Sacramento is the state capital of California and it is located about 93 miles NE of San Francisco within the Central Valley of California. It sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers and it’s an area known for its warm temperatures in the summertime.
Tourists flock to Sacramento attracted by its diverse historical attractions, fashionable neighborhoods, extensive parks, green areas, and tasty food scene. Artsy murals and interesting cultural and recreational attractions also contribute to making Sacramento a great place to visit.
Whether this is your first trip to California and you’re interested in visiting the most remarkable highlights of the state or you’ve already been to San Francisco and Napa Valley and are interested in seeing what the state’s capital has to offer, here at Bonzah we’ve compiled the most exceptional experiences that you can enjoy in Sacramento.
Sacramento State Capitol
The State Capitol is one of the top places to visit in Sacramento. The building is a superb example of Neoclassical architecture and it was built in the 1860s with an imposing 128-foot dome. It underwent significant restoration in the 1970s and some of the most historic rooms were preserved then.
Sacramento State Capitol is the center of California’s government and it also operates the California State Capitol Museum. You can tour the historic halls throughout the week, including the governor’s main office, the Senate Gallery, the Assembly Room, and the 1906 treasurer’s office.
Take your time to admire the Italian mosaics and the cast-iron grizzly bears baring their teeth on the rotunda ceiling. You can also admire portraits and various works of art and antiques. There’s plenty to see but don’t miss the portraits of California’s governors, including Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The building is surrounded by beautiful gardens that extend for several blocks that comprise Capitol Park. There are palm trees and many other tree species and plants including rose gardens and camellia gardens lining the walking paths and several monuments that you can admire.
The most interesting things can be found in the basement and the first floor of the museum. On the lower level, there are the Matthews Murals. They’re a series of twelve murals depicting different periods in California’s history. The Lucile Lloyd Mural in the John Burton Hearing Room is a three-paneled work of art that shows the development of the name of the state.
The State Capitol is a must-visit place for those who are curious about politics as it enlightens some of the significant events, key legislature, and influential people that helped shape not only Sacramento but also California itself.
Travel Back in Time at Old Sacramento State Historic Park
Located along the city’s waterfront, Old Sacramento covers 28 acres of historic buildings and it is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Some of the structures belonging to the Gold Rush era are now part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Amongst them, we can mention the Eagle Theatre, the B.F. Hastings Building and the Big Four Building.
There are more than 50 historic buildings in the area and most are from the 1850s; they represent Sacramento’s original commercial district, an area that once thrived thanks to the commerce propelled by the transcontinental railroad and the Pony Express.
The buildings are still occupied by over 125 locally-owned shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums, which makes it really interesting for tourists.
There are plenty of fun things to do here. You can ride a horse-drawn carriage, board a riverboat excursion or even climb aboard a vintage train for a railroad ride. For top-notch museum experiences, you can’t miss the California State Railroad Museum and Sacramento History Museum which are located nearby.
Old Sacramento stands out for its typical old western type to feel with its Spanish architectural buildings and elegant arched doorways. The sidewalk is made of wooden planks and the road is cobblestone so make sure to wear sturdy shoes. With its many antique stores, picturesque candy stores and the many one-off unique stores and buildings to be discovered, it’s one of the must-do things in Sacramento.
If you’re visiting Old Sacramento with kids, they will surely enjoy the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse in the style of one-room schools found in the 1800s, the monument to the Pony Express, and a walk through the G. Willikers Toy Emporium.
Whenever you’re in the area remember that this was not only the center for the new state’s government but also a major communication and transport hub for the whole country.
California State Railroad Museum
With more than 200 thousand square feet of exhibit space, the California State Railroad Museum is one of the largest railway museums in the world and one of the premier attractions in Sacramento.
A must-see for train lovers of all ages, here you can admire restored steam locomotives and coaches dating from 1862 to 1944. Most of them can be viewed inside and some of them are completely furnished to show the level of comfort that used to be offered on the trains.
There are 40 stunning engines and railcars including the house-sized Southern Pacific Railroad Cab Forward N° 42945, the infamous Polar Express, and a rocking sleeping car that simulates a night journey. Don’t miss the top floor’s impressive display of toy trains which zip around a mini countryside of towns, tunnels, and bridges.
There are many exhibits on railroad history, including prominent displays on the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and how the railroad industry influenced the history of California.
If you visit the museum during the summer, you’ll have the chance to ride aboard a historic steam locomotive or a vintage diesel train along the Sacramento River.
The California State Railroad Museum is a fantastic museum that should be on your bucket list of sites to explore in the Old Sacramento district.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Sutter’s Fort stands on what once was the site of the first outpost of the white man in California. It was set up by the German-Swiss immigrant Johann August Sutter in the late 1830s. The adobe house built at the same time has been restored in the original style and houses relics of the pioneering and gold-rush period. It’s located in Midtown, east of the State Capitol.
Sutter’s Fort is key to California history as the site kicked off the gold rush that would change California forever. It’s here where John Sutter found the first gold nugget! As a result, the workers in his fields headed to the hills to try their luck with the gold. Nowadays, the site displays well-preserved and the exhibits invite visitors to explore costumes from the gold rush era. You can also walk into the rooms while audio plays to tell you about them.
