The best things to do in Sacramento! From popular attractions to historic sights, craft beer, and where to stay and eat, there’s a lot more to California’s capital than just politics and cows.
When deciding where to stop on a California road trip, it’s easy to pass over the state capital.
Sacramento might not be as popular as San Francisco or Los Angeles with tourists, but that’s where its charm lies.
You would be amiss to think there aren’t enough things to do in Sacramento, just because of its focus on politics and farming (weird combo, I know).
If you’re having a mental tug-of-war about whether it’s worth going so far inland for a visit, do it.
There is so much to explore and experience in Sacramento, and it’s well worth the journey inland from the coast to check out everything that this sleepy big city has to offer.
At the very least, you’ll be able to see Arnold’s smiling portrait in the capitol building and look back on that time when California decided to elect the terminator to public office.
In Sacramento, there are politicians everywhere and suits walking the streets as you would expect, but the city is more layered than most people realize as well.
Most notably, there is endless street art, a delicious local craft beer scene, and history around every corner.
These are my picks for the top things to do in Sacramento, whether it’s your first time to the city or you’re a regular visitor.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
See also: 101 Things to do in California
101 Things to do in Sacramento, California
Top Tourist Attractions in Sacramento
A testament to Sacramento’s pioneering history and a look into a very different time and place in the city’s history.
Sutter’s Fort was in operation from 1839 to 1850, and is the place for school groups to go as I soon found out on my first visit.
There were a few different classes in attendance the day I went, dressed up in pioneer clothes and learning how to live life as the westerners used to back in the 19th century.
There was even a cannon demonstration at one point!
Aside from the kids way too hopped up on sugar and field trip excitement, Sutter’s Fort provides a unique look at pioneering history through a well done interactive museum.
The fort has since been restored to look like it did at its height in 1847.
The exhibits found throughout the complex give you a real glimpse into the hard life that welcomed pioneers on their way to the California Gold Rush.
John Sutter, the man behind the fort, was originally from Switzerland.
His intention with the fort was to have a flourishing agricultural setup in the Sacramento Valley with the land grant he received from the Mexican government.
In 1847, after sending help to the Donner Party that was trapped in the Sierras, he became known for his hospitality.
Immigrants from all over began seeking refuge at the fort that was then called “New Helvetia,” and it became a popular pioneering community in California before being overrun by gold diggers a decade later.
A visit to Sutter’s Fort is one of the more unique things to do in Sacramento, and it represents the layered history that draws so many visitors to the city in the first place.
Needless to say with how many school groups there are on any given day, Sutter’s Fort is one of the best things to do in Sacramento with kids.
With that said, I visited as an adult with no kids and I loved it too.
As long as you’re into history and you want to learn more about the pioneers in California, it’s a good attraction to add to your Sacramento travels.
Old Sacramento Historical District
If you’re looking for Wild West vibes, the Old Sacramento State Historic Park is the place to go.
Most of the Old Sacramento stores still have that western-movie-shoot-out feel.
There is everything from huge joke shops filled with random items to old fashioned ice cream, milkshakes, and saltwater taffy.
Just watch out for the horse poop!
They started restoring this area of the city in the 1960s and it has since become a popular Sacramento tourist attraction.
There are over 125 boutique shops to peruse and, as mentioned above, Gold Rush era buildings around every corner.
The district lies along the beautiful Sacramento River and it’s home to a number of museums and delicious restaurants.
If you only have a day or weekend in Sacramento, you should at least spend an afternoon in Old Sac.
Located in Old Town Sacramento, the Delta King is a historic riverboat that houses a hotel, theater, and two restaurants.
It’s one of the best things to do in Old Sacramento if you have the budget to splurge a bit.
If you’re looking for a quirky accommodation in Sacramento or an elegant dinner for a special night out, make a reservation.
The Pilothouse Restaurant located on the boat is a popular fine dining option in Sacramento.
In operation since 1927, the Sacramento Zoo covers 14.3 acres and houses over 140 animals.
Probably the best thing about this zoo are the Giraffe Encounters.
For $5, you can get up-close-and-personal to the giraffes and feed them.
This only happens a couple of times a day so make sure to check on the zoo website ahead of time for when the encounters are happening on the day you visit.
If you have young ones with you and you’re looking for things to do in Sacramento for kids, the zoo also offers a few kiddie rides.
These include the zoo train, conservation carousel, a small rock climbing wall, and a cyclone simulator.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
Sacramento River Train
One of the coolest things to do in Sacramento, the Sacramento River Train is a family-owned business that showcases the beauty and history of Northern California via train.
There are quite a few different themed train rides you can experience with the River Train.
These include a beer train, wine train, Great Train Robbery (where actors actually come onboard and try to rob the train), Murder Mystery Train, River Dinner Show Train, and more.
During the holidays, they offer themed train rides for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day.
Train rides are usually around 2.5 hours and span 14 miles from West Sacramento to Woodland.
