The state capital of California, Sacramento, loaded with history, is often overlooked as a great family weekend getaway destination. This is too bad since it’s filled with fun, family friendly activities that also include a little bit of learning too!
The city got its start during the 1849 Gold Rush and later served as the state’s political hub. The city has everything to keep a family busy and entertained from nature to transportation and beyond! Here are some of our favorite Sacramento kids activities that we think should be on the top of any itinerary to the government center.
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Must Visit Sacramento Kids Activities
California State Railroad Museum
The California State Railroad Museum is the top stop for families in Sacramento. I’ve known friends to drive and hour and a half from the Bay Area for the day, just for a visit to this amazing museum. If I lived closer I would be one of those day trippers as well.
The museum is filled with all things train including old school locomotives you can climb inside of. Some of the most interesting exhibits include the old postal rail cars and a simulated sleeper train with the actual train movement. Moving upstairs from the history of the railways in California, kids will be happy to see trains they are most familiar with and can play with- a Thomas the Tank Engine play area. They can also check out and operate a huge model train set with various trains, watch a film and participate in hands on science projects.
I could not get my son out of there. He said he could easily spend a few more hours and a few more visits. Make sure to try your hand at driving a Japanese bullet train!
California State Capitol
You can’t visit the state capital and not actually see the Capitol itself! Here you can take a self guided tour at the Capitol for free or do a docent led tour. Pick up a map in the basement and check it out. I was pleasantly surprised how much my son enjoyed his visit. He loved seeing the Assembly and Senate chambers even though the session was finished for the day. He found it intriguing that this is where the laws and rules of the state are handed down. Now, he can’t wait to visit again during a session to see what really goes on here.
Besides the actual inner workings of the building we also enjoyed admiring the beautiful building itself with amazing paintings and intricate mosaic work on the floors. Even if you think your kids may not be into this, pop in and have a quick peak, you just might be surprised.
Old Town Sacramento
Old Town Sacramento is a great place to base yourself for the day. It’s totally touristy and maybe a bit overpriced, but it’s a fun peak into days long gone. Pay for a day of parking and spend some time exploring. With a ton of shops and restaurants, as well as museums (California Railroad Museum, California History Museum), it’s easy to spend an entire day here. Don’t miss the free candy samples at the Candy Heaven shop!
Check out the River City Shooting Gallery where you can take some shots for only a few bucks.
Make sure to pop into the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse located right in the heart of old town to show the kids what school life was like at the turn of the 20th century. My son really enjoyed walking along the river and along the railway tracks in Old Town checking out the candy shops and of course visiting the museums.
Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Needing a little nature fill before spending all day in museums, we set off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center for a quick hike and look around. The Nature Center is set in a county park among 100 acres of oak trees along the American River Parkway.
My son loves these types of places and was super jealous of the school kids on a field trip since they got to participate in lots of cool hands on activities. The Nature Center itself isn’t massive, but is quite informative, has a few cute rescue animals and hands on activities. My son’s favorite was seeing a real model of termites in action inside a piece of wood.
Apart from the center itself, there are some California Native American exhibits out front as well as several easy and short 3/4 mile trails to explore. If you have time, you can easily meander through the network of trails looking for wildlife.
Another attraction right in the midst of Old Town Sacramento that cannot be missed is Tower Bridge. This striking gold bridge welcomes you to town with such gusto. We were mesmerized by it even before we knew it’s special powers!
Have a stroll across the bridge over to the west side to learn more about it’s history. Oh but what is it’s super power you ask? It’s a vertical lifting bridge that allows 100 feet of clearance underneath for when tall boats approach this section of the Sacramento River. My son was obsessed and really wanted to wait to see it go up, but as there is no published schedule we had no clue when it might move!
Tower Bridge is seen by many as a symbol to California’s historic past. The shimmering gold of the bridge’s paint harkens to the California Gold Rush days and what made this city’s development possible.
There is a ton more to do in Sacramento, but for a quick weekend visit these sights provide a little bit of Sacramento’s nature, history and learning opportunities for everyone in the family.
If you are heading up for a weekend visit, check out the Embassy Suites Hotel located right near Old Town Sacramento. Otherwise there are a ton of chain hotels as well as boutique places all over town.
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