, there’s little surprise UC Davis has animals galore. Hang out with the campus cows, visit the horses, see the sheep.

For smiles, stress-relief, and some much-needed downtime during your studies, UC Davis Student Health brings puppies and foster dogs to the Memorial Union, so you can boost your oxytocin levels during your study break. It makes the pups very happy too!

And across campus, friendly cats mooch around, generally very happy to be petted and hung out with for a few minutes as you head out of class. One clever Aggie put this cat map together, so you know roughly where the friendly felines are—and what their names are. Hop on your bike and go find them!

The Craft Center

Quiet mindfulness is vital to mental wellbeing, so the classes at UC Davis Craft Center are an excellent place to find something new to do or revisit an old favorite and clear your head. Choose woodworking, ceramics, glass blowing, or fiber arts workshops to reset your brain after a heavy day of study—or use them as an excellent opportunity to meet local students or other study abroad students to share the experience with.

UC Davis is full of surprises that create this most unique of campuses. When you have a free hour or a leisurely afternoon during your study abroad adventure, head off the beaten paths to explore the quieter corners. Who knows what secrets you’ll uncover in the heart of Aggie territory.