See also: 30 Best California Breweries
Sacramento Historic River Cruise
An activity that should be added to any Sacramento to do list, the Sacramento Historic River Cruise is one of those quintessential Sacramento activities that is worth experiencing at least once.
Operated by Hornblower, this one hour cruise gives you a history lesson about Sacramento while floating down the beautiful Sacramento River.
The cruise also takes you past Old Sacramento’s most famous historical sights.
If you’re looking for a relaxing way to learn more about Sacramento in a short amount of time, this cruise is a good place to start.
Being situated a couple of hours from the coast, you can bet that Sacramento gets really hot in the summer.
So, it’s no surprise that they have a huge water park right in the city for those sweltering days.
If you’re looking for some wet and wild thrills, head over to Raging Waters.
The park offers more than 25 water attractions, slides, and pools.
They also host concerts and community events during the summer.
Built during the Gold Rush era in 1849, the Eagle Theatre was the first permanent theater to ever be built in California.
Although it was meant to be permanent, the theatre was unfortunately wiped out in the flood of January 4, 1850, only three months after it was built.
The theatre was then rebuilt in 1974 and reconstructed to look like the original building in Old Sacramento.
You’re able to view the historic theater from the outside or take a step inside with a ticket to the Railroad Museum.
Leland Stanford Mansion
Only a couple of blocks away from the State Capitol, the Leland Stanford Mansion is an ornate sight to behold in downtown Sacramento.
The Victorian mansion was once the home of Leland Stanford, the Governor of California from 1862-1863, and the office of two other California governors during the 1860s.
It has since been turned into a museum that visitors are now welcome to tour and learn more about the history of California in the mid-19th century.
If you’re into architecture or Victorian decor, this is one of the best things to do in downtown Sacramento.
At the mansion, you’ll see 17-foot ceilings, original period furniture that was owned by the Standfords, restored woodwork, historic paintings, and 19th century style gardens.
Wells Fargo History Museum
Another popular Sacramento Old Town sight.
Touring a bank museum might not sound like a super interesting way to spend an afternoon, but there’s a lot more history to this spot than meets the eye.
What’s cool about this museum is that it recreates what a 19th century Wells Fargo office looked like in California and showcases how the company influenced Gold Rush era commerce.
Next door is the Pony Express Terminal, the western end point to the Pony Express and the first location of the California Supreme Court.
For those of you who don’t know, the Pony Express was a US mail service in the 1860s that delivered letters and newspapers between Missouri and California by horseback.
If you don’t want to make the trip all the way down to Disneyland, Fairytale Town is a good way to still let the young ones indulge in all things magic and fairy tales.
The non-profit park has been in operation for 60 years and offers 26 play areas that are based on fairytales and nursery rhymes.
The park also features a petting zoo, gardens, two performing arts stages, and a cafe.
Sacramento Underground Tour
One of the more underrated things to see in Sacramento, going on a Sacramento Underground Tour gives you a better overview of the city and how far it has come from its original foundations.
Unlike the underground tours in Portland and Seattle which focus on ghosts and the dark Shanghai Tunnel system, the Official Sacramento Underground Tour showcases the original historical foundations of Sacramento as a city.
There might not be any stories of kidnappings, but it’s pretty cool to be able to see how Sacramento literally lifted itself up after the big floods in the 1860s and 70s.
Tours depart from the Sacramento History Museum and last for about one hour with a guide.
See also: 100+ Things to do in Los Angeles
Free Things to do in Sacramento
State Capitol Building
I’ve been to two other state capitols in the US, one in Nevada and one in Texas, and I really love the one in California.
Although, I gotta say, the Texas State Rangers roaming around the State Capitol in Austin were pretty sweet too.
Inside the California State Capitol there are exhibits for each county in the state (so many!), as well as historical rooms of famous past governors and senators from long ago.
It is a beautiful and fun building to explore and worth a visit if you want to learn more about the political history of California and walk the halls where important legislature has been passed.
The best way to tour the State Capitol if you want to learn more about the history of the building and California state legislature is through their free tours.
They offer free California State Capitol tours every day on the hour from 9 am to 4 pm.
The California State Library
Founded in 1850 by the California State Legislature, the California State Library is still the official research library of the state government.
I have a thing for visiting historic or unique libraries and the California State Library is no exception.
You can go on docent-led tours of the library, check out the historic exhibits at your own pace, or simply go and read a book or get some work done in one of its historic rooms.
The most iconic structure in Sacramento, the Tower Bridge is a historic art deco lift bridge that is a striking yellow gold (I’ve always thought this was maybe in homage to Sacramento’s Gold Rush history).
Walk across the bridge to get unobstructed views of the Sacramento River, or take it in from a historic river cruise or along the River Walk Trail.
The Tower Bridge is a cool sight to see up close because it has become such a symbol of Sacramento as a city.
It’s especially beautiful to see around sunset.
Sacramento Historic City Cemetery
You might think it weird to have a cemetery as tourist attraction, but, as most of the top attractions in Sacramento, the City Cemetery is a historic sight to visit in the city.
The Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in the city and was designed to resemble a Victorian garden.
Most of the city’s historic and famous individuals are buried here and it’s a peaceful and relaxing place to walk around and explore more of Sacramento’s history.
I’d recommend going on one of the cemetery’s guided tours to get a full overview of the historic figures buried here.
There is a self guided walking tour available as well if you want to go at your own pace.
And even if you’re not as interested in the historical aspect, the views from the top of the hill looking towards the city are stunning.
American River Bike Trail
One of the best free things to do around Sacramento, the American River Bike Trail (also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail) wraps around the American River for 32 miles from Folsom to Old Sacramento.
The trail is exclusively for non-motorized forms of transportation.
You can bike it, walk it, inline skate it, horseback ride it, or jog it.
Make sure to bring a picnic along to make a day of it.
It’s one of the best outdoor areas for active people who want to see the natural beauty of Sacramento without having to leave the city.
Parking is $5 per vehicle and the trail is open every day from sunrise to sunset.
River Walk Park and Trail
This is where you’ll find the ‘quiet’ side of the Sacramento River.
If you’re looking to take in the river and city views of Old Town and the Sacramento bridges from a less trafficked spot, walk through the River Walk Park and along the trail.
The trail offers some of my favorite views of Sacramento and it’s especially beautiful around sunset.
One aspect that tends to surprise people who only know Sacramento for its pioneer and political history is how much street art there is in the city.
You can find colorful murals all over Midtown and downtown Sacramento these days and there is even a mural festival each year called Wide Open Walls.
I personally love a good street art hunt and Sacramento is the perfect city to spend an afternoon checking out cool outdoor artwork.
Here are a few murals that I’d recommend starting with:
Koi Fish Mural – 20th Street between J and K Streets
The Wishing Wall – 819 19th St
Iker Muro/Murone – 555 Capitol Mall parking garage
Innocent Universe – 1301 R Street
It Was Only a Dream – 730 R St
Another important landmark in the city, the Governor’s Mansion is a historic three-story building that features 33 rooms and Victorian architecture and decor.
The mansion was a public museum for over 50 years, but was recently reverted back to the official residence of the governor when Governor Jerry Brown move in with his family in 2015.
This means that you unfortunately can no longer go inside the mansion, but it’s still an interesting historic building to view from the outside.
Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
Even if you’re not religious, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is an easy place to pop into to admire its architecture and grandiose nature.
From its stunning stained glass windows, to its colorful interior, detailed architecture, and historic paintings, it’s a peaceful and historic church to experience right in the heart of downtown Sacramento.
Make sure to go in the afternoon when services aren’t taking place if you want to visit as a tourist.
Sacramento Heritage Self-Guided Walking Tours
If you’re an independent traveler who isn’t fond of group tours but still want some sort of guide to learn more about the layered history of Sacramento, let me introduce the FREE Sacramento Heritage Walking Tours.
Right now they have tours for the city hall area, J+K Street, and around the capitol.
It’s a good way to get your bearings in the city and to learn more about the historical buildings and stories that Sacramento has to offer in an affordable way.
Local Things to do in Sacramento
Yoga in the Park
With its nickname being the City of Trees, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of green spaces and parks in Sacramento.
One way to take advantage of what this tree-filled city has to offer is to enjoy free yoga classes in Sacramento parks during the nicer months.
If you’re looking to get in a quick outdoor fitness class while you’re on vacation, check out the free Yoga in the Park classes on offer here.
They offer free vinyasa classes almost every day of the week.
Wine Tasting at the Old Sugar Mill
What was once an old beet-sugar refinery in the 1930s has been transformed into a trendy spot for wine tasting in Sacramento, featuring 15 unique wineries that together serve over 100 wines.
Only about a 15 minute drive from downtown Sacramento, wine tasting at the Old Sugar Mill has quickly become a popular thing to do as a local in Sacramento on the weekends.
Tasting fees range from $5-$10 and there are food trucks that line up on the weekends for tipsy nibbles.
Go to a Farmers’ Market
The Sacramento area is an incredibly rich agricultural region in California, so it’s no surprise that the farmers’ markets in the city are the bomb dot com.
Peruse heaping fresh produce, local handicrafts, and mingle with locals at one of the many farmers’ markets that pop up around the city.
A couple favorites to start out with are the Midtown Market (Saturday), Cesar Chavez Plaza Market (Wednesday), or Capitol Mall Market (Thursday).
The Capitol Mall Farmers Market is where you’ll find a ton of delicious mobile local restaurants that are great for lunch.
The Cesar Chavez Market has a little bit of everything, from fresh produce to local eateries.
And, Midtown Market is huge with over 90 stands, regular events, cooking demos, and live bands (every fourth Saturday of the month).
The Midtown market is also the only year round farmers’ market in Sacramento.
The other two run from around May to the end of September or October.
Downtown Sacramento Ice Rink
Ice skating is probably not the first thing you think of when planning a trip to California, especially in as hot of a city as Sacramento, but it exists!
