There is any number of things to do in Sacramento that it’s hard to know where to start. However, before we get to all that, let’s take a wee look at some city background. Sacramento is the capital city of the west coast state of California and its sixth largest city. It has a population of 501,000 people, and its name translates to ‘sacrament’ in English. Sacramento is the fastest growing major city in California and has previously held the titles of the most hipster city in California, and the most diverse city in the United States. Sacramento is 385 miles north of Los Angeles, and just 90 miles northeast of San Francisco. The cost of living in Sacramento is lower than the average for California, which makes is a cheaper place to stay and eat out in than other major cities in the state. Sacramento is commonly referred to by locals as Sactown.
So, let’s take you on a quick journey and explore all the great things to do in Sacramento on your visit.
Sutter’s Fort State Historical Park
Sutter’s Fort was built as a trade and agricultural fort by John Sutter in 1839. It was originally called New Helvetia and was gifted to the state of California in 1947. It housed the first non-indigenous community in the Central Valley, but was quickly abandoned after the start of the Gold Rush in 1848. It has now been fully restored and preserved as a historical landmark. Visiting the fort is an excellent thing to do in Sacramento with kids as the staff is usually dressed in the clothing of the time, and kids get the chance to see what life was like back in the day. They can visit the Blacksmiths, the Gunsmith, the Bakery, and the Carpentry shop during a visit.
Tickets required, available from the entrance, $3-$5
California State Capitol Museum
If you’re traveling on a budget, or just looking to learn about the history of California, then a visit to the California State Capitol Museum is an excellent free thing to do in Sacramento. The State Capitol is the seat of government for California, but has so much more to offer than offices full of bureaucrats. The grounds alone span 40 acres and have more than 150 memorials to notable people and events in the history of the state. There’s also a gorgeous World Rose Peace Garden, with around 650 roses, and a section for plants native to California. Within the museum, you can learn about this history of the building and the people who work there, as well as how the government works. There are hourly tours on offer, and admission is free.
California State Railroad Museum
The State Railroad Museum details the history of the rail network which connected California to the rest of the US, and how important it was in the history of the state. The museum houses 21 restored carriages and locomotives and provides information on how this mode of transport transformed the lives of Americans. Across the road from the main museum is a full-sized replica of freight depot and original Central Pacific Railroad station house. The museum is now a Smithsonian affiliate. It’s a great thing to do in Sacramento with kids.
Ticket required, available from the entrance, $6-$12
Crocker Art Museum
Crocker Art Museum specializes in Californian art, with additional collections from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The American art is split into pre and post 1945, and includes pieces by Dale Chihuly and Wayne Thiebaud. European works include pieces by Renoir, Rembrandt, and Blondeau. There’s also always an exhibition or two on display, from either single artists, or showcasing a specific technique or material, such as clay or glass. An afternoon checking out the Californian art, in particular, is an excellent thing to do in Sacramento.
Tickets required, available online or at the entrance, $6-$12
Old Sacramento State Historic Park
Also known as Old Sac, this National Historic Landmark District has been heavily redeveloped since the 1960s to transform it into a major tourist attraction. Much of the architecture is from Victorian times, and this can be seen in the homes of the west end. Some of the historic highlights include Lady Adams Building, which is the oldest non-residential building in the area. The BF Hastings building is the western terminal of the Pony Express and a designated National Historic Landmark in its own right, and the oldest Fire Station in Sacramento, Company No 3.
The majority of the buildings in Old Sacramento are from the early Gold Rush period and have been restored for the enjoyment of visitors and the American public. A late afternoon walks to check out the many beautiful structures is a fantastic thing to do in Sacramento before heading out for dinner and drinks.
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
The centerpiece of this downtown State Historic Park is the Leland Stanford Mansion. Stanford was once the Governor of California and one of the founders of Stanford University. The home is frequently used to host functions for the Government of California, and the Governor has an office within the building. In 2005, the home underwent $22 million of renovations before being opened up to the public. The home has been restored to its original 1872 appearance. Daily tours are conducted throughout the home, and the grounds and surrounding state park is beautiful. Visiting the home and grounds is a pretty cool thing to do in Sacramento in order to see how the other half lived, even if it was in the 1800s.
Tickets required (for the tour), available at the entrance, $5
Despite the fact that the Handle District is only one square block of land, this Midtown location is a great thing to do in Sacramento in order to check out a range of great bars, restaurants, clubs, and shopping. The area is known for its eclectic style and includes a Zen style tea room, several brewpubs, a specialist cheese bar, and an amazing creperie. If you’re not in the mood for eating, there are plenty of places available for drinks. So, sit down, take some weight off your feet, and enjoy the atmosphere of one of Sacramento’s most interesting areas.
Off-beat things to do in Sacramento
If you have a penchant for the unusual, check out these cool and off-beat things to do in Sacramento. If you like your houses a bit on the weird side, hop over to the Dragon House and try not to feel a touch sorry for its neighbors. The owners of the Dragon House have been working on it for around 20 years, and it’s strewn with topiaries and ornate tiles. It has stained glass windows, a white tiger on its exterior wall, and a beautiful front lawn with teeny shrubs and decorative ceramics.
When you’re done with that, hit up Sacramento’s Original Street Level to see just how much lower down the city used to be. Once upon a time, Sacramento’s streets were 10 feet lower than they are now. Because it was so prone to flooding, the residents raised the levels and built it a little higher up. The Old Sacramento area shows reproductions of what the building once looked like and tours are often held in the basements. It’s certainly a novel way to keep out of the hot California sun.
FAQs About Sacramento
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and things to do in Sacramento. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this Central Valley city has to offer.
What is Sacramento best known for?
Sacramento is most famous for being the starting point of the Gold Rush, way back in 1849. This began at Sutter’s Mill when James W Marshall found a lovely shiny piece of metal in a lumber mill. I think it’s safe to say things got a touch crazy after that. Sacramento is also known for its production of fine wines.
What is there to do in Sacramento in the winter?
Honest answer? So much. Sacramento benefits from decent temperatures during the winter months, but it can get pretty rainy. Sacramento is known for its amazing winter festivals, such as the Indian Arts and Crafts Holiday Fair and the Winter Wonderland at Fairytale Town.
Where can I walk around Sacramento?
There are so many lovely places to take a walk in Sacramento, including its city parks, Sutter’s Fort State Historical Park, and Old Sacramento.
Is Sacramento Safe?
The crime statistics for Sacramento don’t make brilliant reading in comparison to the national average for the US, or for the state of California. However, as with every major city, there are things you do and things you don’t. Don’t go out alone after dark, keep your valuables hidden at all times, and stick to well-populated areas when you’re out at night. Keeping your wits about you and being sensible should keep you safe in the city.
Sacramento is an atmospheric and extremely diverse city, known for its food, culture and hipster tendencies. It’s home to many major corporations and has a long history of innovation and progressive thinking. It’s politically liberal and is well known for being LBGTQ friendly. As the fastest growing city in the state of California, it continues to develop and improve continually. This means it rarely stands still and always has something new to offer to residents and visitors alike. However, it also greatly respects its history and is proud to shout about its roots. Sacramento has a wide range of accommodations to suit a range of budgets and has everything from cheap motels to 5-star boutique and chain hotels. Sacramento International Airport serves the city and sits just 10 miles from downtown. We hope we’ve convinced you of all the top things to do in Sacramento and hope you get out there to spend some time and experience the city for yourself.