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15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Folsom, CA

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Mar 22, 2022

History, hiking trails, and culture come together in Folsom, California, 25 miles northeast of the state capital of Sacramento. The city nestles into the Sierra Nevada foothills and is a gateway for the alpine environment to its east. Numerous outdoor activities are right at the backdoor of Folsom, including Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, created by the impoundment of the American River.

The Gold Rush history of Folsom still glimmers in much of the city, particularly on Sutter Street and the surrounding Historic Downtown District. With storefronts reminiscent of old-time opera houses and hotels, the downtown immerses visitors in the past while celebrating modern comforts. Among the shopping and dining opportunities in this downtown district are several events and performances that take place throughout the year.

Folsom is forever intertwined with the state prison within its borders, much in thanks to a legendary performance by Johnny Cash within the prison walls. Both legacies are easily experienced when visiting Folsom, and tourists can learn about the 140-year history of the prison at the Folsom State Prison Museum. The museum is accessible via the paved Johnny Cash Trail, which offers an art-filled pedestrian pathway that spans two scenic bridges.

Plan your visit with our list of the top things to do in Folsom.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Sutter Street, Folsom Historic District

Sutter Street, Folsom Historic District
Sutter Street, Folsom Historic District | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Sutter Street is often regarded as the "Heart of Folsom." The historic storefronts and buildings of this downtown district are reminiscent of the 1850s, when gold prospectors and Pony Express riders roamed the streets. Today, the old facades house many modern businesses, including restaurants, theaters, and retail shops.

Interpretive plaques on street corners illuminate some of this district's historical importance. Those inclined to learn more will want to head to the Folsom History Museum, at the center of Sutter Street. The Folsom Historical Society operates this non-profit repository of antiques and documented history.

Special events like craft fairs, car shows, and a Saturday farmers market occur on Sutter Street throughout the year. The downtown Historic Folsom Amphitheater also puts on numerous shows. A few fan favorites include performances by the Folsom Lake Symphony, a summer Twilight Thursday Concert Series, and Movie Nights at the Amphitheater.

Sutter Street
Sutter Street | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Visitors from Sacramento can experience Sutter Street by hopping on the Historic Folsom Light Rail, which departs from the capital city.

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

2. Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is in the Sierra Nevada foothills right outside Folsom's backdoor. The recreation area encompasses two reservoirs, Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma, both created by dams on the American River. These natural spaces add up to over 19,000 acres with numerous outdoor activities available.

Popular things to do at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area include boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. Nearly 100 miles of multi-use trails span the acreage, including a portion of the historic Western States Trail. The 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail also runs through the recreation area and stretches all the way south to Sacramento through the American River Parkway.

On the western shores of Folsom Lake, Granite Bay and Beal's Point provide a popular day-use area with a swimming beach, as well as a campground with over 60 sites available. These are two of the most popular areas of the lake, but with plenty of parking and space to explore, it never feels overcrowded.

Numerous entrances to the recreation area surround all sides of Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma. Other visitor experiences at the park include the Sacramento State Aquatic Center and the American River Water Education Center.

Address: 7755 Folsom-Auburn Road, Folsom, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=500

3. Johnny Cash Trail

Johnny Cash Trail
Johnny Cash Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Johnny Cash Trail is a paved bike and pedestrian path that connects the downtown Folsom Historic District and Folsom Lake. The trail spans 2.5 miles and traverses two incredibly scenic bridges. A few larger-than-life public art installations are encountered along the route, and the city plans to add more sculptures in the future.

Bordering the Folsom State Prison property, the trail also lends access to Folsom Prison Museum. From either end of the trail, users can also access the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which connects Folsom Lake to Sacramento.

Official site: https://folsomcasharttrail.com/

4. Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary

Peacock at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary
Peacock at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

First began in 1963 by the adoption of a displaced bear cub, the Folsom Zoo, now the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary has since cared for non-releasable animals in a safe and attentive environment. And this non-profit sanctuary is a popular spot to bring young kids.

Current residents at the zoo include bears, coyotes, and tigers, as well as smaller animals like macaws, squirrel monkeys, and prairie dogs. Available classes and programs at the Zoo Sanctuary include Zookeeper Camps and docent-led tours with staff.

It's a minimal entrance fee to visit the Zoo Sanctuary, and repeat visitors can save money by becoming a zoo member. Kids under two years of age receive free admission. For an easy lunch at the zoo, the on-site Fisher's Beastro offers simple fare like corn dogs and nachos.

