Looking for a city destination that’s steeped in history and brimming with modern-day action? Carve out time in your Northern California itinerary for Sacramento, CA. California’s capital city doesn’t have to compete with the glitz and glam of other Californian cities. It’s got a charm all its own.
Set at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, sunny Sacramento is perfect for family-friendly fun with its airy city parks, historic sites, and gorgeous riverside spots. The site of the California Gold Rush, this town is packed with hidden gems and historic landmarks, but it’s also a Mecca for up-to-the-minute music, arts, and culture.
Ready to strike gold? Grab this guide to the best things to do in Sacramento, CA, and hit the trail.
Best places to visit in Sacramento, CA
Animal lovers of all ages will find a treasure trove at the Sacramento Zoo. Home to over 500 native, rare and endangered animals, this world-class zoo shelters a diverse population ranging from aardvarks to giraffes to jaguars. All of the animals are settled in habitats designed to mimic their indigenous environments.
Don’t miss out on other intriguing residents like snow pandas, red leopards, and orangutang, not to mention the thriving bird and reptile communities.
Let the kids get in on some fun educational activities. They can get up-close-and-personal with Giraffe Encounters, or stay on an overnighter with the animals. Hop aboard the zoo train, ride the conservation carousel, tackle the rock climbing wall, or experience a cyclone simulator.
For a different kind of play, amble over to the surrounding William Land Park and explore Fairytale Land. Let the kiddos loose on fairytale-based playsets, meet friendly farm animals, and explore tranquil gardens.
California State Capitol Museum
How could you come to the state’s capital and not want to get up close to the hub of power? Make time in your calendar for the California State Capitol Museum. This imposing 150-year-old Neoclassical structure honors California’s past in a way you won’t forget.
From First Nations history to gold miner dreams to the resilient immigrants who helped build the state, this amazing place documents it all. Explore the State Capitol Museum’s historic hallways to get close-up views of where the state’s leaders worked 150 years ago.
Stroll past the governor’s office and the Legislative chamber to view the power center for California’s modern-day government. Witness the Legislature in action, check out highlights like the magnificent Capitol rotunda, the golden bear guarding the governor’s office (courtesy of Gov. Schwarzenegger), and an impressive gallery of past California governors.
California State Railroad Museum
You don’t have to be a railway buff to get a kick out of the California State Railroad Museum. Covering over 200,000 square feet, this iconic spot is one of the world’s largest railway museums.
Stationed in Old Sacramento, this destination is one of the city’s most popular attractions and offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.
Stroll through the vast rooms to view beautifully restored railway coaches and steam trains dating back to 1862. Step inside the coaches, sleepers, and dining cars to see and feel what 19th-century train travel was like. Explore exhibits highlighting the railway’s fascinating history, the opening of the West, and the role of early immigrants in laying the first tracks.
Ready to experience the real deal? The Museum operates its vintage trains along the Sacramento River during the summer, so all aboard for a blast from the past!
Crocker Art Museum
Craving a cultural top-up? Head over to the Crocker Art Museum to get your fill. Located in the city center, the museum is housed in an intriguing Italianate, Victorian-era mansion that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building itself is a work of art!
The museum’s holdings include an impressive range of Californian art dating back to the Gold Rush, as well as American photography featuring stunning images by Ansel Adams. You’ll also want to browse a captivating collection of European paintings, that includes Italian Baroque and 17th-century Dutch artwork.
Time it right and you can catch a summertime concert or movie in the courtyard. Alternatively, check out the public painting classes. Got a five-and-under tot in tow? Let them loose in Tot Land, a space devoted to playful activities and hands-on creative installations. Who knows what it may inspire?
Want to score a hit with the kiddos? Pack them up and scoot them along to Fairytale Town. Nestled in the heart of William Land Park, this nonprofit park aims to delight and inspire the pint-sized set – and maybe some grownups too. Step into a world of wonder and magic, and explore all that Fairytale Town has to offer.
Meet a family of rare miniature-breed animals. Discover a multitude of three-dimensional playsets based on favorite nursery rhymes and fairytales. Dig into the interactive learning gardens. Capture a castle, slide down a shoe, climb a treehouse, or sail the sea on a pirate ship.
Does any of this ring a bell? Some things never get old!
California State Capitol Park
Want to drift into a sea of tranquil, tree-filled beauty? California State Capitol Park is just the place to do it. Set on 40 acres and spanning twelve city blocks, this beautiful haven is renowned for its majestic trees and glorious Victorian garden.
