12 Best Things to do in Sacramento, CA (with Photos)

Although it is often overlooked in favor of Los Angeles or San Francisco, California’s capital city of Sacramento is certainly well worth visiting. Besides being home to the sparkling State Capitol, it boasts lots of interesting and important historic sites, museums, and monuments and it has a large and well-preserved old town area for visitors to explore.

As well as being a center of political power, Sacramento acts as an economic and cultural hub and has even been billed as ‘America’s Most Diverse City’. As such, there are ta number of different things to do in Sacramento with pockets of thriving arts, food, and nightlife scenes scattered here and there. With everything from attractive architecture and excellent outdoor activities to Gold Rush-era tourist attractions and of course the California State Fair; Sacramento definitely has something for everyone to enjoy.

12. California Automobile Museum

flickr/Jack Snell

Boasting a huge collection of classic cars, the superb California Automobile Museum can be found just five minutes’ drive to the southwest of the center. A very interesting place to visit, it has lots of excellent exhibits for you to peruse as well as countless vintage vehicles of all makes and models.

First opened to the public in 1987, the museum now impressively contains more than 150 antique automobiles with the oldest dating to 1886. While it is particularly known for its large number of well-preserved Fords, it also displays everything from race cars and hot rods to corvettes and sedans.

Besides strolling around its sparkling showrooms and taking in all the cars’ fine features, there are also informative exhibits on the history of the automobile and its immense impact on our lives.

11. Fairytale Town

Fairytale Town© dreamstime

A must for visitors with young kids, Fairytale Town is a fantastic amusement park that brings to life all their favorite nursery rhymes and storybook tales. Set right next to Sacramento Zoo, its fun and fantastical playsets, petting zoo, and performing arts stages lie just five minutes’ south of downtown.

While wandering about its sprawling site, you’ll come across amazing installations and creative play areas such as King Arthur’s Castle, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Mr. McGregor’s Garden. Aside from exploring the more than thirty fairytale-themed playsets, there is also a lovely petting zoo and some gorgeous gardens to stop by.

On top of all this, Fairytale Town regularly hosts live music performances, theater plays, and puppet shows that are sure to delight and entertain the whole family.

10. Sacramento Zoo

Sacramento Zoo© dreamstime

Right next door to Fairytale Town you can find the magnificent Sacramento Zoo which is home to a staggering array of animals, exhibits, and aviaries. Located just five minutes’ drive south of the city center, it makes for a great day out as it has lots of awesome things for you to see and do.

What started out in 1927 as a small zoo with just forty animals has since morphed into a massive menagerie of more than five hundred animals both big and small from all corners of the globe. As such, guests can expect to see everything from red pandas and zebra to tigers, jaguars, and giraffes in its spacious enclosures that replicate their natural habitats.

In addition, the zoo has fourteen fabulous aviaries for you to check out with animal encounters and keeper chats regularly taking place.

9. Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park

Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park© dreamstime

One of the city’s most beautiful buildings, the stunning Leland Stanford Mansion is now protected as part of a state historic park. Set in the heart of downtown, it lies not far from the State Capitol Building and often acts as an official reception center for the Californian government when foreign dignitaries are in town.

Built in 1856 during the Californian Gold Rush, the massive and majestic mansion showcases some striking Second Empire style architecture and lies among some immaculately manicured grounds and gardens. Recently restored, its elegant interior is just as tastefully decorated with exquisite artworks, period pieces, and fine furnishings on show.

Visitors can now take tours around the marvelous mansion and its gardens which were recognized as a national historic landmark in 1987.

8. California State Fair

California State Fair© dreamstime

An extraordinary event like no other, the California State Fair welcomes millions of visitors each year, come to enjoy its enticing array of attractions, exhibits, and live entertainment. Held over the course of seventeen action-packed days, it showcases the best of California’s agriculture and industries with concerts, competitions and carnivals all taking place.

Since its first edition in 1854, the annual fair has been one of the most popular and well attended events in the state and it is easy to see why. As well as innumerable stands and displays, it has over fifty carnival rides and a fantastic food festival for visitors to enjoy.

Held at the Cal Expo site just ten minutes’ drive northeast of the center, the California State Fair is definitely well worth checking out for its lively ambience and endless attractions and animal shows.

7. Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament© dreamstime

Set just a stone’s throw from the State Capitol Building is one of Sacramento’s most important and impressive landmarks – the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Besides exhibiting some exceptional architecture, it has a lovely light-filled interior for you to enjoy which is decked with fine religious artworks, murals, and mosaics.

