We never thought of visiting Sacramento until we joined the advisory board for California Tourism. I don’t know why we didn’t think of visiting the capital city of California, but it wasn’t really on our radar until we were invited to check it out. It may not be as sexy as Los Angeles or as cool a San Francisco, but Sacramento is a great stop on any road trip through California.
We visited Sacramento on our road trip from Lake Tahoe and during another business trip with our advisory board. This is a great place to split up the drive between Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, plus being the capital of the state, you can be sure that there’s always something exciting going on. With plenty of historic sites a thriving craft beer and food scene and museums, there are plenty of things to do in Sacramento to keep you busy for a couple of days. Here are a few ideas to help you plan your trip.
The Best Things to do in Sacramento California
Note: Restrictions and openings are unpredictable in COVID-19. California is currently in a stay at home order but as more people become vaccinated, the state should begin to open up. Some attractions, parks and establishments may be affected by COVID-19 check with the California government for restrictions here. And check the websites of accommodation and restaurants before you go.
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Old Sacramento Historic District
We had no idea that something like this existed in the middle of an urban center but once we visited, I could understand why it is one of the top attractions in San Francisco. The Old Sacramento State Historic Park feels like it was plopped straight out of the wild west. All of the facades have been restored creating an area filled with everything from high end boutiques to mom and pop shops offering home made ice cream. We enjoyed a couple of cappuccinos in the morning to gear up for a day of sightseeing.
Download this Audio Tour for your self guided walking tour of the historic western gold rush town of Folsom, California. The tour starts at Riley and Scott Street in Folsom’s Historic District and ends on Truss Bridge.
Sacramento Cycling Tours
If you are looking for fun things to do in Sacramento, hop on a bike and go exploring. Get yourself an audio tour to learn all about the history of Sacramento on this California Gold Rush self-guided cycling tour. This tour explains how Sacramento became the capital of California, it delves into the city’s founder a Swiss man named Johann Sutter, and passes historic Sacramento Landmarks: California State Capitol Museum, Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, California State Indian Museum, California State Railroad Museum, and Theodore Judah Monument.
Download this self-guided Sacramento Cycling Tour to explore the best urban murals Sacramento taking you through Downtown and Midtown Sacramento.
B Street Theatre
One of the best places to see live theater in Sacramento is the B Street Theater. Running for 30 years, the theater caters to students but also open to the public it offers shows in the afternoon and evenings. Check the B Street Theater Website for current productions. Address: 2700 Capitol Ave, Sacramento
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historical Park
After a 22 million dollar restoration the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historical Park is open to tourists. Explore the 19,000 square foot Victorian era masion built by Gold Rush merchant Sheldon Fogus. The mansion was then used by California governor Leland Stanford from 1862-1863 and continued to be used by two more California governors. Who said you can’t get rich in politics?
Don’t confuse the Leland Stanford Mansion with the Governor’s Mansion. The Governor’s Mansion is a lovely Victorian era mansion where the current governor of California lives. Since it is now an official residence, there are no public tours through its 33 rooms. It’s pretty to look at though.
Go Shopping in the Handle District
Located in mid-town Sacramento this is a great area for shopping and dining. Remember us mentioning microbreweries? This is the places to sample some beer. And make sure to enjoy a night out here for sure. It’s one of the best places for nightlife in Sacramento.
If you happen to be in the area on the weekend, the Mid town Farmer’s Market is bustling on Saturdays. But there are different farmers markets throughout the city on different days.
The Cathedral Of The Blessed Sacrament
I have no idea why Dave and I suddenly become religious when traveling but we always stop in to see cathedrals and churches when we are on the road. Perhaps it is because churches are always so old and historically significant. The he Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament has been standing in Sacramento since 1887.
Pony Express terminal – Wells Fargo Museum
Sacramento was literally the spot for the Wild West of the United States. And it was home to the headquarters of the Pony Express and Wells Fargo. Located in Sacramento Old Town, the Pony Express terminal is a National Historic Landmark that was once home to the California supreme court. Pony Express riders took mail from California to Missouri on horseback. It was a more dangerous job than it sounds. They were riding through the wild west after all.
