1. Old Sacramento. The Old Sacramento historic area is a registered national landmark and state historic park off the banks of the Sacramento River. This 28-acre town is a throwback to the California Gold Rush era, complete with wooden sidewalks, horse-drawn carriages, old-fashioned candy shops,Mississippi-style riverboats and historic buildings constructed in the mid-1800s.
Old Sacramento is home to many free attractions, including the B.F. Hastings Building, which houses part of the Wells Fargo History Museum, and the Big Four Building, named for the “Big Four” of western railroading: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker. Two sure-fire kid pleasers are the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse in the style of one-room schools found in the 1800s and the monument to the Pony Express.
2. California Capitol. Tour the capital, restored to its original beauty after a six-year, $68 million project.
3. Capitol Park. Visit the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a $2.5 million project built entirely by donations. Its 22 shiny black granite panels memorialize the 5,822 names of California’s fallen soldiers. Then stroll through the International World Peace Rose Gardens, home to more than 800 roses in a variety of colors and fragrances.
4. California State Archives. Kind of boring to kids, unless you go on a rainy day. Rainwater alters the colors of the Constitution Wall, an outdoor piece of art, accessible by entering the courtyard, making the constitution into a living document that changes with the state.
5. The Blue Diamond Growers Visitors Center. Check out the largest almond processing plant in the world. There’s a 20-minute video (in several foreign languages) and the opportunity to taste some almonds. If you want to buy them, of course, it is not free.
6. The Historic City Cemetery. Established in 1849, the cemetery is the last resting place for more than 20,000 early Sacramentans, including John A. Sutter Jr., Edwin and Margaret Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
7. Architectural wonders. The 217-foot tower and Austrian stained glass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and the Tiffany stained glass windows and rare Johnson Tracker organ at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church are worth a look.
8. Walking around. Pick up a free copy of the Sacramento Visitors’ Guide at the Old Scramento Visitors Center and check out the section dedicated to “Walking Tours of Sacramento.”
9. Sacramento Museum Day. The annual Sacramento Museum Day provides free admission to Sacramento museums including the California Military Museum, California Museum for History, Women and the Arts, California State Capitol Museum, California State Indian Museum, California State Railroad Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Discovery Museums (Old Sacramento & Auburn Blvd.), Fairytale Town, Governor’s Mansion, Historic Sacramento Cemetery, Leland Stanford Mansion, Aerospace Museum of California, Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, Towe Auto Museum, Wells Fargo History Museum and the Sacramento Zoo.