Downtown Sacramento sets up an ice rink every year from November to January to help you get into the holiday spirit.
They even host an ugly sweater party at the rink just before Christmas.
It’s one of the more unusual things to do in Sacramento, but can be a fun family day out or date night idea if you’re looking for something different to experience in the city.
B Street Theatre
One of the best places to go in Sacramento for theater, the B Street Theatre originally opened as a theater company for children but has since evolved to putting on original productions for adults and comedy shows.
If you’re looking to check out some of the best Sacramento entertainment in town or you’re looking for a good Sacramento date ideas, a show at the B Street Theatre is a good option.
Cheer on The Kings at The Golden 1 Center
The Kings may not be as popular as the Golden State Warriors or LAs Lakers, but I always love watching professional sports teams in their home turf.
And the good news is that tickets to Sacramento Kings games are much cheaper than the astronomical prices you’ll find for Warriors or Lakers tickets.
If you’ve never been to a live NBA game and want to experience the energy of actually being at the stadium, the Kings are a good team to go see for more affordable tickets.
Movie at One of the Historic Theaters in Town
In a world of mostly big corporate movie theaters, I adore historic independent cinema houses that have that art deco feel from when the movie business really started taking off with Hollywood in the 1930s.
Sacramento has a long history of loving theaters – just look at the Eagle Theatre (above), which was built during the Gold Rush in the 1800s and was the first permanent theater in California.
And the city has only continued its love for entertainment with the few historic independent theaters you’ll find around town.
These include Tower Theatre (1938), Crest Theatre (1912), and Guild Theater (1915).
If you have time to go see a movie at one of these, do it.
Sac Brew Bike
You may have seen these around various cities in the US (I’ve been on the one in Portland), but the Sac Brew Bike one of the best ways to experience the local craft beer scene in a hilarious and social way.
These 15-passenger party bikes go less than five miles an hour and you’ll probably get some strange looks from pedestrians, but it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon drinking beer with new friends.
This is a great tour to do if you’re traveling solo in Sacramento or simply want to meet people.
Or, if you have a large group, you can rent the whole bike for the afternoon for your own private beer party.
Go Kayaking, Floating, or Whitewater Rafting
Sacramento locals like to take advantage of their proximity to the many bodies of water that surround their city.
Whether it’s the two main rivers, reservoirs, or lakes, there is always a water-based activity to enjoy on the water.
For a relaxing kayaking trip, Lake Natoma is one of the most popular spots to visit near Sacramento.
Or, if you want to try whitewater kayaking, the American River is the place to go.
Just make sure you know what you’re doing, go with a guide, or take a class before attempting whitewater on your own.
If you want to go on a river float in inner tubes with a few friends, the American River is a popular spot as long as you avoid the whitewater parts.
For a relatively chill float, it’s recommended to float between Sunrise and Ancil Hoffman, which takes around two hours.
If you’re looking for thrills, whitewater rafting is a popular activity to do in Sacramento at multiple forks along the American River.
I’d recommend going on a tour with this company as it’s the highest rated whitewater rafting company in Sacramento.
Holiday Lights at Dovewood Court
Dovewood Court is the place to go to see the most epic holiday lights in Sacramento during Christmastime.
If you happen to be in Sacramento in December, don’t miss out on the over-the-top light display this group of houses puts on.
The residents who live here have been killing the Christmas light game for decades.
They put in a ton of effort each year to bring the spirit of Christmas to life.
Each house has a unique theme for their light display and it’s fun to park and simply walk around the court to take it all in.
Just be prepared for crowds since this has become a holiday light hot spot in Sacramento and a lot of people come to see the displays.
Second Saturday Art Walk
The Second SaturdayArt Walk is one of the best free things to do in Sacramento for those who are into art.
Every second Saturday of the month, Midtown has a bunch of art gallery open houses.
It has quickly become one of the best downtown Sacramento events to experience if you happen to be in the city at the right time.
The event usually starts around 6 pm or 7 pm and goes until 9pm.
At the art galleries you’ll find everything from modern art to photography and spray paint, and there are sometimes vendors selling handmade artisan goods outside the galleries.
You might even see a fire dancing show and some live music as you hop to the next art gallery.
Plus, you get to explore one of the best neighborhoods in Sacramento with a bunch of locals.
Wear some nice and comfy shoes and hit the streets to explore the cultural side to Sacramento.
West Wind Sacramento Drive-In
As I’ve mentioned in my other bucket list guides about California, I love a good drive-in.
This is mostly because they bring me back to yesteryear.
Side note: it still makes me sad that they’ve become so obsolete and a thing of the past in California.
The good news is there’s still a Sacramento drive-in in operation!
The West Wind Capitol 6 Drive-In is a retro drive-in experience that still allows you to watch movies from the comfort of your car with sound coming through the FM radio.
They play mostly new movies and general admission is only $8 for adults ($5.50 on Tuesdays) and $1.75 for children 5-11 years old, making it one of the cheapest things to do in Sacramento.
