Even though not as popular as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego Sacramento is still the capital of California and just like every capital, it has a lot to offer. Most people who live in California or visited The Golden State are familiar with attractions like the iconic Old Town Sacramento and the fabulous Crocker Art Museum but there are also a lot of hidden gems in Sacramento that most tourists don’t even know exist. So, if you’re looking to get off the beaten track in Sacramento, keep reading- you’ll find a lot of interesting places in this article!
Underground Tour by Sacramento History Museum
As we already mentioned, Old Town Sacramento has the highest concentration of historic buildings in the region but there’s just as much history beneath the city as much as there is on its surface. Sacramento’s original street level was underground and there are a lot of remnants from that era that will show you another side of the city’s history.
The Sacramento History Museum is not a hidden gem itself but its underground tour that gives a glimpse of the city’s underbelly certainly is…
The disastrous floods of the mid-1800s left no choice but to raise the city’s original street level to avoid future flooding. Ever since, most of Sacramento’s heritage remained underground but there is one exception…
Sacramento’s Original Street Level
When Sacramento’s grounds were raised in the 19th century, one small section was left at its original elevation. What was the reason for this, we’re not sure, but this place definitely deserves a mention on this list of hidden gems in Sacramento. This sunken courtyard is located just opposite the entrance to the California State Railroad Museum. Nothing points to it except the small sign that shows that this 10-foot-deep depression is here to show the city’s original floor levels before the floods. Hundreds of people pass by every day as this is arguably Sacramento’s most touristy part but yet only a few actually notice it.
Sacramento Historic City Cemetery
Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery is not just a regular cemetery; it’s a part of Sacramento’s history. Founded in 1849, this cemetery offers a walk to Old Town Sacramento’s earliest history and due to the great maintenance, also a vibrant example of Victorian gardening. Here, you can find the graves of some of the most notable Sacramento locals, mass graves from the 1850s cholera pandemic, and the highest point in the city.
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
Named after the former California governor to whom the building belonged, Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park is a 19,000-square-foot house with 40 bedrooms. It’s one of the rare buildings in California built in Renaissance Revival style and one of the most impressive architectural hidden gems in Sacramento. Today, the mansion is open for visitors but still houses an office that belongs to the California governor. The mansion was recently renovated in an effort that took 14 years and $22 million USD!
California State Indian Museum
Did you know that the native population of California was one of the largest in the western hemisphere? Before the colonisation, according to official estimates, today’s territory of California was home to around 500,000 people from over 150 different tribal groups that spoke more than 60 different languages. In 1940, this museum was open to showcase the heritage of California’s native population. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge on the native people of the West Coast, visiting this museum is a must! You’ll see a lot of traditional items, artifacts, and photographs that tell the story of the life of Native Americans in the region.
This list of hidden gems in Sacramento wouldn’t be complete without the abandoned Sutter’s Fort. The Gold Rush of the 19th century changed the shape and history of California but before that, life in the region was situated around Sutter’s Fort. John Sutter’s fort was a regional hub until the first gold discoveries around 40 miles away from the fort in the 1830s. Even though its glory days are long gone, the old fort was recently restored and is today a part of the National Historic Landmarks of the USA.
And speaking of relatively unknown hidden gems in Sacramento, did you know that this city is also home to the first permanent theater in California? Built in 1849 by a group of gold miners, the Eagle Theater in Sacramento was the basic entertainment facility for people who moved in the area during the Golden Rush. On the outside, the theater looks rather modest with a wooden frame and canvas roof from abandoned ships in San Francisco. The original building actually didn’t survive the floods of the 19th century but an exact replica was created in 1974.
If you’re in Sacramento and want to get off the beaten track, Paradise Beach is one of the best places you can visit. Most tourists don’t know about it but locals love it. Unlike what its name suggests, Paradise Beach is actually a riverside recreational area, perfect for swimming, fishing, and picnicking. If you’re a nature lover or traveling with a pet, you’ll love this hidden beach.
Even though it’s not as popular as Little Saigon in Orange County, the vibrant Vietnamese community in Sacramento is one of the most interesting places in California’s capital. This vibrant neighborhood is located amongst Stockton Boulevard and here, you can find a lot of unique authentic Vietnamese shops, street markets, eateries, and the best pho in California.
