29 Best Things to Do in Sacramento, California!

Planning a trip to Sacramento?

When it comes to exploring California’s cities, many visitors overlook the state capital. But folks that do visit are rewarded by the many interesting things to do in Sacramento.

Located in the Sacramento Valley at the meeting of the Sacramento and American Rivers, the city of Sacramento is worth visiting for the numerous topnotch museums, plus an entire historic district that goes back to the days of the Gold Rush.

But it’s also a great destination for outdoor recreation and delicious food and drink.

Tower Bridge in Sacramento, California, just after sunset
Tower Bridge just after sunset

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As Golden State locals, we’ve been guilty of “passing through” Sacramento numerous times on our way to Tahoe or the Eastern Sierra.

But not any more.

We’ve now visited Sacramento several times, and enjoy reliving the California’s past here, plus visiting the museums, gardens, and surrounding natural areas.

Considering a visit to California’s capital city? Discover the best things to do in Sacramento, plus our suggestions for where to stay and where to eat.

Historic building in Old Sacramento, California
A historic building in Old Sacramento
Things to Do in Sacramento
Things to Do near Sacramento
Getting to Sacramento, California
Where to Stay in Sacramento
Where to Eat in Sacramento
The Best Time to Visit Sacramento

Things to Do in Sacramento, CA

Stroll Old Sacramento

Exploring the Old Sacramento Waterfront district is one of the top things to do in Sacramento.

Much of Old Sacramento is a State Historic Park and a National Historic Landmark District. It does ooze history everywhere you look, but also lots of charm!

You’ll see many Gold Rush era buildings here, restored or rebuilt. Although there was a settlement in the area since 1839, the city of Sacramento was born of the Gold Rush that began in 1848.

The facades are stunning so you’ll want to take lots of photos!

Beautiful facades in Old Sacramento, CA
Gold Rush Era facades in Old Sacramento

The park features so many attractions that we’ve listed some of them separately. But walking the streets to gawk at the architecture and soak in the history is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Old Sacramento.

As you stroll, take note of the wooden sidewalks, snap photos of the horse-drawn carriages, browse the many shops, and enjoy the many restaurants, cafes, and bars.

The B. F. Hastings Building in Old Sacramento, California
The B. F. Hastings Building in Old Sacramento

Buildings of note include the Eagle Theater from 1849, the B. F. Hastings Building from 1853 (which used to house the California Supreme Court), and the Big Four Building from 1855, where the Transcontinental Railroad was founded.

Also stop by the Pony Express statue: Old Sacramento was the western terminus of the Pony Express postal system.

Pony Express statue in Old Sacramento CA
The Pony Express statue in Old Sacramento

The Delta King paddlewheel riverboat, originally built in 1927, has been restored and is permanently moored at the waterfront. It is a fun place to stay or dine.

For a special treat, visit Old Sacramento during Gold Rush Days, held over the Labor Day weekend each year.

The area gets transformed into an 1850s settlement, with costumed personalities, live music, gold panning, and arts and crafts.

Snap a Photo of the Sacramento Tower Bridge

One of Sacramento’s most iconic landmarks is the gold-painted Tower Bridge over the Sacramento River.

A popular photo subject, the bridge was completed in 1935, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tower Bridge in Old Sacramento, California
A view of Tower Bridge during the day

Although the bridge looks impressive during the day, the best time to see it is at sunset, or after dark, when it’s lit up.

It lifts up sometimes to allow boats to pass, and the lift mechanism is unusual: the middle section rises horizontally. It’s fun to watch it in action!

There are walkways on both sides of the bridge, and you can also walk across the bridge. Access is easy from Old Sacramento.

From the bridge, you get great views of the river on both sides, Old Sacramento, and the Capitol.

Tower Bridge in Sacramento, CA, is painted gold
A view of the Capitol building from Tower Bridge

You can get great photos of Tower Bridge from the Sacramento River Walk, or from the I Street bridge.

Visit the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento

A museum that’s interesting not just to railroad enthusiasts but to all lovers of history, the California State Railroad Museum documents the role of the railroad in the development of the west coast of the USA.

The museum is a part of the Old Sacramento State Historic Park and one of the top Sacramento attractions.

