Top 12 Things to Do in Sacramento, California

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson

With its rich history and culture, vibrant food scene, and abundance of attractions, Sacramento makes for an exciting California destination. As the state’s capital located conveniently close to Napa wine country and Lake Tahoe resorts, visitors will find no shortage of ways to experience “Sac-Town” like a local.

ActivityDescription
Old Sacramento Historic State ParkWalk through Gold Rush-era history along the river.
California State CapitolVisit the seat of California’s government.
McKinley ParkRelax in a 32-acre park with gardens and playgrounds.
California Automobile MuseumExplore over 150 vehicles showcasing car culture.
Sacramento River CruiseEnjoy scenic cruises along the Sacramento River.
California’s Great AmericaExperience thrilling rides at this amusement park.
Sacramento History MuseumLearn about the city’s history through exhibits.
State Indian MuseumDiscover artifacts and history of California tribes.
Food & Drink SceneIndulge in farm-to-fork cuisine and local brews.
Crocker Art MuseumView diverse art collections in the oldest museum.
Fairytale TownEnjoy themed play areas and gardens for kids.

From museum hopping to biking along rivers to thrills at amusement parks, these top 12 things to do offer memorable options for an unforgettable Northern California vacation.

Explore Old Sacramento Historic District

Name and Location: Old Sacramento Historic District located along the Sacramento River in downtown Sacramento.

History and Significance: As California’s birthplace, Old Sacramento became a state historic park in the 1960s to preserve the oldest and most historic part of the city. Many buildings date back to the 1840s-1870s when Sacramento was founded during the Gold Rush era.

What to Expect: Visitors can walk along the wooden sidewalks and explore the many shops, restaurants, museums, rides and attractions within the 28 acre park. There are also train rides and river cruises.

Visitor Information: Open daily, hours vary by season. Entry into the outdoor area is free, but there are charges for individual attractions and activities.

Step back in time with a stroll through Old Sacramento, where the city’s earliest roots still thrive along the waterfront today. Cobblestone streets line once-abandoned buildings now housing shops, restaurants and museums that provide glimpses into life during the California Gold Rush era.

Must-see landmarks include the 1861 Big Four Building, Eagle Theatre, 1855 B. F. Hastings Building, and Sacramento History Museum housed inside the 1894 Southern Pacific Railroad Depot. Or board the California State Railroad Museum’s excursion train pulled by a 19th century-style steam locomotive for scenic riverfront views. Between living history exhibits, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for shopping local crafts, tasting Sacramento’s emerging food scene, or letting the kids play at Sacramento History Museum’s hands-on exhibits.

Tour the California State Capitol

Name and Location: The California State Capitol in Sacramento

History and Significance: Completed in 1874, the California State Capitol has housed the state legislature and the office of the governor. Its impressive architecture and history make it an iconic symbol of California government and politics.

What to Expect: Visitors can tour the beautiful interior,explore the 40 acre park, observe legislative sessions, and learn about California history and governance through exhibits and displays inside.

Visitor Information: Free guided tours offered daily. Open to visitors weekdays 8am-5pm and on weekends.

As the seat of state government since 1869, Sacramento’s California State Capitol building brims with rich history and artistic flourishes at every turn. Join a free guided tour to admire the Capitol’s granite exterior featuring a copper dome reaching 220 feet tall. Inside the building, overwhelmingly expansive rooms overflow with intricate details, portraits, and symbolic touches awaiting at every corner.

The Senate and Assembly Chambers still host busy legislative sessions observing U.S. Capitol-style rules like no photos or talking. The Capitol Museum also showcases furnishings original to the building alongside valuable state artifacts. And architecture buffs swoon over the Capitol’s Classical Revival architecture blended with Modernist elements as a jewel standing proudly over Sacramento’s skyline.

Ride the Rollercoasters at California’s Great America

Name and Location: California’s Great America amusement park located in Santa Clara, California

History and Significance: Opening in 1976 and owned by Cedar Fair, California’s Great America remains one of California’s top destinations for thrill rides and family entertainment. It is best known for its exciting rollercoasters and attractions.

