Sacramento and the surrounding region truly have something to offer every family. As California’s state capital, there’s a lot of history and history-in-the-making to be found in the city center, where the Capitol building and legislative offices are based. Sacramento’s roots in the Gold Rush days are also fun to discover. There’s art, culture, theater, sports, and limitless opportunities to explore the region’s natural beauty from its rivers to agricultural lands to the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains.
1/American Whitewater Expeditions
5981 New River Rd., Coloma
Let the pioneers of California whitewater rafting guide you on an American River rafting excursion! The highly-experienced and thoroughly-entertaining guides and staff members at American Whitewater Expeditions provide extensive safety instruction and top-notch equipment for each trip. Their love of the river and their passion for the sport are contagious! The outfitter offers a wide range of rafting packages that cater to all ages, experience levels, and budgets. Cost: Varies.
2/Old Sacramento Historic District
1002 2nd St. (Visitors Center)
The Gold Rush era comes alive in Old Sacramento! This part of town is an absolute must for anyone visiting the region. From the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum to the Delta King Riverboat to old railroad train cars that you can climb aboard, there’s exciting history at every turn in this eight-block National Historic Landmark District. Horse-drawn carriages roll through the streets as you walk the wood plank sidewalks among dozens of shops. Our family loves Turtles of Old Sacramento for locally-made treats, ice cream, and knick-knacks. The iconic, gold Tower Bridge sits at the edge of Old Sac over the Sacramento River. So much to do and see, it’s fun for out-of-towners and locals alike to visit again and again! Cost: Free.
3/California State Capitol
1315 10th St.
The history and future of California’s government, all under one rotunda. A visit to the California State Capitol is as impressive as it is interesting. Breathtaking architecture, artwork, and exhibits fill the building, which serves as both a museum and home to the California legislature. Catch a guided tour to learn about the building’s history. And don’t miss the chance to explore massive Capitol Park which surrounds the building, itself. It’s 40 acres worth of gardens and walkways which include plants and flowers from around the world along with touching memorials and monuments. Cost: Free.
4/Crocker Art Museum
216 O St., Downtown
Considered one of the leading art museums in California, Crocker Art Museum is a fantastic attraction for families visiting the region. Countless exhibits and displays featuring works of art from numerous time periods and mediums can be explored throughout the year. Check out the museum’s easy-to-navigate website for classes and festivals around which to plan your visit. Cost: Youth (7-17) $5; Adult $10.
Photo courtesy: Mary Gray
2701 L St., Midtown
A California State Historic Park, Sutter’s Fort captures the look and feel of a pioneer settlement. A visit here gives your family the opportunity to learn about Swiss immigrant John Sutter’s contribution to the region’s agricultural success at the dawn of the California Gold Rush. You’ll also find out how Sutter helped shape the region’s growth by inviting people from around the world to settle in California. Kids are sure to enjoy the Fort’s “Kids Teaching Kids” program, where they learn about Sutter’s Fort from their peers dressed in clothing from the 1840s. Cost: Youth (6-17) $3; Adult $5.
Photo courtesy: California State Parks
6/B Street Theatre
2711 B St., Midtown
Discover contemporary performances of classic and original works at one of Northern California’s top professional theaters. B Street Theatre is the perfect place to let your family experience the fun and magic of the theater in an intimate, engaging setting. The Family Series features four shows a year. Each show is a kid-friendly length and wildly entertaining! At the B Street Theatre, every seat in the house is a good one! Cost: Varies.
7/Effie Yeaw Nature Center
2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael
There’s no better way to foster a love of nature and an appreciation for environmental conservation than getting kids outside to explore. At Effie Yeaw Nature Center, families experience the unique natural and cultural resources of the Sacramento region. It’s a 100-acre nature preserve with trails that wind through woodland, shrub, meadow, and wetland habitats. Grab a map and set off on your own adventure. Each time of day/season brings its own thrilling discoveries. You won’t find a more interactive, educational, and affordable outing in the area. Cost: $5/car.
8/California State Railroad Museum
125 I St., Old Sacramento
All aboard, train buffs! Next stop, one of the most popular visitor destinations in Sacramento! The California State Railroad Museum gets you up close to wonderfully-restored locomotives and train cars and allows you to experience authentic railroad memorabilia from throughout California and the West Coast. People of all ages will be wowed by the colorful exhibits and extraordinary wealth of railroad history that’s all in one place! Check the museum online events calendar for exciting excursions and special train rides happening year-round. Cost: Youth (6-17) $5; Adult $10.
Photo courtesy: California State Parks
9/Folsom Aquatic Center
1200 Riley St., Folsom
OK, perhaps you’ve discovered that Sacramento and the surrounding area aren’t just warm in the summer… they’re blazing HOT! The Folsom Aquatic Center provides much needed relief from the heat. You and your kids will have non-stop fun playing in the water features (think: park play structures with water), tackling water slides, jumping off the diving boards, and maneuvering over massive inflatables. Various areas of the center are geared toward families with younger children. On-site snack bar. Cost: $7/Person; $3 for inflatables access wristband.
10/Jelly Belly Factory
Jelly Belly Ln., Fairfield
If you love Jelly Bellies (and who doesn’t?!), you’ll love going behind the scenes at the colorful Jelly Belly Factory to see how those itty bitty beans are made and to learn about their interesting history. You’ll even see artwork made with Jelly Bellies! The factory is located about 45 minutes from Sacramento and offers free daily tours. You’ll get a few samples of the tiny jelly beans during the tour, and then, if you’re like my crew, you’ll head straight to the gift shop, where Jelly Bellies in every color and flavor imaginable await your purchase. Tour cost: Free.
Sacramento-based writer Melanie Jensen is the mother of three kids. She enjoys being a tourist in her own town and driving to the thrilling history, culture, and natural beauty that Central California has to offer.