We never thought of visiting Sacramento until we were invited to join the California tourism advisory board. It was exciting to have our first annual meeting in the capital city of California, and during that visit, we had the chance to explore some of its top tourist attractions.
We also visited Sacramento on our California road trip from Big Sur to Lake Tahoe and found that we could have spent much longer in the city. With plenty of historic sites, a thriving craft beer scene, plenty of museums, and a food lovers’ paradise there are plenty of things to do in Sacramento to keep you busy. Here are a few ideas to help you plan your trip.
The Best Things to do in Sacramento
Sacramento 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 and should be added to your travel list. There is so much more to it than government buildings, albeit, they are pretty cool to visit too! So, are you ready to explore Sacramento with us?
Old Sacramento Historic Park
We had no idea that something like this existed in the middle of an urban center but once we visited the Old Sacramento Historic Park, I could understand why it is one of the top attractions in Sacramento. All of the facades have been restored to its gold rush glory days creating an area filled with everything from high-end boutiques to mom and pop shops offering homemade ice cream. We enjoyed a couple of cappuccinos in the morning to gear up for a day of sightseeing. The Old Sacramento State Historic Park feels like it was plopped straight out of the wild west. The district became a National Historic Landmark in 1965
- Download this Audio Tour for your self-guided walking tour of the Old Sacramento State historic Park 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.
- Address: Sacramento, CA 95814
California State Railroad Museum
America was built on the railway, and the California State Railroad Museum is one of the biggest attractions in Sacramento. It’s also one of the world’s largest railway museums. It wasn’t until the railroad was built west that California truly became connected to the United States. There are several exhibits showcasing railroad history including restored engines, old railway coaches, artifacts and there’s even a miniature train exhibit. But the coolest attraction are its train rides. Take a round trip excursion along the river while pulled by one of the museum’s historic steam or diesel locomotives.
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.
- Address: 101 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
Pony Express Terminal – Wells Fargo Museum
Sacramento was home to the headquarters of the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Bank. Located in Sacramento Old Town, The B.F. Hastings Building was the western terminus of the Pony Express where 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.
- Address: Sacramento, CA 95814
You could spend an entire day wandering around the historic district. Some of the highlights include a stop at the Eagle Theater. It was the first permanent theater built in California dating back to 1849. 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 also part of the California Historical Landmark Registry and the historic buildings of the area are one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
Other Sacramento Theaters
California is a state filled with actors and performers (and of course Hollywood), so it is no wonder there are several historic downtown area theaters. 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. But one of the best places to see live theater in Sacramento is the B Street Theatre. Running for 30 years, the theater caters to students but is also open to the public it offers shows in the afternoon and evenings. Check the B Street Theatre Website for current productions. Address: 2700 Capitol Ave, Sacramento
California State Capitol Museum
As you now know, Sacramento is the Capital of California, so it is only fitting that there is a State Capitol Museum in the city. Reminiscent of Capitol Hill in Washington DC, The California State Capitol 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.
The Capitol Building is also the seat of the current government buildings and California State legislature. Keep an eye out for the portraits room to peruse portraits of past presidents and governors most notably Arnold and Reagan. The building is definitely the top tourist attraction in Sacramento and its one of the most popular Sacramento museums.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is located in midtown Sacramento and can be visited daily on self guided tours. Visit this open air museum to learn of the first European settlers and to see the fort that dates back to 1841. It is part of the national historic landmarks registry as it played an important role in the development of California. This early outpost was soon transformed after gold was found and became overrun with people seeking their fortunes.
A visit to Sutter’s Fort is a good history lesson into the first California settlers as you walk through the rooms and exhibits. Address: 2701 L St, Sacramento, CA 95816
Sacramento Food Tours
Sacramento is a food lovers’ haven, and a food tour in the Sutter District takes you on a history lesson and food walking tour all at once.
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 always introduce us to quirky out of the way places that we never would have thought of.
California State Indian Museum
Long before Europeans settled in California, the Indigenous People of the area prospered. Opened in 1940 the California State Indian Museum was designed to show Indigenous life; Spirit, family, and nature. One of our favorite things to do in our travels is to learn more about the culture and history of the indigenous people of the destination and this is a great stop to learn of the history of the Native Americans who lived in California in history and continue to thrive today.
- Address: 2618 K St, Sacramento, CA 95816
More Sacramento Museums
Being the California 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 Sacramento museums catering to car lovers to history dating back to the California gold rush days. There’s something for everyone. Here are a few more not to miss Sacramento museums.