What to Expect: Guests can enjoy over 40 rides and attractions including adrenaline-pumping rollercoasters like Railblazer, Flight Deck, and the iconic Top Gun. Live shows, kids areas, shops, and restaurants provide all-day fun.

Visitor Information: Open seasonally March-December, hours vary by day. Single day tickets start around $50, season passes available. Website has full details on tickets and schedules.

For thrill seekers and families alike looking for adrenaline-pumping fun, California’s Great America amusement park delivers excitement with some of Northern California’s best rollercoasters. Their marquee attraction, Railblazer, impresses as the only single-rail rollercoaster on the West Coast sending riders along 3,390 feet of looping inversions and drops with feet dangling in open air.

Test your courage plunging down Gold Striker’s 108-foot initial drop reaching top speeds over 50 mph. Soak City water park adjacent to Great America also provides a cooling splash zone of slides and pools for a hot summer day. Every evening finishes with impressive fireworks shows against Great America’s iconic signature carousel.

Bike the Jedediah Smith Memorial Bike Trail

Name and Location: Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail running along the American River Parkway in Sacramento County.

History and Significance: Named after explorer Jedediah Strong Smith, this 32-mile multi-use paved trail follows the American River providing cyclists, walkers, and runners an easily accessible recreation path to appreciate Sacramento’s iconic waterway and parkway system.

What to Expect: Mostly flat cycling and pedestrian path with over 20 access points across Sacramento County following the American River through shaded forests with opportunities to spot regional wildlife and absorb scenic water views.

Visitor Information: Open year-round for non-motorized use from 5am to midnight daily. No fees or permits required. Parking at access points.

Named for famous explorer Jedediah Strong Smith who first overland mapped Northern California, this 32-mile paved multi-use path stretches along the American River and makes for the country’s longest urban bike trail. Originally constructed to encourage sustainability at the start of 1970’s bike culture, you’ll find joggers, walkers, and families with strollers also enjoying the Jedediah Smith trail today.

Pick up the path at anywhere from Old Sacramento, Tiscornia Park or Miller Park to pedal a picturesque landscape of fishermen along shorelines, ultimate frisbee games on grass, and plenty of spots to stop for a snack break before turning back. As a pleasantly flat and straight shot without vehicular traffic to worry about, riders of all experience levels delight in this opportunity to see Sacramento from a bike seat view.

Catch a Show at the Sacramento Music Circus

Name and Location: Sacramento Music Circus located downtown

History and Significance: As the world’s first theater-in-the-round tent venue built in 1948, the Music Circus hosts Broadway musicals and artistic performances uniquely showcased on its intimate, round stage in an arena sequential with Sacramento’s early agricultural fair traditions and creative expressions.

What to Expect: Enjoy classic and contemporary musical productions happening on the distinctive theater stage design through a season running from June to September spotlighting talent illuminated from all sides for each spirited show.

Visitor Information: Single ticket prices $40-95 with seasonal packages and desk hours varying by show run.

No visit to California’s capital city is complete without experiencing Sacramento’s thriving arts scene. Known as “America’s Broadway,” the Sacramento Music Circus’s intimate in-the-round Broadway quality productions in their iconic theater tent continue charming audiences under the stars since 1951.

Enjoy classic shows like The Wizard of Oz, beloved contemporary musicals like In The Heights and Mamma Mia!, or thought-provoking dramas tackling important social issues on Music Circus’s unique stage. Plus, their All-Stars concert series hosted inside the air-conditioned Wells Fargo Pavilion brings music legends like Smokey Robinson and iconic bands like the Beach Boys all summer long too.

Tour Vineyards at Sacramento’s Winery Row

Name and Location: Winery Row located east of Sacramento along Pleasant Grove Road

History and Significance: With ideal grape-growing conditions nearby, urban and boutique wineries have sprouted across this concentrated wine trail offering tastings and behind-the-scenes educational tours exploring California’s thriving viticulture scene from vine to glass.

What to Expect: Taste limited-production local vintages while learning terroir influences by visiting area wineries’ production areas and barrel rooms – most located on ancestral farmlands where families have cultivated vineyards over generations.

