City Guide: Sacramento, California

| March 12, 2014 | 39 Comments More

Things to do and see in California’s capital: sites, attractions, restaurants, and wineries
(Text and images by Jenna Francisco

Sacramento Capitol building

California State Capitol

Sacramento may not be one of the best known cities of California, but for the traveler, it offers an interesting peek into both California history and the trends that define this progressive state.

Sacramento is not only the capital of California, but also a diverse metropolitan area with over one million residents. In fact, it was named the most integrated city in the U.S. by Time because its residents, who come from so many places, live side by side – the result is a city that combines the slow pace of California valley with influences of the nearby Bay Area and the diversity of its population.


Because Sacramento was the center of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, it makes an appropriate place to see California history.

The city’s most renowned attraction is Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the original city from the Gold Rush days. A collection of old streets with beautiful architectural details and wood plank covered sidewalks takes visitors back in time, until the many tacky souvenir shops are noticed, that is.

The old school house and the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento are worthwhile stops. Also in Downtown Sacramento is the Capitol building, where the governor works and state laws are passed. Free entrance allows visitors to view the historic rooms, dome, and large Senate assembly room. The adjacent Capitol Park is definitely worth visiting, with a variety of trees from around the world as well as monuments and a rose garden.

If you want to know more about the city’s original history, try Sutter’s Fort where the first settlement is still preserved and shows what life in 19th century California was like.

Old Sacramento

Buildings in Old Sacramento


Two of my favorite places to visit in Sacramento are less familiar to visitors. Near Old Sacramento is the Leland Stanford Mansion, a beautiful example of the finest Victorian architecture and formal gardens in town.

Anyone who enjoys art and architecture should save time to visit the Crocker Art Museum, between the Capitol and Old Sacramento. The museum is housed in two buildings, one a beautiful historic mansion, and the other a new, modern building that makes a great art exhibition space.


Sacramento has called itself the “Farm-to-Fork Capital of the U.S.” because of the city’s location in the heart of agricultural California and the restaurants’ use of locally grown ingredients. It is possible to taste the freshness of ingredients that come from just a few miles down the road at many restaurants.

Red Rabbit Sacramento

Diners at Red Rabbit


A locals’ favorite is Magpie Catering and Café at 15th & R Streets, a renovated block with trendy bistros and salons. For a lively atmosphere with interesting food and superb cocktails, try Red Rabbit in the Sutter District around 27th and J Streets.

A longtime favorite of Sacramento residents is Tower Café, next to the retro Tower Theater and the original Tower Records location. Its outdoor garden and brunch, especially the custard-filled French toast with seasonal fruit, are loved by locals.

Other local favorites are Hot Italian, Masullo Pizza, and Taylor’s Kitchen. For a sweet treat, try Ginger Elizabeth, where fine chocolates and macarons are sold.

Coffee & Wine 

Sacramento’s favorite coffee is served at Temple Coffee with two locations in downtown and Midtown Sacramento. Temple also offers monthly classes on everything about coffee. Next to Temple’s S Street location is Sacramento’s only urban winery, Revolution Wines. Stop in for a tasting, sip a glass on the outdoor patio they share with Temple Coffee, or stay and grab a bite. Revolution Wines pride themselves on serving truly local wine since the grapes are grown just outside the city; they are also proud of their ports, and they are so good that even if you don’t like ports, you must try these.


One of the best features of Sacramento is the variety of day trips available. Within two hours are world-class destinations such as San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley.

The closest day trip option is Davis, the home of University of California Davis. Being a center of agricultural and food innovation (with degrees offered in beer making and viticulture), the town has a fantastic farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Walking the arboretum and cute downtown make for a nice day trip, and Davis is an easy 15-minute train ride from downtown Sacramento.

Wine lovers can easily go to Napa Valley, especially the tasting rooms and chic restaurants of Downtown Napa, which is just one hour from central Sacramento. However, another option is the quieter Lodi, 40 minutes south of Sacramento, where 100 grape varietals are grown. Harney Lane Winery, Oak Farm Vineyards, and Lodi’s downtown tasting rooms make excellent places to taste California wine, all for about $5 per tasting.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

For travelers who prefer outdoor activities, the American River in Sacramento is a popular place to go rafting or bike on its 32-mile long trail that leads to the town of Folsom. Folsom and Auburn, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, have nice hiking, but for those who really want to experience the mountains, beautiful Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake are just two hours away.

