What to do in Sacramento, California

Despite being the capitol city of California, it tends to be completely off the radar to visitors to the Golden State. It makes sense, kind of. LA has the dazzling lights of Hollywood, San Francisco has its hilly roads and hippy history, and San Diego has its golden beaches and laid-back surfer culture. Personally, I was only visiting the city because I have a lovely pal who lives there, and when she asked prior to my arrival what I wanted to do in Sacramento, I basically had no idea as I had no idea what is even there!? AWKWARD. Honestly, the one thing that I did know about Sacramento prior to visiting, is that the TV show Even Stevens was set here. I was a STRONG Even Stevens fan back in the day, so although sadly Shia LeBeouf and the funny boy who played Beans have long since grown up and moved on, I was still happy to be heading to a place connected so intrinsically to my tweenage years.

But, as I discovered, this is a really cool city, with an intriguing history and some awesome up-and-coming areas. Although I had the added bonus of seeing Sacramento like a local, I do solemnly declare that Sacramento is a city worth visiting. And here, my friends, are all the reasons why.

Visit Old Sacramento

The city of Sacramento sprung up in 1848 during the days of the gold rush, when all the world was rushing to California in wagon trains, with hopes of striking lucky with shovels and gold pans, and if you want to get a feel of what an original Wild West town felt like, Old Sacramento is your best bet. The majority of the buildings in this quaint riverfront district were built during the 1800s, and are completed outside with wooden boardwalks in place of pavements, which basically made me feel as if I was in an actual real life Western. (If only.) Don’t get me wrong here pals- this is probably the most touristy part of the city, and as such it caters to tourists in the form of gift shops, saloons, and a few arcade games, including a shooting game which confirmed to me that I am a terrible shot- but this is definitely an area that you have to visit if you’re heading to Sacramento.

Back in the beginnings of Sacramento’s life as a frontier town, the only way to get mail across the width of North America was via the Pony Express, a delivery service which used individual horses and riders traveling 1,900 miles cross-country from California to Missouri in a mere ten days. Which back in those days, was thought to be near enough impossible. So, good on you, Pony Express people, for your ingenuity on that one! Although it only operated for around 18 months until the telegram was invented, the Pony Express was an important factor in connecting the brand-spanking new state of California with the rest of the US.

Wild West buildings in Old Sacramento Fanny Ann’s Saloon in Old Sacramento, for a Western bar experience Beautiful buildings straight out of a Western in Old Sacramento Girl and gun. Luckily not a real one. Old Sacramento

Train travel was also hugely important back at the start of Sacramento’s existence, as up until trains began to chug their way into the state it was very much an isolated and alien kind of a location. The California State Railroad Museum on the riverfront in Old Sacramento has a whole load of old locomotives lined up like iron giants- these are no Thomas the Tank Engines, pals, they’re quite something to behold. The Old Schoolhouse is also worth a peek to see how the early inhabitants of the city studied in their little wooden schoolroom, and as an added bonus it’s free to visit.

Related: The Coast Starlight from Sacramento to Portland

An old steam train in Old Sacramento Train modelling in Sacramento. casual. The Central Pacific Railway in a green building

An orange locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum

Roses outside the Sacramento Old Schoolhouse

Aside from the history-buff situations, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you’re in Old Sac you should 100% get yourself on down to Evangeline’s Costume Mansion because it is without a shadow of a doubt the best costume shop I have ever set foot in. If only I’d had a fancy dress party to go to while I was in the States, I would have bought several outfits so that I could even complete the night with costume changes galore.

And for food, we headed to Willie’s Burgers as my pal’s dad was raving about the place. And FOR GOOD REASON, TOO. I’m no burger connoisseur but those burgers were delicious, and their fries were insanely awesome and served in gargantuan portions to match those trains I was going on about earlier.

Evangelines Costume Mansion is incredible. Plus a tiger ride. The best place for burgers in Old Sacramento- Willies Burgers

Check out the street art in Downtown Sacramento

Back to the modern side of the city, Downtown Sacramento is right next to Old Sac, and therefore easily navigable in one afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, you could also go and do some shopping like a normal person, but wandering around a place and discovering what street art it has to offer is actually one of my number one most favourite things to do. And Sacramento is no let-down when it comes to colourful paintings all over its walls, no siree.

Street art in downtown Sacramento. Peacock feather painting City street art in Sacramento

Search for some Ladybird Filming Locations

It turns out, there are more TV and film connections to Sacramento than Even Stevens alone!

The genius lady that is Greta Gerwig grew up in Sacramento, and in her film Ladybird she really pays homage to the city through the story of a girl who quite desperately wants to grow up and move away from it. The story itself is beautiful, but so is the way that Sacramento is woven intrinsically into it, and if you want to get a feel of this city then this film is definitely one you should watch.