This quirky, eccentric house with eye-catching sculptures, mosaics, and topiaries just has to be mentioned on this list of hidden gems in Sacramento. The most eye-catching thing about this house (that’s a private residence by the way) are the ornate tile work that gives it an oriental feel. The house is adorned with a massive dragon between the windows. I suppose this is where the name “Dragon House” comes from.
I street Bridge
With a weight of 7 million lbs. and two decks for railroad and highway traffic, I Street Bridge is one of the largest bridges in California. The swing-span bridge was built in 1911 to connect Sacramento with Yolo County. Today, the swing-span bridge carries around 40 railroad trains and 10,000 cars and trucks every day and pivots clockwise when ships need to access the Sacramento River.
Nimbus Flat is a peaceful park that’s the perfect getaway from the capital’s busy streets. The park has a lot of tourist facilities, such as picnic tables, bathrooms, boat launch area, and several off-the-beaten-track trails that bypass the lake. During the warmer months, you can even rent a kayak or a paddleboat and launch into the lake.
North Laguna Creek Wildlife Area
Laguna Creek was originally a grassland prairie but urban development in the Sacramento Area drastically changed its landscape. A large part of the area was sacrificed for building roads and urban development which inevitably lead to the creation of the North Laguna Creek Wildlife Area. You might not get some exotic animal encounters but it’s a perfect place for people looking to get off the beaten track in Sacramento.
Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
And speaking of getting off the beaten track in Sacramento, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is another great suggestion. With hundreds of shorebirds, wading birds, and migratory birds, the wildlife area is a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts but also a very popular spot among local hunters.
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail
Also known as The American River Bike Trail, this route stretches across 32 miles and connects Discovery Park to Beal’s Point. Completely surrounded by lush forests and beautiful views of the riverside, the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail is arguably the most scenic trail in Sacramento. The trail has completely paved lanes for cyclists and a lot of tourist amenities along the way. Also, if you get hungry along the way, there are a lot of spots where you can stop by and have a quick bite.
Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park
Technically, this national park is not in Sacramento but it’s one of the best ideas for a day trip. The park is tucked away in the northern part of Shasta Cascade and is one of the most beautiful hidden places in California. The park’s most prominent feature is Lassen Peak, the world’s largest plug dome volcano and Lake Almanor, one of the most beautiful lakes in California.
If you want to get to the park, plan to spend at least one full day because it’s 3 hours driving away from Sacramento. Also, if you plan to do such excursion, it’s probably a good idea to rent a car. Use AutoEurope and compare the prices from all local car rental companies to make sure you’re always getting the best available deal.
And speaking of day trips from Sacramento, another great idea is…
Dobra Zemlja Winery
Dobra Zemlja Winery is a secluded wine cave in Plymoth, roughly 45 minutes away from Sacramento. The name of the winery Dobra Zemlja translates to “good land” and once you get there, you’ll understand what that means. The winery produces unfiltered wines made by using native yeast and the area is perfect for a picnic. So, if you’re looking for a peaceful break away from the busy city streets and you happen to be a wine lover, this is definitely the place for you!
Helpful resources for traveling to Sacramento
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If you want to rent a car in Sacramento, AutoEurope is there to help you compare the best deals from all local rental car providers. On average, you can save up to 30% every time you use their platform.
Last but not least, don’t forget about travel insurance. World Nomads are a bit more expensive but they cover travelers in almost all circumstances that they can get themselves on that trip. If you already use travel insurance, you should use it to protect yourself. Don’t use cheap travel insurance companies that don’t cover even the basic needs, it’s a waste of money.
How did you like this list of hidden gems in Sacramento? Which one was your favorite? Do you have some other off the beaten track places in Sacramento that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!
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Wednesday 7th of October 2020
Love the part about the underground tour and the hidden courtyard! We live in the Bay Area and have been up to the Railroad Museum, Indian Museum and Sutter's Fort on field trips for all 3 of our kids (they even did the overnight ELP at Sutter's Fort which is so amazing!). I've never heard the history of raising the streets and would love to learn more! Thanks!
Saturday 10th of October 2020
Thank you, Carrie, I'm really glad you liked our suggestions.
Monday 15th of June 2020
I lived an hour away from Sacramento for four years and never visited any of these places except for Dobra Zemlja. I visited there many times and love their wine. Shenandoah Valley was only about a 20 minute drive for me so wine tasting was a frequent pastime.
Tuesday 16th of June 2020
That's a proof that they really are hidden gems I suppose :) Dobra Zemlja is just amazing, it's so cool that you got the chance to visit :)