Sacramento is California’s capital which is situated in Sacramento County. While the state’s inland capital is overshadowed by its costal sisters, it is a must-see destination for those who travel on a budget. Sacramento is vibrant, rich with history and full of stunning Victorian architecture. The district of Old Sacramento recalls the glory days of the Gold Rush, with wooden walkways and horse-drawn wagon rides. There are so many things to do in Sacramento, that we have decided to make a list of the most interesting activities in the city.
1. Take a Free Guided Tour of the California State Capitol
The regal capitol building is where the state’s government is situated. It was built in 1860 and now serves as both the office of the governor and a museum that is always free to enter. The building looks like a mini replica of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, yet it is a little cozier and more visitor-friendly: you can explore a surrounding garden, watch free historic films in the basement, and even take a free guided tour of the featured museum. The California State Capitol is an amazing place to visit with kids.
2. Explore Sacramento’s Historic Park
The Old Sacramento State Historic Park has a unique vintage style and home-like atmosphere, and it is placed in the very downtown of the city. History buffs should head to one of the five museums such as the California State Railroad Museum, the Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, the California State Military Museum, etc. There are over 50 historical buildings in Sacramento’s Historic Park that has almost 300 acres. It is the best area in Downtown Sacramento to wander and enjoy the views of Victorian houses. There are also numerous eateries serving authentic western food. And don’t miss out on traditional American confections you can buy at nine different places.
3. Take a Ride in a Horse-Drawn Wagon
The old city along the Sacramento River is one of those historical districts that pays tribute to the days of Wild West and the Gold Rush era. Here you can enjoy an old-fashioned fun by taking a leisurely ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages. The ride lasts up to 20 minutes and gives you an opportunity to explore the most interesting parts of Sacramento’s historical center, including the Sacramento History Museum, the Lady Adams Building, the Big Four Building within Old Sacramento Historic Park.
3. Walk Along the Sacramento River
Here is another nice and free thing to do in Sacramento — having a walk along the Sacramento River. This activity is romantic couples’ favorite as it provides excellent waterfront views with shade from trees. There is a nicely maintained walking park along the Sacramento River’s bank. It starts in downtown and goes down to the Automobile Museum where you can find out some interesting facts on the American automotive industry and take a look at over 150 retro cars. While walking down the Sacramento River, you can also learn the history of the place by reading numerous plaques. Take a stroll or have a bike ride enjoying riverfront views in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.
4. Take a Train Ride
There is the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento that provides seasonal excursion train rides. Take a ride behind an authentic locomotive, immersing yourself in the Wild West history. Several different trains are available for tourists, and they all depart from the Central Pacific Passenger Station in Old Sacramento. You can choose from closed coach and first-class observation cars as well as open-air gondolas. They are pulled either by vintage diesel locomotives or by Granite Rock Company No. 10 steam locomotive built in 1942 by H.K. Porter.
5. Go Down the River
There is not just one but two rivers surrounding Sacramento. They are the one of the same name and the other called the American River (they confluence in the picturesque Sacramento Valley). On spring and summer sunny days, you can see lots of boaters, fishermen, kayakers, and other people enjoying the cool, fresh waters. You can also do a river cruise or have a return voyage from Sacramento to San Francisco. The one-way journey lasts up to 5 hours, and they also give tourists time to explore San Fran for about 2 hours.
6. Meet the Wildlife
It might come as a pleasant surprise that there are two zoos in the Sacramento area. The Sacramento Zoo nestled in William Land Park was founded in 1927 and has an impressive area of 14,3 acres. It is home to over 500 rare, native and endangered animals, including red pandas, panthers, a southern tamandua, a red-tailed hawk, etc. And there is also the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary that is located 25 miles away from Downtown Sacramento (the journey takes less than 30 minutes by car). This zoo has been the home to tigers, bears, and a hundred of other wild animals since it was founded in 1963. Both Sacramento zoos offer fun activities for the whole family.
7. Tour Leland Stanford’s Mansion
Do you know that one of the co-founders of Stanford University once lived in Sacramento and even was its governor? Leland Stanford lived in the very heart of Old Sacramento and occupied an impressively big mansion of 19 thousands square feet. That Victorian building is now a museum offering its visitors everyday guided tours. If you do not have enough time to step inside, simply come and enjoy the architecture with a striking statement of the curved staircase.
