During the 1850's, Sacramento was a bustling city on the Sacramento River waterfront, a central hub for miners heading off to the gold fields. Today, kids will enjoy wandering down the wooden sidewalks of Old Sacramento, past historic buildings and reminders of a bygone era.
California State Railroad Museum
- This railroad museum is stacked full of the beautifully restored railroad locomotives and cars. On the main floor, check out the Governor Stanford steam locomotive, the first engine that chugged down the track for the Central Pacific, or peer inside the private "Gold Coast" train car to see how people traveled in style, walk through a mail car (find out how mail was picked up and delivered by train).
Don't miss the "Lost Spike," a copy of the golden Last Spike commissioned for the transcontinental railroad ceremony at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869.
Upstairs, toddlers can play with Thomas the Tank Engine wooden trains and tracks, and anyone who loves model trains won't want to miss the Lionel model trains and model train layout, with trains going round and round. The gift shop has engineer's hats, wooden train whistles, books and toys about trains.
Sacramento History Museum
- This is the spot to find out about the California Gold Rush, Sacramento was a jumping off point for the gold fields. On the third floor are large dioramas of Sutter's Mill and hydraulic mining, videos about life in mining camps, simulated mine shaft, miner's equipment, gold nuggets galore. In the gift shop, buy gold panning kits, gold rush coins replicas, gold flakes.
Museum also has exhibits about Sacramento farming history, and children's area with picture books and farming toys, watch the canning machine go up to the third floor.
Catch the train
- On the weekends, April to September, ride the rails on a real steam locomotive of the Sacramento Southern Railroad. On the 40 minute train ride, little kids will especially enjoy the whistle blowing, the big white clouds of puffy steam and gently rocking motion as the train rolls down the track along the Sacramento River. No food or drinks on the train, buy tickets at the booth on Front St.
Old Sacramento Schoolhouse
- Imagine attending school a one-room schoolhouse, where you'd wash your hands outside at the pump or warm your hands by a pot-bellied stove in winter. You can sit at a wooden desk with a slate and chalk, and read the 1848 list of punishments for bad behavior, e.g. "Telling Tales out of School," 8 lashes, "Playing Cards at School," 10 lashes. Ring the school bell (rope is just inside the front door) or
swing on swings
in the schoolyard.
Pony Express statue
- On April 4, 1860, at 2:45am, the first eastbound Pony Express rider left Sacramento, arriving in St. Joseph, Missouri eleven days later. Sacramento was the endpoint for the Pony Express, which operated until 1861. The statue is located at J and Second St.
Getting around town
to pedal around Old Sacramento, or ride in style in a
. (You can rent bikes (including side by side bikes) at Practical Cycles at J Street.)
Walk or bike along the river
- Bike or walk on the wide promenade that goes along the Sacramento River. Start at the golden Tower Bridge and go either north or south on the American River Bike Trail as far as the kids feel like. Also, on the west side of the river is the River Walk Park with grass and
Sacramento Gold Rush Days
- Go back in time to the California gold rush, a three day celebration with people in period costumes, living history demonstrations, wagon rides, gold panning, storytelling, and music.
Sutter's Fort (L Street)
- From 1840 - 1849, John Sutter (of gold rush fame) built and managed a substantial adobe brick fort. The fort was a stopover for immigrants arriving in California (Sutter helped the stranded Donner Party), there were workshops for carpentry, blacksmithing, weaving, Sutter raised wheat for export and sheep for wool - the fort was a busy place.
Today the fort is an excellent example of mid-19th century life in California. Climb up two towers with large cannons, look into cooper's, candle, gunsmith shops, vaquero and guard rooms, Sutter's bedroom and office, kitchen and bakery. In the orientation room, don't miss the original Patty Reed doll.
In summer, Sacramento can get hot in the afternoons. Do outdoor activities in the morning - bike rides or train ride; in the afternoon, stop into the air-conditioned museums, such as the Railroad Museum or Sacramento History Museum.
Anyone in your family with a sweet tooth won't be able to resist the old-fashioned candies - salt water taffy, horehounds, chico sticks, caramels, peanut brittle, giant-size lollypops, jawbreakers - at the
in Old Sacramento.
Jelly Belly Candy Factory (Fairfield)
- On Highway 80 to Sacramento, take a detour to visit the Jelly Belly jelly bean factory. See how a jelly bean is made from start to finish, including the "sugar shower" and polishing stages. The jelly bean art gallery is boggling - huge mosaics made with thousands of jelly beans, depicting American presidents and other celebrities. At the end of the tour, there are free samples and you can get hamburgers and pizzas shaped like a jelly bean at the restaurant. Factory tours daily, but on weekends you won't see the factory in operation.