Home to over 800 trees from around the world – some of them from original plantings dating back to the Civil War – California State Capitol Park is the perfect place to breathe deep and reboot. Stroll the gorgeous grounds and take in the vibrant setting that includes 700 roses in over 140 fragrance and color varieties.
Follow the walkways to a small courtyard with a fountain, the center of the World Peace Rose Garden. Browse the garden’s many Messages of Peace that have been engraved on plaques scattered throughout the garden. Afterward, settle in on a park bench, sit back, and savor the scene.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Up for some time travel? Prepare for an amazing glimpse into the past at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. Established by European immigrant John Sutter in 1839, this National Historic Landmark is the oldest remaining fort in the US. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of Sacramento’s most popular tourist destinations.
Originally the homeland of the Nisenan people, this became the first European outpost in California. For a decade, it was a trade and economic center, but the discovery of a shiny nugget in 1849 ushered in the Gold Rush. The rest is fascinating history!
Thanks to decades-long preservation efforts, you can get vivid insights into the dawn of the Gold Rush at this living history museum. There’s plenty to explore, including structures ranging from blacksmiths shop to original wells and weavers’ cottages. Time it right, and you’ll be able to catch re-enactments of day-to-day life circa 1849!
Old Sacramento State Historic Park
If you’re on the hunt for a wide range of living history, Old Sacramento State Historic Park is the place to hunker down. Spread over nearly 30 acres, this Northern California destination is packed with over 50 historic buildings and other intriguing attractions, just waiting to be discovered.
Take a stroll to get close-up views of the early architecture from this quaint California gold rush town. Check out highlights, including the 1849 Eagle Theater, and the B.F. Hastings Building, built in 1853 and the former home of the California Supreme Court. Since this area is the western terminus for the Pony Express postal service, you’ll want to pay your respects at the iconic two-ton statue honoring the legendary pony riders of the past.
Another historic must-see is the beautiful Old Sacramento Waterfront district. Brimming with shopping, dining, and attractions, including riverboat rides and horse-drawn carriages, this vibrant neighborhood will keep you going all day!
Craving some deep insights into California’s past? Then head over to the California Museum, home to the California Hall of Fame, the state’s official museum of history. Depicting California’s rich history and diverse culture, the museum highlights the contributions of women and under-represented groups.
Check out the California Hall of Fame to get the stories behind familiar faces. Gaze up at the six-story Constitution Wall, a unique interpretation of the California Constitution and the largest piece of public art in Sacramento.
Immerse yourself in interactive experiences. Step aboard a bus to hear immigrants describe the challenges of coming to California and meet a “ghost” who recounts his family’s experiences in California, from the Gold Rush era to the present day.
Explore the exhibit dedicated to California’s indigenous peoples. Through artifacts, original art, oral histories, and an interactive language kiosk, the exhibit depicts the legacies of over 100 tribes.
Looking for some green space with plenty of activity options? You’ll find it all in McKinley Park. Set on the western edge of East Sacramento, this is one of Sactown’s busiest parks. With more than 30 acres of open space, you’ll have plenty of elbow room.
Dating back to the 1870s, this long-time local favorite offers loads of ways to work up a sweat. Hit the courts at McKinley Park for a game of basketball, tennis, or volleyball. Head for the fields for some softball or soccer. Let the youngsters check out the adventure play area, complete with climbing walls. Then everybody into the pool! It’s the perfect cool-down.
Want to take things slow at McKinley Park? No problem. Explore the paths that wind past ponds and palm trees. Stop to smell the roses at the Fredrick N. Evans Memorial Rose Garden. Found a perfect spot? Roll out the picnic blanket and kick back.
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
If you’re in the mood to take in something awe-inspiring, carve out some time in your travel plans to visit the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Nestled in the heart of downtown Sacramento next to Capitol Park, this magnificent structure has been an important spiritual center since it was built in 1887.
The “mother church” of the Catholic faith in Sacramento, the building itself is a work of art. With a towering dome over 160 feet in height, this Italian Renaissance-style cathedral is both a religious and architectural icon. Prepare to be awed when you step inside the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
Take your time to absorb the stunning Neoclassical interior, featuring a vast domed ceiling and rich decorative details. Marvel at the stunning stained-glass windows that illuminate the sanctuary, giving off an other-worldly glow.
Intrigued? Take one of the behind-the-scenes guided tours at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament to learn more about this historic site of worship.