The entire zoo is within Folsom City Lions Park, where other amenities include playground sculptures, baseball fields, and a butterfly grove. Lions Park and the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary are accessible via the Johnny Cash Trail.

Address: 403 Stafford Street, Folsom, California

Official site: https://www.folsom.ca.us/parks/zoo_sanctuary/default.asp

5. Folsom History Museum

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

The Folsom History Museum is the main repository for the Folsom Historical Society. It's at the center of historic Sutter Street, surrounded by the old facades of buildings from years past. Inside the museum, interpretive displays tell the long history of the region, spanning from the native Nisenan peoples to the 1960s.

The main galleries are filled with photographs and antiques and a few hands-on displays. Topics include the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, the advent of the railroad in the region, and the creation of Folsom Prison. Johnny Cash also makes an appearance in one corner of the museum.

The Folsom Historical Society also operates Pioneer Village a few blocks away. This living history museum offers an immersive experience with activities like gold mining and visiting the blacksmith. The village also has a reconstructed depot and authentic train caboose for touring.

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

6. Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, American River Parkway

Jedediah Smith Memorial Parkway and the American River Parkway
Jedediah Smith Memorial Parkway and the American River Parkway | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail stretches for 32 miles between Discovery Park in Sacramento and Beal's Point within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. It runs through the entire American River Parkway and offers a great way to sightsee along the river corridor.

The portion that follows the shores of Lake Natoma is arguably the most scenic section of the trail. This area provides bountiful landscapes on both sides of the trail, void of much urban encroachment. Visitors in Folsom can head to the Willow Creek Recreation Area to join this part of the trail.

Numerous dirt hiking trails stem from the paved pathway. Other activities surrounding the trail include picnicking, fishing, and wildlife photography.

Official site: https://regionalparks.saccounty.net/Parks/Pages/JedediahSmith.aspx

7. Folsom Prison Museum

Folsom Prison gate adjacent to the Folsom Prison Museum
Folsom Prison gate adjacent to the Folsom Prison Museum | FolsomNatural / photo modified

The Folsom State Prison Museum is on the grounds of the active Folsom State Prison. It highlights the history encountered by correction officers who have worked at the prison since the 1880s. It's also known as the Big House Prison Museum.

This non-profit institution contains four rooms packed with things to see, as well as outdoor exhibits and artifacts on the museum's grounds. Exhibits include photographs, artifacts, and a macabre collection of contraband items and fatal accident accounts. Newspaper articles detailing various escape attempts also hang on the walls. An intricate Ferris wheel made from toothpicks by an inmate is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum.

Museum admission is two dollars per visitor, and it's easy to spend a couple of hours wandering between exhibits.

Address: 312 3rd Street, Represa, California

Official site: http://bighouseprisonmuseum.org/

8. Granite Bay and Beal's Point

Panoramic view of Folsom Lake
Panoramic view of Folsom Lake | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Granite Bay and Beal's Point are two popular access points in Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. They are both on the western shoreline and offer excellent places to enjoy the water.

Granite Bay features a public boat ramp and a day-use swimming beach with lifeguards on duty during the summer. It also has dedicated barbecue areas and large grassy spots for an array of summertime activities. The Snack Bar at Granite Bay offers non-motorized boat rentals throughout the same summer season.

The neighboring Beal's Point offers one of two campgrounds on Folsom Lake and has over 60 sites available for tents and RVs. The other campground on Folsom Lake is located on the north shore, and the Peninsula Campground can be accessed via boat or a winding paved road from Pilot Hill.

Beal’s Point
Beal's Point | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Both Granite Bay and Beal's Point lend easy access to the water, as well as the paved Jedediah Smith Memorial Parkway, which stretches from Folsom Lake to Discovery Park in Sacramento.

Address: Beals Point, Granite Bay, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=10916

9. Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park

Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park
Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Constructed in 1895, the Folsom Powerhouse utilized the moving current of the American River to produce electricity for the growing city of Sacramento 22 miles downstream. Upon completion, the Folsom Powerhouse became one of the first hydroelectric facilities in the nation. It's now on the National Register of Historic Places and visitors can tour much of the facility, which has been well preserved since its retirement in 1952.

Address: 9980 Greenback Lane, Folsom, California

Official site: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=501

10. Lake Natoma

Lake Natoma
Lake Natoma | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lake Natoma is the second, smaller reservoir within Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. It was created by the construction of the Nimbus Dam on the American River. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail lines the eastern shore with great views of the water, and hiking trails are on both sides of the banks.

