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Sacramento; California’s River City

Sacramento Cover
Sacramento is a gorgeous city, with a lot of fun attractions and interesting sights to visit. Sacramento is the perfect place for a Northern California getaway, whether it's for the week or for a few days.
Brandon Speakman on April 29, 2020 - 3:32 pm in Featured Cities, Historical

Things to do in Sacramento, California

Sacramento is a beautiful Northern California city with plenty of activities to take part in. The city of Sacramento is proud to have numerous historic landmarks; related to the early government of California, as Sacramento is the State Capital of California. Sacramento is a fun city to explore and is full of interesting museums, art galleries, historic parks, old movie theaters, picturesque rivers, impressive bars and unique restaurants.

For thousands of years, Nisenan (Southern Maidu), Modoc and Plains Miwok Native Americans lived in Sacramento. The Nisenan, Modoc and Plains Miwok Native Americans didn’t leave much behind that gave information regarding how they lived. However, it is known that their diet consisted of acorns, fruits, bulbs, seeds, and roots, which came from the high number of oak trees in the area.


Modoc Yellow Hammer Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spanish explorer, Gabriel Moraga, found the area in 1808. Moraga named the land, the Sacramento Valley and named the river, the Sacramento River. Moraga and his party thought the area was so beautiful and plentiful of oak, cotton, and grapes; he named the city and the river after the “Most Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.” His words were in reference to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist.

On August 13, 1839, John Sutter Sr. arrived to the Sacramento area, with a Mexican land grant that consisted of 50,000 acres. In 1840, John Sutter and his party started to make plans to build Sutter’s Fort. John Sutter called his land New Helvetia. Sutter was a “political authority and dispenser of justice” in New Helvetia. The colony began to grow, as more pioneers were moving west. Sutter’s Fort started to become a popular destination for immigrants traveling through the valley. The agriculture industry started to grow in Sacramento in 1847, when John Sutter Sr. was given 2,000 fruit trees. Later in 1847, John Sutter Sr. hired James Marshall to build a sawmill.


John Sutter Sr. 1850 Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, which led to a increase in Sacramento’s population. By December 1848, John Sutter Jr. began to form Sacramento’s grid plan, 2 miles south of New Helvetia.


Depiction of James W. Marshall Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

The city was originally called “Sacramento City,” named after the Sacramento River. Sacramento became an “overnight success” for John Sutter Jr., which caused John Sutter Sr. a lot of anguish as Sutter’s Fort, Sutter’s Mill and the town of Sutterville, (all founded by John Sutter Sr.), were all unsuccessful in the long run.


Sacramento in 1849 Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Sacramento was incorporated as a city on February 27, 1850, and today, is “the oldest incorporated city in California.” Sacramento would eventually become “the western end of the Pony Express.” Sacramento became a charter city in 1920. Recently, Sacramento has seen a boom in population, with people from the Bay Area looking for cheaper housing and with millennials. Sacramento is a great California city to visit on your next family vacation.


Sacramento Skyline Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum originated in 1937, after a group of railroad fanatics, who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, formed the Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. The organization put all their efforts into making the California State Railroad Museum a reality. Members of the organization eventually donated “30 historic locomotives and cars to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to be the nucleus of the State-operated museum in Sacramento.” The Central Pacific Passenger Station (the museum’s first installment) opened in 1976. The Railroad History Museum was finalized in 1981. The Sacramento Southern Railroad began a steam-powered passenger train service in 1984. The Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot opened three years later. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown was included in the California State Railroad Museum in 1992. The California State Railroad Museum became associated with the Smithsonian in June 2017.

CA State Railroad Museum exterior

Exterior of The California State Railroad Museum Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

The California State Railroad Museum features 21 “restored locomotives and railroad cars,” some of which date back to 1862. The “Sierra Scene” is a mockup of a “construction scene high in the Sierra Nevada representing Donner Pass circa 1867.” The “Sierra Scene” also features the locomotive, Gov. Stanford. The California State Railroad Museum has another exhibit that shows how railroads altered American society by “influencing travel, commerce, and daily life.” The California State Railroad Museum also offers extensive educational programs to help elementary school students gain a better understanding of “railroad history using re-enactments, costumed docents, and including train and handcar rides.”


North Pacific Coast 12 Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Next to the main museum building is a restored 1870s-era Central Pacific Railroad passenger station and freight depot on Front Street. The freight depot is home to “historic and contemporary railroad equipment.” Between April and October each year, the Sacramento Southern Railroad takes passengers on a 40-minute round trip train ride that goes along the Sacramento River on a section of the Walnut Grove division of the former Southern Pacific Railroad. The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento is an exciting museum to visit, especially for train and railroad enthusiasts. The California State Railroad Museum is TripAdvisor’s #1 recommended attraction to visit in Sacramento.


