When speaking of California, the words modern, trendy and laid-back often come to mind. There’s not much thought for the area’s history, though. But the state capital, Sacramento, showcases both the region’s history and its modernity.
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 the fruits of the local farms.
Hiking trails wind through protected habitats of the American River Parkway, and everything from sedate boat trips to white-water rafting tours can be taken around the Delta. And when you’ve finished touring this landscape peppered with wineries and Gold Rush-era towns, it’s just a short trip to hip San Francisco or scenic Lake Tahoe. Here’s our rundown of 12 unique things to do in and around Sacramento.
Take a selfie at 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, with each piece handcrafted. 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.
Diagon Alley, Curtis Park
Get a different perspective on a river cruise
Sail along the Sacramento River at sunset sipping cocktails from the cash bar on board, or take a daytime trip aboard a yacht past landmarks like the Tower Bridge and the Delta King, a former paddle steamer that is now a hotel. Sacramento is also split by the American River. It was along this stretch where a lot of the early gold panning in the region took place. Some of the best daytime cruises include narration about the history of the area, plus stories from the Gold Rush era and about the Pony Express mail service. For a look at some of the river cruises available on Viator, please click here.
Learn about medicine’s past at the 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.
5380 Elvas Ave.
Take the Sacramento History Museum’s 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 its citizens coped 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!
Sacramento History Museum, 101 I St.
Go white water 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 likely 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 enthusiastic Randy Calvin. His company provides white water 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.
4053 Pennsylvania Ave.
Encounter insects at 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 you may see scientists at work, 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.
University of California, Davis
Mon-Thurs 9am-noon, 1-5pm
See the world from above on a tandem skydive
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 aiming 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 a good place to begin.
24390 Aviation Ave., Davis
Drink and ride on the Sacbrew 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, and you can bring your own playlist if you’d 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 pedal-power.
1519 19th St.
Hike along paths past vernal pools in Spring
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 recedes at 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.
Mather Regional Park
Take a food tour of Sacramento’s Downtown
Sacramento has plenty of great local wines and cheeses, as well as many meals made with ingredients sourced from the local farms. The best way to try a number of these in one day is on a food tour, where guides tell stories about the area’s history and food cultivation to add context to the flavour. On this tour there will be stops at five eateries or more, with vegetarian options also available at each one. All food and beverages are included in the price. You can learn more and reserve your spot on one of the tours by clicking here.
Watch the action at Sacramento Roller Derby
It may be a little off the radar of most sports fans around the world, but in the good old US of A, the Roller Derby is as quintessentially American as warm apple pie. At the Sacramento Roller Derby, skaters 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.
1501 N C St.
Connect with nature on a guided tree tour
Experience Sacramento’s history and beauty by exploring its dense urban forest on a free guided tree tour with the non-profit organisation 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.
191 Lathrop Way