What to do in Sacramento

ferris wheel near city buildings during daytime

California’s capital offers an unparalleled array of activities, events, and attractions

Nestled between the American and Sacramento rivers, Sacramento has a rich history and plenty to do. Whether you’re a history buff, you love the outdoors, you’re a foodie, or you’re looking for things to do with kids, Sacramento has something for everyone. California’s state capital is a hub of activity and evolving culture. Nearly year-round sunshine and beautiful weather means you’ll have time to do it all!

In this article

Whether you’re exploring your options or you’ve already closed on a home, this article will give you a breakdown of the best things to do in Sacramento.

Some quick Sacramento facts

  • Prospectors discovered gold nuggets in the American river near Sacramento in 1848, spurring thousands to seek their fortune in the Gold Rush of 1849.
  • The entire city was raised one story after three catastrophic floods in 1861 and 1862. You can still see old Sacramento under the boardwalks and in the basements.
  • The First Transcontinental Railroad and Pony Express both ended in Sacramento, making it a major distribution and transportation point in the late 1800s.
  • Sacramento is the home of the first volunteer fire department in the western US and the first professional fire department west of the Mississippi.
  • It’s in Northern California, an hour and a half from San Francisco, and located near Plumas National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, and Yosemite National Park.
  • It’s California’s 6th largest city with a population of over 524,000.
  • The beautiful weather—and over 250 days of sunshine—will give you plenty of time to enjoy all of the outdoor activities that the city has to offer year-round.
  • Cost of living in Sacramento is 21 percent higher than the national average but 14 percent lower than the average in California.
  • The median home price in Sacramento is $450,000 and the median income is just under $70,000, beating the national average of around $67,000.

If you’re a history buff

Sacramento Regional Fire Museum

The first volunteer fire department in the Western US and the first paid professional fire station west of the Mississippi both started in Sacramento. The Sacramento Regional Fire Museum focuses on preserving the history of California fire fighting. Browses historical pieces, documents, and equipment while learning about the history of Sacramento fire departments.

State Indian Museum

Learn about the first people to live in California—long before it was California. The State Indian Museum houses a collection of Indian cultural items from the 19th century. It also educates people about where and how Native populations live now.

Sutter’s Fort Museum

John Sutter came to California from Switzerland to establish New Helvetia in 1839. It was the first non-Indian settlement in the Central Valley. When gold was discovered where Sutter was building a sawmill, it became the starting point for the California Gold Rush. Now, Sutter’s Fort Museum is looking at how Sutter’s settlement impacted Native Americans in the area. It’s working to show a more objective picture of the early days of the city.

Old Sacramento Waterfront

The original commercial hub of Sacramento is now the center for shopping, dining, and entertainment in the city. The city redeveloped the area and it became the first historic district in the American West in the 1960s. It’s 28 acres with 53 historic buildings and is registered as a National and California Historic Landmark. Dine on the Delta King Steamboat, a 285-foot riverboat that is permanently moored and is now a hotel and restaurant. 

State of California Capitol Museum

Explore the history of the capitol building in murals, exhibits, and portraits of former governors. See the place where legislative action happens as you take in the Senate Chamber Gallery, Assembly Chamber Gallery, Library Exhibit Room, 1906 Treasurer’s Office, and more.

white concrete building under blue sky during daytime
Tour the Sacramento Capitol Building for a peak into California’s governmental history

If you’re into the art scene

Crocker Art Museum

Spend a day soaking in fine art from California alongside European master drawings, and international ceramics at the Crocker Art Museum. The museum is actually two buildings—the Historic Building and the Teel Family Pavilion. The Historic Building was the home of Judge Edwin B. Crocker. This building is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a California Historical Landmark.

In 2000, the museum began expanding. It now has a large gallery space for all of the museum’s collections. This expansion also changed the first floor of the historic building into the Museum’s Education Center. It includes four studios, exhibition space, the Gerald Hansen Library, the Art Education Resource Room, and Tot Land.

Broadway Sacramento

Take in a show with Broadway Sacramento and enjoy the unique 360-degree theater experience. In the winter, Broadway Sacramento offers an indoor series at the Community Center Theater and features touring productions. Hamilton and An Officer and a Gentleman both came to town recently.