Southern Pacific #6051 EMD E9 Painted in Daylight Color Scheme Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Crocker Art Museum

Edwin B. Crocker, a wealthy California lawyer and judge, and his wife Margaret Crocker, founded The Crocker Art Museum in 1885. The idea of a museum came about when the couple started to collect paintings and drawings, during an extended trip to Europe between 1869 and 1871.

Edwin B Crocker

Portrait of Edwin B. Crocker Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

When the Crocker’s returned to Sacramento, they decided to set up an art gallery in their home at the corner of Third and O Streets, showcasing all the art they had brought back from Europe. The gallery became very popular and eventually became a place where benefits and other activities where hosted by local organizations.


Vintage image of the Crocker residence from 1880. The residence would later become part of The Crocker Art Museum Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

After Edwin B. Crocker passed away in 1875, Margaret opened a public art museum and donated the contents of the E.B. Crocker Art Gallery and Collection to the City of Sacramento and the California Museum Association. At the time, the art that was donated to the city of Sacramento was worth over $500,000. The Crocker Art Gallery was renamed in 1978 to the Crocker Art Museum. Due to the amount of art that was collected by the museum over the years, the museum began to expand. On October 10, 2002, the expanded Crocker Art Museum was opened to the public. The Crocker Art Museum is the #2 recommended attraction to visit in Sacramento on TripAdvisor.

Crocker Art Museum

Old and new buildings of the Crocker Art Museum Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

California State Capitol Museum

The California State Capitol Museum is located inside the California State Capitol. The California State Capitol has been home to the California State Legislature since 1869. The State Capitol Museum has been owned by the California State Parks Department since 1982. The California State Capitol has a basement that includes the tour office, a small theater that shows short films related to the history of the State Capitol, a gift shop, and the Arthur Mathews mural, the “History of California.” The first floor includes the restored historic offices of the Secretary of State, Treasurer and Governor of California. You can also visit Capitol Park, which includes trees and shrubs from around the globe. The California State Capitol Museum is a great place to visit and learn more about California’s Legislature, and the history of California politics. The California State Capitol is the #3 recommended attraction to visit in Sacramento on TripAdvisor.

CA state capitol

The California State Capitol Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a United States National Historic Landmark District. To citizens of Sacramento, Old Sacramento State Historic Park, is referred to as Old Sacramento. The Old Sacramento Historic District is a fantastic area for those who wish to learn more about the history of the city of Sacramento.

old sacramento union hotel

Old Sacramento Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Old Sacramento is home to many historic buildings including the B.F. Hastings Building (the western terminal of the Pony Express and first location of the California Supreme Court), Big Four House (built by California railroad pioneers: Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker, known as the Big Four), Lady Adams Building (the oldest non-residential building in Sacramento), Sacramento Engine Company No. 3 (the oldest remaining firehouse in Sacramento), Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, Eagle Theatre, and the Morse Building. Old Sacramento is a beautiful part of Sacramento and an exciting place to learn more about the city’s history. Old Sacramento is the #4 recommended attraction to visit in Sacramento on TripAdvisor.


The Big Four House Building in Downtown Sacramento Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is a wonderful historic relic of Sacramento. The Main Building of Sutter’s Fort is a two-story adobe structure, which was built between 1841 and 1843. The Main Building is the only structure that was not rebuilt, during the reconstruction of Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. The Main Building was where “James Marshall met privately with Sutter in order to show Sutter the gold that Marshall had found during the construction of Sutter’s sawmill along the American River only four days earlier.” When Sutter built the original fort, he used walls that were 2.5 feet thick and 15 to 18 feet high.

Pioneers started to live inside Sutter’s Fort around 1841. After The California Gold Rush started, Sutter’s Fort was abandoned. By the 1850s, Sutter’s Fort was in ruin. The Native Sons of the Golden West (who set out to preserve California landmarks from the pioneer days), bought and repaired Sutter’s Fort, mainly because the city of Sacramento wanted to demolish the building. Sutter’s Fort was refurbished in 1893. After the refurbishment was completed, the Native Sons of the Golden West gifted Sutter’s Fort back to the city of Sacramento. In 1947, Sutter’s Fort was given to the authority of the California State Parks. Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is the #5 recommended attraction to visit in Sacramento on TripAdvisor.


Sutter’s Fort Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

The Historic Tower Theater

The Tower Theater was built in 1938 and is described as a “Sacramento landmark that is the oldest remaining, continuously running picture palace.” The Tower Theater is located in Sacramento’s Broadway District and is proud to have screened film premieres from local Sacramento filmmakers, such as Colin Hank’s film “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records” in 2015 and Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated film, “Lady Bird” in 2017. The Tower Theater is also proud to offer craft beverages and appetizers on its premise. The Tower Theater is an exciting venue to visit and is a great place to check out new indie films.

The Crest Theater

The Crest Theater, located in Downtown Sacramento, is another one of Sacramento’s historic theaters. The Crest Theater opened in 1912, as a “vaudeville palace” and was known, at the time, as the Empress Theater. The Empress Theater was later known as the Hippodrome theatre. In 1949, the Hippodrome theatre was remodeled, after the marquee of the theater fell onto the pavement below.

