10 Best Museums in Sacramento, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Dec 16, 2021

Sacramento is a city stacked with museums and history. The city was the center of the booming California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s and has been the state capital since 1879. The town was also the western terminus for the nation-shaping Transcontinental Railroad. These notable points of history are told today through a vibrant collection of museums spread throughout downtown and the surrounding districts.

One of the first places to visit is Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Here, visitors walk through history and among several storefronts dating to the 1800s. This area is also home to a few of Sacramento's signature museums, including the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento History Museum.

And it's not all history on display at Sacramento's museums. Other notable topics include aerospace, automobiles, and contemporary art. With so much to see and such a wide range of subject matter, Sacramento museums have something to pique the interest of everyone.

Find your next engaging adventure in the state capital with our list of the top museums in Sacramento.

1. California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum
California State Railroad Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

In Old Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum takes visitors down the tracks of Iron Horse history in the state. This Smithsonian affiliate is one of the best railroad museums in the country, and the size and amount of displays within offer a truly immersive world to walk through.

The entrance to the museum is a detailed scene of railroad workers blasting through a mountain. Here, docent tours led by costumed volunteers start every hour. These tours last approximately 30 minutes and lead into the massive main gallery space. The tours offer valuable background information before checking out the rest of the museum.

The main gallery space is stunning. Perhaps the most notable features are the over 20 locomotives and stock cars punctuating the space. These refurbished Iron Horse implements offer a detailed look into their running days, some dating back to 1862. And next to these many trains, detailed displays provide insight into the game-changing role the railroads had in the state's history.

Steam engine in the California State Railroad Museum
Steam engine in the California State Railroad Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Another notable collection is the museum's 3,300-square-foot model train exhibit. This miniature world includes six gorgeous model railroad scenes and over a thousand vintage toy trains on display.

The museum is open daily between 10am and 5pm, excluding major holidays. Plan for at least two hours to walk through the museum.

Address: 125 I Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.californiarailroad.museum/

2. Crocker Art Museum

Crocker Art Museum
Crocker Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Crocker Art Museum started as the personal collection of the influential Crocker family in the 1800s. Today, it's accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and contains a significant collection of California art. The museum is notably housed within two separate buildings, one laced in history and the other forward-looking into the future.

The original Crocker Art Museum is in the Italianate mansion the Crocker family once used to display their artwork. In 2010, the museum received the 125,000-square-foot addition of the Teel Family Pavilion. These two contrasting buildings now house what seems like almost endless galleries.

While the museum has gained a reputation for its California art, other notable items in the permanent collection include ceramics and European paintings. Much of the European work is within the historic Italianate mansion half of the museum. Several exhibitions also rotate in and out of the museum, offering something new to see with each visit.

Exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum
Exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

It would be a challenge to see everything at Crocker Art Museum in less than two hours. Plan to spend at least half the day touring the extensive galleries. The museum also hosts several events and education programs, including studio classes. Current operating hours at the museum are Wednesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm.

Address: 216 O Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.crockerart.org/

3. The California Museum

The California Museum
The California Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The California Museum dives deep into the people and innovation that shapes the state. It's located downtown, near the Capitol Complex, and is a must-see for residents and visitors alike. Exhibits at the museum range from pre-statehood to the current pulse of technology and culture coming out of the Golden State.

A few signature exhibits include the California Hall of Fame and the Women Inspire exhibit. Other notable topics on display include native peoples, the California Gold Rush, and the internment of California residents during World War II.

The museum also hosts rotating exhibits showcasing several sides of California history. Many of the museum's exhibits have interactive components, offering a more immersive experience. This immersive experience is especially apparent in the Health Happens Here exhibit, with high-tech interplay and individual output.

Exhibit at The California Museum
Exhibit at The California Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The museum encompasses two floors of detailed exhibits. Plan for a minimum of two hours to see everything. Advanced tickets are available and recommended if visiting on the weekends. The museum operates Thursday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

Address: 1020 O Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.californiamuseum.org/

4. California State Capitol Museum

California State Capitol
California State Capitol | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The stunning California State Capitol at the heart of the city was built between 1860 and 1874. It received some modernization but structurally remained the same for nearly a century. In 1976, a seismic study showed that the Capitol would not survive a significant earthquake. Instead of razing the building, a massive reconstruction and restoration began.

During the restoration, the state refurbished certain rooms to resemble their original 1800s appearance. Today, the State Capitol Building serves as both the center of state government and as the California State Capitol Museum. This unique designation offers a valuable resource for those interested in history and history in the making.

The State Capitol is open to the public throughout the week, excluding major holidays. Refurbished rooms to tour include the Governor's Main Office, the 1906 Treasurer's Office, and the Assembly Chamber, among many others. Other notable museum works at the state capitol include murals, paintings, and statues.

Capitol Park
Capitol Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Take some time to tour the state capitol grounds when visiting. The Capitol Complex encompasses 40 acres in total, all comprised of beautiful landscaping. And throughout the manicured space outside known as Capitol Park, several monuments and statues also detail significant events in state history.

