Things To Do In Sacramento
The illustrious city of Sacramento, California, was first established in 1839 near the joining of the Sacramento and American rivers. The current California state capital has been called the most diverse city in the United States.
Due to its strategic location, the city played an important role in the California gold rush, was the western end to the famous Pony Express, and later was the western start and eventual terminus of the first American Transcontinental Railroad.
Today, the city continues to play an important commercial role due to its deep water port connected to San Francisco Bay by the Sacramento-San Joaquin channel. The city boasts a delightful park system, wonderful arts and entertainment culture, numerous historic sites and museums, and a favorable climate.
When To Go:
Sacramento is best visited July to September when the weather and outdoor activities are at their best. During these months, Sacramento is said to have the most potential days of sun of anywhere on earth. The temperate is moderated by the Delta Breezes that come off the San Francisco Bay. If you prefer cold and wet, from October to April there is plenty of rain and cool weather with the temperatures dropping to the single digits Celsius. In December and January, the tule fog limits visibility to the extent that driving is truly dangerous. The fog can last for days and even weeks at a time.
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What to do in the great city of Sacramento…
Sutter Fort is famous for its role in the California gold rush, the rescue of the infamous Donner Party, and the establishment of Sacramento as a city. The fort was the first community in California'a central valley that was not comprised of native peoples. With walls 2 ½ feet thick and up to 18 feet high it was an imposing establishment.
John Sutter may have been famous for his role in the gold rush, but his fort was initially the sight of what he thought the real treasure of the region was: agriculture. He imported thousands of fruit trees, planted vast fields of wheat and grapes, and established an agrarian culture that is still vibrant in the region to this day.
While the fort was basically abandoned once the gold rush was officially under way, its place in history cannot be denied. It is the oldest restored fort in the United States with activities and programs that supplement the reconstruction.
Forty minutes away is Sutter's Mill. The mill also partially owned by John Sutter, is the place where gold was first discovered in the region. This discovery was the event that started the California gold rush. It was January 24, 1849 when Sutter's partner, James Marshall, found flakes of gold while working on the mill. The original flake that led to hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world risking life and limb in search of gold can still be viewed in the Smithsonian Institute.
While the mill that sits on this registered landmark is a replica of the original, it was meticulously crafted using the actual drawings of James Marshall and a photograph taken while the original mill was in operation.
The oldest part of the city lies in an area of Sacramento near Sutter's Fort. Boasting cobbled streets and historic buildings dating to the mid-1800s, the area known as Old Sacramento is a tremendous restoration and reproduction of this significant site. It is officially a US National landmark.
Almost all of the buildings in this historic district were built in the 1800s. You will love how the mix of the region's Spanish influence coupled with the Victorian influence of the settlers to create a unique style of building. Wooden sidewalks, old-fashioned candy shops, even an old schoolhouse bring the city to life.
Most of the buildings have been transformed into shops, restaurants, and businesses, but the architecture remains pure, and there are some significant buildings such as the B.F. Hastings Building which served as the western end of the Pony Express.
For a taste of the olden days, you can ride in a horse-drawn carriage, cruise on a riverboat, or even take a trip on an old steam engine. Old Sac is home to the Sacramento Music Festival, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento History Museum, and the Delta King. Each of these is worth a visit and detailed later in this article.
Gold Rush Days
If you are in Old Sacramento around Labor Day weekend be sure to enjoy the free Gold Rush Days festivities. More than 200 tons of dirt are layered onto city streets to recreate the feel of the original town. Actors dressed in period garb play the roles of the original citizens, and dramas unfold such as wild-west shootouts and the mail delivery from the pony express. You can participate in many of the activities such as stage coach rides, BBQs, and a real-life pub crawl.
The events are occasionally altered due to California's frequent droughts. For example, in 2014 the event was changed to an Americana festival and the streets were not lined with dirt because of the amount of water it takes to wet down the dirt spread through the streets. The celebration still went on, but the theme and activities had to be slightly changed.
