When speaking of places to visit in California, Sacramento is rarely mentioned, especially compared to cities like LA or San Francisco. However, let’s not forget that Sacramento is the capital of California and a city that showcases the Golden State’s history and modernity. After all, the saying “California begins here” didn’t come out of nowhere. Sacramento is a city with a rich history and a lot of interesting things to see and do. In this article, we’ll cover some of the most unique things to do in Sacramento and show you why visiting the Californian capital is a good idea.
I always say that the best place to start learning about a new destination is the oldtown and Sacramento is no exception. This is the oldest and historically most significant part of Sacramento. Here, you’ll find numerous interesting museums and old buildings, some of which date back to the Gold Rush era and symbolize the earliest history of the state of California.
Yes, it’s touristy but we just can’t talk about unique things to do in Sacramento without mentioning it. It’s a place you just have to visit on your trip to Sacramento.
Capitol Building & Park
The Capitol Building is home to the State Government of California and one of the most grandiose and iconic buildings in Sacramento. The building is a recognizable Neoclassical structure that was opened in 1874 at the west end of Capitol Park and has served as the state capitol building for over 150 years and was introduced to the National Register historic buildings in 1982.
In addition to the beautiful historic building, you also shouldn’t miss the chance to take a peaceful walk in Capitol Park and enjoy the beautiful rose gardens surrounding Capitol Building before heading to the above-mentioned historic district.
Speaking of unique things to do in Sacramento, the famous Ziggurat is one of the most unconventional yet beautiful architectural buildings in town. It looks like a contemporary ancient pyramid sitting near the banks of the Sacramento River. The “pyramid” was erected in 1997, it has 10 floors and it used to be home to The Money Store.
After 2001, the building was repurposed and is now being used by California’s Department of General Services. Obviously, visitors can’t take a look inside but you can admire the unconventional beauty of the Ziggurat from afar and click some amazing photos of this interesting building with the Sacramento River in the background.
Old City Cemetery
If you’re looking for some quirky yet unique things to do in Sacramento, you should seriously consider visiting the Old City Cemetery. The cemetery was originally designed to be a beautiful Victorian garden that was abandoned throughout the years and it became arguably the city’s most famous cemetery.
Today, this cemetery is eternal home to some of California’s first governors, Gold Rush era profiteers, some of California’s most infamous murderers and criminals, a lot of Chinese immigrants, and many other historic figures. Guided tours are available throughout the year and you’ll also find many daytime walking tours free of charge led by volunteers.
Also check out: 40+ Weird Things to do in Portland.
Second Saturdays Artwalk
In Sacramento, every second Saturday of the month, art galleries around the city host open houses and you can visit some of the city’s most famous galleries free of charge. If you’re an art lover, I suggest you plan your trip to Sacramento around the second Saturday of the month; you’ll thank me later. Check out this page to see the list of the 22 galleries that participate in the Second Saturday Artwalk.
And speaking of art…
Crocker Art Museum
The Crocker Art Museum is one of the city’s oldest museum and the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi River. The museum is split between two buildings; an Italian-style mansion and a modest, contemporary museum. Inside, you’ll find the most interesting American artwork from the Gold Rush era but also a lot of interesting modern pieces, as well as European paintings and arguably the largest international ceramics collections in America.
Sacramento History Museum & The Underground Tour
When speaking of Sacramento, one of the first things that come to mind is the Gold Rush. However, just because this is the most famous segment of Sacramento’s history, doesn’t mean it’s the only one. Just visit the Sacramento History Museum and see for yourself. This interactive museum showcases the most interesting parts of the city’s history and has guides that bring every historic event to life. If you want to learn about the city’s history, there’s no better place than this museum.
My personal favorite part of the museum is the guided underground tour that will take you “under the skin of the city”. In case you didn’t know, the city’s ground level was initially a lot lower than it is today but after the big floods of the mid-19th century, the city’s ground level had to be elevated. The underground tour will show you remnants of this part of Sacramento’s history accompanied by fascinating tales about Sacramento dating back to this era. If you have the chance, I warmly recommend taking this tour; you won’t regret it.
California State Railroad Museum
Located in Old Sacramento, the California State Railroad Museum showcases the history of connecting the state of California to the rest of America via “the iron horse”. Inside the museum, you’ll find numerous interesting exhibits of old trains, car parts, and restored locomotives and railroad cars that will make you experience California’s history on another level. If you’re looking for some unique things to do while in Sacramento, this museum should be at the top of your list.
Enjoying this post? Then you should also check out our list of unique things to do in San Francisco.
If you’re traveling to Sacramento with kids and are looking for some fun, kid-friendly activities, Safetyville is one place you should put on your list. Safetyville is a miniature 1984 replica of Sacramento that unlike the actual city, changed very little throughout the years. The model city spreads across 3.5 acres and it’s run by the non-profit Safety Center.
The main goal of Safetyville is educational as the model city aims to provide kids with safety tips (ex. How to avoid stranger danger, disposal of grease and oil, etc.). In addition to this, there are also a lot of entertainment facilities for private birthday parties, the “Health Expo” and the “Taste of the little city”.
California Automobile Museum
With close to 150 vintage, classic cars, the California Automobile Museum is a haven for passionate car enthusiasts. The museum’s collection strives to showcase the complete history of automobiles starting from the brass era all the way to today’s modern cars packed with the latest gadgets. The entrance fee is $10 (that also includes a docent-led tour) and I believe that if you’re really into car history, this is more than a reasonable price.
Watch the Kings
I know that the last time the Kings were relevant was 2005 and the city was close to losing the franchise to Anaheim but that didn’t happen and Sacramento is still one of only 28 cities in the US to have its own NBA team and this is an experience we just have to include in this list of unique things to do in Sacramento.