Airport's red rabbit

“Leap” – a 56-foot red rabbit sculpture at Sacramento International Airport


Sacramento is spread out, but the main attractions are located within the city center of Downtown and Midtown Sacramento. The area can easily be walked, but biking and light rail are popular modes of transportation here, too. For traveling outside the center, travelers will probably need a car. Trains and buses can be used to connect to most places outside the city, such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and Davis. There is no train service to the airport yet, but the airport offers shuttle service.

The weather in Sacramento is pleasant most of the year, with a mostly warm, dry climate. Expect rain and fog in December and January, then a mix of rain and sun in spring, a very hot summer, and a warm, sunny fall. July is the hottest time of the year, but temperatures over 100 degrees can continue into early September. October and November are the best months to visit Sacramento and the surrounding areas.


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Category: City Guides, DESTINATIONS

Jenna Francisco

About the Author (Author Profile)

Jenna Francisco is a freelance travel writer and runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and slow travel. She enjoys writing about what makes places unique to provide a deeper look at travel destinations and help people travel smarter. She lives in Sacramento, California, where she teaches ESL at a community college.

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  1. avatar Charu says:

    Farm to Fork capital? I can understand that. I didn’t love my time in Sacramento (thought it was a bit too boring) but obviously I need to revisit. Thanks for the tips!

    • The food scene is what makes me want to visit! That’s the one big city in California I haven’t been to yet…

      • avatar Jenna says:

        It’s the self-proclaimed farm to fork capital and has a festival every fall. It makes sense because of its location. There isn’t a ton for tourists to do in Sacramento when you compare it to San Francisco or other big cities, but there’s enough to do if you can settle in for a couple of nice days.

  2. This looks like my kind of place. Love that you mention coffee and wine…two of my favorite things! xx

  3. I’ve been learning about Sacramento by following Jenna’s blog. It looks like a fantastic place to have a base to visit much of northern California over a week or so. I’ve been to Sonoma and Napa; visiting a new region like Lodi would be great. And closer to Yosemite, I seriously need to plan a week in Sacramento.

    • I was thinking the same… I’d love to check out Lodi and (finally) Lake Tahoe.

      • avatar Jenna says:

        Lake Tahoe is just gorgeous. You will love it no matter when you choose to visit (although winter is the most beautiful time). I’m sure the folks in Lodi would be excited to know you’ve got them on your radar. It’s a fun, laid-back place with friendly winemakers and such GOOD wine.

  4. avatar Aggy says:

    The buildings in Old Sacramento looks awesome! I am always attracted to cities that are great to walk around in and not to mention one with a great food scene – Sacramento looks like it has it all!

  5. I visited Sacramento about 20 years ago almost to the day but it was for business so I did not get to check out all it had to offer. I see many reasons to go back and do just that!

  6. I would like a travel tip on where to find long lost travel blogger Jeremy Branham.

  7. avatar lola says:

    oooo NAPA. i missed a trip there this fall with friends. very disappointed about that.

  8. avatar Monica Suma says:

    Love those old buildings!! A friend of ours is from Sacramento and she always has such nice posts about it. So I knd of want to go now.

  9. How interesting. Every year I go to California and never crossed my mind to stop in Sacramento. Maybe one day!

  10. this food & wine scene sounds right up our alley. sacramento, here we come!

  11. avatar Leah says:

    I can’t believe that I’ve never visited Sacramento. I tell you that when it happens, I’m taking Jenna with me. These suggestions look great.

  12. avatar Romy Mlinzk says:

    Looks like an underestimated city in California. Very beautiful old houses – and like Pola, I want to visit it because of the food scene! Good summary of what’s worth it traveling to Sacramento. Thank you, Jenna!

  13. avatar Lucy says:

    I have family in California and am well overdue a trip but never thought about adding in Sacramento – it’s not very well known as a destination here in the UK, sounds interesting though. I love the look of the buildings in Old Sacramento and proximity to a wine region is always a good thing!

  14. I really haven’t taken advantage of being so close to Sacramento (about 1-1/2 hours). Looks like there are plenty of interesting sites and places to go. Been there on business a couple of times, but usually just driving by on my way to Tahoe. Great guide here for my next opportunity to visit.

  15. avatar Agness says:

    Great guide. It’s good to know Sacramento has so much to offer to its visitors. I’ve been a big fan of Victorian architecture so going to the Leland Stanford Mansion is a must for me. Is it free to explore?

  16. avatar Bill Joyce says:

    Sacramento has a lot more going on the most people know. The American River Parkway has miles of trails connecting Folsom to downtown Sacramento. Pretty great.

  17. avatar Suki F says:

    This will be very helpful on my upcoming trip. thanks for sharing!

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