California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, California
The California State Railroad Museum

The museum has over 250,000 square feet of exhibit space! It owns nineteen steam locomotives, spanning over 80 years, from 1862 to 1944. Not all of them are on public display at any given time, but you can definitely see a good sampling.

One of the coolest things you can view in the museum is the gold spike from the 1869 ceremony that marked the completion of the country’s first transcontinental railroad.

Another must-view is the toy train exhibit, with hundreds of vintage trains and an operating display.

The museum’s “rolling stock” collection includes a variety of passenger and freight train equipment, from private car to caboose. You can learn about mail trains and refrigerated cars, and perhaps even see the fire truck on rails.

The California State Railroad Museum is located at 111 I Street, in Old Sacramento.

It is open daily, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., other than on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. At the time of writing, general adult admission costs $12.00.

California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, CA
Artifact at one of the museum entrances

Take a Scenic Sacramento River Excursion Train Ride

The California State Railroad Museum offers excursion rides, and if you have the time, it’s one of the most fun things to do in Old Sacramento.

The 50-minute round trip train ride on the Sacramento Southern Railroad goes along the Sacramento River. The cars are pulled by a steam or diesel locomotive for a taste of what a train ride was like all those years ago.

Each ride includes coach and open air classes, as well as one of three air-conditioned first class cars. First class rides include refreshments.

Excursions generally occur on weekends during the summer, with several departures on each weekend day. Check the museum website just prior to your visit to get current excursion ride information.

Tickets may be purchased (or picked up, if purchased online) at the Central Pacific Passenger Station, on the corner of Front and J Streets in Old Sacramento.

At the time of writing, the general adult fee for coach or open air is $15.00, and luxury car is $25.00.

Snap a Photo of the State Capitol Building in Sacramento

California’s Capitol took many years to complete, with the building eventually being done in 1874, although the then Governor and other officials moved into their offices in 1869.

Exploring the majestic Capitol is one of the best things to do in downtown Sacramento.

California State Capitol Building in Sacramento
California State Capitol

It’s a working government building, and if the legislature is in session, you can request access to the public galleries to watch debates or see voting in progress.

Even if you do not tour the museum within, the beautiful dome and stately columns of the State Capitol, and its pristine white exterior, make for a great photo op.

Tour the California State Capitol Museum

If you enjoy history and architecture, join a docent-led tour (or do a self-guided tour) of the interior, to view the magnificent rotunda with its domed ceiling and to tour the rooms.

Dome of the California State Capitol in Sacramento CA
The beautiful dome of the State Capitol

On the lower level, you will find the Mathews Murals, a series of twelve murals depicting various periods in the state’s history. Done in the California Decorative style, the murals offer fascinating glimpses into California’s past.

The Lucile Lloyd Mural in the John L. Burton Hearing Room is a three-paneled work of art that shows the development of the name of the state. The colors and detail are gorgeous!

A hallway features exhibits showcasing each of California’s 58 counties. Also inside the Capitol, look for portraits of California governors, pose for a photo with the big brown bear in the Governor’s office, and tour the historic rooms.

The California State Capitol Museum has an impressive collection of historic flags, carried by California units in various wars such as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and WWI. You can see a few of them at any given time.

The California State Capitol is located at 1315 10th Street, Sacramento, and is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Enjoy the World Peace Rose Garden + State Capitol Park

Even if you do not go inside, the grounds of the California State Capitol are well worth a wander. Capitol Park encompasses 40 acres, and contains trees and plants from all over the world.

Capitol Park in Sacramento
The Capitol Park features trees from all over the world

You’ll also find many memorials in the park: to Father Junipero Serra, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, firefighters, and more.

The Civil War Memorial Grove is a living monument to the men that lost their lives in the war, with trees from many battlefields and from other sites like the tomb of President Lincoln.

The International World Peace Rose Garden makes for a colorful stroll when the flowers are in bloom. California has a long bloom season for roses, so you will find color pretty much most of the year.

Rose Garden in Capitol Park, Sacramento, CA
Strolling the rose garden is a must!

Take a Sacramento River Cruise

The settlement of Sacramento was built at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, and the two rivers offer lots of recreational opportunities.