Pops in the Park Summer Concert Series
One of the best free events in Sacramento!
Every summer, East Sacramento puts on a free concert series called Pops in the Park from June to early September.
These free concerts have been happening at some of the best parks in Sacramento since 1991 and it has become a beloved part of summer in Sacramento.
What makes this event even cooler is that although the concerts themselves are free, the money from any food or drink you purchase is donated back into the community to raise funds for parks around the city.
This is one of the best things to do in Sacramento at night in the summer, and a popular local activity in the city that also gives back to the community.
Founded in 1954, the Sacramento Ballet is one of the best regional ballet companies on the West Coast and puts on classical and contemporary performances year round.
If you’re looking for a nicer evening out, this a fun thing to do in Sacramento for couples and a unique date night idea.
If you happen to be in Sacramento in December, don’t miss out on their popular Nutcracker show.
Discover the hipster paradise that is the Handle District in Sacramento.
This small two-square-mile district in Midtown, Sacramento is full of character and culture and has become the premier artsy area of the city.
This is where you’ll find some of the best artisanal shops in town, the delicious Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, and Fieldwork Brewing Company for all you beer enthusiasts.
The Handle District can be found on the blocks between 18th street, 19th street, L street, and Capitol Avenue.
Spend an Afternoon Vintage Shopping
With so much history to enjoy around the city, I guess it’s no surprise that vintage shopping is also kind of a big deal in Sacramento.
If you’re looking for vintage clothing, you’ll find vintage stores full of unique outfits all over the city.
A few local favorites include TRUE, Article Consignment Boutique, Moth Hole, and The Quinn.
For vintage furniture, a good place to start is Scout Living, Midway Antique Mall, and 57th Street Antique Mall.
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Bar Hopping in Midtown
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Sacramento at night, Midtown is the trendy spot to go out in Sacramento.
As one of the best bar districts in the city, there are tons of spots to choose from, whether you’re looking to dance the night away or check out a new dive bar.
The Cabin is a good spot for unique cozy cocktails, where you can have themed drinks, such as a s’mores cocktail or apple cider and bourbon.
Or, the Coin-Op Game Room lets you test out your video game skills while knocking back a pint or two.
If you’re in the mood for live music, Holy Diver is a good place to start to discover your next favorite rock band.
There’s really a little something for everyone in the Midtown bar scene.
Folsom Historic District
Folsom is its own city, about 30 minutes outside of downtown Sacramento, but another historic place to walk around and have a nice dinner.
You can basically think of the Folsom Historic District as a much more toned down and less touristy version of Old Sacramento.
If you’ve already explored most of Old Sacramento and you’re looking for a historic vibe that’s more local, I’d highly recommend spending an afternoon or evening in downtown Folsom.
Simply walking around the historic downtown is one of the best things to do in Folsom and worth experiencing if you have an extra night to spare.
Grabbing dinner and walking around downtown Folsom at dusk is one of my favorite things to do near Sacramento.
Outdoor Activities & Hikes
McKinley Park and Rose Garden
One of my favorite places to visit in Sacramento to smell the roses and read a good book.
McKinley Park and Rose Garden is a well looked after public park that has tons of benches and beautiful landscaped grounds.
Since it’s a little ways outside of downtown Sacramento, it’s a more local park than Capitol Park and therefore a bit more peaceful.
One thing to note is to watch out for the squirrels that come up to you expecting food because so many people have fed them in the past.
With that said, don’t be one of those people who feeds the squirrels.
Capitol Park & World Peace Rose Garden
The most popular and impressive park in Sacramento, Capitol Park, and the World Peace Rose Garden within it, is located right next to the Capitol Building.
It’s a great spot to relax in after touring the seat of the state government.
The World Peace Rose Garden is a Victorian garden that features 650 roses in 150 different varieties and colors.
The garden was established as an inclusive sanctuary of peace, love, and inspiration for people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions.
This being the City of Trees and all, Capitol Park has trees from around the world and from all 50 states.
There are also memorials throughout the park that honor important state events throughout the decades.
William Land Regional Park
One of the most family-friendly parks in the city, William Land Regional Park is where you’ll find a few popular Sacramento attractions, including the zoo. Fairytale Town, Funderland, and pony rides.
And there are plenty of things to keep yourself busy in the park, even without kids.
From picnic spots, to basketball courts, duck ponds, a rock garden, baseball fields, and even a golf course, there’s a little something for everyone.
If you’re looking for the best place to have a picnic in Sacramento, this is a good option.
A short drive outside of downtown Sacramento
Hagan Community Park (30 minute drive)
A large open green space to lay out in and relax on a nice day in Sacramento.
Hagan Community Park is a well maintained space situated alongside the American River, making it an ideal spot to get away in nature for the afternoon.
They also have dog parks here, as well baseball and soccer fields, a basketball court, petting zoo, playgrounds for the children, and access to the American River Bike Trail.
