The former gold-mining centre of Sacramento is now an inescapably modern city, but with plenty of reminders of its past. The Old Sacramento district preserves some old-world charm and recalls the Gold Rush days. Then there are hip urban areas like Midtown, where you can tour craft breweries and try some of the area’s sophisticated dining spots, with tables proudly furnished with fruits from the local farmland.
Hiking trails lead locals and visitors alike around the protected habitats of the American River Parkway, and everything from sedate boat trips to white-water rafting tours can be taken around the Delta. When you’ve finished touring this landscape peppered with wineries and Gold Rush-era towns, it’s just a short trip to cool San Francisco or scenic Lake Tahoe.
Laidback Californians can be a pretty quirky bunch – so what do they get up to in Sacramento? Here’s our rundown of 12 unique things to do in and around the city.
1. The Dragon House
Created by a local art teacher during the mid-1980s and nestled down a neatly paved alleyway in the quiet neighbourhood of Curtis Park, the Dragon House was inspired by the world of fantasy, featuring murals, a sculptured front garden and even lamp poles made of fairies, warriors, and dragons. Meanwhile the tiles that make up the exterior of the home take on countless shapes, sizes, and colours, depicting fairies, owls and frogs, each piece handcrafted individually. Most dramatic however is a large mosaic of a dragon fighting a white tiger, a popular Buddhist symbol. Word of caution to visitors: this is a privately owned home and should be treated with due respect.
LOCATION Curtis Park, Sacramento OPENING HOURS Mon-Fri 10am-5pm
Sacramento may be a landlocked city, but that needn’t prevent you from experiencing that famous Californian surf – albeit with a distinct and quirky difference. Located in Elm Grove, just south of Sacramento, the XtremeFamilyFunCenter features a wide range of indoor, sports-oriented facilities that will keep even the most adrenaline-fuelled adventure seeker entertained. Among them is SufXtreme, an automated surf simulator that creates an impressively realistic illusion of surfing, with participants choosing to either bodyboard or stand and surf. Close your eyes and you could be riding the waves off of Venice Beach itself. This is a great option for a family day out on a rainy day.
3. Museum of Medical History
Here’s a (slightly gory) stop-off for anyone interested in the progress of medicine from the mid-1800s to the present day. Here you’ll find exhibits organised by several themes, such as antibiotics and infectious diseases, surgical diagnosis and radiology. There’s also a focus on local history, for example the spread of new infections to the area courtesy of Gold Rush-era prospectors. There’s a collection of long-defunct (and slightly intimidating) equipment, such as Civil War-era amputation kits, an antiquated X-ray machine and a 1950’s iron lung. There’s also a library stocked with early medical literature in the form of journals and textbooks. Entry to the museum is free.
LOCATION Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society, Sacramento OPENING HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
4. Lost Isle Bar & Resort
Nestled on Acker Island on the San Joaquin River in the California Delta, an hour’s drive south of Sacramento, this idyllic pleasure island and nature escape offers one of the most enticing excursions for visitors to the city. Accessible only by boat, the adults-only island resort was a popular boating destination for many years and is set to reopen after a long hiatus while it sought building permits. In its latest guise, it will once again be a hotbed of excitement and adventure, with dining and live entertainment, tranquil hikes along primitive nature trails, and raucous parties lasting long into the night just some of the fun to be had. Be sure to sample the world famous Mai Ta beverage during your stay.
LOCATION Acker Island, San Joaquin River CONTACT www.lostisle.com
5. Underground tour
Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘getting under the skin of a city’, Sacramento History Museum hosts underground tours that offers a truly unique insight into the history of Old Sacramento. During the tours visitors are chaperoned along a leisurely three-quarter-mile trek, including 200 yards of underground space, as they are regaled with fascinating tales about the city, including how it coped and during the ravaging floods of the 1850s and early 1860s. The museum also hosts ‘after hours’ tours for 21-year-olds and over, which delve into subjects that are considered too colourful for daytime ears, including murder, mischief, madness, mayhem – and madams!