Crocker Art Museum
The Crocker Art Museum is one of the most popular Sacramento museums dating back to 1872. The historic mansion is still a part of the Crocker Art Museum integrated into its modern design. Art aficionados 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.
Address of Crocker Art Museum: 216 O St, Sacramento, CA 95814
California Automobile Museum
America may have been built by the railway but the automobile is the most important mode of transportation in the country. The California Automobile 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.
Want to learn more about the State of California? Then visit its official museum in downtown Sacramento. California is probably the coolest 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. The California Hall of Fame was designed to feature California’s most interesting and innovative people. There are a lot of them in the state, but highlights include, Walt Disney, Ansel Adams, Carol Burnett, and Serena Williams. The California Hall of Fame is not to be missed. Visit their website for more information.
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
After a 22 million dollar restoration, the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park is open to tourists. Explore the 19,000 square foot Victorian era mansion 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?
- Address: 800 N St, Sacramento, CA 95814
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.
Plan another California City trip with The Best Things to Do in San Diego – A Local’s Guide to the City
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 Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament has been standing in Sacramento since 1887 and is beautiful to go inside.
- Address: 1019 11th St, Sacramento, CA 95814
Old City Cemetery
Like churches, we also tend to visit cemeteries when we travel. From the famous Pere Lachaise in Paris, 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.
If cemeteries aren’t your thing but you still want a lovely stroll, head to the Capitol Park & World Peace Rose Garden that features trees from around the world and the 50 states. It also has an abundance of roses. If you want an even quieter garden, head to McKinley Park and Rose Garden out of downtown where you can admire 1,200 rose bushes on the 1 acre garden that was established in 1922.
Golden 1 Center
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 continuously run franchise in the NBA.
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 bridge dates back to 1935 and was built to connect Sacramento to Yolo County. It is yet another historic landmark in Sacramento that has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Sacramento River and American River
Sacramento may not be located on the coast, but it does have a couple of rivers to enjoy the water. 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.
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (American River Trail)
Take a bike ride along the 32 miles long Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail along the American River Bike Trail. This trail runs from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point in Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. If you don’t want to go cycling, you can stroll the American River 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.
Day Trips from Sacramento
California’s legendary wine region is just one hour and fifteen minutes from Sacramento. If you are planning for some day trips from Sacramento, this is a great place to visit. 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. 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 ski hill to Sacramento making it a favorite among locals. It has that old-school feel with the highest amount of snowfall in the region. If you are looking for some cool day trips from Sacramento, check out Sugar Bowl, it’s only 90 minutes from the city.
Things to do in Sacramento with Kids
We don’t have children, but we are young at heart and have done a bit of research for families visiting Sacramento too. If you are looking for some things to do in Sacramento with the whole family, there are a few attractions we can suggest.
The Sacramento Zoo focuses on education and conversation and is dedicated to animal welfare. The pink flamingoes are among one of the favourite exhibits to see in the zoo, but it houses more than 400 species from around the world. The Sacramento oo was founded in 1927 as the little zoo in the park bringing together animals from various parks. It is known for its spacious enclosures and protective moats that replaced the iron bars in the 1980s.
- 3930 William Land Park Dr, Sacramento, CA 95822
Raging Waters is the largest family water park in Sacramento and is a great place to cool off on a hot day. With wave pools, waterslides and a lazy river there is something for everyone in the family. Spend a full day enjoying its 25 water attractions. There are restaurants and snack bars where you can grab everything from a hot dog to pizza and shave ice plus if you forgot anything, you can pick up what you need at the Big Kahuna Surf Shop.
If you are looking for more things to do in Sacramento with kids is to make your way to Fairytale Town near the Sacramento Zoo This cute children’s museum features 26 play areas on 2.5 acres taking them through different nursery rhymes and fairy tales. See what it has to offer at https://www.fairytaletown.org/
- Address: 3901 Land Park Drive, Sacramento
Scandia Family Fun Center
Scandia Family Fun Center is a fun amusement park for the whole family. There are amusement park rides, mini golf, dining and arcades to keep everyone occupied. It’s open to 11 pm in the evening, so it is also a great things to do in Sacramento at night. I know that when we’re traveling, we always have a hard time deciding what to do once the sun goes down, so head over here for some nighttime fun.
Where to Stay in Sacramento
A good place to stay is The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel which is just a short 15-minute walk from Old Town. This upscale hotel is located in the heart of downtown Sacramento at 500 J Street overlooking the Golden 1 Center. We stayed here and found it very easy to get around to many Sacramento attractions on foot.
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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.