Effie Yeaw Nature Center and Ancil Hoffman Park (30 minute drive)
If you want to be out in nature and surrounded by wildlife, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center is a must visit sanctuary.
The nature center is part of a 100-acre preserve at Ancil Hoffman Park that features 30 native animals from the American River system, nature trails, and plenty of bird watching opportunities if you bring binoculars.
Besides the animals and short trails around the preserve, there are a few exhibits at the nature center that share the history and conservation efforts of the Lower American River area.
UC Davis Arboretum (30 minute drive)
Founded in 1936, the UC Davis Arboretum is one of the best things to do in Davis and features 100-acres of gardens, wildlife habitats, a whole lot of trees (including redwood groves).
It’s a good place to stroll around for an afternoon if you’re looking for a tranquil atmosphere and want to learn more about flora and fauna from around the world.
And the best part? It’s completely free and open year round.
Elk Grove Regional Park (40 minute drive)
Featuring two islands, an aquatic center, a few sports fields, a BMX bike park, dog park, and playgrounds, this is a huge outdoorsy place to visit near Sacramento for the whole family or for anyone looking to be active and outside.
This is also a popular park for community events year round, including the Strauss Festival that is held each year in July on Strauss Island – one of the islands in the park.
Folsom Lake (45 minute drive)
Out of the many places I’ve traveled to, one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve witnessed was at Folsom Lake (see picture below).
If you’re spending a day or evening in downtown Folsom, I’d recommend walking by the lake to watch the sun go down on your way to or from Folsom.
The greater Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is also a popular spot for weekend camping trips from Sacramento, filled with various hiking trails, water activities, and horseback riding tours.
California State Railroad Museum
If you’re interested in learning more about US railroad history, the California State Railroad Museum is the premier North America railroad museum to visit.
The museum features exhibits that tell the story of how California was connected to the rest of the continental US by railroad, and how that affected the growth of California as a state.
One of the coolest aspects about this museum is that they offer scenic train rides from April through September.
There’s really no better way to bring the history of the railroad in California to life than by hopping on a train and experiencing it first hand.
During the holidays, they also offer a Polar Express train.
Just note that it usually sells out months in advance because it’s so popular. So, book early!
Crocker Art Museum
Founded in 1885, making it the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi, the Crocker Art Museum is the best museum in Sacramento for seeing the fine arts up close.
The main focus of the museum is on California art, with some art dating back to the Gold Rush era.
With that said, you can still view art from around the world at this museum, including from Europe, Oceania, Asia, and Africa.
The Crocker Art Museum also has one of the largest international ceramics collections in the US.
Pro tip: Check ahead of time to see when the Sacramento Kings are playing if it’s basketball season.
Since the museum is located right in downtown, around the corner from the Golden 1 Center arena, Crocker Art Museum parking might be more difficult during game days.
In general, you should be able to find paid street parking or parking garages within walking distance to the museum.
California Automobile Museum
With over 150 classic cars, muscle cars, and race cars on display, the California Automobile Museum is the place to go for any car enthusiast.
The entry price is reasonable at $10 and they offer free docent-led tours once you’re inside if you want to learn more about the cars on display.
Sacramento History Museum
If you’re interested in getting a good overview of the history of Sacramento and California’s Gold Rush, head over to the Sacramento History Museum.
The museum sits on the site of the original Sacramento City Hall building from 1854, and has been reconstructed to look like how it did in the 19th century.
Exhibits on offer include everything from Gold Rush history to historic print shops, Nisenan Indian culture, agriculture, and more.
This is also the museum that leads the Old Sacramento Underground tours if you want to see the original foundations of the city.
The official state history museum of California is the place to go for anyone interested in learning more about California as a whole.
Exhibit topics include the California Hall of Fame, California Indians, California Missions, California’s Remarkable Women, Japanese Americans during WWII, and much more.
For anyone interested in learning more about flight and technology and aviation history from the 1930s to today, head over to the Aerospace Museum.
The museum houses over 40 types of aircraft, including both civilian and military planes.
You’ll also find a motion movie ride, Flight Zone simulators, and various educational STEM activities for school-age children.
State Indian Museum
Although it’s on the smaller side, the State Indian Museum is a good place to start to learn more about the indigenous peoples of California.
In the US, Native American history is often passed over or not talked about much, which is why the State Indian Museum is such an important fixture in the Sacramento museum scene.
This museum is where you can get a glimpse into the culture, art, and daily life of California’s first people.
Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum
One of the few free museums in Sacramento, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum gives you an idea of what a one-room schoolhouse from the 1800s looked like.
It’s a small museum and will probably take you less than 30 minutes to tour, but with its central location it’s a fun place to walk through to get another dose of history in Sacramento.
And, as an added bonus, the people who work at the museum dress up in historical costumes to give you more of that stepping back in time feel.
You’ll soon find with a visit to Sacramento (or any other historical city in the US) that Americans really love any excuse to dress up in historical costumes.
California State Archives
If you’re into politics, law, or historical legislature, head over to the California State Archives where you’ll find state government records that date back to the 1850s.
