California State Capitol Park
Sacramento is a city unlike any other, a place where — in a single day — you can watch the Golden State’s government in action, learn the history of automobiles, treat the family to an affordable Triple-A division baseball game, and walk the wooden sidewalks that used to serve as wandering spots for folks caught up in the gold rush of the late 1840s. The city has the charm of its distinct history as well as the conveniences and comforts you’d expect of a modern metropolis.
The main part of Sacramento’s downtown includes the capitol building and at least four interesting museums your family might enjoy. It will be hard for you to miss the capitol’s gold dome reaching up toward the sky, letting you know that you’ve made it to the heart of Sacramento.
California State Capitol Museum
1315 10th St, Sacramento, CA 95814
The capitol building itself sits on the grounds of the California State Capitol Museum, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. You can tour quite a bit of the facility, including the offices of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer. There also are exhibits on-site, as well as opportunities to watch the state legislature in action during the months when it is in session.
Free tours are offered on the hour at the Capitol Museum, which includes murals, governors’ portraits, and paintings created from 1870 through 1950. The tours also include a look at the building’s architectural highlights, including the seal of California and the golden poppy mosaic floors.
Also part of the site is the outdoor Capitol Park, which comprises some forty acres and includes memorials to Civil War and Vietnam War veterans. There’s also a separate California Veterans Memorial, honoring those who served in the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Persian Gulf War. There are some excellent interactive tours, as well as additional information about both the California Legislature and the museum grounds, available at www.capitolmuseum.ca.gov.
California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts
1020 O St, Sacramento, CA 95814
Located a block from the Capitol inside the building housing the State Archives, this museum now exists on the site that used to hold the California State History Museum. More than 20,000 square feet of exhibit space features rotating exhibitions such as “Treasures from Hearst Castle” and “Pioneers’ Quilts and Textiles.”
The museum is open daily, Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. till 5 P.M. and Sunday from noon till 5 P.M. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5 for children between the ages of six and thirteen, and free for children younger than five. Look for information about upcoming exhibits and events at www.californiamuseum.org.
California State Indian Museum
2618 K St, Sacramento, CA 95816
This museum is closer to Sutter’s Fort than to the capitol building, and it tells the stories of the more than 150 tribes that originally settled the California region. It is believed that a half million Native Americans lived in the area before Europeans arrived and spoke some sixty-four languages.
At this museum, you can see baskets, beadwork, clothing, and exhibits that explain what life was like for the area’s original inhabitants. There’s a hands-on area where you can try out tools, perhaps grinding down some acorns the way Native Americans did centuries ago to make food. The museum is open daily except for major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Look for information about upcoming exhibits and hours at www.parks.ca.gov.
Leland Stanford Museum
800 N St, Sacramento, CA 95814
Yes, this institution is part of the California State Parks system, but it’s a mansion more than a museum. It is the former home of tycoon, California governor, and university founder Leland Stanford. As any good tycoon might, Stanford required some 19,000 square feet of space to feel comfortable before going to bed at night. His former home includes 17-foot ceilings, crystal and bronze light fixtures, and gilded mirrors. The state of California purchased the land as a state park in 1978, and the mansion became noted as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. There was a fourteen-year, $22 million restoration that led to its opening as a museum for the public. It also serves as a welcome center for dignitaries who visit California from around the world.
Tours start on the hour daily between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M., and the mansion is open until 5 P.M. The museum is open year-round except for major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission rates are $8 for adults, $3 for children between six and seventeen years old, and free for children younger than five.
California Automobile Museum
2200 Front St, Sacramento, CA 95818
Montana banker Edward Towe at one point owned 180 Ford vehicles — which is why what is today known as the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento used to be almost exclusively an homage to Ford models. The museum has since evolved into a facility that educates visitors about cars in general instead of just focusing on one man’s personal collection.
Here you’ll find everything from a 1919 Model T to a 1923 Model T Roadster to a 1966 Shelby GT350. Various car collectors loan their personal collections to the museum for short periods of time, so it’s impossible to say exactly what will be on display during your visit. The museum is open daily from 10 A.M. until 6 P.M., though the last admissions accepted are at 5 P.M. The fee is $7 for adults and $3 for kids. Look for upcoming exhibits and events online at calautomuseum.org.
Westfield Downtown Plaza mall
405 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814
In between visits to Old Sacramento and the Capitol Park area, you may find yourself face-to-face with the Westfield Downtown Plaza mall. There are more than 100 stores here, not as kitschy as what you’ll find in Old Sacramento but high-quality brands such as Gap, Gymboree, Macy’s, and Wilson’s Leather. You’ll also find typical “mall restaurants” such as Quiznos Subs in this building, plus higher-end offerings such as Morton’s Steakhouse.
The Westfield Downtown Plaza mall is home to the Century Theatre Downtown Plaza 7, a digital surround-sound movie theater right next to the food court on the mall’s upper piazza level. Keep your parking ticket with you when you buy your movie tickets, and the theater will validate your parking for up to four hours.
There’s a children’s carousel inside the mall if your little ones need a little indoor break from all your walking around. Mall hours are 10 A.M. till 9 P.M. Monday through Saturday, and 11 A.M. until 6 P.M. on Sunday. For a complete list of stores, restaurants, and other information, go to www.westfield.com.