Boating on the Sacramento River in California
Pass by the Delta King on your cruise!

One of the most relaxing things to do in Sacramento is a river cruise on the Sacramento River. There are several companies offering cruises that last from 60 to 120 minutes.

Cruises are generally narrated, and you’ll cruise past the historic buildings of Old Sacramento, and get the opportunity to spot birds and wildlife. Some cruises offer food and wine experiences as well.

Consider this well-reviewed one-hour boat tour of the Sacramento River. There are multiple departure times, and it’s a relaxing break in a sightseeing day! Book this tour now!

Do a Sacramento Food Tour!

Sacramento lies in the central valley of California, the agricultural treasure of the Golden State. From rice and beans to a big variety of fruit and vegetables, lots of crops thrive in the valley.

What better place to experience the best of California farm-to-fork cuisine?

While there are lots of restaurants to try in Sacramento, a food tour is a great way to sample local eats while getting to know a little bit about the place you are walking. In Sacramento, both Downtown and Midtown are fun places to tour.

In downtown Sacramento, check out this highly-rated historical food tour! The 3-hour walking tour takes you past major landmarks and hidden gems, and some of Sacramento’s famous murals, whilst popping into local eateries for small bites and treats. Book this tour now!

In Midtown, this well-reviewed small group history and food walking tour comes with stops at five or six Sutter District eateries for food or beverage tastings. The 3-hour tour also includes information on the history of the district, as you stroll the tree-lined streets. Book this tour now!

Admire Architectural Landmarks in Sacramento

If you enjoy gawking at buildings as you walk, you will find lots to admire in Sacramento. Apart from the historic Tower Bridge, the buildings of Old Sac, and the California State Capitol, Sacramento boasts several architectural landmarks.

Near Old Sacramento, you will find the 10-story Ziggurat building, shaped like a pyramid. The architect was inspired by the ancient ziggurats of Mesopotamia.

The building is located along the Sacramento River, and reflects in it beautifully on a bright still day.

Ziggurat Building in Sacramento, California
Ziggurat Building in Sacramento

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is considered one of the most historically significant buildings in Sacramento. And it is gorgeous, inside and out. The Renaissance Revival structure is located in downtown Sacramento, at 11th and K Streets.

The Sacramento Memorial Auditorium is a historic building. The auditorium first opened to the public in 1927, and in the decades following, it hosted numerous performances from orchestra to banquets and dances.

The auditorium was closed in 1986 due to seismic fears, but was restored and opened again in 1996.

Sacramento Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium

The Saint Francis of Assisi Parish Church in Midtown is a beautiful church with twin towers. The ornate facade is reminiscent of a California mission, and it makes for a beautiful photo.

Visit the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento

Art lovers and history buffs must definitely plan on visiting the Crocker Art Museum, founded in 1885. Crocker Museum, which used to be the E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, is the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River.

Crocker Museum Sign in Sacramento California
The Crocker Museum is a must-visit for art lovers

The historic building used to be the Crocker family mansion and art gallery, and was completed in 1872. The beautiful building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The modern building is the Teel Family Pavilion. It was opened in 2010, and vastly expanded the museum’s exhibition space.

The Crocker Museum contains the world’s best collection of California art, plus European paintings and master drawings, art from Asia, Oceania, and Africa, and ceramics from across the world.

The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, guided tours and talks, classes, and programs for kids, so be sure to check the museum’s website to discover special events scheduled for the dates of your visit.

The Crocker Art Museum is located at 216 O Street, Sacramento, and is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the time of writing, reservations are required.

General adult admission costs $15.00, and tickets can be purchased online at the museum’s website.

Gawk at the Leland Stanford Mansion

The Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park showcases the spectacular Renaissance Revival mansion that was once home to Leland and Jane Stanford and is now a museum and a reception center for world leaders that visit the Golden State.

The mansion is one of the top places to visit in Sacramento, and a must-add to your itinerary if you are a first-time visitor.

The Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento, California
The ornate facade of the mansion

Built in the 1850s by Sheldon Fogus, a Gold Rush era businessman, the home was bought by the Stanfords just a few years later. The mansion was remodeled twice by the Stanfords and has recently undergone an extensive restoration.