You can even view the first law ever signed by California’s first governor.
The best way to visit the archives and get a general understanding of the 100 million documents, 20,000 maps and architectural drawings, and 250,000 photographs is to go on a free tour.
Tours usually last for an hour and you can check here to see current tour times.
Food & Coffee
Coffee & Tea
- Old Soul Co.
- Temple Coffee
- The Mill
- De Vere’s Irish Pub
- Bacon & Butter
- The Waffle Experience
- Cricket’s Country Kitchen
- Magpie Cafe
- Cafe Rolle
- Iron Horse
- Ramen House Ryujin
- The Kitchen Restaurant
- The Rind
- The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs
- Vic’s or Gunther’s Ice Cream
- Ginger Elizabeth
Best Craft Beer Spots
- Track 7
- Tower Brewing
- Oak Park Brewing
- Bike Dog Brewing
- Device Brewing
Nightlife & Live Music Venues
- The Cabin
- The Shady Lady Saloon
- Ace of Spades
- Holy Diver
Best Sacramento Tours
Downtown Historical Food Tour
What better way to explore Sacramento than through its foodie scene and history?
This Downtown Historical Food Tour takes you around the most historical parts of downtown Sacramento, from the 1800s through today.
Throughout the three hour history lesson, your taste buds will also discover why the city is known as the Farm-to-Fork capital in the US.
Sacramento Beer Train
As I mentioned above, one of the Sacramento River Train tours is the popular Sacramento Beer Train.
On this 2.5 hour tour, you’ll be able to experience Sacramento craft beer from the comfort of a scenic train ride.
The tour includes six tastings from Northern California breweries and a live band.
This is a fun tour to do as a couple or with a group of friends.
Midtown Sacramento Arts & Food Tour
If you’re looking for a way to experience the street art and foodie scene in Sacramento with a local guide, the Midtown Sacramento Arts & Food Tour is a good tour to start with.
Midtown is a bustling neighborhood in Sacramento where you can really dive into the mural and street art scene, as well as some of the trendiest restaurants in the city.
The tour last for three hours and includes food and wine tastings, as well as a local guide to show you around and give you an overview of the history of food and art in Sacramento.
Short Day Trips from Sacramento
Apple Hill (45 minutes)
Apple Hill is a popular Sacramento day trip for a number of reasons – apple pie, apple cider, and apple picking.
Really, all the best reasons!
It’s an especially good (and busy) spot to visit during the fall, but it can be a great day trip option year round as well.
Make sure to stop by Bodhaine Ranch for the best apple pie in the region, Rainbow Orchards for the best apple cider donuts, and Bolster’s Hill Top Ranch for apple picking (Labor Day weekend to mid-November).
During the summer, head over to Patrick’s Mountain Grown Berry Farm for an afternoon of berry picking.
El Dorado National Forest (1 hour)
One of my favorite places to go hiking near Sacramento, El Dorado National Forest is for any outdoor enthusiast who is looking for some beautiful trails to tackle not too far from the city.
Located in the central Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, El Dorado National Forest is a huge park that features 83 hiking trails, campsites, and mountain biking trails.
The most popular trails to do for a day trip are Horsetail Falls Trail (moderate), Bassi Falls (Easy), and Lake Margaret Trail (moderate).
Tahoe National Forest (1 hour)
Another national forest that’s close to Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, Tahoe National Forest spans six California counties and offers up a lot of choices for the regular hiker or outdoorsy traveler.
The terrain and elevation varies a lot in this national forest, going from 1,500 feet along the western boundary to over 9,000 feet at its highest point.
Make sure to plan appropriately depending on which part of the forest you’re exploring for the day.
A few favorite trails to check out in Tahoe National Forest include Loch Leven Lake Trail (moderate), Stevens Trail (moderate), and Five Lakes Trail (moderate).
Napa (1.5 hours)
If you’re a wine drinker, Napa is the most famous wine region in California and worth visiting at least once.
This would be a good day or weekend trip from Sacramento if you want to check out a few vineyards and the food and art scene in downtown Napa.
Napa is also a popular place to go hot air ballooning in California because the scenery is so postcard perfect.
Lake Tahoe (2 hours)
Probably the most popular day trip from Sacramento, Lake Tahoe is a good California destination to visit year round.
Whether you’re visiting in the summer or winter, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy near the lake.
I actually wrote up a detailed guide on Lake Tahoe, which you can read here.
It’s a fun spot to visit with a few friends either for the day or for a weekend trip if you want to rent a cabin and explore all that Tahoe has to offer (including its beaches).
- Picnic Day at UC Davis (April)
- Sacramento Music Festival (May)
- Gold Rush Days (Labor Day Weekend) – one of the best Old Sacramento events to experience
- Chalk It Up Festival (May)
- Gather Nights (June-October)
- California State Fair (July)
Where is Sacramento?
Sacramento is California’s state capital, located in the northern part of the state and about two hours inland from the coast.
Sacramento is a great base to explore some of California’s best attributes.
