Are you after an unforgettable trip combining history, entertainment, and natural beauty? Then, pay attention to California's capital: Sacramento.
Despite being less hyped than glitzy neighbors like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Sacramento is a hidden treasure waiting to be explored. Set where the Sacramento and American Rivers meet, this vibrant city offers something for everyone—from lush parks and historic sites to bustling modern-day activities.
Whether planning a family vacation or a solo adventure, we've got you covered with this guide to the fun things to do in Sacramento and the best things to do in Sacramento. So why wait? Let’s discover the charm that sets Sacramento apart.
1. McKinley Park
McKinley Park is a great spot that offers something for everyone. You'll likely meet other friendly dog owners if you have a dog. The Rose Garden is wonderful and makes for a peaceful place to have a sandwich from Roxys. This park is perfect if you are after things for kids to do in Sacramento. It features a baseball field, a kid's playground, and a lake. While you might read a negative review occasionally, do not let that put you off; most visitors have a great experience.
2. River Rafting
If you're wondering what the best things to do outdoors in Sacramento are, consider going river rafting. There are lots of companies that offer river rafting in Sacramento for all ages. You can get special deals with family or a big group.
You can pick how long you want to go, from half-day trips to full-day or multiple days on the river. The American River is a popular spot for this. It's got different sections, each with its own feel, making it an excellent place for some wet and wild fun.
3. Sutters Fort
Step back in time and discover California's rich history at Sutter's Fort. This historic gem in Sacramento is incredibly well-preserved and serves as a living history lesson, so it's on our list of things to see in Sacramento. It’s not just a fort; it's a place where significant moments in history unfolded, like the rescue mission for the infamous Donner Party. When you visit Sutters Fort State Historic Park, you'll see where the survivors recuperated and learn about other fascinating events that shaped the state.
The fort provides an informative and engaging experience for visitors of all ages. Enactors and excellent staff bring the history to life, offering presentations that captivate your attention. Entry price is reasonable, so it's an excellent choice for those looking to learn on a budget.
It’s a self-guided tour, but you're never alone—knowledgeable guides can answer questions and provide insights. In about an hour, you can tour the rooms and exhibits to comprehensively understand Sutter's life and role in shaping California.
4. Sacramento Zoo
One of the best things to do in Sacramento is to visit the Zoo. It is a fantastic spot for an affordable family outing or a fun date.
There are over 500 animals at Sacramento Zoo, including rare and endangered species; there's something for everyone to enjoy.
The zoo is located within William Land Park, which also offers gardens, ponds, and walking paths, so you can make it a full-day outing for those on a budget.
There are events, and a Zoo Train is available for extra entertainment and the staff are knowledgeable, making the experience fun and educational.
5. Tower Bridge
Experience Sacramento's history with a visit to the Tower Bridge, a unique lift bridge that spans the Sacramento River. This iconic structure offers more than just a way to get from point A to point B. Stroll along the walkways on both sides of the bridge to soak in fantastic views, including a direct line of sight to the State Capitol, making for a great photo op. The bridge even features a glass floor for a different perspective!
So why did this make it on our list of things to do in Sacramento? For starters, its color pays homage to California's Gold Rush history. It started as a rusty orange but oxidized to its current golden hue. Keep an eye out for the bridge lifting to allow boats to pass underneath—the Tower Bridge in Sacramento is a sight you won't want to miss.
If you have a rail card, get more bang for your buck with a 2-for-1 entry. Once you've taken in the bridge, continue your adventure by walking to the nearby Belfast for coffee and cake or exploring the surrounding areas. Head over to Old Sacramento for some historical sightseeing or catch a baseball game on the other side of the river.
6. Fairytale Town
Fairytale Town in Sacramento is a kid's dream come true! With adorable play areas based on popular stories, it's a perfect spot for families. Little ones can slide down magical slides, and train enthusiasts will be delighted by the mini railroads. It's also affordable, making it an excellent choice for family fun. With picnic tables and grill pits, it's one of the cool things to do in Sacramento with kids.
7. Visit Old Sacramento
Old Town Sacramento is a must-visit for anyone exploring the city's rich history on a budget. It's an excellent spot for a family outing with its old historic buildings, relics, and various shops ranging from costume stores to olive oil shops. The area is also home to the popular California State Railroad Museum, making it an educational trip. There are plenty of restaurants in old town Sacramento so that you won't go hungry, and for dessert lovers, there are plenty of ice cream and candy shops.
In short, Old Sacramento offers a mix of history, shopping, and dining that can be enjoyed without splurging too much, making it a frugal traveler's delight. Whether passing through or staying in Sacramento, it's worth exploring this charming area for a few hours.
