15 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Sacramento, CA
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Sacramento, the state capital of California, is a storied city with a long history and several visitor attractions. It's about 93 miles northeast of San Francisco within the Central Valley of California. Notably, the city sits at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. This region boasts sunny days throughout the year with hot and dry temperatures throughout the summer.
The city's history is readily on display at places like Old Sacramento, near the waterfront. This historic district dates back to the mid-1800s and the California Gold Rush. Several buildings still stand from this era, offering an immersive world to walk through. Today, modern establishments occupy these old storefronts, including some of Sacramento's best museums.
Much of Sacramento's appeal extends beyond its historical attractions. This modern seat of state government touches upon several aspects of fun things to do. From fashionable neighborhoods to airy city parks and miles-long bike trails, the city offers several ways to enjoy its nice weather.
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 tourist attractions in Sacramento.
See also: Where to Stay in Sacramento
1. California State Railroad Museum
With more than 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, 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 focus on railroad history and other related topics. A few prominent displays touch upon the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the role early immigrants had in laying the first tracks. More broadly, the museum showcases the ways the railroad industry influenced California history.
Families with children will appreciate the Kids' Corner educational programs and All Aboard for Story Time book readings. Other educational programs include a Junior Engineer program for children ages 7-12.
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/
Read More: Best Museums in Sacramento
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. It underwent significant restoration in the 1970s, updating the Capitol to modern building code and preserving some of the most historic rooms.
Today, the California State Capitol is the center of state government and also operates as the California State Capitol Museum. The public is welcome to tour the historic halls throughout the week. A few of the preserved rooms in the museum include the governor's main office and the 1906 treasurer's office. Other historic attractions include portraits and various other artworks, as well as antiques.
The Capitol building itself is an eye-catching attraction. But the adjacent colorful gardens extending several blocks, comprising Capitol Park, make it the most beautiful among Capitol complexes in the United States. Tall palms and numerous other species of trees and plants line the pathways, and several monuments stand out against the foliage.
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
Read More: Best Parks in Sacramento
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. Expect crowds of people filling these historic streets, window shopping, and being guided by the senses. It's a fun area to wander and soak in the history of the area.
Fun things to do in Old Sacramento include taking a jaunt in a horse-drawn carriage, boarding a riverboat excursion, or climbing aboard a vintage locomotive for a railroad ride. And the California State Railroad Museum and Sacramento History Museum are nearly neighbors in Old Town, each offering a first-class museum experience.
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.
Today, the replica fort surrounding the adobe house sits near the center of the city in Midtown, approximately 1.5 miles east of the State Capitol. Visitors pay a small fee to enter the state historic park and start touring the display rooms. Rangers set up next to several of these displays, offering additional information about the exhibit.
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 current times. 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 130 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. The museum also offers Sunday Drives on the third Sunday of each month.
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. A few other favorite residents include red pandas, snow leopards, and various primates like chimpanzees and orangutans.
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.
Plan some of the day to enjoy the surrounding William Land Park, better known as Land Park. Alongside the zoo, it's home to Fairytale Land and extensive parkland. The park's several paved and dirt trails are a pedestrian favorite, passing by scenic landscape features like ponds and gardens.
Address: 3930 West Land Park Drive, Sacramento, California
Official site: http://www.saczoo.org/
9. 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. It's a fun area to wander day and night, with entertainment stemming from every street corner.
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
11. American River Bike Trail/Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail
Part of Sacramento County's American River Parkway Regional Park, 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 Discovery 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.
12. McKinley Park
McKinley Park, on the west edge of East Sacramento, is one of Sacramento's busiest parks. But with over 30 acres of open space, it's rarely a crowded place to visit. Throughout this ample parkland that dates back to the 1870s, several park amenities lend to frequent day trips.
Sports facilities are abundant at McKinley Park. Alongside basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts, the park also has softball and soccer fields. Horseshoe pits are also available. And during the extended summer months, the swimming and wading pool at McKinley is a hot spot to cool off.
Other amenities at the park include a library and community center. The landscape nature is another reason to visit. Paths wind around and throughout the open space, passing by palm trees and ponds.
For flower enthusiasts, spend some time at the Fredrick N. Evans Memorial Rose Garden.
Address: 601 Alhambra Boulevard, Sacramento, California
13. California Museum
For residents and visitors alike, the downtown California Museum is worth a visit. This non-profit facility shares the story of past pioneers and innovators that shaped the Golden State. Exhibits on display cover early immigrants that built the railroads and intrepid women whose California legacies last today.
The California Hall of Fame is a signature exhibit on the first floor of the museum. Several familiar names adorn this tribute to current and past residents, including the likes of Walt Disney, Willy Mays, and Dr. Maya Angelou. Placards beneath each inductee offer extra insight into the lives of these California all-stars.
Other topics at the museum include the California Gold Rush, the internment of American citizens during World War II, and the history of California missions. Expect to spend approximately half the day wandering the two floors of exhibits.
Address: 1020 O Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: https://www.californiamuseum.org/
14. Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic 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. Its location also makes it an easy piece of architecture to espy, two blocks southwest of the State Capitol.
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. Tours are free and last approximately 30 minutes. Narration along the way dives into the stately history of the mansion.
15. 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. The museum is downtown, less than two blocks from the State Capitol.
Address: 1017 11th Street, Sacramento, California
Official site: https://www.cathedralsacramento.org
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.