What to do in Sacramento if you’re visiting for a day

What makes Sacramento a must-visit destination if you’re seeking a rich blend of history, culture, and nature?

As the capital of California, Sacramento is a historical goldmine, home to the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River and an important site in the Gold Rush era.

The city’s population of over 500,000 enjoys access to an array of museums, a dynamic “Farm-to-Fork” food scene recognized for its sustainability, and over 230 parks and recreational facilities. This makes Sacramento quite an attractive destination, perfectly embodying the diverse character of Northern California.

Historical landmarks

Sacramento is steeped in rich history, prominently displayed through its landmarks such as the California State Capitol and Sutter’s Fort. The State Capitol, constructed between 1861 and 1874, serves as the seat of California’s government. It also houses a public museum and park that spans 40 acres, featuring statues and memorials.

Just a few miles away, Sutter’s Fort stands as the oldest restored fort in the United States, originally built in 1839 as the first outpost of the western frontier and a refuge during the Donner Party tragedy and the Gold Rush. These sites collectively draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, offering a deep dive into the events that shaped California and the entire nation.

Museums and culture

Sacramento’s cultural landscape is anchored by institutions like the Crocker Art Museum and the California State Railroad Museum, each offering distinct glimpses into the region’s artistic and industrial heritage. Founded in 1885, the Crocker Art Museum holds the distinction of being the first public art museum established west of the Mississippi River, housing an expansive collection of California art, European master drawings, and international ceramics.

Nearby, the California State Railroad Museum, which attracts over 500,000 visitors annually, is one of North America’s largest railway museums. It features 21 meticulously restored locomotives and railroad cars that illustrate the railroad’s crucial role in connecting California with the rest of the nation.

Outdoor activities

Sacramento’s outdoor offerings range from the expansive American River Parkway to its numerous city parks, providing ample opportunities for recreation and nature exploration. The American River Parkway stretches over 32 miles, accommodating over 8 million visitors each year who engage in biking, hiking, fishing, and bird watching along its trails and riverbanks.

This parkway is a cornerstone of local outdoor life, showing the area’s natural beauty and providing a habitat for over 230 bird species. William Land Park, sprawling across 166 acres, is another urban oasis offering golf, picnic areas, and jogging paths, further cementing Sacramento as a city that prides itself on accessible green spaces that promote active and healthy lifestyles.

Dining and shopping

Sacramento’s identity as the “Farm-to-Fork Capital” of America is reflected through its vibrant fine dining scene and eclectic shopping districts. The city has pioneered the farm-to-fork movement, hosting annual festivals and boasting over 40 farmers’ markets. This is a testament to its dedication to sustainable and locally sourced dining.

For shopping, Old Sacramento transports visitors back in time with its 19th-century buildings housing over 100 shops selling everything from artisanal goods to modern apparel, while Midtown offers boutiques and galleries that showcase local designers and artists.

Festivals and events

Sacramento’s calendar is replete with festivals and events that celebrate its diverse culture and rich agricultural heritage. The Sacramento Jazz Festival (initiated in 1974) attracts tens of thousands of jazz enthusiasts annually. Another key highlight is the Farm-to-Fork Festival, which clearly shows the city’s status as a leader in the sustainable food movement.

This free event, drawing over 80,000 visitors, features demonstrations by top chefs, live music, and food booths showcasing the best of local produce. These events foster community engagement and economic growth, reinforcing Sacramento’s cultural vitality and commitment to sustainability.

Local art and music scene

Sacramento’s local art and music scene is a dynamic component of its cultural identity. It’s highlighted by events like the Second Saturday Art Walk and performances at notable venues across the city. The Second Saturday Art Walk, a monthly fixture in Sacramento, draws thousands of visitors to Midtown, where art galleries and businesses open their doors to showcase local artists and performers, fostering an environment of creativity and community engagement.

Music venues such as the Ace of Spades and the historic Crest Theatre offer a year-round lineup of performances by both burgeoning local talents and nationally acclaimed artists, contributing significantly to the city’s nightlife and cultural vibrancy.

Scenic drives and day trips

Sacramento is ideally positioned for scenic drives and rewarding day trips that offer both natural beauty and a taste of Northern California’s diverse landscapes. A popular route is the drive through the Sacramento River Delta, where you can explore quaint towns and vineyards, and experience the unique ecosystem of the delta waterways.

For a change of scenery, a day trip to Lake Tahoe, about a two-hour drive, presents stunning views of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the Sierra Nevada, known for its clear waters and surrounding mountain peaks. Another excellent day trip is to Napa Valley, less than an hour’s drive, where visitors can tour some of the world’s most famous wineries and enjoy the lush landscapes that have made this region a global icon for wine production.

What will you do in Sacramento?

Why visit Sacramento? Beyond its role as California’s capital, Sacramento offers a unique blend of history, culture, and outdoor activities. With landmarks that draw hundreds of thousands annually and a museum scene that includes the internationally recognized Crocker Art Museum, the city is a rich educational hub. Its vibrant “Farm-to-Fork” scene highlights sustainable eating and also supports local agriculture.

Sacramento’s commitment to arts and outdoor recreation is evident in its packed calendar of cultural events and extensive green spaces, making it not just a stopover, but a destination in its own right. Whether you’re exploring its scenic drives or enjoying a jazz festival, Sacramento offers a compelling mix of activities that enrich its visitors’ experiences and contribute to its economic vitality.