One of the largest cathedrals west of the Mississippi River, its central bell tower rises 66 meters up into the sky with a fabulous facade adorning its entrance. In addition, it also sports a massive dome with beautiful stained-glass windows lining its walls.

Since being erected in 1889 in the center of Sacramento, the cathedral has served its community and often hosts important celebrations due to its striking size and splendor.

6. Crocker Art Museum

Crocker Art Museum© dreamstime

Home to an astounding array of artworks and exhibitions, the excellent Crocker Art Museum can be found just a short stroll to the southwest of the center. Housed in a grand Victorian-era mansion, its huge collection contains everything from ceramics and sculptures to paintings, photos and prints.

The oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River, it was founded in 1885 and is named after the wealthy local businessman and lawyer who first began assembling the collection. Nowadays, it has over 15,000 artworks on display with some sections focusing on contemporary Californian artists and others on African, Asian and Oceanic art.

While its galleries are a treat to peruse, the historic building itself looks just as impressive as does the strikingly modern Teel Family Pavilion. Here you can find art classrooms and an auditorium as well as temporary exhibitions.

5. American River Bicycle Trail

American River Bicycle Trail© dreamstime

When in town, a wonderful way to see some of the city’s scenic surroundings is to take a peaceful and picturesque cycle ride along the American River Bicycle Trail. Stretching over fifty kilometers in length, the paved pathway is very popular with locals and tourists alike as it takes you past some simply spellbinding scenery and nature.

One of the longest trails of its kind in the country, the path meanders its way from Discovery Park in Sacramento all the way to Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake. As it runs alongside the American River, it passes through lush green spaces and pristine parks with recreation areas also dotted about.

Besides biking, you can also run, walk, jog, or horseback ride along the path which is also known as the Jebediah Smith Memorial Trail after the famous fur trapper and explorer.

4. Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

Sutter's Fort State Historic Park© dreamstime

Now surrounded by the city, Sutter’s Fort is the site of what was once the first European outpost to be established in California. Protected as part of a state historic park, it makes for a very interesting place to visit with its artifacts and exhibits exploring the infamous Gold Rush period.

Named after Johann August Sutter, the German-Swiss immigrant and agriculturalist who built the fort, it was erected out of adobe in 1841. Now wonderfully well-restored, the two-storey structure is fascinating to explore with old antiques and informative displays coating its interior.

Although it was abandoned less than a decade later when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, the fort is certainly well worth visiting for the important role it played in the settlement of the state.

3. California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum© dreamstime

Another must-visit place for people interested in learning more about the history of both the city and the state is the superb California State Railroad Museum. Located on the northern edge of Old Sacramento, its excellent exhibits and vintage locomotives look at the massive impact railroads had on American society.

Founded in 1976, the museum now has over twenty restored railroad cars and trains for visitors to explore with innumerable artifacts and old equipment pieces also on show. While some exhibitions shine a light on the working conditions and lives of railroaders during the Gold Rush years, others focus on how trains impacted travel, trade, and the endless expansion West.

Aside from taking in all their fine features, you can actually take a ride on one of its diesel engines or steam locomotives as the museum operates an excursion line alongside the Sacramento River.

2. Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento© dreamstime

Full of beautiful historic buildings, interesting museums, and bustling businesses; Old Sacramento really is a treat to explore. Covering a huge part of the city center, the lively historic district and its wealth of attractions take you back to the days when Sacramento was a thriving riverfront pioneer town.

Impressively home to the largest concentration of historic buildings and landmarks in the state, the area has a lovely Old West look and feel with horse-drawn stagecoaches slowly makes their way along its scenic streets. Dotted about are over a hundred shops and restaurants with countless cafes and hotels now also to be found occupying its attractive old buildings.

As well as stopping by sights such as the Sacramento History Museum and old Eagle Theater, you can also enjoy a cruise on a historic riverboat or a romantic ride in a steam train or stagecoach.

1. California State Capitol

California State Capitol© dreamstime

Standing out delightfully against the lush green grounds around it is the California State Capitol, the city’s standout symbol and sight. Set within Capitol Park, the sparkling Neoclassical structure has been home to California’s government since 1869.

Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the brilliantly bright white building showcases some exquisite architecture with its lofty dome towering above a pretty portico and fine Corinthian columns. Inside is just as appealing as elegant artworks and antiques line its grand galleries and stately rooms with portraits of the governors also on show.

Aside from touring around the building and visiting its magnificent museum, it is also well worth exploring the surrounding gardens which are home to lots of important and impressive monuments and memorials.

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