The World’s Oldest and Only Non-Swim triathlon
Did you ever think you could do a triathlon if only you could kayak/raft instead of swimming? Well, Sacramento gives you the chance to do so. Eppie’s Great Race that takes place every year in July consists of a 6-mile run, 12-mile bike ride, and 6-mile kayak. You can take the three legs by yourself or form a team.
One can argue that this is the world’s most lenient triathlon and some might even say this isn’t a real triathlon but to be fair it is the only event of its kind in the world and hence, it deserves a mention on this list of unique things to do in Sacramento.
The World’s Oldest Zombie Walk
This “undead tradition” in Sacramento dates all the way back to 2001. To this day, the parade that was a part of the Film Orgy at the Crest Theater is the first officially recorded zombie walk in the world. Hence, it’s no wonder that it didn’t take a lot for this parade to turn into an annual tradition that attracts thousands of people from different parts of California or people taking a Pacific Coast road trip.
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If you’re a fan of dark tourism and enjoy exploring haunted destinations, you should definitely visit Dyer Lane while in Sacramento. The notorious street is infamous for numerous KKK meetings, lynching, several brutal murders, and even reports of paranormal activities. This notoriously haunted abandoned street has a status of an urban legend in Sacramento and is one of the spookiest places in California. Would you dare to visit during the night?
Even though when it comes to wine, Sacramento isn’t nearly as famous as Napa Valley, there are still a lot of fine wine-tasting opportunities in California’s capital. With a lot of sunny days, the weather in Sacramento and its surrounding is actually perfect for grape growing and wine-making and there are a lot of wineries in the area.
We featured one of them in our list of hidden gems in Sacramento and if you’re looking for a peaceful break away from the busy city streets and you happen to be a wine lover, grab a picnic basket and check out some of the best wineries in the area.
Sac Brew Bike
If you’re looking for a different experience in Sacramento, consider hopping on the Sac Brew Bike. It’s the perfect thing to do when traveling with a group of friends or organizing a stag do. The Sac Brew Bike is basically a 15-passenger bicycle that conducts the best bar tours in Sacramento. Some of the bikes even come with a private bar.
The Dive Bar
And speaking of quirky drinking establishments, we just have to tell you about the Dive Bar. What makes this bar special is the tank that holds over 7,000 gallons of water where “mermaids” swim around. Their worldwide-famous live underwater performers take you to a quirky sea adventure while enjoying your drink. This makes the Dive Bar one of the most unique establishments in Sacramento.
Sacramento River Cruise
When speaking of unique things to do in Sacramento, the story wouldn’t be complete without taking the iconic river cruise. There are numerous cruise operators in Sacramento that can take you on a river cruise that will show you some of the city’s iconic river landmarks, such as the Tower Bridge (perhaps the city’s most famous), the Delta King (a luxury paddle steamer-hotel), the Spirit of Sacramento (an old forgotten luxury river cruiser that belonged to John Wayne), etc.
Some of the day cruisers also include narration that will make you relive the historic stories from the Gold Rush era that speak about the beginnings of Sacramento. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy a river cruise but still like to explore the area around the Sacramento River, you can also hop on the River Train; an old rustic train that covers the section between West Sacramento and Woodland that travels with a speed of 15 miles per hour and offers some of the most scenic views in the region.
The Vernal Pools in Mather Regional Park
Even though it’s in California, Sacramento doesn’t have any scenic beaches but what it lacks in beaches, it makes up for in natural beauties. The vernal pools of Mather Regional Park in the Sacramento Valley are one of the most fabulous natural phenomena in the region. These pools are a result of millions of years of evolution. During heavy rainfall, the vernal pools turn into a wetland with a unique ecosystem and during spring, the water dries down. The best part about visiting the pools is that they’re free of charge and accessible from sunrise to sunset.
Rafting on the Lower American River
Finally, we round up this list of unique things to do in Sacramento with an exciting adventure at the scenic American River. Just outside of Sacramento, you can find some of the most exciting river rafting opportunities along the West Coast. The Lower American River has only one true rapid at San Juan Hole but the river banks are one of the most scenic and beautiful places in the region.
Helpful resources for visiting Sacramento
Flying to Sacramento? Check out Qatar Airways’s Discover the World at a low price program and save up to 20% on your flight.
Looking to save on your stay in Sacramento? Use this special Booking offer to save up to 15% on all accommodation bookings.
If you want to rent a car in Sacramento, my personal recommendation is to use AutoEurope to compare the best deals from all local rental car providers. On average, you can save up to 30% every time you use this platform.
Finally, let’s not forget about travel insurance. Personally, I always use World Nomads even though they are a bit more expensive compared to most travel insurance providers. The reason for this is that they cover travelers in almost all circumstances that they can get themselves while on the road. I always say that if you already decide to buy travel insurance, you should use it to protect yourself. Don’t try to save money by using cheap travel insurance companies that don’t cover even the basic circumstances; it’s a waste…
How did you like this list of unique things to do in Sacramento? Did you ever visit any of these places? Let us know in the comments!
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Thursday 21st of January 2021
Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.
Friday 12th of February 2021
Well, I wouldn't call Sacramento itself a gem (at least not one people don't know about, after all, it is the capital of California) but sure, there are a lot of hidden gems to visit within it :)
Wednesday 16th of September 2020
I never visited Old City Cemetery on my trips to Sacramento.. and after reading about it I am sure it is worth a visit. thanks for recommendation!
Monday 28th of September 2020
I hope you get the chance to check it out in the future, Rahul. It certainly deserves a visit.