From its roots at Sutter’s Fort during the California Gold Rush to its place today as the state’s political hub, Sacramento is a city brimming with history. If you are planning to visit Sacramento, there are many great ways for the whole family to experience history. Kids will be so busy having fun, they won’t even realize they’re learning!
Historic (But Still Fun) Things to Do in Sacramento with Kids
Sacramento is steeped in history, and fun ways for your family to experience it! Located about two hours inland from the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento is convenient to travel to or a great stop to include on a California road trip.
We recently spent some time in the Sacramento Valley, hosted by Chevrolet. From gold panning to exploring Sacramento’s underground to touring the State Capitol and Sutter’s Fort, here are some fun ways to learn about California history in Sacramento.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park
Our trip to Sacramento County began with a drive to the town of Coloma, home of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park.
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is the location where gold was first discovered in 1848. It was discovered by James W. Marshall, an employee working on building a sawmill – Sutter’s Mill – on the American River, sparking the California Gold Rush.
Throughout the Gold Rush, Coloma mushroomed into a population of thousands. Many structures went up, including a schoolhouse, general store, post office, and Chinese market. These and other historic buildings are now part of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which visitors can tour. We enjoyed a fabulous tour with one of the park’s volunteers and learned so much about the Gold Rush!
The park also includes a Gold Discovery Museum. Exhibits tell the story of John Sutter and James Marshall, and how the Gold Rush helped shape California. Other exhibits include Native Americans of the area, mining equipment and films about the gold discovery and early mining. Outside, there are mining exhibits and a full-size replica of Sutter’s Mill.
Visitors can pan for gold and enjoy hikes and picnics along the American River. We had a great time panning for gold! Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is a very popular destination for field trips, so there are almost always groups of students in the park.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
Back in midtown Sacramento is Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. The fort is what remains of the first non-Native American settlement in California’s Central Valley. It was built in 1839, when California was still part of Mexico.
Sutter’s Fort has been restored to look as it did in the 1840s. The fort captures the pioneer spirit of families arriving in wagon trains at the dawn of the California Gold Rush. (Interesting fact: the Donner Party were among those who stayed at the original fort, after their rescue in 1847.)
Families visiting Sutter’s Fort can enjoy a self-guided tour with narration describing different areas in the fort. The original stables, carpenter’s shop, blacksmith shop, mill and kitchens are all featured.
Check online for special living history days when actors and enthusiasts bring to life the days when John Sutter ruled the roost. We were lucky enough to attend a private pioneer dinner at the park, hosted by Chevrolet. Friends of Sutter’s Fort, the same group that does living history days, were there in costume doing cooking demonstrations and playing music. It was an amazingly authentic experience!
Visiting Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is a great way to make history fun in Sacramento, and kids will love exploring.
California State Capitol
Like most state capitols, the California State Capitol is a working government building that is also open to the public. There is a museum where you can peek into historic rooms, preserved to show what government offices looked like 100 years ago. Exhibits teach kids and adults alike the history of California and its government.
Pick up a map and take a self-guided tour, or join one of the free daily guided tours. The museum showcases rooms with recreations from their time periods. Featured rooms include the Secretary of State’s Office in 1902, the Attorney General’s Office in 1906, and the State Treasurer Office in 1933.
Be sure to go up to the second floor of the Capitol. If you’re lucky you can catch state legislators at work! Afterward, head out onto the grounds and admire the meticulous gardens and trees from around the world.
For more information on visiting the California State Capitol, check out capitolmuseum.ca.gov
Old Sacramento State Historic Park
With its wooden sidewalks and facades, Old Sacramento is straight out of the Old West!
One of many California state parks in the region, Sacramento’s original business district is now the Old Sacramento State Historic Park. There are more than 50 historic buildings (original or reproductions) on this 28-acre site. Old Sacramento is located on the banks of the Sacramento River. There is even a restored 1800s riverboat, the Delta King (now a restaurant and hotel).
Historic sights not to miss in Old Sacramento include the Wells Fargo History Museum, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse, the Sacramento History Museum and a monument to the Pony Express.
The Sacramento History Museum offers several tours of Old Sacramento.
We decided to take the Old Sacramento Underground Tour. This half-mile guided historical walking tour demonstrates how Sacramento literally lifted itself up out of the flood waters during the 1860s and 1870s by jacking up the buildings. The tour lasts approximately one hour.
I will be honest. I imagined we would be traversing Old Sacramento via intriguing underground tunnels, but really you are just descending into what is essentially a basement beneath several buildings. Don’t get me wrong – it was interesting to say the least, and our guide was amazing! But know what you are signing up for. Tours offered by the Sacramento History Museum also include museum admission. So there’s that.
Old Sacramento Underground tours and walking tours depart from the Sacramento History Museum at 101 I Street in Sacramento. The tour is ADA compliant and can accommodate up to 20 people.
What We Drove
Our visit to Sacramento was hosted by Chevrolet, and we drove a Chevy Bolt EV. Road tripping in the Chevy Bolt EV was a fun experience! Driving through California Gold Country was smooth and exciting. The car is zippy to say the least, and has a surprisingly spacious interior.
The Bolt EV gets an EPA-estimated 238 miles of range on a single charge, so we never had to interrupt our day to worry about charging it. Just plugged it in at the hotel overnight and we were good to go! But when you do need to locate a charging station, there’s an app for that! Simply download an app on your phone and you can find electric vehicle charging stations along the way or wherever you are. We saw plenty of charging stations all over Sacramento, even near Sutter’s Fort and at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park! Thankfully, we didn’t need to use them very often.
What You Need to Know About the Chevy Bolt EV
While my husband – a life-long Chevy man who currently drives a Silverado truck – was enamored by the Bolt EV’s clean and compact engine, I found myself appreciating the Bolt’s more practical features.
- Plenty of cup holders
- Spacious trunk
- Multiple spots to plug in phone chargers both in the front and back seats
- Fast charging capability
The Chevy Bolt EV has a 10.2-inch diagonal color touch screen with tons of technical capabilities. The display allows you to view and access real-time vehicle information such as your battery levels, range estimation, charge settings and climate controls. Split screens and expanded views allow you to navigate and retrieve your music, contacts and more.
It sounds amazing and for most people it probably is! But if you are not the most technically savvy person (raising my hand here!) it can be frustrating to try to navigate the system and keep your eyes on the road at the same time. I am sure if I spent any extended length of time driving the Bolt EV I’d master it all. But since we only had the car for a few days, I found myself just using my cell phone to find directions fast.
Find out more about the Chevy Bolt EV.
Go for the Gold
Whatever you’re driving and whenever you visit, there are no shortage of ways to make history fun in Sacramento with kids! Your family will have a great time experiencing the Gold Rush, Sutter’s Fort and California’s unique and storied history.
For more information on visiting Sacramento, check out VisitSacramento.com.