8. Raging Waters Sacramento
Raging Waters is a top pick for fun things to do in Sacramento for a budget-friendly outing, especially during the hot summer. This water park has something for everyone in the family, from young kids to thrill-seeking adults. Popular attractions include a variety of slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool that even the teens in your group will love. The water is cool and clean, making for a refreshing escape from the heat.
If you want to save a few bucks, buying tickets online can score discounts, like a free season pass with a single day’s purchase, including entry to the State Fair in July.
The park is expansive and built on a hillside, so be prepared for a good amount of walking. Accessibility might be a challenge for those using wheelchairs due to the terrain. However, plenty of shaded lounging areas with furniture are provided, giving you a space to relax when you're not in the water.
9. Crocker Art Museum
This is the oldest art museum in the Western United States and has a collection of art from American to international pieces.
Besides its permanent collection, the museum frequently hosts special exhibits, so there’s always something new. If you’re driving, remember parking at the Crocker Art Museum is metered, but the experience is worth the cost. Spending 3-4 hours for a full tour is recommended, but even a shorter visit will give you a good sense of its offerings. Overall, the Crocker Art Museum offers a high-quality, varied art experience without the high price tag, making it a must-see in Sacramento.
10. Capitol Park
Capitol Park in Sacramento is an absolute must-visit! Tucked away in the city's heart, this park is a green sanctuary that offers a break from urban life. The park is spotless, and even the restrooms are well-kept, making it ideal for an entire day outdoors.
The Firefighters' Memorial is particularly touching, honoring the brave souls who have fought California's wildfires. The gardens near the Capitol Building showcase the state's unique flora, including orange trees and towering Redwoods, offering education and beauty.
Take the chance to sit on the charming white-painted benches under the shade of almond and orange trees.
11. California Automobile Museum
If you love cars or are just curious about the history of automobiles, the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento is for you. Far from being just a lineup of high-dollar classics, this museum offers a “slice of life” collection that showcases cars many of us have driven. You'll see everything from classic gems like a Stutz and a KB Lincoln to everyday vehicles from various eras, including some from the brass and nickel ages.
Knowledgeable volunteers like Kenn, who bring these cars to life with fascinating stories and facts, set the California Automobile Museum apart. A guided tour will enrich your experience, even if you're a car nut. Though you can wander freely, spending time with a guide adds a layer of understanding you can't get alone.
12. California State Railroad Museum
If you're into history or just looking for an exciting day out, take advantage of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Perfect for folks of all ages, this museum brings the era of railroads to life. You can walk through old-time railway cars like sleeping and dining cars. They even have a post office car!
Learn how the transcontinental railway shaped the United States, tying the East Coast to the West Coast. The guides here, like Jack, really know their stuff. They'll tell you cool stories and facts about the trains and history. If you have kids, they'll love the play area stocked with wooden train toys.
13. American River Bicycle Trail
If you're in Sacramento and love biking, you've got to try the American River Bicycle Trail. This trail is a cyclist's paradise, starting at Discovery Park, where the American and Sacramento Rivers meet. You can journey east towards Lake Natoma, crossing the historic Folsom Truss Bridge. The route is full of fun twists and turns but mostly flat, making it accessible for riders of all levels.
The beautiful scenery is among the best things about the American River Bicycle trail. You ride through lush areas along the river, and plenty of shade keeps you cool. The trail itself is well-maintained and paved.
It's also a very popular trail but always feels open. The trail is for everyone, whether you're a walker, runner, or biker. You can even make your way into downtown Sacramento if you're up for it; just cross the American River on the Sacramento Northern Bikeway Bridge.
The trail lasts 50 miles if you're in for a long ride or take a short scenic adventure. Either way, spending a day outside, exercising, and enjoying the area's natural beauty is fantastic.
14. Stanford Mansion
Stanford Mansion offers an interesting and informative tour that lasts around 30 minutes. If you love history or are curious, the tour covers the mansion's rich history and how Mr. Stanford played a key role in shaping the country. It's a great complement to a visit to the nearby railroad museum. Tour guides are knowledgeable, and it's especially good if you're interested in the founding of Stanford University.
The mansion's interior is stunning, and the story behind it is equally compelling. The tour is free, so it’s perfect for those on a budget. Even if you need more time for the visitor's center, the tour alone makes it a worthwhile stop.
In conclusion, we've explored various things to do in Sacramento, from the fascinating history of the Stanford Mansion to the interactive exhibits at the California State Railroad Museum. Suppose you're looking for outdoor excitement like river rafting on the American River or a peaceful afternoon at McKinley Park. In that case, the city has various cool things to do in Sacramento that cater to all ages and interests.
We hope this guide inspires you to explore Sacramento's rich history, natural beauty, and modern-day excitement. Did we miss your favorite spot? Feel free to comment below and share your must-visit places in Sacramento.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.