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10 Things to do in Old Sacramento

by Roberto
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When most people think of California, they think – Beaches, Sunshine, Surfers.  What they don’t usually think about is visiting the Golden State’s capital city!  While it is not usually on the “top places to visit in California”, Sacramento has its own little hidden gems.  One of these is the Old Sacramento area downtown.  

In the 1800’s, the pioneer settler, John Sutter, arrived in what is now Sacramento.  With the promise of a Mexican land grant, he and his landing party built Sutter’s Fort (which is on the list below!).  In 1848, gold was first discovered in the foothills nearby, starting what is now known as the California Gold Rush. 

Traders and merchants began setting up stores on the Sacramento River, in an area that was prone to severe flooding and wildfires.  After years of damage to the city, a project was initiated in the 1860’s to bring in thousands of tons of dirt to raise the city above sea level.  The old city can still be seen today in parts of Old Sacramento. You can check it out in basement levels of stores and underneath boardwalks! 

When the commercial center of the city began moving east, the Old Sacramento area became poverty-stricken.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the City of Sacramento began to refurbish and revitalize the area to reflect the atmosphere during the peak of the gold rush era.  

Old Sacramento is now a National Landmark and parts have have also been designated as a California State Park.

The Delta King

The Delta King is an American style river boat, permanently docked in Sacramento, California.  While it has been located in Sacramento since the 1980s, this famous river boat has QUITE the history! It’s sister, and twin, the Delta Queen, can be seen today floating down the Mississippi!  Both the Delta King and Queen were christened in 1927 with daily voyages from San Francisco to Sacramento, but the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge put the ships out of commission.  During WW II, both ships were drafted by the US Navy to serve as troop transportation and hospitals in the San Francisco Bay.

The Delta King Hotel

When the war ended, the Delta Queen was taken to the Mississippi River and the Delta King changed owners up and down the west coast until the 1980s.  In 1984, the Coyne family purchased a partly submerged Delta King, and towed it to the Sacramento River for a full historical renovation.

Today, you can still sleep in one of the historic rooms, attend dinner at one of the highest rated restaurants in Sacramento, and even plan a wedding or a big anniversary party (like we did for my grandparent’s 50th).

Salt Water Taffy

While salt water taffy isn’t native to the Sacramento area (some sources say it was invented in New Jersey), there are some unique little candy shops around Old Sac where you can try some for free and pick out a bag of ALL the flavors your heart desires.  These places sell gallons of candy out of big, wooden barrels.

Salt water taffy in Candy Heaven in Sacramento California
100s of flavors of salt water taffy!

Candy Heaven – This place is known as “the sweetest place on earth” and is owned by quite the jokester!  You can try a few samples yourself, but you can also volunteer to try the extra sour jawbreakers and chocolate-covered crickets! 

Candy Heaven in Sacramento California
Head into candy haven for some free samples of taffy!

Candy Barrel- The Candy Barrel was my FAVORITE place to go growing up.  It feels like you in an indoor carnival. They stock over 60 flavors of salt water taffy and 40 flavors of Jelly Belly beans!

Old Time Photos

After spending some time in the wild west, you’ll need a souvenir to prove you were there!  There are a few places in Old Sacramento where you can dress up like a saloon girl or an old fashioned cowboy like Jessie James or Davy Crockett. They have the best costume and props and even print your photos out in the sepia, old school style!

Railroad Museum

For any kid growing up in California, railroad history was one of the pains of history class. The benefit though, was being able to visit the Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento! This museum is a blast for kids, but probably even more so for adults. Inside, you’ll find 21 fully restored locomotives and even a dining cart! Some of these you can actually go inside and imagine what life might be like living in the gold rush era.

Sacramento Railroad Museum
Steam engines in the Sacramento Railroad museum.

Shop for Your Own Indiginous Artifacts

America is rich in Native American history, and California especially. Even today, California has the second highest Native American population in the US. Naturally, there are many Native American influences in Sacramento. In Old Sacramento there are a few shops that sell beautiful gifts that come from Native American culture. They have gorgeous turquoise jewelry, wooden statues of animals, arrowheads, and even rain sticks!

Have a Burger in Fanny Ann’s Saloon

Fanny Ann’s is a Sacramento staple. Period. It doesn’t matter if you are in or out of Old Sacramento, Sacramento natives will send you here for a unique and great time! This is one of the last original businesses to open during the refurbishment of Old Sacramento and they have stayed open since 1972!

Sacramento History Museum Underground Tour 

Remember that one time when I told you that there is a secret underground city beneath Sacramento? Ya, up there at the top. Well, this is your chance to see it! The Sacramento History Museum offers tours all year round to the underground city!

Visit the Old Sacramento School House

Also a really cool, and free, way to experience Old Sacramento history is to visit the School House.

The Old Schoolhouse in Sacramento California
The Old Schoolhouse

It’s a living replica of a schoolhouse as if you were in the 1800’s. You can sit in the small desks and write on your own personal chalk board, or stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Visiting definitely makes you very grateful to live in the 21st century! Whether you were a teacher or a student, the rules were ROUGH!

School Rules from the 1800s Gold Rush Era in Sacramento California
School rules from the 1800s

Sutter’s Fort

While not really located in Old Sacramento, it still fits along the same lines historically (and is right down the road). Sutter’s Fort is or original, and refurbished fort founded by John Sutter. It’s only $5 to visit and it’s totally interactive! If you want to see pioneer men and women doing pioneer men and woman things, this is the place! You can attend a wide range of demonstrations from candle making to brandy distilling (did you know Sutter’s Fort has the first brandy distillery in California?).

Also available are the Hands on History demonstrations. These are an opportunity for both kids and really big kids (ha, this is me), to really get your hands dirty. These events are $7 per adult and might include things like blacksmithing, carpentry, or weaving.

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