The interior of the mansion features 17-foot ceilings and stunning woodwork, light fixtures, paintings, and mirrors. It also has furnishings that belonged to the Stanfords, and carpets and draperies created to match the period. All in all, a must-tour mansion!

Good to know: Photography is not permitted inside the mansion.

The gardens outside, in 19th century Victorian style, are splendid as well, with lush plantings, trees, and blooms in season. The mansion and gardens are a National Historic Landmark.

The Leland Stanford Mansion is located at 800 N Street, Sacramento, and is open daily between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., other than on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

You can tour the interior of the mansion on a guided tour. Tours last about 60 minutes and are generally offered several times daily, with the last tour of the day starting at 4 p.m.

Visit Other Sacramento Museums

If you enjoy learning about local history and culture, you will find several visit-worthy museums in Sacramento apart from the ones we’ve written about separately in this article. We’ve been picking one museum for our itinerary each time we visit Sacramento!

The Sacramento History Museum is housed in a building that is a recreation of the 1854 City Hall and Waterworks building. It showcases the region’s rich and varied history, with both permanent and rotating exhibits.

Sacramento History Museum in California
Visit the Sacramento History Museum to delve into the region’s past

The California Museum is the history museum of the state, and houses the California Hall of Fame. The 31st star exhibit marks the joining of California to the Union.

An exhibit documents the history of the California missions. Another documents the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

The State Indian Museum showcases the lives and times of indigenous peoples that lived in the state for thousands of years.

Among the cultural items on display are woven baskets, beadwork, and tools. Many photographs enrich the experience. The Museum Store carries a variety of Native jewelry and gift items.

The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum is a charming one-room schoolhouse, where you can learn more about the early days of education in the Golden State.

Schoolhouse Museum in Old Sacramento, CA
The charming Schoolhouse Museum!

The California Automobile Museum is a fascinating look at the impact of automotive culture in the state. You can view dozens of classic cars and early models. On the third Sunday of each month, you can even take a ride in one of the museum cars!

Visit Sutter’s Fort Historic State Park

In midtown Sacramento, you can continue to discover California’s past with a visit to Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park.

Originally called New Helvetia, Fort Sutter was an agricultural and trade settlement established in 1839 by John Sutter, a Swiss immigrant who received a land grant from the Mexican government.

Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento California
Trees in bloom at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

After gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, and the news spread, the settlement was deserted and gradually fell to ruins until 1891, when the Native Sons of the Golden West bought the fort and restored it.

In 1947, it became part of the California state parks system.

The main building in the complex, a two-story abobe structure, was built between 1841 and 1843. The building is the only one of the original structures that survives, and is a National Historic Landmark.

You can take a self-guided tour of the park, and docents are available to answer questions and provide information. You’ll see lots of artifacts and tools in the various rooms. Outside, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and birds!

Fort Sutter State Historic Park is located at 2701 L Street, Sacramento, and is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays in July and August, the park is open until 8 p.m.

General adult admission is $5.00 except on interpretive program days, when it is $7.00.

Step Inside the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

Located just by the State Capitol, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is considered a Sacramento historical landmark. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the western USA.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, CA
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento

Construction started in 1887, when the city was transitioning from a Gold Rush settlement to a city.

The Italian Renaissance building has an imposing facade, but it’s the Victorian interior that’s a must-see. The dome, and the stained glass windows, are beautiful. Geometric shapes in pretty pastels are visually pleasing without being overwhelming.

The stunning interior of the Cathedral PC: David Leigh Ellis CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Stroll Mid-Town Sacramento

East of Downtown Sacramento, mid-town is a 2-square-mile district that is fun to walk, with Victorian houses from the 19th century, tree-lined streets, and lots of shops , galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs.

Opera Cake at the Patisserie at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates in Midtown Sacramento, CA
Delectable Opera Cake! PC: Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates

Within mid-town, the Handle District offers fabulous dining, breweries, coffee shops, and shopping. The district is enclosed by Capitol Avenue, 18th Street, 19th Street, and L Street, and is easy to walk.