Funderland Amusement Park
Is it time to zero in on a truly kid-friendly destination? Then make Funderland Amusement Park your target. Set next to Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Zoo, this 85-year-old spot is a long-time family favorite.
Enjoy plenty of thrills, but on a kid-sized scale. Hit the Funderland Amusement Park featuring attractions for children ages two to twelve. Little ones can hop aboard all kinds of vehicles, all scaled down to suit the pint-sized set. Hop aboard rides like the Classic Carousel, the Backroads Buggy Ride, or the Tea Cup Ride.
Find it tough to get your little ones to look into the camera and smile as they zip around? Problem solved! Just get them to pose at simulated ride photo op spots and get great shots on “rides” like a Red Baron plane or “Duesy,” a mini car you’d swear is a classic Duesenberg.
Want to enjoy the best views in Sacramento? Take them all in on Tower Bridge. Inspired by the UK’s London Bridge, this vertical lift structure spans the Sacramento River and links the city’s east and west sides. Here, you’ll get scenic views of both!
Built in 1935, this must-see Sacramento landmark was officially opened with the release of 100 homing pigeons to carry the news. While Tower Bridge has undergone many renovations since its opening, much of the original equipment still exists!
Grab your camera and take to the road or the riverwalk footpath that stretches the length of Tower Bridge. Soak up the gorgeous panoramic views from 100 feet above the glittering Sacramento River. You’ll have the city at your feet!
William Land Regional Park
Ready to take a quiet break from the city buzz? Treat yourself to the tranquil greenery of William Land Regional Park. Sacramento’s largest public park, this destination also happens to be the gateway to major attractions like Funderland, Fairytale Town, and the Sacramento Zoo.
With over 200 acres of space, William Land Park offers plenty of room to roam. Let the kids burn off energy in the playgrounds. You might want to hit the park’s renowned fairway. Over its 100-year history, the course has become a favorite with putters of all skill levels.
If you’re in the mood to keep it low-key at William Land Park, you’re covered. Take to the scenic lakeside trails that wind through green fields and woodlands. Stake out a spot in one of the picnic areas, fire up the BBQ, and savor the quiet.
Sacramento History Museum
Heads up, history buffs. There’s a lot more to Sacramento’s history than the Gold Rush and the Sacramento History Museum can prove it. Located on the site of the first Sacramento City Hall, the building has been reconstructed to resemble the 1859 original.
The Sacramento History Museum delves into the city’s past and showcases the lives of its original inhabitants and early settlers. Check out intriguing interactive exhibits offering insights into everything from Gold Rush history to historic print shops, Nisenan indigenous culture to farming life.
With displays ranging from a rich array of Gold Rush artifacts and period equipment to depictions of Victorian domestic life to old film footage, there’s plenty for history lovers to enjoy. Explore on your own, or take a guided tour to get the inside scoop.
If you’re looking for wide-open spaces with lots of activity options, you’ll want to head over to Discovery Park. Set at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, this destination is a major draw for sea goers and landlubbers alike.
One of Sacramento County’s best boat launches, Discovery Park is a great starting point if you’re looking to explore these two wild and scenic rivers. Anglers will want to pack their gear and enjoy some fantastic fishing.
Prefer to stay ashore? You’ve got over 300 acres to explore at Discovery Park. Bring your bike and work up a sweat on the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Bike Trail, hit the field for a game of softball, or test your aim on the archery range.
Time for a break? Mosey along to the picnic area, spread out, and recharge.
Sutter’s Landing Regional Park
Basketball and birding sound like a strange combination, right? Well, give it a chance at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park and you’ll find that it works just fine! Named after John Sutter, Sacramento’s first settler, the park is just minutes away from the California State Capital building.
With the park’s loads of recreational options, you can hit the basketball courts or bowl a game of bocce. Maybe go for a spin at the indoor skate park. Bring the pooch along for a romp in the off-leash dog park. Explore the trails on your bike, then slip into the American River to cool off.
Be sure to pack your binoculars; this rich habitat teems with wildlife. At Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, you might spot anything from otters to coyotes. Birders will delight in sightings of herons and hawks. If you explore the banks of the American River, you might even catch glimpses of freshwater turtles and other aquatic species.
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area
Ready for some rugged outdoor action? Pack up your gear and your gang and trek over to Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. Set at the base of the Sierra foothills, this expansive recreation area offers great adventure options for nature lovers of all kinds.