It’s within a couple of hours drive from some of the state’s best wine regions, beaches, and mountains.
Sacramento is two hours from San Francisco, six hours from Los Angeles, and four and a half hours from the California-Oregon border.
What to Pack for Sacramento
- Light jacket
- Good walking shoes (e.g. Allbirds Tree Runners)
- Reusable water bottle
- Portable charger
- Travel insurance for Sacramento
Best Time to Visit Sacramento
Being located in California, the weather is pretty decent in Sacramento year round.
With that said, summers in the city get realllly hot.
I’m talking over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
And without that usual coastal California breeze, it can be a little much for most people.
Because of how hot the summers get, the spring and fall are usually considered the best times to visit Sacramento.
The spring is great not only for the weather, but because it’s wildflower season.
If you plan to go hiking and enjoy the great outdoors during your visit, this would be the perfect time to visit.
Wildflowers pop up everywhere near the city and on the many trails in the Sacramento region.
The fall is also a nice time to visit for the good (and slightly more temperate) weather and because it’s harvesting season.
If you plan to check out the world-renowned wine regions right next door to Sacramento, this would be an ideal time to visit.
As for winter in Sacramento, it isn’t necessarily bad.
It just tends to be more cool and grey with occasional rainy days.
Again, its California so there’s really not a horrible time to visit, but if I had to choose two seasons to visit Sacramento it would be the spring and fall.
How to Get from San Francisco to Sacramento
The easiest way to get from San Francisco to Sacramento is to drive.
Hop on I-80 E directly from San Francisco and take it all the way to Sacramento.
It takes about two hours.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive, you can take the train or the bus (Flixbus or Megabus).
The Amtrak to Sacramento leaves from Emeryville in the East Bay and takes just under two hours for $30.
Flixbus takes around 1.5-2 hours and only costs $5-$8.
Megabus takes around two hours and only costs $10-$23. Both leave directly from San Francisco.
If you’re coming from further away and flying into Sacramento, book your one-way transport from the airport here.
Sacramento Travel Tips
The public transit system in Sacramento is a good way to get around the city – Called the Sacramento Regional Transit, or SacRT for short, it includes bus and light rail routes that cover central Sacramento quite well.
Fares are $2.50 for single tickets, or you can purchase a Connect Card which is the transit card that can be used for the whole Sacramento region.
Another good way to get around downtown is by Velocab – If you’re tired of walking and you’re looking for a quick and sustainable way to get around the downtown area, hop on one of these zero-emission pedicabs or call one here.
Of course, Uber and Lyft are also in Sacramento (as well as traditional cabs), but the Velocab is a good option for a short distance.
Be prepared for friendly locals and a slower way of life – Sacramento is a different kind of big California city.
The pace of life is slower inland and the open friendliness of locals is one of the best parts of visiting Sacramento.
Soak up those friendly vibes and be a kind and self-aware Sacramento tourist in turn.
Act like a local and appreciate the slower pace and get to know strangers.
Sacramento is considered America’s Farm to Fork Capital, don’t let all the good food go to waste – One of the best activities to do in Sacramento is to EAT.
With so much good farmland neighboring the city, it’s no surprise that the food found in local restaurants is fresh and local.
And there are a ton of fun places to eat in Sacramento (just look at the list above).
Make sure to save some of your Sacramento budget for eating your way through the city’s trendiest and local foodie finds and visit one of the many farmers’ markets before you leave town.
Your belly will thank you later.
Where to Stay in Sacramento
Arden Star Hotel – A simple and clean budget accommodation that’s a short 15-minute drive outside of downtown Sacramento.
The hotel features a hot tub, pool, fitness center, free continental breakfast, and affordable rooms with large work desks.
The Arden Star is a fully non-smoking accommodation and a great option for solo travelers or anyone who would prefer to save instead of paying for extra frills.
Amber House Inn of Midtown – Full of character and charm, the Victorian-inspired Amber House Inn is a centrally-located accommodation in the Midtown district of Sacramento.
The inn is located in not one but TWO historic buildings, and offers a gourmet breakfast every morning for guests and complimentary drinks in the morning and evening.
There is also a back garden, dining room, and front porch for guests to enjoy, as well as L’Occitane bath products, plush Monarch bathrobes, and flat-screen TVs in the rooms.
Kimpton Sawyer Hotel – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in Sacramento, look no further than the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel – easily considered the best hotel in Sacramento.
The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel is situated in the heart of downtown Sacramento, right next to the California State Railroad Museum.
It features free parking, a year-round outdoor pool, a variety of quality onsite dining options, and a lounge that serves unique craft cocktails.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR SACRAMENTO
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Looking for more California travel inspiration? Check out my related posts below!
- Torrey Pines Hiking Guide: Best Trails & What to Know Before You Go - March 3, 2021
- 18 Best Weekend Trips From San Francisco (From a Local) - March 2, 2021
- 5 Best Lake Tahoe Beaches (And What to Know Before You Go) - February 24, 2021