Visitor Information: Free to drive through with over a dozen wineries open daily. Tasting fees $5-20. Designated driver recommended. Seasonal events in the fall for harvesting.

Northern California wine country may be anchored famous regions like Napa and Sonoma, but Sacramento boasts award-winning wineries of its own. In quaint Clarksburg, a dozen tasting rooms have opened shop over the last 20 years, earning the nickname “Winery Row of the Delta.” Sip Sacramento’s heritage Zinfandel grapes grown in the mineral-rich Delta soil to sample fruity yet earthy wines exclusive to California’s Central Valley.

Miner’s Leap Winery charms with pastoral picnicking sights alongside their robust Petite Sirah, aromatic white blends and occasional live music. At Mora’s Vineyards, compare wine varietals in their unique cellar room or catch vineyard sunsets from their outdoor patio. For park lawns turned into a wine festival, don’t miss annual events like the Clarksburg Wine & Art Festival.

Hike Sutter’s Buttes

Name and Location: Sutter Buttes rise solitarily northwest of Sacramento and Yuba City, CA

History and Significance: Referred to as the smallest mountain range in the world, the eroded volcanic remnants forming Sutter Buttes’ unique circular mounds predate coastal ranges surrounding California’s central valley by millions of years standing isolated across plains with spiritual connections to regional Indigenous peoples.

What to Expect: While most is privately-held land with restricted access, Middle Mountain offers a moderate-strenuous public hike summiting the tallest peak revealing panoramic vistas across the Sacramento Valley including snow-capped Sierra views to the east.

Visitor Information: Access the 6-mile roundtrip Middle Mountain Trail year-round via paid guided hike reservations only due to limited entry. $25 per person fee.

Rising from the flat valley floor like a fabled lost city, Sutter Buttes’ eroding volcanic domes create Northern California’s smallest mountain range and a unique hike. Nicknamed the “smallest mountain range in the world,” their peaks reach just over 2,000 feet yet remain shrouded in mystery seen from a distance but unable to access until relatively recently.

Multiple access points allow hikers to now tackle the Buttes’ challenging switchback trails leading to epic panoramic summit views. Pack plenty of water and sun protection to see sights like blooming wildflowers in spring and migrating hawks that stop by during autumn. While advanced preparation and physical exertion is required, ascending the grassy slopes of Sutter Buttes rewards intrepid adventurers with glimpses of lands untouched for generations.

Raft the American River

Name and Location: The American River winding through the Sierra foothills above Sacramento

History and Significance: Flowing 50 miles from the Sierra Nevadas above Folsom Lake into the Sacramento Valley, the American River provides Class II-IV rapids through scenic gorges that lure whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts year-round to navigate the river’s most thrilling cascades churning towards the valley below.

What to Expect: Guide-led half to full-day rafting adventures travel heart-pumping narrow chutes cut through granite walls containing boulder jumbles requiring sharp maneuvers descending the rushing river through photogenic scenery towards Sacramento County.

Visitor Information: Year-round access through outfitter packages $74+ including permits, gear and instruction for all experience levels over 5+ launch points 25 miles northeast.

Soak up some adventure with a white-water rafting trip along the American River winding through Sacramento County. Rafters ride routes starting in Coloma where the California Gold Rush began until reaching calmer waters perfect for families floating under the sun near Sacramento’s city center. Along the way, surge through exciting Class III rapids with names like “Meatgrinder” or sneak through the “Chocolate Factory” rock channel with an experienced guide leading the charge.
Several outfitters like River Rat offer everything from half-day beginner paddle tours to overnight camping options allowing for riverside stargazing after Class V rapids thrill seekers face the ultimate rafting challenges found on the American River’s Middle and North Forks too. No matter your skill level or how long you want to play in the rapids, American River rafting lets everyone release their inner adventurer near Sacramento.

Tour the California Automobile Museum

Name and Location: California Automobile Museum located in Sacramento, CA

History and Significance: Founded in 1987, this museum celebrates California’s pivotal role in automotive history with over 150 vintage vehicles on display. It holds one of the largest collections of operational classic cars in the country open for public viewings.

