Old Sacramento is a historic district of the capital of California that is located along the Sacramento River. It possesses the status of National Historic Landmark. That’s a rather popular tourist destination, every year it is visited by more than 3 million people.
Keep reading, and we will tell you everything you need to know about this entertaining and educational location.
About the History of Sacramento
It is well-known that California has been founded by John Sutter. He arrived in the place that would later become Sacramento in 1839. At that period of time those lands belonged to Mexico. That was a great place to live and to run a business. There was a deep and full-flowing river with tons of fish, so, one could easily get the food for himself and his family. Besides, there were all sort of trees and bushes with tasty berries and fruit. As for the river, it was widely used for transporting goods, which was also a huge benefit. Sutter was granted a large plot of land there and made a decision to build a fort and to establish an agricultural colony. It was named New Helvetia. At that time the idea of moving to the west enjoyed immense popularity among those who dreamed of becoming rich, so Sutter’s town was growing rapidly.
Still, there was the reverse side of the coin, too. Originally, those lands were inhibited by Native Americans, the Nisenan and Maidu tribes mainly. They lived there for thousands of years. But, when colonists came, Indians got affected by the new illnesses, and in many cases they didn’t manage to overcome them.
As it was mentioned above, Sutter managed to achieve impressive success. He turned out to be a good manager. But, in 1848, his workers found gold, and, despite his efforts to keep that fact secret, it was disclosed. Over a short period of time, the news went round the neighboring lands and gave rise to the gold rush. Eventually, Sutter’s workers also left him and got involved in searching gold. As a result, Sutter’s farm fell into a state of neglect, and he himself became a bankrupt.
At the same time, Sutter’s son made a decision to establish another town 2 miles to the south of New Helvetia and to name it Sacramento. It is noteworthy that it became the first incorporated town in California. Over some time, it turned out that the location of the new settlement had been wrongly selected. Sacramento faced a series of disastrous floods. Finally, the authorities made a decision to raise its level and to fill the first floor of each building with ground.
The gold rush began to decline, and Sacramento was transformed into the prosperous agricultural center. Sacramento kept on developing and growing, and the business center was moved to the east, while the historic part of the city ― Old Sacramento ― got abandoned and turned into a poor district.
But, about 50 years ago, Old Sacramento was granted a second chance and was eventually transformed into a popular district where everyone could immerse himself in the atmosphere of the 19th century.
Places to Visit in Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento is not a theme park, it is a real historic district that comprises 8 blocks or 53 ancient buildings. That’s a great place to spend a weekend with a family, here you can find attractions to suit every taste and budget.
Sure, Old Sacramento is packed with exciting locations. Walking along its streets, you will see them at every turn. Still, if you do not want to miss anything, be sure to have a look at our list of top must-visit places:
1. California State Railroad Museum
No doubt, your kids will love it. However, you are also likely to enjoy it. There you can see hundreds of exhibits, including 19 ancient locomotives that have been constructed in the 19–20th centuries. More to the point, they are not exhibited for watching only, you will have the opportunity to get inside and to feel like a passenger enjoying a meal in the ancient dining car or relaxing in the luxurious first-class car.
Sure, there are also all sort of educational and interactive activities for children, for example, story times.
A must-do: you can join an excursion train ride that are conducted on a regular basis. By the way, there is a good chance that your car will be pulled by a real vintage locomotive. That’s the best option for those who want to watch the picturesque scenery of Old Sacramento.
And, on holidays, like Christmas or Halloween, you can take an exciting thematic fairy trip by a polar express or a spooky train.
2. California Automobile Museum in Old Sacramento
Its huge collection comprising over 120 automobiles covers the entire history of the development of this kind of vehicles, up till our days. One can spend hours just walking around and studying every shiny brass detail of all those elegant cars.
A must-do: you can take a ride by a vintage car or even join special classes to learn to drive it.
3. Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum
Be sure to find some time to visit this 19th century school in Old Sacramento. That’s a replica, still, every detail from desks to boards is scrupulously reconstructed. By the way an excursion will be conducted by murms and masters wearing historic costumes. So, you will have the opportunity to feel the atmosphere of Sacramento of that period to the full.
A must-buy: they offer cute authentic souvenirs, like slates or school rules.
It is noteworthy that the admission is free.
4. Sacramento History Museum
Some people may suppose that historic museums are boring enough, but that’s not about this one. That’s the only museum devoted to the rich history of Sacramento and the legendary era of the Gold Rush.
During the excursion, you will make a grasping trip through the entire history of Sacramento: from the times of Indians till our days. You will get acquainted with the life of the tribes living in this place for about ten thousand of years, learn about the times of the first Sacramento colonists, see real samples of gold that has dramatically changed the course of the history of California in general and Sacramento in particular, visit a historic print shop and watch an ancient printing unit working, walk around a kitchen of the beginning of the 20th century and enjoy other exciting exhibits.
A must-buy: at the printing shop you can order a personal “Wanted” poster. Such a funny souvenir will surely make your day.
A must-do: the most popular activity offered by the museum is Old Sacramento underground tours. As we have noted above, at the beginning of its history Sacramento was badly damaged by floods, and, to avoid further decay, citizens were forced to move the level of the streets and buildings higher and to fill the lower floors with dust. And today tourists can make a trip to that abandoned part of Sacramento and to see everything for themselves. That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Do not miss such an opportunity. Sure, it’s safe enough, so, you can take your kids with you.
