13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Sacramento, CA
About 93 miles northeast of San Francisco is California's lovely capital city, Sacramento. The city has several interesting museums, and Old Sacramento, with its historic buildings, shopping, and dining, is a great place for tourists to do some sightseeing or simply relax.
The best time to visit is generally between spring and fall. This is a great time of year weather-wise and is also when the city hosts some of its most prominent festivals and events.
Find the best things to see and do in this city with our list of the top attractions in Sacramento.
See also: Where to Stay in Sacramento
1. California State Railroad Museum
With a floor area for exhibits of more than 200,000 square feet, the California State Railroad Museum is among the world's largest railway museums. Located in Old Sacramento, this museum is one of the premier attractions in the city.
It houses restored steam locomotives and railway coaches dating from 1862 to 1944. Almost all the wagons can be viewed inside. Some cars are furnished, complete with dining place settings, which show the level of comfort once offered on the trains. You can walk through a sleeper car as well.
Exhibits also focus on railroad history and other related topics. Families with children will appreciate the Kids' Corner educational programs and All Aboard for Story Time book readings.
During the summer months, the California State Railroad Museum operates trains along the Sacramento River. Riding aboard a historic steam locomotive or a vintage diesel train is sure to be one of the highlights of your visit.
Address: Second Street and I Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.csrmf.org/
2. State Capitol
One of the top places to visit in Sacramento is the State Capitol building. This structure is an excellent example of Neoclassical architecture and was built in the 1860s.
But the colorful gardens, extending over several blocks, with tall palms and numerous other species of trees and plants, make the building one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings in the United States. Several rooms are dedicated to the State Capitol Museum, with portraits and various other artworks, as well as antiques.
Since December 1988 a bronze group sculpture, the Vietnam War Memorial, has stood in the northeast part of Capitol Park (L and 15th Street); its construction was entirely funded by donations, and it commemorates those who sacrificed their lives in the longest war involving the USA.
Address: 1315 10th Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: capitolmuseum.ca.gov
3. Crocker Museum of Art
The Crocker Art Museum holds an impressive collection of California art from the Gold-Rush era until the present, as well as European paintings and drawings and American photography.
The original collection, which still forms the backbone of the museum, was donated by Margaret Crocker. This private collection was assembled by Judge Edwin B. Crocker from 1868 to 1872. The museum's main building is a grand Italianate Victorian-era mansion, a California Historical Landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to the Victorian house, the Crocker Museum of Art displays some of its collection in the contemporary Teel Family Pavilion, which opened in 2010 and tripled the original museum's size.
The California art collection represents works created from 1860 to the present, while the assortment of European art includes 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artwork, Italian Baroque paintings, and 19th-century Central European pieces. The museum's photography collection boasts stunning images by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, among other American photographers.
For children (age five and under) the museum's Tot Land area is a delightful space devoted to playful activities and hands-on creative installations. The museum also offers Art Camp classes for children and painting classes for adults.
During summertime, the museum hosts music concerts and a film series; movies are shown in the outdoor courtyard.
Address: 216 O Street (Between 2nd and 3rd Streets), Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.crockerartmuseum.org/
4. Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento covers eight blocks (28 acres) of historic buildings along the city's waterfront, designated as a National Historic Landmark. Some of the Gold Rush-era structures are now part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, including the Eagle Theater built in 1849, the B. F. Hastings Building (circa 1853), and the Big Four Building dating to 1855.
Old Sacramento includes more than 50 historic buildings, mostly from the 1850s, which represent the city's original commercial district, an area that once thrived thanks to the commerce propelled by the Pony Express and the transcontinental railroad.
The buildings are still occupied by over 125 locally owned shops, restaurants, hotels, and museums, which makes the area appealing for tourists.
Fun things to do in Old Sacramento include taking a jaunt in a horse-drawn carriage, boarding a riverboat excursion, or a climbing aboard a vintage locomotive for a railroad ride
Originally, this area was seen as a great commercial center for the new city in the mid 19th century. However, floods proved to be a serious problem, and the city was raised by adding earth to this low lying area. Eventually the focus of the city center shifted, and this area had become an impoverished red light district. In the 1960s, the area underwent redevelopment, which led to the creation of what can be seen here today.