Hike, bike, or run the scenic 32-mile trail that connects Folsom Lake to many Sacramento County parks on its way to Old Sacramento, or saddle up to enjoy the view from horseback.
Want to check out the aquatic scene at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area? Hit the water and jet ski along the waves. Cast your line to see what bites; it could be anything from trout to big-mouth bass or perch.
Check out beautiful Lake Natoma, just downstream from Folsom Lake, to test your skills in crew racing, sailing, kayaking, and other waterside sports.
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
If you’re a fan of historic buildings, the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park is a must-see. Named after the founder of the renowned Stanford University, this stunning structure is now a National Historic Landmark.
Originally built in 1856 during the Gold Rush, this remarkable building is set in the heart of downtown Sacramento, just minutes away from the State Capitol Building. You’ll want to stand back to savor this amazing example of Victorian-era architecture. Before you step inside, take in the views of the mansion, surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds and gardens.
Cross the threshold and prepare to be awed as you tour the 19,000-square-foot Leland Stanford Mansion. The beautifully restored interior features 17-foot ceilings, historic paintings, gilded mirrors, and original period pieces.
When you’ve finished your tour, take a stroll through the gorgeous grounds to catch your breath!
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail
If you’re ready to get moving, hit the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, also known as the American River Bike Trail. Part of Sacramento County’s American River Parkway Regional Park, this is one of the most popular walking and hiking trails in the Sacramento area. Stretching out for 32 miles from Folsom to Old Sacramento, it runs parallel to the American River and offers many stops along the way.
You can access the world-renowned Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail from any number of local parks. Once there, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to getting around.
Perhaps you want to walk or jog, or maybe you’d prefer an elevated view from atop a bike or on horseback. Whatever you choose, you’ll enjoy a journey that’s easy on the eyes as you wind along this scenic, oak tree-lined path.
Powerhouse Science Center
The eternal question: how do you make science fun for kids? The answer: take them to the Powerhouse Science Center. This family-friendly spot lets kids learn while they play. The perfect combination!
The Powerhouse Science Center is big on hands-on exhibits and interactive activities. The little ones will be able to dig up prehistoric remains in the “dino dig pit,” examine fossils, travel through space, and journey to the center of the Earth. If you’ve got budding designers in your crew, let them explore the Center’s Design Lab, where they can build and test out their designs.
Hear the call of the wild? Head over to the Nature Discovery Exhibit, featuring indoor animal habitats, hands-on activities, and up-close encounters with mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
It’s all in a day’s play!
Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you’ll want to make time to visit the residents at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. This fascinating destination is home to dozens of rescued wild and domestic species and is a testament to the value of human compassion when it comes to caring for needy animals.
Take a stroll along the scenic pathways that wind through the wooded landscape of this unique habitat. At Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary, you’ll encounter a wide range of animals, including monkeys, wolves, bears, raptors, cougars, and exotic birds. Each of them has its own story, and this zoo is happy to fill you in!
When you’re ready to get off your feet and take a ride, hop aboard the Folsom Valley Railway, an authentic miniature steam engine. Sit back and enjoy an exhilarating safari through Folsom City Lions Park.
Raging Waters Sacramento
Up for a wet and wild experience? Pack your swimming gear and dive into Raging Waters Sacramento. The name sounds fierce, but don’t worry: This is a very family-friendly spot.
Set in the heart of Cal Expo – home to the California State Fair – Raging Waters is Sacramento’s biggest family waterpark and a community landmark. Featuring over 20 slides, a long lazy river, and California’s original wave pool, this place is the perfect playground for kids of all ages.
Get your adrenaline pumping at Raging Waters Sacramento on thrillers like the six-story body slide, plunge into tidal waves at Break Beach, or just take it easy on the 800ft long Calypso Cooler Lazy River. Let the little ones get their feet wet in their own two-foot swimming pool, or enjoy full-on playtime at the Treehouse Reef.
California Automobile Museum
Attention, Motorheads! Up for a ride through automotive history? Then cruise on over to the California Automobile Museum. With an awesome display of over 120 cars spanning close to 120 years of automotive history, you’ve got a lot to explore.
At the California Automobile Museum, you can take a deep dive into the fascinating history of automobile technology development and explore the fabulous array of vintage and contemporary vehicles, ranging all the way from brass-era cars to the latest in high-tech innovations.
Don’t forget to check out the many temporary exhibits that bring you up to speed on themes like “Micro Cars” and “Road Trippin’ Through the Years”. If you’re an auto fan, this is a trip you definitely need to take!