5. Sacramento History Museum

Sacramento History Museum
Sacramento History Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Sacramento History Museum is on the Old Sacramento Waterfront, on the same historic block as the California State Railroad Museum. It's within a replicated 1854 City Hall and Waterworks building, which originally stood at the site. Throughout its two stories of exhibits, the museum shares the storied history of the California state capital.

The museum touches upon several significant events in Sacramento history. One of the first displays regards the Nisenan Tribal people who first occupied the region. Other topics include the California Gold Rush, the Sacramento flood of 1850, and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The museum also regularly rotates exhibits, offering something new to see with each visit.

The inside of the Sacramento History Museum is just part of the history found on this side of town. Outside, the adjacent Old Sacramento State Historic Park offers authentic streets to walk through. The museum offers guided tours of Old Sacramento throughout the year, including underground and paranormal walking tours.

Address: 101 I Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: http://sachistorymuseum.org/

6. SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity

The SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity, known as MOSAC, is Sacramento's newest museum. This multipurpose science center opened to the public in November of 2021 and quickly gained a reputation for its state-of-the-art facility and interactive experiences.

MOSAC has over 100 interactive stations touching upon all aspects of STEM-based learning and beyond. A few notable fields of study include health innovations, space exploration, and water conservation. The museum also features a DesignLab where visitors tinker with 3D printers, robots, and circuit boards.

The Multiverse Theater at the museum is also a big hit. Visitors receive one free show with admission at this out-of-this-world planetarium. Seating is limited, however, and visitors should reserve their spot upon buying their admission ticket.

Address: 400 Jibboom Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://visitmosac.org/

7. California State Indian Museum

California State Indian Museum
California State Indian Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The California State Indian Museum is on the grounds of Sutter's Fort State Historic Park. This museum has operated since 1940 and showcases the generations of native people that inhabited the land for thousands of years. The museum does this with an extensive collection of artifacts, information panels, and photographs.

The museum covers a wide range of cultures that called the present-day California home. These populations include over 60 Indigenous groups with several smaller bands. Helpful maps at the museum aid in locating where each native group inhabited, and this knowledge alone offers valuable insight for traveling throughout the rest of the state.

A few objects on display include baskets, beadwork, and an 18-foot Yurok redwood dugout canoe. The museum also has several hundred photographs on display, offering a unique picture of native life and culture. Many of the exhibits and photos at the museum are on loan from private collections. For this reason, the museum asks patrons to refrain from taking pictures.

Address: 2618 K Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=486

8. Aerospace Museum of California

Aerospace Museum of California
Aerospace Museum of California | ZikG / Shutterstock.com

This massive indoor and outdoor museum is northeast of downtown in the community of McClellan Park. It features several interactive exhibits diving into the world of aviation and space exploration. The museum also displays over 40 historic aircraft within its four-acre airpark.

All ages find something to enjoy at the Aerospace Museum of California. The exhibits explain complicated topics like rocket propulsion and outer space exploration with easy-to-digest displays. The museum also has several hands-on artifacts, including a timeline of engines throughout the ages. Flight simulators are also available for those wanting to pilot their own experience.

Devote a couple of hours to tour the museum and its grounds. Airplane lovers will want to spend extra time outside in the airpark admiring the many planes on display. Here, the collection primarily consists of military vehicles, including a variety of fighter jets.

Address: 3200 Freedom Park Drive, McClellan Park, California

Official site: https://aerospaceca.org/

9. California Automobile Museum

Wide-angle view of the California Automobile Museum
Wide-angle view of the California Automobile Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The California Automobile Museum is a massive repository of cars from throughout the ages. With over 130 automobiles on display and counting, this non-profit museum has something for all ages to enjoy. And unlike other car museums, the California Automobile Museum has several opportunities to climb in and pose for a picture behind the wheel.

The layout of the museum takes visitors throughout the timeline of automobile engineering. The first exhibits include a late 1800s Benz Patent Motorwagen Replica and early 1900s Ford Model Ts. Forward innovation follows from there, ending with hybrid and electric vehicles.

Car enthusiast or not, it's hard not to be impressed by the sheer number of automobiles on display. And for anyone who wants to talk shop, volunteer docents walk the museum ready to strike up a conversation.

California Automobile Museum
California Automobile Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The museum is open Wednesday through Monday and receives the largest crowds on the weekends. Visit the museum on the third Sunday of every month for a free Sunday Drive in one of the museum's cars, included with admission.

Address: 2200 Front Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.calautomuseum.org/

10. Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park

Leland Stanford Mansion
Leland Stanford Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The 19,000-square-foot Leland Stanford Mansion near the State Capitol offers a unique walk through history. This elegant manor was built in 1856 and later remodeled and occupied by the influential Leland and Jane Stanford. Among the accolades of Leland Stanford are railroad tycoon, governor, and university founder.

The mansion has been in the state park system since 1978. And today, it also serves as the state's official reception center for visiting world leaders. And when foreign dignitaries aren't occupying the space, the historic park offers free guided tours of the four-story Victorian mansion.

Tours last approximately 30 minutes and include in-depth narration throughout. A few attractions observed along the way include original period furniture, historical paintings, and a heavy sense of early 20th-century splendor. Visitors also see other parts of the mansion's history, including its tenure as a shelter for homeless children.

Address: 800 N Street, Sacramento, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=489

Map of Museums in Sacramento, CA