The many restaurants in the district include some of the most famous eateries in the region, from Aioli Bodega Espanola (featuring Andalusian cuisine) to Zocalo, with its authentic Mexican menu.

There are several apparel boutiques worth browsing: we especially enjoy Heart Clothing Boutique. And Art of Toys is a must-stop! A gallery and store in one, Art of Toys features vintage and collectible toys that are difficult to find.

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates is another store we always pop into when we visit. While the handcrafted Northern California inspired chocolates are the main draw, the store also carries mouthwatering macarons, cookies, pastries, and ice cream.

Browse a Sacramento Farmers Market

Sacramento sits in California’s agricultural belt, so visiting one (or more!) of the local farmers markets is one of the must-do Sacramento activities.

Look for fresh fruit, nuts, prepared foods, baked treats, and more.

Midtown Farmers Market operates year round, and the farmers market to visit in Sacramento. It’s open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The market is located on 20th and K Streets, and features dozens of stalls with produce and fruit, prepared foods, and arts and crafts.

Enjoy the food trucks, live music, and food demos!

Midtown Farmers Market Sacramento
Prepared foods at the market! PC: Midtown Farmers Market

In Downtown Sacramento, the Capitol Mall Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 1.30 p.m., June through September. Enjoy produce, herbs, fresh flowers, fruit, baked goods, cheeses and more!

Go Wine Tasting at the Old Sugar Mill

Just a 15-minute drive from downtown, the Old Sugar Mill is the premier tasting destination in the Clarksburg AVA. At the time of writing, you can taste the offerings from more than a dozen Northern California wineries!

Old Sugar Mill near Sacramento, CA
Rustic ambience and great wine! PC: Old Sugar Mill

The building complex is from 1934, and was originally a beet sugar processing facility. The rustic ambience, with brick walls and piles of wine barrels, is very pleasing, and the grounds are great for picnicking. Dogs are welcome.

Both indoor and outdoor tastings are available. There are food trucks on site on the weekends, and many participating wineries offers snacks or food tastings along with the wine.

Wine tasting at Old Sugar Mill is popular, so advance reservations are highly recommended!

Sample Craft Brews!

While Sacramento is known for its farm-to-fork cuisine and wine tasting, it’s also getting known as a place to go for craft brew sampling!

Although craft brewing is not new to Sacramento, recent years have seen the emergence of many more breweries, giving you lots of choice.

Craft beer flight
Enjoy craft beer tastings in Sacramento!

There are now more than 50 craft breweries in the area, with many of them showcasing local ingredients for a true local experience.

The city also hosts beer festivals and tours of local hop yards.

You’ll find lots of craft brew tasting rooms in downtown and midtown Sacramento, perfect for sampling as you stroll.

Try Track 7 Brewing Company, named after the old Western Pacific railroad tracks associated with Sacramento’s history. They offer a variety of handcrafted ales and lagers and are hugely popular.

Fieldwork Brewing Company has several locations in Northern California, and they are known for their lagers and ales that pair perfectly with pizza. The taproom is located in the Handle District.

See the Street Art in Sacramento

If you walk around in downtown or mid-town Sacramento, you will very likely come across one or more of the many stunning murals that adorn the walls. Wide Open Walls organizes annual mural festivals in Sacramento, and is the force behind a lot of the street art in the city.

Fabulous mural by Mateus Bailon on R Street PC: Wide Open Walls

There are several dozen murals to admire in Sacramento, and if you enjoy street art, you will definitely want to set aside time for a self-guided tour. On the Wide Open Walls website, you can conveniently create your own tour.

You’ll see works by world-renowned mural artists like Shepard Fairey and Axel Void here. Raoul and Davide Perre’s colorful Mother Earth is a must-see, as is Miles Toland’s It Was Only A Dream, Maren Conrad’s koi fish in serene blue and white, and Raphael Delgado’s Mother and Child.

For a great sampling of Midtown’s art and food (two of the things for which the district is famous!), check out this midtown arts and food tour.

The 3.5-hour tour shows you some of the best murals in the area, plus takes you to local art galleries. You’ll visit local eateries for tasty bites as you tour. Book this tour now!

