Whether it’s a pitstop on your way to the slopes or a weekend break, you can find lots to keep the family entertained in Sacramento. The city got its start as a supply center for prospectors during the 1849 Gold Rush and since 1854 it has served as the state’s political hub. The city’s past is packed with cunning and crime but today it is sprinkled with a train museum, a land of fairytales and enough candy stores to keep everyone sweet. Check out the ideal family itinerary right here!
Photo credit: John D via Yelp
Sacramento is about an hour and forty five minutes from San Francisco if you time it to avoid commuter traffic. Head north east on the 80 past Berkeley and Benicia. Beyond Vacaville you’ll find yourself amid acres of orchards growing almonds and walnuts. Stick with the 80 all the way and it’s as easy as ABC or more precisely JTP. J and T Streets take you into the city, P gets you back on the highway.
Photo: Aerospace Museum of California
California State Railroad Museum
This should be the first stop for train-hungry toddlers. Twenty-one locomotives are on display, from steam engines to the 220-mph-bullet train. Hop on a sleeper, walk through the dining carriage or peek into the first class compartment to get a feel for railroad history. After that you’ll want to seek out the half dozen train tables on the second floor. Kids can take their pick from Chuggington, Thomas or Brio sets. If you can tear them away, there’s more to explore: lots of fun artifacts, helpful docents and a movie that chronicles the railroad journey. While the film’s a little outdated, it still captures the cultural impact of these glorious giants.
Aerospace Museum of California
Little ones more interested in planes than trains will get a kick out of the Aerospace Museum of California, just a short drive northeast of downtown. It houses meticulously restored aircraft like a B-14 bi-plane and a MIG-17PF, as well as a ride simulator that creates the effect of piloting everything from a WWII bomber to a more modern jet.
3200 Freedom Park Dr.
A City Walking Tour
Many of Old Sacramento’s buildings are either originals or reproductions of the real thing. The Sacramento History Museum walking tour takes you back in time to the mid 1800s when gold was plentiful and women were scarce. The audio tour can hold the attention of kids aged five and up and takes about an hour. With the real-life sound of trains whistling and the clip-clop of hooves from the horse-drawn carriages, it’s easy to imagine the past. Even the trappings of the modern world, like mail boxes and trash cans, are cleverly hidden within period wooden crates.
Sacramento History Museum
Old Sacramento, Ca
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
Old Sacramento Schoolhouse
Before you leave Old Sacramento, walk along the river and take a quick look inside the Old Schoolhouse. It’s free and worth a visit if only to seek out the list of punishments dispensed in a classroom circa 1900. The steepest penalty was 10 lashes for playing cards or misbehaving with girls. Ow!
1200 Front St.
Old Sacramento, Ca
Hours: Mon – Sat 10 a.m. -4 p.m. Sun 12 noon – 4 p.m.
Photo credit: Paul F via Yelp
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Head away from the river, past the palm tree-lined Capitol buildings and over to Midtown to visit Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. The fort (which recently had its most extensive renovations since the 1890s) captures the pioneer spirit of families arriving in wagon trains at the dawn of the California Gold Rush. Check online for special living history days when actors and enthusiasts bring to life the days when John Sutter was in charge of the adobe ranch 150 years ago.
27th and L Streets
Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Photo: Fairy Tale Town
Swap Old Sacramento’s horse and carriage rides for Cinderella’s pumpkin at nearby Fairytale Town. This is the perfect excursion for toddlers—it’s a theme park dedicated to fostering imagination and play with 25 playsets based on nursery rhymes and fairytales. Watch the kids run the crooked mile, slide down the Old Woman’s shoe, sit on King Arthur’s throne and pet the farm animals.
3901 Land Park Drive
Hours: March–Oct. 9 a.m.–4 p.m., every day; Nov.–Feb., Thur.–Sun. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (closed Monday through Wednesday)
The Citizen Hotel has a reputation as the best digs in the city but a more affordable option are the hotels five or ten minutes out of town. The Hilton Garden Inn is one of them, offering adjoining rooms for families of more than four. It also has an outdoor pool that is kept warm well into the chilly winter months.
Ten22 is a great option if you want to dine in Old Sacramento. There’s lots of room to park up the stroller and the kids menu offers grilled chicken, sliders, mac & cheese, steak and pizza. Staff are super friendly, adult mains are sizable and kids get no-mess wikki sticks to keep their hands busy ’til the food arrives.
1022 Second St.
Hours: Sun.–Tues., 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Wed.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
In Midtown Sacramento, 16th Street is peppered with places to eat. Hot Italian is top of the kid-friendly list, right off Fremont Park. Let the kids hang in the playground for a while before heading over to this hip pizza joint that doubles as a bike gallery and store. Pick a family table or dine high on bar stools. While pizzas only come in one size, staff are happy to provide plates for sharing and recommend the Cannavaro for the little ones (mozzarella, tomato sauce and fresh basil).
1627 16th St..
Hours: Open daily from 11:30 a.m.
Photo credit: Andy’s Candy Apothecary
Old Sacramento boasts four candy stores within its three block radius. If you make it past Candy Land without going in (good luck, it’s opposite the California State Railroad Museum) or miss the staff handing out flyers for free samples at Candy Barrel, you might want to head downtown to Andy’s Candy Apothecary. The owner promises his selection is the best of the best. Local, national or imported, everything is hand picked to produce a gourmet candy experience.
122 I St
1006 2nd St,
For even more travel tips and info on visiting our state’s capitol, check out visitsacramento.com.
What are your favorite family haunts in Sacramento? Let us know in the comments below.
All photos are the author’s unless otherwise credited.