Official site: http://oldsacramento.com/
5. Sutter's Fort State Historic Park
Sutter's Fort Museum stands on what was once the site of the first outpost of the white man in California, set up by the German-Swiss immigrant Johann August Sutter in 1839. The adobe house built in the same year has been restored in the original style, and houses relics of the pioneering and gold-rush period.
Of note are items related to the town's founder, whose estates reached as far as the other side of the American River near Coloma. After gold was discovered, Sutter was literally overrun by gold-seekers, to such an extent that he was forced to flee.
Address: 2701 L Street (Between K and L Streets and 26th and 28th Streets), Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=485
6. California Automobile Museum
The California Automobile Museum displays a collection of more than 120 vintage automobiles dating from 1885 to 2011. The museum has an extensive collection of Ford cars, with models from 1904 to 1969. The extensive assortment of classic and modern vehicles on display shows the development of American automobiles over the past 120 years.
Special exhibits presented throughout the year focus on various themes, such as California car culture, pickup trucks, camping, and road trips. Visitors can also participate in the museum's lively events, including a summer series of Drive-in Movie Nights.
Address: 2200 Front Street (at the corner of V Street), Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.calautomuseum.org/
7. Fairytale Town
A popular recreational destination for families with young children, Fairytale Town is a storybook-theme park with 25 play sets based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes such as Cinderella, Humpty Dumpty, Mother Goose, and Peter Rabbit.
The park also has gentle farm animals, which children can visit. Eeyore the miniature Sicilian donkey (a character in Winnie the Pooh) and Maddie "the Cow that Jumped over the Moon" are among the favorites.
Other highlights of FairyTale Town include the learning gardens, puppet shows, music performances, and the collection of 20 "magic story boxes" that tell stories through narration and songs.
Address: 3901 Land Park Drive, Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.fairytaletown.org/
8. Sacramento Zoo
Animal lovers will enjoy visiting the Sacramento Zoo, home to more than 500 exotic animals, from aardvarks and African lions to giraffes and jaguars, as well as more than 200 reptiles.
The 14-acre zoo also has 14 different aviaries, which provide shelter to 35 species of birds. Many of the zoo animals are rare and endangered. As a way to support wildlife protection, the zoo is involved in local and international conservation projects.
Address: 3930 West Land Park Drive, Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.saczoo.org/
9. Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament has been a spiritual center in Sacramento since 1889. Fitting for a California architectural landmark, the cathedral's multi-towered facade is reminiscent of a Spanish colonial church.
The exquisite Neoclassical interior reveals an inspiring domed ceiling and decorative details. Colorful stained-glass windows illuminate the sanctuary, imparting an ethereal glow.
The cathedral offers Eucharist celebrations (Mass) every day and also provides ceremonies for baptisms, weddings, and other occasions.
Address: 1017 11th Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: https://www.cathedralsacramento.org
10. California State Indian Museum State Historic Park
To understand the history of California, a good way to start is by learning about the original inhabitants: Native Americans. The California State Indian Museum State Historic Park gives visitors an in-depth view of the culture and lifestyle of the indigenous people who have lived on the land that's now California for thousands of years.
The museum illustrates 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 a redwood canoe, ceremonial objects, and hunting and fishing tools, some of which date back 2,400 years. Photographs and educational content help provide deeper insights into the culture.
Note the Indian basket collection, a superb assortment of more than 3,000 woven items, from decorative bowls to burden baskets for carrying heavy loads, cooking baskets designed to steam food, and watertight baskets for preparing acorn soup.
You can also take part in the museum's hands-on activities such as creating shell beads and using a mortar and pestle to grind acorns.
The museum store sells jewelry, baskets, and other handicrafts made by the local Native American community.