What to Expect: Guests can view antique and muscle cars, motorcycles, early electric cars and concept vehicles from different eras including special exhibits that change over time to highlight aspects of transportation in California.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am–5pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission fees apply: $12 adults, discounts for students, seniors, and youth.

In a state known for iconic cars and car culture, Sacramento pays homage to its auto heritage at the impressive California Automobile Museum. Their rotating exhibits showcase how California’s geography and innovations shaped iconic vehicles over the past 120 years. Walk through recreated main streets and garages to admire pristine models like a 1903 Ford Model A Rear Entrance Tonneau to the 1961 Lincoln Continental SS Concept inspired by space age design.
Kids and adults delight in interactive displays demonstrating early gas stations, a 1940s service garage and imaginative future auto technology. Special event nights even feature classic cars to simulate the nostalgic atmosphere of drive-in movies or 1950s High School dances in the museum’s parking lot. Whether you’re an automobile aficionado or just enjoy key slices of Americana, don’t miss the California Automobile Museum.

Marvel at the Sacramento History Museum

Name and Location: Sacramento History Museum located in Old Sacramento

History and Significance: Open since 1993 inside the historic location where Sacramento was founded, this immersive museum transports visitors through the history that shaped California’s diverse capital from the Gold Rush into today using engaging exhibits across three floors.

What to Expect: Life-sized reproductions, imagined environments, artifact displays and audio stories highlight defining eras like railroads, Pony Express,architecture exhibits showing Sacramento’s growth through famine and floods into today’s cosmopolitan city.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am–5pm except major holidays. Admission: $8 adults, $5 youth 6-17, under 6 free. Guided tours available.

As California’s first museum dedicated entirely to Sacramento’s past, present and future, the Sacramento History Museum brings local heritage to life through interactive exhibits for all ages. Get oriented to area geography and view eye-catching dioramas dramatizing impactful events like cholera epidemics and flooding challenges overcome to build modern Sacramento. See an original pony express mailbag in their communication display and walk through a recreated taproom capturing prohibition era tensions.

Costumed docents share additional insights during the museum’s daily public tours included with admission. Fun activity packs also give kids an engaging museum experience while special exhibits highlight future-focused industries important to Sacramento.

Play Indoor Adventure at The Escape Game Sacramento

Name and Location: The Escape Game Sacramento located downtown

History and Significance: Part of America’s largest escape room brand founded in 2016, The Escape Game Sacramento offers thrilling interactive adventure challenges blending physical activities, critical thinking and immersive storylines for friends, families and coworkers collaborating towards a common goal.

What to Expect: Groups have 60 minutes to decode puzzles, find clues and escape your adventure room through creative problem solving needed to open locks, uncover hidden doors and beat these real-life games offering an engaging spin on entertainment.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-10pm, extended hours on weekends. Games accommodate private groups up to 8 (or 12) players. Ticket pricing ranges $29-$35 per person. Reservations strongly recommended.

While Northern California’s mild climate begs you to stay outside, a rainy day or hot summer afternoon call for cooling off inside The Escape Game Sacramento’s creative indoor adventures. Using teamwork and critical thinking skills, groups have one hour to search rooms for clues and crack codes that offer an escape before time runs out. Select from exhilarating storylines like a Fast and Furious-style heist or solving an ancient Egyptian tomb’s secrets as a treasure hunter. Costumes, movie set-quality designs, and surprising plot twists make this global escape room franchise’s Sacramento outpost an entertaining option for all-age groups.

Conclusion

From Gold Rush era landmarks to family-friendly parks to local food and wine, Sacramento provides easy access to authentic Northern California experiences. Wander tree-lined streets downtown, interact with state governing history and culture, then view stunning landscapes along the river —all during the same weekend escape. Visitors leave Sacramento with an appreciation for why citizens proudly call this city the “heart of California.” So come witness Sacramento’s rich heritage blending effortlessly with innovative arts, culture, cuisine and recreation defining California’s capital region today. Your unforgettable urban getaway awaits.

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