5. The Crocker Art Museum in Old Sacramento
It was established as a place where everyone could see the art collection that was presented to Sacramento by the Crokers. By the way, this family has also transferred the luxurious mansion into the ownership of the city, so that it is used for displaying the pieces of art. As of now, this museum in Old Sacramento comprises two buildings: historic and modern. To see the unique Californian and European collections, you should go to the original building, while, to enjoy the contemporary art, you are welcome to visit the newer one. It is noteworthy that the museum pays much attention to educating kids, there are even special activities for babies.
A must-buy: there is a shop where you can find original gifts for yourself and for your dear people. There is no need to waste money on mass-market souvenirs, when there is such a worthy alternative.
6. State Indian Museum in Old Sacramento
No doubt, the Indian period is the crucial page of the history of Sacramento. So, visiting this place is a must for everyone who wants to get acquainted with Sacramento for real. There you can see a huge collection of traditional baskets, an authentic canoe, fishing equipment, hunting tools, pieces of beadwork, etc. Some of the items are more than two thousand years old!
A must-do: you will have the opportunity to try working with some of Indian tools, for example, a pump drill.
7. Sacramento Sutter’s Fort
It is located just next to the State Indian Museum. In fact, most of the original buildings and constructions were destroyed at the times of the gold rush, the only building that survived till our days is the main building. All the other buildings that you can see there are reconstructed.
Walking around the territory of the fort, you will see dozens of varied premises that reflect people’s life and routine in the 19th century. Here are some of the most interesting ones: a bakery, a textile shop, a gun room, a blacksmith’s forge, a joiner’s shop, rooms for immigrants.
Sure, there are also premises that belonged to Sutter ― the great person, who, no doubt, contributed to the development of Sacramento. In the main building you can see his offices.
If you want to visit Old Sacramento fort, be sure to find at least a couple of hours: every room is reconstructed in close detail, so you will need plenty of time to study each of them.
A must-do: in case you have enough time, be sure to use an audio guide and to learn about the history of this place.
A must-buy: if you want to get some kind of a souvenir to remind of this trip to Old Sacramento, visit a gift shop.
8. The Big Four Building in Sacramento
That’s the place where the First Transcontinental Railroad was given rise to. No doubt, it played a significant role in the development of Sacramento. In the past the building was occupied by the merchants that were later called the Big Four. Today, it is a landmark that belongs to the Old Sacramento National Historic District.
There is also the Huntington, Hopkins & Company Hardware Store, where you can both see all sort of mechanisms of that period and buy a good selection of old-fashioned souvenirs, like oil lamps, toys etc.
A must-do: go to the back room of the hardware store, there you can find an additional exhibition that is also worth your attention.
9. Sacramento Tower Bridge
It is advisable to visit it at the end of the day, when lights are switched on. It looks especially beautiful at that time.
When it was constructed in 1935, it was the first vertical lift bridge in California. It was opened with fanfare. There was a large parade. In addition, they used 1000 pigeons to inform people living in California about that great event in the history of Sacramento.
Today, the bridge is used for motor vehicles and pedestrians only, but in the past, there were railways as well.
A must-do: take a photo against the background of the bridge that is brightly lit up.
10. Delta King Paddlewheeler
That’s one of the most famous tourist attractions in Old Sacramento. Having a meal at this noncommon restaurant moored to the berth is a great way to spend the end of the day filled with exciting excursions. In fact, walking around its decks is a mini-excursion itself. You can choose between a fine-dining restaurant and a bar.
In addition, after a dinner you can stay there for a night. They offer a good selection of staterooms with stunning views over Old Sacramento and the river: from compact ones with one bed to spacious suits for families. There is also an opportunity to book the real captain’s quarters with a wheelhouse.
A must-do: in case you have enough time, go to the Suspects dinner. It combines delicious food and drinks and an interactive detective comedy show involving every guest.
No doubt, that’s not the complete list of the places that are worth visiting in Old Sacramento. Still, it is long enough for a trip lasting 1–2 days. Sure, if you have some time left, you can just have a walk along the picturesque streets of the district and visit any shops, bars or cafe you see and find appealing enough. There is a good chance that inside you will find unique interior representing some interesting page of the history of Sacramento.
Useful Tips for Those Who Plan a Trip to Old Sacramento
- It is advisable to schedule your visit to Old Sacramento for the period from Thursday to Sunday. At that time most museums, shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are open. Otherwise, there is a high risk that you will arrive and see the streets of Old Sacramento empty.
- At night most blocks of Old Sacramento also resemble a ghost town.
- In case you want to see some kind of festival or event taking place in Old Sacramento, it is preferable to leave your car at home, the number of parking places is limited there.
- On ordinary days, you may also face serious difficulties with parking in Old Sacramento. So, in case you are going to take part in some scheduled event, be sure to arrive in sufficient time in advance, otherwise you may miss something interesting while searching for a free parking place.
- Most Old Sacramento tours and activities involve much walking, so opt for comfortable shoes.
- In case you plan to join the Old Sacramento underground tour, keep in mind that it may be chilly.
- Be sure to ask before starting to take photos. At some locations in Old Sacramento it is prohibited.
- When you get tired of walking, hire a cab. There are many of them in the streets of Old Sacramento. That’s a great way to explore the district, if you do not have enough energy and strength to do that on foot anymore.
- One more option to consider is taking a tour by sea. In Old Sacramento, there is a good selection of boats to suit every taste and pocket.
- In Old Sacramento, there are so many bars and cafes that can boast unique interior, do not miss a chance to enjoy a meal in a special atmosphere.
As you can see, Old Sacramento is the place where one can spend an entire weekend. So, in case you plan to visit the capital of California, do not miss the chance to make an exciting trip through time and to see the life of the region in the 19th century.