Address: 2618 K Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/indianmuseum
At the heart of Sacramento's urban center, Midtown is a vibrant and bustling area of the city located between 16th and 29th Streets and between E and R Streets. The top tourist attraction within Midtown is Sutter's Fort State Historic Park.
Midtown is also the place to go for shopping, art gallery hopping, theater and dance performances, comedy shows, and gourmet dining at trendy restaurants.
Many of the art galleries participate in Second Saturdays and host free receptions on every second Saturday of the month from 6pm to 9pm.
Among locals, a popular event is the Midtown Farmers Market, which brings together more than 50 farmers and other vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and food products. The farmers market features chef demonstrations on a monthly basis and craft vendor stalls on the second Saturday of the month.
Official site: http://exploremidtown.org
12. American River Bike Trail/Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail
Part of Sacramento County's Regional Parks system, the American River Trail is a well-maintained paved path, which winds through a pleasant natural environment, lined by shady oak trees. It's also one of the more popular walking and hiking trails in the Sacramento area.
The 32-mile trail parallels the American River, starting in the city of Folsom and ending up in Old Sacramento. Access to the park is available from Discover Park, Howe River Access nature preserve, Paradise Beach recreation area, and River Bend Park.
The trail is designed for cycling, jogging, walking, and horseback riding. The park also allows fishing and picnicking. Another name for the trail is the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, a tribute to the first American explorer to arrive in California.
13. Leland Stanford Mansion State Historical Park
Recently renovated to the tune of 22 million dollars, this stunning mansion will not fail to impress you. Considered an exceptional example of Victorian-era architecture, the 19,000-square-foot building features 17-foot ceilings and ornate woodwork, and is furnished with period pieces.
The mansion is located right downtown, and the juxtaposition of this ornately decorated building set against the modern glass buildings is stunning.
Tours are available most days but may be canceled on occasion, as the building is also used for state functions and to host international dignitaries.
Where to Stay in Sacramento for Sightseeing
Tourists who want to see the top attractions of Sacramento should stay in the city center, near the State Capitol or Old Sacramento. From here, other prime attractions are close by, including the California State Railway Museum, Governor's Mansion State Historic Park, and Crocker Art Museum. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Across the street from the State Capitol, the Hyatt Regency Sacramento is one of the city's most popular hotels, with a wellness spa, outdoor pool with cabanas, and hot tub.
Those who prefer boutique accommodation will appreciate The Citizen Hotel, Autograph Collection in an elegant building from the early 1900s. Every room is different, and the hotel is also home to the renowned farm-to-fork Grange Restaurant.
Opposite the Convention Center and only a block from the State Capitol, the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, with a fitness center and heated outdoor pool, is another popular upscale option.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A block from the State Capitol and Convention Center, the Residence Inn Sacramento Downtown at Capitol Park is known for its friendly service and large suites with fully equipped kitchens.
Another solid mid-range choice is Embassy Suites by Hilton Sacramento, with spacious rooms and an indoor pool. The hotel lies across from the Riverfront Promenade in Old Sacramento and within walking distance of the State Capitol.
Offering excellent value, the Holiday Inn Express Sacramento Convention Center sits across from the Governor's Mansion. Guests can also walk to the State Capitol and the convention center from here.
- Budget Hotels: The good-value Governors Inn Hotel, with large, clean rooms, is only a five-minute drive from the State Capitol and offers a free airport shuttle.
A short stroll from Old Town Sacramento, the Best Western Plus Sutter House, with a swimming pool, is a popular budget choice within walking distance of the State Capitol, while the Vagabond Inn Executive Sacramento Old Town is only a half a block from Old Sacramento.
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Nearby Places to Visit: The most obvious destination to visit near Sacramento is San Francisco. Spend a day sightseeing and exploring the city's treasures.
For a little more nature, head inland to Lake Tahoe, just two hours away. In summer, hit the nearby hiking trails or spend some time gazing out at the beautiful deep blue water. In winter take advantage of some of the best skiing in the state at Tahoe's ski resorts.