8. Visit Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
The Sutter’s Fort Museum is located in the place where once was trade and agricultural colony of the Mexican Alta California province. And it is also the site of the white man’s first outpost in the state that was a pivotal point in history. In 1839, the German-Swiss immigrant Johann Sutter built the house which now holds a museum. Back in the days he provided immigrants, traders and tappers with lavish hospitality, but the squatters and gold seekers overran the land and destroyed Sutter’s livestock and goods. So, in 1848, fortress was abandoned. Then, in 20th century, the building in central Sacramento was restored to its original condition and was finally designated a National Historic Landmark. There you can see lots of items reminiscing about Sutter and the Sacramento’s Gold Rush era.
9. Go Underground
There are lots of hidden gems in Old Sacramento. Some of them are just like diamonds hiding beneath your feet. For instance, the Sacramento History Museum offers a guided underground tour. Touring Old Sacramento has never been so different: you will go down under and walk half a mile below historic buildings, exploring what has been hidden beneath the streets for more than 150 years. You will get a glimpse into the history of Sacramento, uncover old legends, see the enclosed pathways and visit dark areas with low ceilings and uneven surfaces. There is also an impressive archeological exhibition that is definitely worth seeing.
10. Spend a Day in a Fairytale
Families with kids need a special place to spend the time together, and Sacramento has got them covered. Right in the center of the city lies Fairytale Town — a nonprofit amusement park featuring a petting zoo, nicely maintained gardens, themed playgrounds, and a cafe serving affordable, delicious food. This 2.5-acre park brings fairytales and bedtime stories to life, awakening kids’ imagination. The park also holds the children’s museum offering many educational programs, workshops, and day camps. Sacramento Fairytale Town is a perfect place to make memories together with your family and even to throw a magical birthday party.
11. Go See the Movies in the Town Theater
The Tower Theater, built in 1938, is one of Sacramento’s main landmarks. It was initially the single screen auditorium that was reconstructed and divided into three small ones. It is situated in the heart of Sacramento’s Broadway District and is the best place to watch popular second-run movies, opera broadcasts, foreign and independent films. The Tower Theater is also an art-house that hosts the premiers of local experimental movies. The theater’s building itself is a great thing to see: a 100-foot tower with an exquisite art deco exterior bathes in bright neon lights.
12. Take a Look Back at Sacramento’s History
Time travels are now possible thanks to the museums like Wells Fargo in Sacramento. This history museum stands out from the crowd due to its exclusive, carefully selected items such as an authentic stagecoach by Abbot-Downing Concord Coaches and a working telegraph line. Here at the 5-story atrium of Wells Fargo Center in Downtown Sacramento, Gold Rush history is brought to life again. The museum has a massive collection of gold specimens from the local foothills as well as documents, artifacts, postcard and postal covers from the 19th century. The exhibition is interactive, so you can also watch video presentations that helps to look back at Wells Fargo’s past and Sacramento’s history.
13. Indulge a Passion for Art
Sacramento is full of history, but it is also home to lots of art galleries. The most famous and visit-worthy of them is the Crocker Art Museum which is minutes away from the impressive Golden 1 Center (an indoor arena in Downtown Sacramento). The gallery is split between two buildings, which is an architectural embodiment of cultural change: an Italian-style mansion built in the early 1870s stands side by side with a modern light-filled structure made of metal, glass and concrete. At the Crocker Art Museum, you can stare at many confusing and funny pop art paintings, including the ‘Boston Cremes’ by local artist Wayne Thiebaud.
14. Spend Time Outdoors in Midtown Sacramento
Let us not forget that Sacramento is a capital of California and the 35th largest city in the U.S. The current population of Sacramento is more than 508 thousand, so the hustle and bustle of a big city is not just mere words for its inhabitants. To spend some time outdoors, go jogging, play tennis and relax by the pond, people go to lovely McKinley Park that is located walking distance to midtown. It is situated in the quiet and beautiful area of East Sacramento, has a stunning Rose Garden, a public library, and a modern art center. There are many benches to sit back and enjoy the view of the pond, feeding the geese.
15. Dine Out and Go Shopping
Located minutes away from McKinley Park, the Handle District holds Sacramento’s fanciest shops and eateries attracting lots of hipsters. It is a small area consisting of a few blocks, yet it is dotted with trendy boutiques, wine shops, bars, and breweries. This Sacramento district is an eclectic, vibrant mix of historical buildings and contemporary art and eating hotspots. Take a stroll to discover different types of cuisine, from Mexican to Hawaiian, try out local beer and visit one of many artistic workshops. Spending time in the Handle District is a great way to end your Sacramento vacation, making memories and having fun.