State Capitol and Museum
The California state capitol was built in the mid-1800s and is a registered national historic landmark. The capitol was patterned after the nation's capitol building with granite archways and Corinthian columns below, and an elaborate dome surrounded by rows of Corinthian pillars above. The interior of the capitol is filled with exquisite art including gilded pillars, statues (such as Columbus and Queen Isabella), and an elaborate gas chandelier.
Today, the capitol is not just the governor's office and home of the state legislature, but it is also a museum with free guided tours. You can admire the hundreds of prized paintings, magnificent murals, governors' portraits, collections of art, and amazing architecture including the gilded rotunda, elaborate mosaic-ed floors, and stunning tile groupings. You can watch the legislature at work, or simply enjoy the seat of power of the 7th largest economy in the world.
The 40 acres around the state capitol building are known as the Capitol Park. The park has over 1,000 trees from around the world with at least 200 different varieties. Nearly 200 memorials and landmarks are featured throughout the park.
Well-maintained walking trails take you throughout the trees and flowering plants that range from cacti to roses, and you will find frequent benches if you get tired. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to stroll through the entire park. While the capitol and park are free, be sure to bring plenty of quarters for the parking meters if you park close.
California State Railway Museum
Located in Old Sacramento, the California State Railway Museum is an iconic piece of state history. Sacramento was the western end of the first American Transcontinental Railroad and the starting point from where it was built stretching east. With 21 restored locomotives, rail cars, photographs, and dioramas, the museum captures the importance of the railroad to California's history. The family-friendly museum is well laid out and has enough displays and exhibits to keep you entertained for hours.
In the summer, you can catch a 40-minute ride along the Sacramento River on a historic train that leaves out of the reconstructed Central Pacific Railroad station that sits next door.
Sacramento Music Festival
Each May, the event that was once known as the Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee features dozens of artists on 24 stages set in a beautiful grassy park in Old Sacramento. In addition to music, there are vendors selling food, trinkets, and souvenirs. While the history of the festival is deeply rooted in jazz, music from many genres can be enjoyed during this 4-day event. If you are in Old Sac during this festival, you really should stop by and enjoy the music.
Theater and Art Scene
Sacramento has one of the nation's most vibrant theater scenes. From the dozens of community theaters to Broadway Sacramento which brings bus and truck tours to the Convention Center in the fall and winter, you will be able to find something to your liking.
During the summers, The Sacramento Shakespeare Festival puts on wonderful performances under the stars in William Land park.
The local art galleries stay open late on the second Saturday of each month for the Second Saturday Art Walk. Local artists are given an opportunity to showcase their work, and visitors get a chance to see galleries they may not have normally frequented.
The city hosts numerous music and film festivals each year such as the Sammies, or Sacramento Music Awards. The Sacramento French Film Festival and The Japanese Film Festival premiere French and Japanese films as well as showing language classics. The Trash Film Orgy and Sacramento Horror Film Festival pay tribute to the absurd and macabre.
The luxury paddle-wheeler, the Delta King, and her sister ship, the Delta Queen, were both sent to the United States in pieces from the factory in Scotland in 1929. Once assembled, the boats made trips back and forth from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay. They were the two most lavish sternwheelers in existence. The Delta King was placed into military service during World War II and then ploughed the Hudson River as an excursion boat. It was later set on land as a bunkhouse in British Columbia. Returning home, she sank for unknown reasons in San Francisco Bay and lay on the bottom of the bay for 15 months.
Today, the historic Delta King has been restored to her previous glory with bright white decks and captivating red rear wheel. Even much of the fine wood has been restored to its original condition. The luxurious boat now houses a gorgeous 44 room hotel and two professional theaters for their outstanding theater company. Two wonderful restaurants, one a top-rated fine dining establishment, adds to its charm. As a site on the National Historic Register, the Delta King is a must-see, must-eat-at destination.