State Capitol Park & World Peace Rose Garden
If cemeteries aren’t your thing but you still want a lovely stroll through the Capitol Park & World Peace Rose Garden that features trees from around the world and the 50 states. It also have an abundance of roses. But if you want an even quieter garden, head to the McKinley Park and Rose Garden out of downtown. The McKinley Park and Rose Garden to admire some 1,200 rose bushes.
Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings
Have you ever wanted to see an NBA game in person? The Sacramento Kings have called the capital city home for thirty years. Grab tickets at Golden 1 Center to see the NBA stars in action. They may not have the glory of the L.A. Lakers, but the Sacramento Kings are the oldest franchise in the NBA. One of the newest attractions in Sacramento is the Golden 1 Center built that opened in 2016.
Old City Cemetery
Like churches, we also tend to visit cemeteries when we travel. From the famous Pere LaChaise to the historic New Orleans Cemetery 1 we always find ourselves walking among the dead. The Old Historic City Cemetery of Sacramento was established in 1841 and is set in a picturesque Victorian garden.
Museums of Sacramento
Being a state capital you can be sure that there are plenty of museums to visit in Sacramento. If you are a museum lover, there is a wide arrange from museums catering to car lovers to history dating back to the California gold rush days. There’s something for everyone. Here are a few not to miss museums in Sacramento.
California Railroad Museum
America was built on the railway, and the California Railway Museum is one of the biggest attractions in Sacramento. It wasn’t until the railroad was built west that California truly became connected to the United States. It’s an important museum to tell the story of the Chinese immigrants who built the western portion of the United States Railway letting their voices be heard. There are several exhibits showcasing restored engines, artifacts and there’s even a miniature train exhibit. But the coolest attraction is to take a round trip excursion along the Sacramento River while pulled by one of the museum’s historic steam or diesel locomotives.
California Automobile Museum
After being built by the railway, the automobile is the most important mode of transportation in America. America had the market cornered with muscle cars and luxury cars over the years and this museum houses 130 historic vehicles rotating through exhibits. You can take guided tours to see the classic cars to either look at them, or enjoy white gloved service to actually touch these beauties. Check out the museum for details.
California State Capitol Museum
As you now know, Sacramento is the Capital of California, so it is only fitting that there is a State Capital Museum. America truly knows how to do museums. Reminiscent of Capital Hill in Washington DC, The California State Capital Museum offers guided tours where you can explore the historic rooms that have remained intact showing what government offices were like at the turn of the 20th century. Keep an eye out for the portraits room to peruse portraits of past presidents and governors. Keep an eye out for Arnold and Reagan. Visit the California State Capital Museum website for openings and tours.
Crocker Art Museum
It’s hard to imagine a museum dating back to 1871 and such a refined museum opening during the days of the wild west gold rush. Art officiandoes will love perusing the fine art and ceramics imported from Asia, Oceania, Africa and Europe. There are permanent collections and rotating exhibits. Visit the Crocker Museum to see what’s on.
Want to learn more about the State of California than visit its official museum. California is probably the most interesting state in the United States with its innovation, inclusion and history and this is a great place to check it all out. One of the most interesting exhibits was started by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver to feature California’s most interesting and innovative people. The California Hall of Fame is not to be missed. Visit their website for more information.
Sacramento History Museum
Dig deeper into California history focusing on Sacramento. Sacramento was smack dab in the middle of the Great California Gold Rush and the Sacramento History Museum plops you back in time to see what life was like during the Gold Rush days. Peruse the reproduction of the 1854 City Hall and Waterworks buildings. Sacramento was the western terminus of the transcontinental railway making it an important hub. Check out exhibits showcasing what life was like during the 1800s and at the turn of the 20th century.
Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum
This free museum located in the historic Old Sacramento area offers a glimpse into what life was like for school children in the late 1800s. Thinks Laura Ingells from Little House on the Prairie as you step into a typical one room school house that was found across America.
California State Indian Museum
Opened in 1940 the California State Indian Museum was designed to show Indigenous life; Spirit, family and nature. One of our favourite things to do in our travels is to learn more of the culture and history of the indigenous people of the destination.
Sacramento Food Tours
Take this downtown Sacramento historic food tour to delve into the food scene and history of this city that dates back to the gold rush of the 1800s. What better way to take in the sights than through your stomach. We love joining food tours as they alway introduce us to quirky out of the way places that we never would have thought of.
Another great food tour is this Sutter District history and food walking tour – This small group tour takes you through the treelined streets of the Sutter District in Sacramento.
California is a state filled with actors and performers, so it is now wonder there are several historic downtown theaters. The theatres are one of the most unique attractions in Sacramento as many date back to the Gold Rush days. I can envision Can-Can dancers and gunslingers hanging out in the auditoriums.
Visit the first ever theater built in California. How did Los Angeles become the entertainment hub when the first theater was here? Well perhaps because it was destroyed during a flood! It wasn’t until 1974 that this theater was rebuilt and replicated to look like the original in Old Sacramento. It was part of a plan to lure tourists back to old Sacramento and it worked. Today it is part of the California Historical Landmark Register.
Crest Theatre (spelled the Canadian way)
The Crest Theatre first opened its doors in 1912 and today shows everything from classic movies to live shows. IN the summer it hosts a six-week series showing cult and classic films.
Other historic theaters in Sacramento include Tower Theater and Guild Theater.
Things to do outdoors in Sacramento
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (American River Bike Trail)
Take a bike ride along the 32 mile long Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail along the American River. But don’t worry if you don’t want to go cycling, you can stroll this trail as well. It runs from Old Sacramento to Folsom and is a great way to get outdoors. Pack a picnic lunch and take in the California sunshine.
Sacramento may not be located on the coast, but it does have a couple of rivers to enjoy the water. The American River and Sacramento River run through the city. The Sacramento River is the longest river in California leading out to the Pacific Ocean and there are plenty of watersports to be had and waterfront trails for hiking. We suggest renting a kayak to really explore the scenery.
If you are looking for things to do in Sacramento with kids is to make your way to Fairytale Town. This cute children’s museum features 26 play areas on 2.5 acres taking them through different nursery rhymes an fairytales. See what it has to offer at https://www.fairytaletown.org/
Want to feel like you are in a little slice of London? Sacramento has its own historic Tower Bridge. You can walk across this Sacramento landmark to take in the views.
The American River is the place to be for outdoor adrenaline activities. Originating in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the American River has plenty of watersports. You can book whitewater rafting excursions on the South Fork of the American River. Go through the rapids of the lower gorge and hit enticing obstacles called Satan’s Cesspool and Hospital Bar.
California’s legendary wine regions is just one hour and fifteen minutes from Sacramento. You can take the train, bus or drive to Napa Valley, but if you want to book a wine tour, check out this highly rated tour from Sacramento. This private chauffeured tour starts off with champagne as you drive to California’s most famous wine region where you’ll stop at five tasting rooms.
Book this exclusive Napa Valley wine tour with the King of All Wine Tours in Sacramento. This private group tour takes up to 14 of your closest friends or relatives to Napa Valley where the tour starts with a glass of wine and a stop at 3 to 6 wineries. Hope into a luxury vehicle complete with a bottle of bubbly.
Go Skiing at Sugar Bowl Ski Hill
Sugarbowl is the closest to San Francisco and Sacramento making it a favorite among locals. It has that old school feel with the highest amount of snowfall in the region.
Where to Stay in Sacramento
A good place to stay is The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel that is just a short 15-minute walk from Old Town. This new upscale hotel is located in the heart of downtown Sacramento overlooking the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.
So as you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Sacramento to make it a huge part of any California Road Trip.
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