California Museum in Sacramento (review)

In order to provide our children with the best possible experiences, we frequently become involved in a variety of kid-centered activities. Sacramento favorites like Fairytale Town and Funderland are big hits with my kids, but there are times when I’d rather do something with them than for them. That’s when we went to the museums, of which Sacramento has plenty. We’ll feature one each month, from the well-known Crocker to some lesser-known gems, beginning with Downtown’s California Museum.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know Sacramento had a California Museum. I didn’t either, despite the fact that it opened just before I moved here in 1998. The museum contains what you’d expect: a rich exploration of Native American history, reminiscences of the Gold Rush era, and a tribute to California’s celebrities and heroes. Beyond the mission models and fine pottery, however, there is a lot of beauty, attention to detail, and a few surprises.

The building’s architecture and design are impressive on their own. A large, sweeping staircase punctuates the open, light-filled space. The museum is large but not overwhelming: an energetic family could complete the circuit in about an hour or so, but I’d recommend at least two hours to fully appreciate everything it has to offer.

The California Remarkable Women exhibit was the first to pique my interest. Women are an important part of any history, from astronauts to celebrities, social activists to artists, and as the mother of one young lady in the making, I appreciate the emphasis on strong female role models. If your children prefer the glamorous, there is also a lovely collection of classic Barbie dolls and period costumes.

Local celebrities are honored in the California Hall of Fame with a variety of visuals and personal artifacts. Personal favorites Dr. Dre and Joe Montana are represented by photos and news clippings, while Warren Beatty’s work is represented by a display of classic film posters.

The kids particularly enjoyed the Health Happens Here exhibit, which offers a variety of interactive tasks to teach the younger Californians about nutrition, community, and responsible living. The room itself resembles something out of a Star Trek episode, with lemon and lime walls providing a cheerful backdrop to the latest technology used to deliver a few valuable lessons in a fun and engaging manner.

The Uprooted exhibit, which features photos, artwork, and artifacts from Japanese internment camps, addresses some of California’s more somber history. The poignant centerpiece of this moving exhibit is a large American flag made of tiny paper cranes.

I loved the glimpse of public and private transportation: a vintage car and bus sit right outside a display of early 1900s luggage, guaranteed to transport you back in time. The children enjoyed the bus’s theater and the working lights on the front of each vehicle, which illuminated the darkened room.

The museum also has a number of traveling exhibits, such as Dig It, which highlights local soil and sediment, as well as its development and environmental significance. In September, look for a collection on loan from the Charles Shultz Museum.

My personal favorite exhibit is located in the courtyard, which is hidden from view from the outside. The Constitution Wall, an installation made up of sculpted words from our United States Constitution, is housed in this open space. The enormous size serves as a symbolic reminder that the laws are intended to protect and shelter all of us.

We had a great time at The California Museum. Each room was able to hold the interest of the adults while keeping the kids engaged the entire time. If you are looking for something to enjoy with your family, rather than to set off on the side while the kids play, The California Museum is really a great choice. Its located at 1020 ‘O’ Street, and is open from 10-5, Tuesday through Saturday, and on occasional Sundays. As an added bonus, children 5 and under receive free admission!

California Museum
1020 O St, Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 653-7524

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