After I watched the film with my pal, she decided it was a brilliant idea to go on a Ladybird filming locations tour, and I 100% agreed. I mean, why would you not!? The Big Blue House, (located in the Fabulous Forties neighbourhood featuring all the fancy houses), a view of Tower Bridge- the blocky golden bridge crossing the Sacramento River- and the American Market and Deli which is essentially a corner store with a really cool mural on the outside, were a few of the stops on the itinerary. Did we nearly get a parking fine outside the Deli? Why yes we did. Did we manage to talk our way out of it? Why yes, yes we did. Thankyou and goodnight.

Ladybird Filming Locations in Sacramento- the Blue House A goose by the Golden bridge in Sacramento Where is the American Market and Deli in Ladybird

Check out an indie film in an Art Deco cinema. Or just eat cake.

The art deco Tower Theater, lit up with neon lights like a beacon for cinema-goers across Sacramento, is another landmark which pops up in Ladybird, and is one beautiful building to catch a movie in. (Not that I actually did, soz, I just admired its 1930s exterior.) I also sampled a delicious selection of desserts in the next door Tower Cafe, filled to the brim with crazy memorabilia from around the world. The atmosphere in here is cozy and casual, and great for a late-night cake if you don’t fancy an actual beverage, I’ll have you know.

Related: Seven Days in San Francisco

Spend an evening checking out the craft cocktail scene

This is an area which in all honesty I would have had absolutely no idea about, had I not been with my pal and her craft cocktail champion buddy. (True story, this wondrous lass competes in national craft cocktail events; and I don’t feel as if I have ever met, or will ever again meet anyone quite so passionate about the art of cocktails)

So one evening, Tayler-Beth’s good pal decided she would spend an evening taking us out on a tour of Sacramento’s craft cocktail scene. She KNOWS. HER. STUFF.

After a dinner of some awesome Vietnamese food we went on a casual crawl of some of Downtown Sacramento’s coolest cocktail bars, including The Snug– which is all moody lighting, dark leather and 1950s cocktails- the Shady Lady-which has the atmosphere and decor of an old saloon bar- and Bottle and Barlow, which is a far more modern affair but also has a barber shop attached to it. Casual. Most importantly, the drinks at these places are full on well made.

Cocktails in Sacramento are best at the Snug

Go thrift shopping

I’m putting this on the list because although you can go thrift shopping in cities across America, this is the first one that I actually had a full thrift shop experience, and it is nothing like going charity shopping at home in England, oh no siree. Sacramento also has thrift shops galore to explore.

Over here, the art of thrift shopping really is an art. As Macklemore once famously said: ‘I wear your grandad’s clothes. I look incredible. I got this big ass coat. From that thrift shop down the road.’ Nice one, Macklemore. Sacramento thrift store Thrift Town was also featured in Ladybird.

Load up your trolley with hand-me-downs galore in an industrial-sized warehouse thrift location, and try on all the bizarre and beautiful concoctions that you could ever wish for. GLORIOUS. Unfortunately for me, the one thing I found which I truly was in love with was a vintage fur coat which I had no room for in my bag and also felt rather conflicted about the fact that it was made from real fur and I still loved it. Shame on my name.

The California State Capitol

To be fair, this building is actually a little more awesome than the actual White House, in my humble and possibly misguided opinion. The main reason I think this is because you can actually get up close to it, and it is indeed a splendiferous white building filled with all the grandeur that a State Capitol surely deserves. When we visited, there were two separate rallies going on at the same time, on different sides of the building; very scandalous. The building was finished in 1874, and as well as housing the government of California, it is also a museum which visitors can tour and learn all about the history of this beautiful state.

Wings outside the California State Capitol Beautiful streets of Downtown Sacramento Amazing architecture in Sacramento

Related: Wine Tasting in Lodi, California

So, chums, whilst Sacramento might not have all the buzz and crazy antics of certain other Californian hotspots, it’s definitely not a location to write off. Plus, this beautiful city is smack bang in the middle of some of the most luscious, green countryside that I have ever seen; and thanks to the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables in the area (plus a tonne of vineyards), the city has also declared itself the ‘farm to fork capital’ of the US. This is the perfect place to use as a base for exploring Northern California, but is also not somewhere you should overlook, homies!

Logistical Statisticals

  • By car it’ll take you only around fifteen minutes from Sacramento International Airport to Downtown Sacramento- unless you get stuck in traffic, of which there’s a fair bit in this city.
  • Uber is definitely the best way to get around if you don’t have the convenience of a car. I was lucky enough to be staying with a pal for the entire time, so we also naturally had a car to get around.
  • Downtown Sacramento and Old Sac are, however, very walkable.
  • Sales tax in Sacramento is currently (2019) 8.5%. This won’t be displayed on anything you buy- it’ll be added on at the till. Confusing.
  • Don’t forget to tip. 20% is the usual. And if you don’t pay up, expect to face wrath and fury.
  • Crime rate here is actually higher than the national average, although I never had any shady moments in the city.
  • May to September is fairly warm, while the winter months tend to be rather on the wet side and mild. Probs pack a coat, then.

Things to do in Sacramento CaliforniaWhat to see in Sacramento, California

Things to do in Sacramento, California travel blog

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