LOCATION The Sacramento History Museum, Old Sacramento PRICING Adults $15; Youths aged 6- 17 $10 After Hours tour $20
6. Rafting on the Lower American River
Flowing through the scenic American River Parkway, just outside Sacramento, the Lower American River offers some of the region’s finest rafting opportunities, with scenic river banks and flocks of ducks among the delights you are guaranteed to pass along your route. One of the most popular and respected companies for organising rafting activities in this area are River Rat, owned by the ever helpful, knowledgeable and enthusiast Randy Calvin. His company provides whitewater raft rentals for experienced paddlers keen to guide their own rafting trip, with both rafts and inflatable kayaks available to rent. For serious adrenaline junkies visiting Sacramento, this is about as good as it gets.
7. Bohart Museum of Entomology
This quirky museum celebrating all things arthropod is located on the University of California’s Davis campus. Established in 1946, it’s an educational facility that documents and presents all sorts of information about creepy crawlies. It’s also a research centre, so if you see a scientific bod poring over a microscope, feel free to ask them what they’re studying. The museum hosts the seventh largest insect collection in North America, including examples of species from all across the globe. You can join an educational tour, learn about local species living in California’s various ecosystems and learn how to spot, collect and study insects, if you’re that way inclined.
LOCATION University of California, Davis OPENING HOURS Mon-Thurs 9pm-5pm (closed for one hour 12pm-1pm)
8. Tandem Skydiving
If you’re the type who likes your sight-seeing to come with an extra dash of excitement, then how about witnessing the area’s scenic landscapes from the ultimate vantage point? Located in the heart of the Sacramento Valley, only 15 minutes from Sacramento, SkyDance SkyDiving has been operating at the Yolo County Airport since 1989. The company provides a family friendly atmosphere, professional and well-trained instructors, and a safety focused attitude to give thrill-seekers complete satisfaction in their skydiving experience. Whether your goal is to become a licensed skydiver or you just want to give it a try, SkyDance SkyDiving is the best place to begin.
LOCATION Davis, California PRICING $159 – $499
9. The Brew Bike
For people who love craft beer and cycling, we simply can’t think of anything better than a trip on Sacramento’s Brew Bike. Pedal along on a mobile bar stocked with local brews, making regular rest stops at some of Midtown’s best craft beer purveyors. There’s a hefty sound system on board – bring your own playlist if you like. The Brew Bike seats 15 passengers and you can either book the whole lot for your group or chat to new people on a mixed tour. Top tip: take some water with you – it’s a party, but it’s also a workout for those providing the manpower.
LOCATION The Brew Bar, Sacramento PRICING $40 – $60 (depending on duration of tour)
10. Vernal Pools
One of California’s most spectacular natural wonders, the vernal pools in Mather Regional Park in Sacramento Valley are the result of a million years of geology and evolution. As the water resides to mark the start of spring, the pools reveal some of the rarest – and most threatened – flowering plants and invertebrates to be found anywhere in the world, attracting nature lovers who come here for hiking and walking, or simply to explore and admire the scenery. Entry to the pools is free of charge and the area is accessible from sunrise through to sunset.
LOCATION Sacramento County’s Mather Field
11. Watch the Sac City Rollers
It may be a little off the radar of most sports fans around the world, but in the good old US of A, Roller Derbys are as quintessentially American as warm apple pie. In Sacramento, the Sac City Rollers compete in an all-female flat track roller derby league, going head-to-head with teams from across California. The matches are fast-paced and full-contact, helping attract large, passionate crowds. As for the rules, they’re pretty simple, with both teams scoring points by designated skaters lapping members of the opposition. But even if you’ve not got a clue what’s going on, the white-hot atmosphere will ensure you a memorable time.
12. Guided tree tour
Experience Sacramento’s history and beauty by exploring its dense urban forest on a free guided Tree Tour with the Sacramento Tree Foundation. Each tour is led by a local expert and highlights the unique, unusual and historic trees in a specific area of Sacramento, recently ranked the “Greenest City in the U.S.” by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Past Tree Tours have included the notable Capitol Park, McKinley Park, Arden Park, River Park, and the CSUS Arboretum. Children and well-behaved dogs are welcome to attend too.