This post was originally published in June 2016. It has been updated.
The Aerospace Museum of California is a great hidden gem in the Sacramento area. It’s been in the back of my mind to visit it for a long time but my plans didn’t crystallize until a chance conversation with my nephew, Patrick. He was looking for staycation ideas for his family and he wanted to pick my brain for ideas on what would be good for his family. He has three boys ages 11, 13, and 15.
Planes, trains and cars museums immediately jumped to mind. Sacramento is graced with one museum for each of them. And Sacramento is only an hour’s drive away. We put together a plan for several little staycation day trips.
First up on their staycation plans was a visit to the Aerospace Museum of California. The museum is located on a corner of the old McClellan Air Force Base in what is now called McClellan Park. If you or anyone in your family is interested in aviation – then a visit the Aerospace museum is a must! I “went along for the ride” but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I am not a plane enthusiast but you don’t have to be to appreciate this museum.
There is an indoor hanger area with lots of learning displays, actual rockets, flight trainers and simulators. Outdoors there are actual planes you can go into and really study. They have over 40 military and civilian aircraft on display, along with 15 restored engines, a beautiful Coast Guard Art collection, a Morphis Motion Ride Simulator and more!
We hit the outdoor area first. Sacramento is known for its hot summer’s and the temperature was expected to reach triple digits by afternoon so we wanted to be sure to see it before it got too hot to enjoy it. Outside there are a number of vintage and newer aircraft from a variety of organizations such as Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Fed Ex, and CAL FIRE. Only three of the planes were open because the temperature inside can become intolerable.
The highlights were the A-10 Warthog from Operation Desert Storm, the AWAC radar patrol plane, the Mig 17 & 21 fighters, the Douglas Sky Raider & the F-86 Saber Jet from the Korean War. I asked one of the docents which plane he would a must see. His answer was the WW2 C-47 Skytrain in D-Day markings, configured for paratrooper drops. This was also the oldest plane in the museum. The boys’ favorite was the A-10 Warthog from Operation Desert Storm. I was really surprised at how many of the planes I could recognize from biplanes to Russian MIGs or the thrilling jets like a US Navy Blue Angels’ fighter, A-10 Thunderbolt, or a famous ‘Top Gun’ F-14 Tomcat. (My expertise comes from where else—TV and the movies!)
Patrick and the boys toured all the planes but I gave up about mid-way. I found it was cooler and more interesting sitting under the shade of an airplane’s wing talking to the knowledgeable docents. These guys were not just airplane enthusiasts. The docent volunteers I met and talked to were current or past pilots or crew comprised of veterans from the Air Force and Navy. Many had direct experience flying or working on one of the planes. All were friendly and inviting, eager to share their knowledge and war stories. Through their docent training they have become even more knowledgeable on the history and science of the planes. This added to the experience greatly. The connection to living history made the museum special. The volunteers there to answer questions and share their stories of being in service to the military, they are true treasures.
Inside the museum are exhibits on the Coast Guard (interestingly enough, the Sacramento Coast Guard Air Station is located kitty-corner to the museum) and the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-Americans to fly in the U.S. Army, led by Captain Benjamin Davis. I was very disappointed that the Women in Air exhibit was so sparse—a consisting of posters along the upstairs walls.
My thought was that the museum would be of interest to teens and tweens but I greatly under-estimated it. I noticed a large number of toddlers on a Moms Club outing. The kids were having a great time. They enjoyed climbing into the planes outside. They were eagerly tugging on mom’s hand, pointing out another plane, and thoroughly enjoying the planes parked outside. Inside, there was a children’s area with hands on activities and coloring stations. There are some interactive items and some tables with “laws of physics” type demonstrations.
My 11-year old nephew, Declan, declared at the end of the visit that this is now his “first favorite museum.”
- You may want to bring an umbrella/hat for the sunny part of the visit outside viewing the aircrafts.
- Don’t forget sunblock.
- Wear comfortable shoes and ice cold drinks. (There is no drinking inside the museum but for the outside exhibits you’ll be thankful you have them.)
- An added bonus is the rocket-themed playground and park next door. Freedom Park is a great place for the kids to blow off steam after the museum and a perfect place for parents to take a deserved break before heading to the next mission.
The Aerospace Museumof California is a great place for lacals and visitors alike.