The theater changed its theme to art deco (which is still the theater’s theme today), and was renamed the Crest Theater. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Crest Theater was known as “one of the permier first-run movie palaces in the Sacramento area.” The Crest Theater became a discount theater in the 1970s and would eventually close in the 1980s. After multiple attempts, the Crest Theater was revamped and reopened in 1986.

In 1993, there was a fire in the building next door to the Crest Theater; luckily, the Crest only suffered minor smoke damage. Due to the fire, The Crest Theater received repairs up until 2009. In 2013, the screening rooms in the basement closed down and were remodeled into an on-site full service restaurant, known as the Empress Tavern (which opened in 2015.) The Crest Theater is also known for screening the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year on Christmas Eve. The Crest Theater is a wonderful art theater in the Sacramento area to enjoy dinner (at the Empress Tavern) and a movie at.


The restored Crest Theatre on it’s 60th anniversary – showing the same film as it did on opening night October 6, 1949. Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

The American River

The American River in Sacramento is a stunning sight to see. This 30-mile river runs from the Sierra Mountains and meets with the Sacramento River in the Sacramento Valley.


American River view from the campus of California State University, Sacramento Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Today, the American River is a fun way to beat the heat in the summer. The American River has flat water that is great for swimming and canoeing, as well as whitewater for whitewater kayaking and whitewater rafting.


American River aerial view near Fair Oaks, California

SactoMoFo- Sacramento Mobile Foods

SactoMoFo is an exciting public event, where local food trucks come together and share different types of tasty foods and desserts. SactoMoFo happens a few times each week throughout Sacramento’s city limits. The food trucks of SactoMoFo are out of this world and all have their own type of unique twist on classic foods. Some of the most popular SactoMoFo food trucks include Chando’s Tacos, Cowtown Creamery, Krush Burger, Mac Daddy Island Grill, Nash and Proper, Smokin’ Ewe BBQ, and Taco Loco. SactoMoFo is a great place to have a tasty meal and mingle with Sacramento locals. Some of Sacramento’s food trucks have even opened up permanent restaurant locations (like Krush Burger in Roseville, California.)

Pizza Rock

Pizza Rock is a tasty pizza joint owned by restaurateur, Tony Gemignani. The menu at Pizza Rock in Sacramento is chalk full of Italian goodies. The Starters at Pizza Rock include Fries (Truffle or Rosemary), Calamari Fritti, Pizza Rock Meatballs, Wings, and Garlic-Garlic Bread with Mozzarella. The types of pizza you can order are divided into 3 categories; Wood Fired Pizzas, gluten free pizzas and Tony G’s World Famous Pizzas. The pizza at Pizza Rock is absolutely delicious. With the different kinds of pizza you can order at Pizza Rock, it’ll be a tough call, but there are no wrong choices with whatever you decide on. Pizza Rock also serves up some awesome desserts. Pizza Rock is a terrific restaurant to visit in the Sacramento area and is sure to satisfy your craving for some good old-fashioned pizza pies.

Kupros Craft House

Kupros Craft House is a popular bar and restaurant in Sacramento’s downtown area. The building that houses Krupros, was built in 1910 and used to be a vintage/costume shop that operated from 1969-2002. In 2002, a gentleman named Stephen Tokuhama purchased the building. It wasn’t until eight years later, in 2010, when Tokuhama opened up Kupros Bistro. The opening year of Kupros Bistro ended up correlating with the 100th birthday of the building itself. In 2013, Tokuhama rebranded Kupros Bistro into Kupros Craft House. Kupros has stained glass in the front entrance and a wooden bar, with the intent to “give the feeling that can only be described as your ‘home away from home.'” Kupros Craft House is an exciting bar and restaurant to visit and is a great place for visitors of Sacramento to kick back and live like a local.

Capitol Garage

Capitol Garage started out as a music venue (in an actual garage across from the California State Capitol) for the “emerging punk scene” in the Sacramento area. At that time, Capitol Garage had a simple menu of coffee, small bites, and punk rock. The stage at Capitol Garage has been filled with local talent and popular bands throughout the years. Capitol Garage eventually moved to a bigger location, at 15th and K Street in Downtown Sacramento. Today, Capitol Garage operates as a full restaurant, with a selection of brunch, lunch, and dinner menu options. The walls at Capitol Garage are covered with local art and historical homages that pay tribute to its punk roots. The Capitol Garage is a great restaurant to have a tasty meal at and to take in a “living piece of Sacramento history.”

Sacramento, California is an interesting and exciting Northern California city to visit. Sacramento is rich with history, old landmarks and good food. For more information about a trip to Sacramento, a custom travel planning site..


Aerial view of Sacramento and the Sacramento River Photo Courtesy Wikipedia


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