Second Saturday

Enjoy art exhibits, food, wine, local musicians, and special events downtown on the second Saturday of every month. Street fairs and fashion shows create a lively atmosphere and local artists relish the chance to show their works. You can even watch a PBS Documentary about the origins of Second Saturday and what it means to the Sacramento area.

Concerts in the Park

There’s no better place to be than Concerts in the Park at the Cesar Chavez Plaza on a summer Friday. This is one of the many free things to do in Sacramento. Thousands of fans enjoy local and national artists each week of the 12-week summer series. There are food and retail vendors, too so you can shop and eat local while listening to live music.

Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum 

The Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum offers a rich experience. Explore African American history through works of art. The museum honors the abolitionist and non-violent legacy of Sojourner Truth, a former slave turned activist. 

In one of their exhibits, you can see a 10,000 square foot mural dedicated to telling the story of African American history through art. There is also a kids’ arts and craft area that teaches children about African American history through hands-on art activities.

If you’re a foodie (and love wine, too)

Farm-to-Fork Festival

Sacramento is surrounded by over 1.5 million acres of farms and the weather supports a year-round growing season. So local food is a staple of Sacramento dining. To celebrate Sacramento’s farm-to-fork way of life, the city honors the chefs, brewers, vintners, farmers, and ranchers who work tirelessly to provide good food in the last weekend of September. The Farm-to-Fork Festival offers music, food, wine, beer, and an unforgettable experience. 

Local Roots Food Tours

If you’re a foodie, don’t miss the Local Roots Food Tours. Sample the best that Sacramento has to offer as you taste (and sip) your way through these guided tours of Midtown, Downtown, R Street, and Sutter District.  

Apple Hill

Head to Apple Hill for some of the best things to do in Sacramento. This area has ranches, wineries, bakeries, pumpkin patches, Christmas tree growers, you-pick farms, and apple orchards. If you can’t see everything in a day (you can’t!), there are Bed & Breakfasts, campgrounds, and hotels nearby.  

Fried Chicken Trail

You’ve probably heard of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. But have you heard of the Fried Chicken Trail? Win prizes for checking in at different locations on the trail. All you have to do is get the Fried Chicken Trail pass that offers deals and discounts along with a curated list of the best fried chicken in Sacramento. 

If you want to give back

Visit Sacramento and other volunteer opportunities

Make Sacramento your home and you’ll find festivals, concerts, sporting events, conferences, fairs, and more. And what better way to give back to your community than to volunteer to help make these events a reality? When you volunteer with Visit Sacramento, you can be part of the Sac Event Crew and find yourself smack dab in the middle of the action. 

Some events that volunteers have helped with include Farm-to-Fork events, NCAA March Madness tournaments, Amgen Tour of California Bike Race, and the Aftershock Music Festival. You can also find volunteer opportunities at the Sacramento Public Library, Blossom Ridge Hospice, River City Food Bank, along with lots of other mentor and community service programs.

If you have kids

Fairytale Town

Visit Fairytale Town if you’re looking for something to do with kids in Sacramento. This place is a fairytale brought to life. The 25 unique playsets are inspired by nursery rhymes and include a pirate ship, Sherwood Forest playground, Owl’s Treehouse, Anansi’s Web, and so much more. There are lots of places for your little ones to climb and explore.  

Mr. McGregor’s Garden is a hands-on learning environment that offers workshops, vegetable and herb gardens, and child-sized watering cans so kids can help keep the plants hydrated. Fairytale Town is also home to unique animals, and kids can see and interact with varieties of rare and miniature breeds. It also features two performance stages.

Sacramento Zoo

The Sacramento Zoo will amaze and delight your whole family. Whether your kids are into chimpanzees, okapis, or tigers, they will get an up close look at some of the coolest animals out there. 

leopard lying on gray rock
The Sacramento Zoo has animals and attractions to entertain the whole family

Sacramento Children’s Museum

Kids learn about science, technology, engineering, and math through hands-on exhibits at the Sacramento Children’s Museum. They can create their own art in the Art Studio, become a vet at the Vet Office, an explorer in Water Ways, or performers at the Story Factory. There’s even a giant Lite Brite!