Crocker Art Museum
The oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi, the Crocker Art Museum boasts an elaborate collection of Californian art from the Gold Rush to present day and a fortune in international works. It hosts one of the world's largest collections of ceramics that date to the Neolithic period. The Asian collection is one of the best assembled. With genres and collections of over 1,500 master drawings and paintings that range from Impressionism to Pop Art, the museum collection was valued at over $500 million back in 1885.
The original museum was housed in a mansion bought in 1868. The 19th century renovation of the mansion into a museum is a work of art in and of itself. As the works of art continued to flood in, the old gallery could display only 4 percent of the collection. A large expansion in 2010 added a library and auditorium and made it possible to show up to 15 percent of the museum's holdings.
Sacramento History Museum
Located in Old Sacramento, the Sacramento History Museum is dedicated to the diverse and vibrant history of Sacramento and the California Gold Rush. The building is a reproduction of the old City Hall. Exhibits include mining, trapping, farming, and natives peoples.
The employees wear period garb, and there are many demonstrations including gold panning and a working printing press. If you go at dusk you can see the city light up from the upper floor.
Governor's Mansion State Historic Park
The elaborate mansion which is on the National Register of Historic Sites was the home of 13 California governors from George Pardee in 1903 to future US President Ronald Reagan in 1967. The ornate mansion was built in 1877 and still houses furnishings from the many governors including a 1902 Steinway piano, hand-tied Persian carpets, even old TV sets.
Of course, there are fineries such as Italian marble fireplaces, French mirrors with golden frames, Victorian hinges and doorknobs, and the private swimming pool added by former-Governor Brown in 1959. The land is covered in flowers and trees that date back to the 19th century. The museum is somewhat unique in that it is not a replica, but the actual house lived in by the governors and the items are the actual ones they bought and used.
California Automobile Museum
Just south of Old Sacramento lies a must-see piece of history: The California Automobile Museum. The museum is the oldest non-profit automobile museum in the west. The museum started with a display of only Fords, but now has over 160 cars of all types and models. From muscle and race cars to classic and early model cars, the history is all there.
Take a walk through time and relive the days when you bought your first car, and think of how things have changed since then. From bare-bones buggies to colorful fins and chrome, from monster tanks to aerodynamic darts, relive the glory days of automobiles. Some of the vehicles are even for sale!
Sacramento recently tied with San Francisco and Boston for having the third best park system for large cities in the United States. One of those parks is the American River Parkway. The parkway is 23 miles long and many smaller parks are tied into it. Boat launches can be found at many places along the parkway's stretch.
A few of the smaller parks are the Discovery Park where the Sacramento River joins the American River, the Ancil Hoffman Park with its ancient oak trees and reconstructed Native American homes, and the River Bend Park one of the oldest regional parks in the county. The wildlife and flora that can be found through the parks is diverse and includes wild turkey, deer and many waterfowl. The hiking trails and biking paths are numerous and well-maintained.
William Land Park
William Land Park, better known as simply Land Park, is huge. It has baseball and soccer fields, the Sacramento Zoo, the William Land Golf Course, Fairytale Land with fairy tale themed rides and activities, and Funderland with activities for younger children. There are many BBQ areas and plenty of grassy places for family gatherings.
In the summer there are pony rides, and the amphitheater often has Shakespearen plays (remember to bring your jacket, a blanket, a snack and some bug spray). The park has a wading pool in the summer that is for younger children only. Bird watchers frequent the park year-round to view the many species of birds that live in and travel through the bountiful lands.
Situated in William Land Park, The Sacramento Zoo started almost 100 years ago with only 40 animals. Today, the zoo houses over 500 animals including penguins, giraffes, zebras, primates, lions and tigers, and has separate modern facilities for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. In 2014, The Small Wonders of Africa exhibit brought even more exotic animals to the zoo including aardvarks and fruit bats.
A Kid's World section has hands-on experiences like bird-feed projects, footprint matching games, zoo olympics and so forth. While enjoying Land Park, be sure to set aside a couple hours to check out all of the amazing things that the zoo has to offer.
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