Stroll the Effie Yeaw Nature Center

If you enjoy nature, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center is a beautiful place to explore. The preserve is located along the American River, and features trails you can walk to try and spot local wildlife and birds.

You may see geese, wild turkey, deer, and turtles, and many birds, including ducks, egrets, and hawks. Bring a camera with zoom lens and binoculars, and enjoy the serene ambience. You can even bring a picnic lunch to enjoy here.

The Nature Center has programs for both kids and adults with helpful and knowledgeable docents. There are hands-on displays and live animals at the center, occasional talks, and a small gift shop.

Kayak or Raft the American River

The lower American River, designated a recreational “wild and scenic” river, flows through the American River Parkway, just outside the city of Sacramento. The parkway connects Old Sacramento with Folsom.

Whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting is popular on the American River

You can go kayaking, canoeing, rafting, or tubing on the lower American River. This stretch of the river has Class I and II rapids. Trees line the river, and you will see an abundance of wildflowers in season. There are many spots where you can launch. Bring your own equipment or rent locally.

The South and Middle Forks of the American River are about an hour out of the city, and offer a higher level of adventure, with Class III and IV rapids. Guided expeditions are offered out of Coloma.

Get Ice Cream at Gunther’s

If you love ice cream, a stop at Gunther’s is a must when you visit Sacramento. The historic store has been in operation since 1940 and its ice cream was ranked best in California by Food & Wine Magazine in 2021.

Gunther's Ice Cream in Sacramento, CA
Ice cream? Fruit freeze? Or 50-50? PC: Gunther’s

Located in Curtis Park, Gunther’s offers several dozen flavors of ice cream, ice ream sandwiches, and fruit freezes. The creamy ice cream is made in-house and new flavors are introduced periodically.

The fruit freezes are extremely popular (and oh-so-refreshing on warm days!), and you can also go 50-50 fruit freeze and ice cream.

On warm days and evenings, you’ll see lots of locals thronging the store for their favorite flavors. Visit in the evening to see the animated neon sign lit up, but be aware that parking can sometimes be a problem.

Things to Do Near Sacramento

Visit the UC Davis Arboretum

A visit to the UC Davis Arboretum and Garden is a must if you love nature and gardens. The Arboretum and Public Garden are sprawled over the 5,300-acre UC Davis campus, and you’ll have to pick what to see and do, but allow plenty of time to explore.

UC Davis Arboretum in Davis CA is one of the easiest day trips from Sacramento you can do!
The UC Davis Arboretum in the fall

The historic Arboretum encompasses more than 100 acres, with demonstration gardens and scientific collections. The Putah Creek Riparian Reserve is part of the Arboretum. The stream and surrounding grasslands are a habitat for many birds and wildlife.

There are three different loops you can walk to explore the Arboretum. The Putah Creek Riparian Reserve has several trailheads for access. Parking areas are different depending on what you want to do, so be sure to visit the official website to get your bearings.

Among the many places to visit here, do not miss the stunning mural at the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, the redbud collection in bloom if you visit in early spring, and the Hummingbird GATEway Garden, where you can see up to five types of hummingbirds depending on the season.

The Arboretum is located at 1046 Garrod Drive, Davis, about 17 miles from Sacramento. There is no fee to visit (although there is a parking fee), and the Arboretum and gardens are open 24 hours, all year long. Dogs on leashes are permitted.

Explore the Gold Rush Past of Folsom

Folsom is a great place to explore on a day trip from Sacramento, for its rich Gold Rush era history, the Folsom State Prison Museum, and the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.

Lake Natoma in Folsom, CA
Beautiful Lake Natoma in Folsom PC: Jason

Take a peek into the past of the city in historic Old Folsom. Sutter Street, today filled with eateries and shops, was the center of action during the days of the Gold Rush. Festivals, live entertainment, and events are held on the street through the year.

The Folsom Prison gained notoriety when Johnny Cash sang “Folsom Prison Blues.” Folsom Prison Museum features exhibits that show what life is like inside the prison, which handles the overflow from San Quentin.

The Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is a fabulous state park that offers hiking, boating, biking, horseback riding, and water skiing. Bring a picnic to enjoy here!