There’s an excellent collection of artifacts to view and a great park to visit to understand the old American frontier. It’s definitely a great place to visit for history buffs and for anybody interested in learning more about the history of California.
Don’t Miss the California State Indian Museum State Historic Park
The California State Indian Museum offers visitors an in-depth perspective of the culture and lifestyle of the indigenous people who have lived in what’s now California for thousands of years. The museum showcases Native American life by presenting three distinct themes: Family, Nature, and Spirit.
The exhibits feature items used in everyday life and for specific occasions including hunting and fishing tools, ceremonial objects, a redwood canoe, photographs, and lots of educational content. There are also plenty of hands-on activities that adults and children can enjoy such as creating shell beads and using a mortar and pestle to grind acorns.
The Indian basket collection will definitely catch your attention. It’s A superb assortment of more than 3000 woven items of different types.
At the museum shop, you can purchase crafts, jewelry, and baskets made by the local Native American community: one of the best places in town to buy beautiful souvenirs for family and friends.
The museum is located within Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, so it’s a great idea to explore both sites at the same time.
Crocker Museum of Art
Art lovers should add Crocker Museum to their Sacramento bucket list because of its superb collection of California art from the Gold-Rush era until the present, European paintings and drawings, and American photography.
The expansive 15 thousand piece collection includes ceramic works from around the world and exotic artworks from Asia, Oceania, and Africa. Its main building is a grand Italianate Victorian-era mansion and California Historical Landmark.
Besides, part of the collection is displayed in the contemporary Teel Family Pavilion, which was opened in 2010 and tripled the original museum’s size.
The original collection was donated by Margaret Crocker. The California art collection represents works created from 1860 while the European art includes XVII century Dutch and Flemish artwork, Italian baroque paintings, and XIX century Central European pieces. The museum’s photography boasts stunning images by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams amongst others.
There’s also a dedicated area for children that offers plenty of hands-on activities and creative installations. There are also Art Camp classes for children and painting classes for adults.
Crocker Museum plays an important cultural role in Sacramento, offering concerts and music programs that everybody can enjoy. It’s the first public art museum founded in the Western United States and it is the longest continuously-operating art museum West of the Mississippi river. It’s the nicest museum in Sacramento and a great place for art lovers.
California Museum shares the story of past pioneers and innovators that shaped California. The exhibits displayed cover early immigrants that built the railroads and intrepid women whose California legacies last today.
On the first floor, you can’t miss The California Hall of Fame, a tribute to current and past residents including Walt Disney and Dr. Maya Angelou amongst others. Other exhibits of the museum include the California Gold Rush, World War II, and the history of California missions.
Located next to the Capitol Building, the three floors of this museum are devoted to the State of California. You can see displays of the Native Americans that lived in the area, the Japanese internment camps for instance and you can easily spend two or three hours here. This museum strives to engage, educate and enlighten locals and tourists about the diverse population and rich history of California and the influence it had on the world in the arts, innovation, and culture.
Cross the Tower Bridge
The Tower Bridge is, probably, the most iconic structure in Sacramento. It’s a historic art deco lift bridge that is striking yellow gold. You can cross the bridge to get unobstructed views of the Sacramento River or take it in from a historic river cruise or along the River Walk Trail.
It was built in 1935 and its design emphasizes horizontal curves and lines. It’s 738ft long, 52 ft wide and 160 ft high. It connects West Sacramento to Downtown East Sacramento.
The views of the Sacramento River from the Tower Bridge are particularly beautiful in the evening.
Step Back in Time at Sacramento History Museum
If you fancy the idea of traveling back in time, then a visit to the Sacramento History Museum is an absolute essential. History buffs will love admiring the multiple exhibits and displays that showcase everything from Victorian house life, the city’s settling expansion, and rare film footage over the decades… you mention!
The Sacramento History Museum is a replica of the 1854 town hall and here you can deepen your knowledge of the history of the city and the Gold Rush.
Located in Old Sacramento, this museum is home to thousands of historic artifacts, as well as many hands-on activities for children.
An absolute must-do experience is to take an interpretative Old Sacramento Underground Tour. Guests have the unique opportunity to explore what has been hidden beneath the city for more than 150 years while uncovering the facts and legends that lie below historic buildings and sidewalks. Guests can explore excavated foundations, enclosed pathways, and interesting archaeology exhibits while hearing sounds of 1860 street life.
Kids visiting the museum can learn about newspaper production and printing in the XIX century Historic Print Shop and explore the many communities that established themselves here from the Nisenan Indian culture to the Victorian Age. You can even get your own “Wanted” poster printed!
The Underground tour offered is a must-do. Visitors are guided along a leisurely three-quarter-mile trek, including 200 yards of underground space while listening to the city’s dirtiest secrets.
Visit Golden 1 Centre
The Golden 1 Centre in Sacramento is one of the NBA’s most technologically advanced arenas and the home arena of the Sacramento Kings. Not only basketball games are hosted here: other sporting events and shows by comedians and elite museums are held here.
Basketball lovers and NBA fans should definitely visit The Golden 1 Centre and, if possible, enjoy a game. The seats are so well arranged that you get great views whenever you’re seated. Conveniently located in the heart of downtown, you’ll find it really easy to enjoy a game or concert here during your stay.