State government may be the key industry in Sacramento, but the place most tourists come to see is the Old Town — known as Old Sacramento or Old Sac for short. This section of the city is actually a State Historic Park as well as a National Landmark, comprising twenty-eight acres (about eight city blocks) of historic buildings and monuments. Most of the structures date to the 1850s, just after the great gold rush. You'll find wooden sidewalks, riverboats, and horse-drawn carriages filling in the backdrop today just as they did more than a century ago. You'll find the must-see California State Railroad Museum here, plus a few others that are well worth a visit for the whole family.
RAINY DAY FUN
If it's too icky out to walk the streets of Old Sacramento, consider touring the area by covered boat. A couple of companies offer lunch and dinner cruises, as well as paddle-wheel tours. One riverboat, the Delta King, even does double-duty as a hotel and restaurant with dinner-theater productions. Learn more about your water-based options at
Perhaps surprisingly, the parking situation in and around Old Sacramento is pretty good. There are metered spaces as well as daily lots, and a lot of the shops and restaurants will validate your ticket if you purchase a souvenir or a meal.
There are eleven museums in and around this district. You'll find five of the museums within the boundaries of Old Sacramento:
California State Railroad Museum
California Military Museum, which houses more than 30,000 military guns and other items
Discovery Museum, which focuses on space, science, and technology
Schoolhouse Museum, a living replica of a one-room schoolhouse
Wells Fargo History Museum, which reproduces an agent's office in the days of the Pony Express
For families with children, your best bets are the railroad museum, the Discovery Museum, and the Schoolhouse Museum. You'll also find dozens of shops and restaurants in Old Sacramento, each offering something for even the pickiest people in your party.
This institution's formal name is the Sacramento Museum of History, Science, Space and Technology. It is the first northern California institution of its kind to be inducted into the Smithsonian Affiliate Museums program, which should tell you a great deal about the quality of the facility and its exhibits.
The two main draws at the Discovery Museum are the Gold Rush History Center and the Space and Science Center; they operate at two different sites but are within an accessible distance of each other. The Gold Rush History Center focuses on exactly what its name suggests. The Space and Science Center is also fairly self-explanatory; it includes a planetarium and a Challenger Learning Center.
There are drop-in arts and crafts programs during the weekends, plus special programs geared for children up to about the eighth grade. The museum's hours are 10
Your kids may find a new appreciation for their teachers after a few minutes in this one-room schoolhouse staffed by costumed schoolmarms and school masters, who greet visitors with the same kind of disciplined tone that teachers reserved for their charges back in the 1800s. The room itself is slightly larger than 1,000 square feet, which in and of itself will surprise your kids if they're used to attending a multigrade suburban school.
There are seasonal events listed on the museum's Web site,
Shopping in Old Sacramento
There are more than 100 stores in the Old Sacramento district, and they sell everything from antiques to fine chocolates to rare books. There's also an open-air public market that operates Tuesday through Sunday with vendors selling produce, flowers, and specialty foods.
According to Old Sacramento's Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, recent studies show that hot chocolate has almost twice the antioxidants as red wine. So you may want to skip Napa Valley and enjoy a glass of hot chocolate instead, maybe while you nibble on a chocolate-dipped apple or a box of freshly made fudge.
Some of the shops that are most likely to tickle your kids' imaginations (and have them tugging at your pocketbook strings) are Chez Poochie — which has dog accessory couture shows — and Fun and Games, where you can find jigsaw puzzles of up to 18,000 pieces as well as science projects, educational toys, and mind-teasing games for brains of all ages.
Also be ready to be dragged into Turtles, a unique store for turtle lovers. You'll find water globes, ceramic banks, and even cookie jars. The shop even makes homemade fudge to help you keep your energy up while browsing the offerings on its shelves.
Dining in Old Sacramento
There are nearly three dozen restaurants in Old Sacramento that serve everything from casual eats to candlelit gourmet meals. There's an Irish pub, a tea salon, a sports café, an espresso bar, and even a Subway sandwich shop for kids who are hesitant to try something new.
If you're looking for something a bit more elegant, check out California Fat's Steakhouse and Asian Grill at