Lake Natoma, also created by the damming of the American River like Folsom lake, is another fun recreational area, with hiking and biking trails, fishing, and boating, both motorized and non-motorized.

The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (American River Parkway) runs between Discovery Park in Sacramento and Beals Point in Folsom.

Folsom is about 23 miles from Sacramento, about a 30-minute drive in normal traffic.

Discover Coloma

Coloma is located on the South Fork of the American River, about 46 miles from Sacramento. Kayak and raft the American River, explore the Gold Rush past of the area, and enjoy the outdoors.

South Fork of the American River near Coloma, CA
The South Fork of the American River near Coloma

Marshall Gold Discovery State Park offers gold panning lessons! You can also visit the museum, and take the Gold Discovery tour to learn about the Gold Rush era. Some buildings in the park date back to that time. There is also a 3-mile hiking loop in the park. Day use fee is $10.00 per car.

Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park, just a few miles from Coloma, offers 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. You can also fish here, or enjoy birdwatching. Visit in the spring for beautiful wildflower displays.

Explore Placerville

Placerville is one of the best gold rush towns in California, one of the most popular day trips from Sacramento. It is located about 43 miles from downtown Sacramento. Start early if you want to visit for the day, because there is a lot to do in and around Placerville!

Bell Tower in downtown Placerville, California
Bell tower in downtown Placerville PC: Shutterstock / venemama2

Known as the “Heart of the Mother Lode,” Placerville offers historical tours and museums that help you learn more about the heady days when gold was first discovered in the area, leading to the famous Gold Rush.

The city is located on the South Fork of the American River, with opportunities for kayaking and whitewater rafting, with rapids from beginner to advanced levels. Eldorado National Forest nearby offers excellent hiking, camping, and wildlife watching.

Downtown Placerville is a must-stroll, to view the 19th century buildings that line Main Street. The historic bell tower in the plaza makes for a great photo. Browse the many boutique shops and art galleries, or go antiquing. You will find excellent dining here as well, as well as wine tasting and craft brews.

Enjoy Apples (and Much More!) at Apple Hill

Near Placerville, Apple Hill is a fun place to visit for kids and adults alike. From antique apples to the oldest apple tree in the region, you’ll find a lot of apple history to enjoy here. Many of the ranches serve food as well.

Apple blossoms in California
Apple blossoms look stunning!

Located in a scenic area at the foot of the Sierra Nevada foothills, Apple Hill is a robust community of dozens of local ranchers, featuring not just everything apples, but also Christmas trees, wine, and more!

Many of the farms grow more than apples, and you’ll find you-pick opportunities in spring, summer, and fall. In spring, the apple blossoms are a magnificent photo op, and you’ll find wildflowers to enjoy. Fall is peak apple harvest time.

Dogs on leash are welcome at almost all the farms in the region.

Hike in Auburn State Recreation Area

The Auburn area is home to several parks and hiking trails. The area is popular with Sacramento locals as well as visitors that enjoy the outdoors.

A hiking trail in Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn, CA
Trail in Hidden Falls Regional Park

The Auburn State Recreation Area is located along the North and Middle Forks of the American River, about 43 miles from Sacramento. The popular state park offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, fishing, off-highway motorbike riding, wildlife watching, birdwatching, and camping are the major activities at the park. You can also pan for gold here. Whitewater rafting (Class II-V rapids) are available on the two river forks.

Quarry Trail in Auburn State Recreation Area is close to 11 miles in length. The moderate hike takes you by the river and up the surrounding hills. Enjoy the scenery as you hike, and look for birds and wildlife.

Lake Clementine Trail is a relatively easy and shaded hike that offers beautiful views of the water. Side trails lead to the river, the final one dropping down to a pool from where you get beautiful views of the water cascading over the dam.

Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn also offers excellent hiking, with more than 30 miles of multi-use trails that meander through oak woodlands. The park also offers picnic areas.

Visit North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve is about 75 miles from Sacramento. The reserve offers hiking and birdwatching, but it’s a must-visit if you are in Sacramento in the spring of a good wildflower bloom year.

