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Sacramento, California: Things to Do in the Gateway to Gold Country

capital of california

When people think of visiting the state of California, they usually picture beaches and redwoods, not the San Joaquin Valley. But if you’re interested in seeing another side of Golden State, you should definitely consider visiting the Central Valley. While you won’t miss much if you pass up sleepier cities like Fresno and Stockton, you’ll be kicking yourself in the rear for years to come if you don’t add the capital of California to your list of California destinations.

Sacramento, California, is one of the state’s unsung heroes in many more ways than you might imagine. Since it’s right in the middle of the state between popular spots like San Diego in Southern California, and Eureka in Northern California, it’s an excellent place to stop when road tripping on the I-5.

Whatever your reasons for rolling through, we hope the following information helps guide your way through California’s capital city.

What is The Capital of California?

If you guessed Sacramento, congratulations, you could see where this article is going. If you said Los Angeles, don’t feel too bad.

People often think the largest city in a state has to be the capital. Phoenix, Arizona, for instance. Denver, Colorado. So everyone thinks New York City is the capital of New York state or that Portland is the capital of Oregon. (Apologies to Albany and Salem, respectively.)

Here’s a little history for you trivia buffs:

The city of Sacramento wasn’t made the capital of California until 1854. The capital was located in Monterey, while the state was still under Spanish and Mexican rule. After it gained American statehood, the California Constitutional Convention decided to move the capital to San Jose in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. From there, it made its way to Vallejo, then Benicia, before finally finding a forever home.

We hope this helps you win Jeopardy someday.

10 Reasons to Visit Sacramento, California

1. The California State Capitol Building

You’re already at the party. Might as well have a drink, right? If you’re in any state capital, one of the first things you should always do is visit the state capitol building, home of the California state legislature.

In addition to housing official state government business, the capitol is open for tours of its museum and galleries. Whatever you do, don’t miss the portraits of the state’s past governors, particularly Arnold Schwarzenegger.

2. Old Town Sacramento

Where old towns are concerned, Sacramento’s really delivers. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, an assortment of food, or black and white pictures of your family in old-timey Western wear, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Catch a Basketball Game

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll be happy to know the Sacramento Kings’ home, Golden 1 Arena, is located in downtown Sacramento, just a stone’s throw from both the Capital Mall and Old Town.

Even better, if your favorite team is in town, there’s a good chance you’ll get to see them win. (Sorry, Californians, but I’m a Blazer’s fan.)

4. California State Railroad Museum

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All aboard! You don’t have to be a kid to choo-choo-choose this destination. In addition to historical exhibits and attractions, the museum also offers actual excursions on classic locomotives.

5. Crocker Art Museum

This elegant art museum has several collections that include everything from a trove of Native American ceramics to a vast assortment of classic European paintings, prints, and sketches. In addition to these permanent installments, they also host a range of traveling exhibitions.

6. Peck Your Way Through Fair Oaks Village

Fair Oaks is a bit of an anomaly. It’s situated within the city limits of Sacramento, but it’s considered its own city. Technically speaking, it’s a “census-designated place in Sacramento County.” Whatever that means.

More importantly, just like the island of Kawaii, there are wild chickens and roosters running loose all over the town, not to mention a smattering of guinea hens. Of course, when we suggest getting something to eat here, these feathered dinosaurs aren’t what we’re talking about. There are several bars and restaurants in the area, not to mention venues, shops, and other attractions.

7. Visit Gold Country

As you may or may not know, the Gold Rush started right outside the Sacramento area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you’ve got the time and a set of wheels, you’ll be glad you explored the gold country.

Sacramento sits about 25 feet above sea level, so expect some hiking as you explore. Your options include popular attractions like Sutter’s Mill, where the rush’s first gold nugget was found, as well as a sprinkling of Old West and Ghost towns.

8. Go Outdoors

While several tiny historical state parks are located right in the middle of the city, they might not offer the flora and fauna you crave. For something more scenic, consider visiting either the American or Sacramento Rivers. For those with more time on their hands, you could also take a short drive to the Lake Tahoe area, where you can get some nature and gambling all in one trip.

Of course, if you’re unfamiliar with the area and thinking of going as far as Yosemite or Sequoia, think again. California is one of the longest U.S. states, and those parks are further out than you might reckon.

9. Check Out Downtown Folsom

Ever heard the Johnny Cash album “At Folsom Prison”? Well, now’s your chance to see where it was recorded. Alongside the Folsom Prison Museum, this fun suburb of the capital metro area has a lot to offer, including a bustling main street not far from the freeway.

10. The California State Fair

This one’s toward the bottom because it’s only around 17 days out of the year, so you’ve really got to time your trip right. If you do, you won’t regret it. Hosted by the Cal Expo, the whole experience is more like visiting a major theme park than visiting a traveling carnival. They even have a monorail!

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Sacramento area? Let the world know what’s up on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!

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