The lake is popular with non-motorized watercraft, and the speed limit is five miles per hour. Non-motorized boat rentals are offered at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center located near the Nimbus Dam.

Alongside single and tandem kayak rentals, the Sac State Aquatic Center also has an inventory of bikes they rent to the public. The aquatic center is also a National Boating Instruction Safety Center and offers classes, camps, and programs to enhance boating safety and skills.

11. Folsom Premium Outlets

Folsom Premium Outlets
Folsom Premium Outlets | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Folsom Premium Outlets is an outdoor shopping plaza with 80 stores. It's on the opposite side of Folsom Boulevard from Lake Natoma and is a central location for name-brand attire. Shoppers can find clothing, housewares, jewelry, and sporting equipment at the Folsom Premium Outlets, all with plenty of parking available.

Visitors from Sacramento can reach the Folsom Premium Outlets via the Historic Folsom Light Rail.

Address: 13000 Folsom Boulevard, Folsom, California

Official site: https://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/folsom

12. Harris Center

Harris Center
Harris Center | FolsomNatural / photo modified

Initially conceived as an instruction center for students at Folsom Lake College, the Harris Center has evolved into a main stage for arts and culture in the region. The center features three stages and a beautiful mezzanine, and attracts local, regional, and national talent.

New shows and performances come to the stages of this regional arts center throughout the year. Check the official website for an event calendar.

Address: 10 College Parkway, Folsom, California

Official site: https://www.harriscenter.net/

13. Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course

Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course
Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The region around Folsom supports a healthy disc golf population. This means there's a handful of popular courses to play, and Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course is one of the closest to Folsom, accessible with a 10-minute drive.

Shady Oaks Disc Golf Course features a pro shop and 18 holes with rotating pin positions. It's free to play, and the course caters to beginners, but it can get busy throughout the week. Leagues and other meetups occasionally add some more congestion to the course. Plan to arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds.

14. Seaquest Folsom

Seaquest Folsom is a popular family attraction in Folsom, transporting visitors to the depths of the ocean and beyond. Current animals on display include otters, sharks, stingrays, chameleons, sloths, and frogs. The facility also offers special experiences, including behind-the-scenes tours, feeding stations, and special meet-and-greet encounters.

Seaquest also tends to be a popular spot for children's birthday parties in Folsom.

Address: 430 Palladio Parkway #1801, Folsom, California

Official site: https://folsom.visitseaquest.com/

15. Maidu Regional Park

Maidu Museum and Historic Site
Maidu Museum and Historic Site | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Maidu Regional Park is less than a 20-minute drive northwest of Folsom. It's a 152-acre park filled with outdoor amenities and community resources. A walking trail navigates much of the park, connecting facilities like softball diamonds, a skate park, and several picnic areas. The park is also home to a library and community center.

The Maidu Museum and Historic Site are adjacent to the regional park. With artifacts and interpretive information, the indoor exhibits at the museum share the ongoing legacy of the Maidu, who've lived in the region for thousands of years. On the grounds outside, an interpretive trail passes by ancient sites, including bedrock mortars and petroglyphs.

Maidu Regional Park and the Maidu Museum are just a few of the things to do in Roseville, Folsom's neighbor to the northwest. Other area tourist attractions include a hip downtown strip and weekend swap meet.

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imageOther Places to Explore near Folsom: Offering unique cultural attractions, like a 19th-century state capitol building, the California State Railroad Museum, and the Crocker Museum of Art, the capital city of Sacramento is only a 30-minute drive from Folsom. To the east of Folsom within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is a true outdoor getaway and a fun place to be. A two-hour drive from Folsom, the lively streets of San Francisco invite multiple days of exploring.

imageMore to See in Sacramento: A short drive from Folsom, many of the best hiking trails near Sacramento are found in nearby areas like Auburn State Recreation Area and Folsom State Recreation Area. Likewise, the top-rated campgrounds near Sacramento also lend to beautiful tent and RV camping right out Folsom's backdoor. For those looking to stay in Sacramento, our guide to hotels in Sacramento cover every type of traveler.

imageExploring California: The state of California is as varied as its residents, and for a great place to start exploring all there is to see, our guide to the best places to visit in California previews the diversity of the state. A great way to experience California is through the many top-rated national parks within its borders, with mountains, ocean shores, and deserts to explore. For a small-town feel within a big state, the best small towns in California deliver on scenic attractions with fewer crowds.

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