Visiting Sacramento - What to See and Do
(Sacramento International Airport SMF, USA)
California's capital has a lot more going on than just political wrangling. Sacramento
is one of the state's oldest cities, with a very engaging Old Town district and a scenic ribbon of water in the form of the American River that cuts through town.
Besides its role as state capitol, Sacramento is also a major agricultural center, so visitors are blessed with a huge range of restaurants, snack spots and farmers' markets to enjoy. The downtown area is continually being renovated, with its historic homes and buildings being converted into trendy boutiques and cafés, or simply enjoyed as a family residence.
A great railroad museum, science and space center, and several attractions for the kids all help to make Sacramento a decent travel alternative to the overwhelming scene of San Francisco
. This totally flat city is ideal for biking, walks along the river and rafting excursions. Add to this a lack of overt tourism bustle and you have a nice place to spend a few days in northern California.
Ten things you must do in Sacramento
- Old Sacramento is the star attraction of the city. It covers four square blocks right at the edge of downtown, and resembles a Wild West town more than anything else. A bit kitschy perhaps, but lots of fun nonetheless. There are over 100 restored historic buildings, many of which house shops, bars and restaurants. It is a working facet of the city, despite its obvious tourism appeal.
- The California State Capitol building is a real beauty, modeled closely after the one in Washington, DC. It was built in 1869 at the peak of the California Gold Rush and is definitely the main landmark in the city. Besides merely admiring its architecture, you can also take a one-hour guided tour through its inner workings.
- One of the best railroad museums in America is right here in this city. The California State Railroad Museum houses in excess of 100 beautifully restored vintage railway cars and locomotives. It is located right in Old Sacramento and can therefore be extremely busy at certain times. Despite the crowds, this is one of the highlights of the capital. From April to September, you can take a steam locomotive ride that runs for 6 miles / 10 km along the Sacramento River and back.
- Another knock-on effect of the city's railroad boom is the Crocker Art Museum, a repository of art courtesy of railroad magnate E. B. Crocker. It houses the world's top collection of Californian art dating from the Gold Rush era onwards. A recent US$100 million renovation has expanded the eclectic collection into the realm of ceramics, European masters and other noteworthy pieces of art.
- Take a trip back in time to the frontier days of northern California at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park. The fort was built in 1839 and truly captures the essence of 19th-century California, with its collection of restored shops and re-enactments. From the blacksmith's forge to the bakery, you can guide yourself through the Old West town. During the summer season there are daily re-enactments and demonstrations by actors and craftspeople in costume.
- The American River Parkway is a 32-mile / 51-km paved recreation path that runs along this beautiful river, right through the heart of Sacramento. The completely flat path passes through Old Sacramento and onwards into the countryside, offering the ideal place to get some exercise and see the capitol from a different perspective. Bike rental shops are readily available in the city center, though walking sections of the trail are just as rewarding.
- The American and the Sacramento rivers converge right at the city, creating some of California's best river rafting opportunities. It is a very popular activity, both with visitors and locals, so it is not hard to find a rafting outfitter to help you book just about any kind of outing you want. Both rivers are refreshingly clear and mellow, ideal for mild rafting and even swimming.
- The Sacramento History Museum is the best place to learn more about this city's rich and colorful past. The city got its start from both the gold rush and the railroad boom, but also had an interesting legacy of Native American tribes well before the Europeans arrived. Inside the attractions are largely interactive, while the museum is conveniently located right at the edge of Old Sacramento.
- If you have children, be sure to pay a visit to the Fairytale Town at William Land Park. It is a huge playground, but there are lots of things to climb and slide in a safe environment. Just across the street is the mid-size Sacramento Zoo, a decent venue after a couple of hours at the Fairytale Town.
- To watch the locals at work, head to the downtown Certified Farmer's Market, which is held several days each week. A great range of vendors sell produce, baked goods, crafts and more. The Second Saturdays Art Walk is another fun way to interact with the local art scene. On the second Saturdays of every month, the art galleries in midtown open up late until 21:00 and have wine, cheese and art talks.