Golfland-Sunsplash and Raging Waters

Entertain your whole family with mini golf, arcade games, laser tag, and a water park at  Golfland-Sunsplash. Grab the bathing suits and head to the waterpark to ride The Vortex, Thunder Falls, and Zoomerang. Check out the Thunder Bay Wavepool and Bermuda Triangle lazy river, too. Another must-visit family destination is Sacramento’s largest waterpark, Raging Waters. Rent a cabana and relax in style while the kids play and explore.

If you love the holidays

Imaginarium

It may not snow in Sacramento, but that doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate the holidays in style. Over three million LED lights put on a Christmas light show at The Imaginarium. The event also features light tunnels, interactive light displays, the Field of Dreams with over 30,000 roses, carnival rides, games, and pictures with Santa. There’s even a laser show!

Sacramento Harvest Festival

Get ready for the holiday season at the Sacramento Harvest Festival. Find the perfect gift for everyone on your list—and maybe a little something for yourself, too. Take in some entertainment, Thanksgiving food inspiration, and soak up all things fall.

12 Days of Midtown

Midtown is alive with holiday spirit in the first 12 days of December. Attend one day or really kick things off by going everyday and enjoy a variety of performances, lighting of luminaries, food and drinks, and Christmas carolers. Local businesses and organizations show up in a big way to get the holiday season off to a festive start.

Downtown Sacramento Ice Rink

The Downtown Sacramento Ice Rink is a true winter experience. This is a perfect romantic thing for couples to do in Sacramento, but it also tops the list of family activities as well. Head there during the day, but nothing beats ice skating under a starry night sky. 

bridge with fireworks during nighttime
Head to Sacramento’s riverfront for celebrations, activities, shopping, and dining

If you want to get outside

Capitol Park

Capitol Park boasts 40 acres of history and nature. Part nature walk, part historical preservation, the park includes walkways that meander past monuments, around a pond, and through beautiful gardens. The park includes the Civil War Memorial Grove, Peace Officers Memorial, USS California Bell, and Vietnam War Memorial. Explore the Camellia Grove, Indian Grinding Rock, and World Peace Rose Garden, too.

American River Parkway

The American River Parkway offers access to biking, picnic areas, horseshoe pits, boat ramps, sandy beaches, a nature center, fishing ponds, an archery range, and more. This trail along the American River has it all for the outdoor lover.

Quarry Trail

If you’re willing to take a little drive, you’re in for a treat at Quarry Trail, just 40 minutes from Sacramento. The trail winds up 1,200 feet of elevation over 11 miles through the Auburn State Recreation Area. This trail has an easy rating so it’s great for beginners. But take one of several side trails to create your own hike and make your own adventure.

Make the move to Sacramento 

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to make the move to Sacramento, don’t worry about having nothing to do. Beautiful weather, nearby beaches, and stunning hiking trails give you opportunities to take in the great outdoors while museums, street fairs, and local shops make city life special. Make Sacramento your home and you’ll never have a dull moment!

FAQs

Is Sacramento worth visiting?

Sacramento is worth visiting because of how many events, activities, and sights there are nearby. But there’s no way to explore all unless you live there.

What food is Sacramento famous for?

Sacramento is known for its local, farm-to-fork dining, with restaurants featuring local farmers and ranchers. 

What is Sacramento best known for?

Sacramento is best known for being California’s capital city. It was also a hub during the Gold Rush.

What is a fun fact about Sacramento?

Sacramento was raised 10 feet in the 1860s in response to flooding. The original street level can be seen in a courtyard across from the California State Railroad Museum and beneath buildings throughout the area.

How far is the beach from Sacramento?

Sacramento is 1.5 hours away from the San Francisco Bay Area where you’ll find beautiful beaches.

About the author: Steph Mickelson is a freelance writer based in Northwest Wisconsin who specializes in real estate, building materials, and design. When she’s not writing, she can be found juggling kids and coffee.

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