Wildflowers in bloom at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville, CA
Wildflower bloom at North Table Mountain PC: Mark

Wildflower displays here in good bloom years are sensational. Even in not-so-good bloom years, you will find many varieties of wildflowers here, just not in profusion. Bitter root, lupine, and poppies are some of the flowers that bloom in the reserve.

Other than wildflowers, visit for the interesting landscape featuring lava outcrops, waterfalls, and vernal pools. The 164-foot Phantom Falls is stunning.

Note that restrooms, drinking water, and trash receptacles are not available at the reserve. Dogs on leash are permitted.

Getting to Sacramento

Sacramento International Airport is just over 10 miles from Downtown Sacramento, and you can fly in on any major airline. All the major car rental companies operate either at the airport or just off the airport, so it’s easy to pick up a rental car upon arrival.

You can also, of course, drive to Sacramento. Sacramento is just under 88 miles from San Francisco, for a driving time of about one hour and 30 minutes via Interstate 80 in normal traffic. From LA, the distance is about 384 miles via Interstate 5, for a drive time of about 6 hours in normal traffic.

Looking for a car rental for your Sacramento getaway? Check out Discover Cars! They scour multiple providers to get the best price for you, including brands like Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, Budget, and Sixt.

Sacramento makes for a great stop on a trip from the SF Bay Area to Lake Tahoe or to Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Consider the state capital the next time you are looking for weekend getaways from San Francisco or LA!

California State Capitol in Sacramento, CA
Detail on the facade of the State Capitol building

Where to Stay in Sacramento

Hotels in Sacramento, CA

Kimpton Sawyer Hotel is located in downtown Sacramento, right next to the Golden 1 Center, and convenient to shopping and dining. A third-floor pool deck overlooks the arena. Rooms are comfortable and well-appointed, and some rooms feature balconies with views of downtown Sacramento. Book a stay here!

The Hyatt Regency Sacramento is located across the street from the State Capitol. Rooms are modern and spacious, and the hotel offers a resort-style pool and hot tub. Downtown attractions, shopping, dining, and entertainment are walking distance. Book a stay here!

The Fort Sutter Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is one of our favorite places to stay in Sacramento. The Midtown hotel is located near Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park and is close to many quality eateries, and the attractions of downtown Sacramento are just a short drive away. Book a stay here!

Saint Francis Church in Midtown Sacramento, CA
The beautiful facade of the St. Francis Church in Midtown

Where to Eat in Sacramento

Localis, in Midtown, is a wonderful restaurant to experience California’s farm-to-fork offerings. With tasting menus crafted from the best of seasonal ingredients, sourced both locally and beyond. Wine or non-alcoholic pairings are offered, and vegetarian options are available.

The Waterboy is a Sacramento institution, with season-driven offerings that place local ingredients front and center. We’ve visited for light lunches selected from their first course offerings, but their main courses look delicious as well.

Zocalo Midtown is our favorite place for Mexican cuisine in Sacramento. We’ve enjoyed both lunch and dinner here, and the craft cocktails are exceptional. The shrimp tacos and baja fish tacos are flavorful, and the salads are fresh and refreshing.

Capitol Park in Sacramento, CA
Capitol Park in Sacramento

The Best Time to Visit Sacramento

Sacramento is a year-round destination, but it gets extremely hot in the summer and early fall. If you visit in the summer, focus on indoor experiences, or go boating on the American River.

The Capitol Rose Garden in bloom in early September
Roses at the Capitol Rose Garden in early September

Spring is our favorite time to visit California’s state capital. Daytime temperatures are pleasant for wandering outdoors and for experiencing the gardens and natural areas near the city. Wildflower blooms, orchard blooms, and green hills make it a beautiful time of year.

We’ve enjoyed visiting Sacramento in mid to late fall as well, when daytime temperatures allow for comfortable outdoor exploring.

If you want to plan a visit around events, the Sacramento Music Festival happens in May each year. The California State Fair occurs in July (but mind the extreme heat!), and Gold Rush Days in September.

Other California Cities to Visit

Planning a trip to California? Check out some of our other in-depth California city guides:

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Discover the best things to do in Sacramento, California! Explore Old Sacramento, cruise the Sacramento River, and visit the California State Capitol!


Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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