It’s easy to fill your schedule and stay on budget when you know where to look. In order to have an affordable family vacation here are half a dozen free and fun things to do while visiting Sacramento.
Walk Through History on a Tour of the Capitol
Architecturally stunning, rich with history, and free to the public, the Capitol building acts as a “living museum.” The museum and the Capitol are one and the same, so as you’re walking the halls, you are right in the heart of California’s working seat of government. You might catch a glimpse of our current governor but if you’re a Californian you can definitely schedule a meet-and-greet with your local representative. The State Capitol building first opened to visitors in 1869. Now in 2016 families can experience California’s rich history and see history in the making. Free admission and tours.
Stroll through Capitol Park
When you leave the Capitol Building, take a stroll through Capitol Park, the 38-acre park surrounding it. This is one of the best urban parks I’ve experienced. Walkways in the park can lead to a courtyard with a fountain in the center, a heart-shaped seating wall, or the poetic Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Scattered throughout the park are poems and quotes with a theme of peace and fellowship, beauty and reflection.
The meticulous landscape of Capitol Park includes The International World Peace Rose Garden, the Camellia Grove, as well as an abundance of trees. Sacramento has been referred to as the “City of Trees.” In the park there are banana trees, orange trees, bamboo groves, and the most spectacular range of oaks and maples imaginable. Some of our favorite trees are the three “Strawberry Trees” (just north of the east path between 16th & the Capitol building), the olive tree near where they keep the horses (when they were the mode of transportation,) and the cork oak (want to know where cork comes from?) You can discover your favorites or there is a self-guided tree tour available to download online.
Work Out on the “Bike” Trail
Not just a “bike” trail, the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail is the crowning jewel of Sacramento—at least for outdoor enthusiasts. Any day of the week you’ll find cyclists, runners and walkers of all ages, sizes and abilities somewhere along the trail. There are endless access points to the river if you fancy hanging out, fishing, hiking, or swimming. Wildlife is everywhere. We love spotting the wild turkeys found along the trail.
Sacramento is a bike-friendly town. There are more than 50 miles of paved bike trails along rivers and through historic Old Sacramento. Families can see the sights, get some exercise, save money on gas, and it’s good for the environment. Many businesses—especially in the downtown and midtown area—offer bike racks and the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates provides free bicycle valet parking at the Farmer’s Markets and some events.
Pick Produce at a Farmers’ Market
Known as “America’s Farm to Fork Capital,” Sacramento is located in an agriculturally rich region surrounded by 8000 acres of boutique farms. What better way to experience it than to visit one of our free, family friendly Farmers’ Markets. Depending on when you go—many are open year-round—you’ll find tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, lettuce, herbs, winter squash, apricots, plucots, peaches, persimmons, pomegranates, mandarins, sunchokes . . . the list of fresh, organic, aromatic fruits and vegetables goes on and on.
The area is home to more than 40 farmers’ markets, but we have our two favorites. The Sacramento Sunday Farmers’ Market is under the freeway at Sixth Street between W and X draws thousands. It runs rain or shine. Begun 35 years ago it is now the largest certified farmers’ market in the state. The Midtown Farmers’ Market showcases local agriculture, prepared foods, artisans and crafters, while providing an opportunity to discover regionally grown foods. A perfect day for us is to pick up some fresh seasonal vegetables, delicious bread from Upper Crust Bakery, and some oil from Maltese Olive Oil for dipping then head to nearby McKinley Park to enjoy our goodies.
Explore Old Town Sacramento
Once an important commercial center during the 1840s and early 1850s, Old Town Sacramento is now a 28-acre State Historical Park with plenty of free things for families. Walk the boardwalk streets and browse the quirky little shops. Some of our favorite shops are Evangeline’s, The Sacramento Sweet Shop, The Chef’s Olive Mix, and Turtles.
You can also learn about Sacramento’s Gold Rush era. The free Wells Fargo History Museum has a working telegraph as well as other gold rush artifacts. Walk through the lobbies of the Delta King Hotel. The whitewashed paddle wheeler is now a floating hotel, restaurant and entertainment fixture. The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum is a living replica of traditional one-room schoolhouses found throughout America in the late 1800s. The one-room replica schoolhouse, established in 1977 by community volunteers, features a pot-bellied stove, vintage student desks and other furnishings typical of the period. Costumed docents are on hand to give a free school lesson.
Be sure to stop by the visitor center at 1101 Second Street to be learn of current special events.
The nearby towns of Folsom, Roseville, Fair Oaks and Elk Grove all have “old towns,” too. Wander through them all and get a little taste of history.
Go for a Walk
From historical building tours to public art tours to neighborhood tours to cemetery tours, there are organized walking tours aplenty to get you intimately familiar with our fine city. To learn more about Sacramento’s historic architecture, Sacramento Heritage offers some of the fascinating walking tours of Sacramento’s landmark, historic places both self-guided and guided. We love the self-guided walking tours which are available for download to your iPhone or android. This way you can enjoy the historical landmarks, architecture, and diverse culture of urban Sacramento at our own pace.
Sacramento is a big town with a small-town spirit and hospitality. Your family will feel right at home here. If you are looking for more things to do, try some of the great day trips to free attractions just outside of Sacramento. How about a free tour of the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. The tour will appeal to children of all ages—not only is the 40-minute tour free but there are unlimited free samples. Or how about a free tour at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico to see how beer is made? Children 12 and older are welcome on the tour. During the free tasting water and juice is available.
There is lots to do and experience in Sacramento. It is also a wonderful base for exploring the heart of California. How about a day trip to Fairfield for a free Jelly Belly tour or take a drive one hour north to Chico for a free craft brewery tour and tasting.