What To Do In Sacramento For A Staycation Or Quick Visit - My Family Travels

Take the capital of America’s most progressive state, let busy lawmakers work from home and Sacramento becomes a laidback town with big city dining and amenities for staycation fun. Toss in temperate weather, bargain hotel rates and lots of outdoor recreation and you’ve got a perfect place to relocate — temporarily or longer term.

California State Capitol in Sacramento
The beautiful California State Capitol is centered in a public park full of specimen trees at the heart of Sacramento.

At our visit, wildfires in surrounding areas were under control. Days were packed with sunshine. (Full disclosure: we hear there’s fog in January.) Fall colors were peaking. What more could you ask for in a weekend escape?

Affordable Sacramento Activity Options

Murals and restaurants along L Street, Sacramento
Murals decorate the side streets and alleyways off L Street, a popular place for outdoor restaurants.

Sacramento is youthful and very affordable. We found dozens of hotels at every price point starting at $95 per night. We found lots to do in the outdoors. Californians say Sacramento is to biking as San Diego is to surfing because there are so many trails right in town. The broad, clean Sacramento River is ideal for kayaks and river rafting.

Being able to have an excellent, affordable and sustainable meal afterwards is a bonus that should not ignored.

What to Do in Sacramento is All About Staying Local

Fresh tomotoes and Bufala mozzarella at Mulvaney's B&L.
A salad of fresh tomotoes and Bufala mozzarella is one of the most popular dishes at Mulvaney’s B&L.

The Farm-to-Fork Movement began in Sacramento, also home to California’s largest Certified Farmers Market (several locations daily). With 165 types of produce grown on more than 1.5 million acres in the Sacramento Valley, Sacramento’s markets will teach the kids where their food comes from better than any science class.

Chefs often create seasonal dishes highlighting the freshest ingredients available but in Sacramento it’s a new religion. Look for the names of farms which supplied the ingredients next to menu items. When the obsession with food sources became mainstream around 2012, the story goes, the Visit Sacramento tourism team capitalized on their city’s rich food scene and by calling it “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”

The name didn’t stick with locals, however, until 2017, when a water tower seen from I-5 was christened with the slogan “Welcome to Sacramento – America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” It was painted over what used to say, “City of Trees” and the trees are still there.

Dining Sustainably Tops the What to Do in Sacramento List

Alec and Sarah Wasson with baby Willow.
Baby Willow with Alec and Sarah Wasson at Mulvaney’s B&L.

By sustainable dining, we mean restaurants which support the community and serve locally sourced food. If they prepare food so well, they sustain their guests, it’s a bonus. A top pick is Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, whose chef, Patrick Mulvaney, was a pioneer of the farm-to-fork movement, now celebrated by an annual two-week food fair. Visit their brick building or landscaped patio for a meal to remember of the freshest Pacific salmon, grass-fed local beef, roast duck from Sonoma County or tomatoes – a local specialty – done many ways.

The story at Mulvaney’s B&L is perhaps typical of the tightly knit restaurant community. During the pandemic, chef Patrick and other local restaurants founded Family Meal Sacramento to serve meal kits to those in need, which in turn became a model for California’s programs for the food insecure.

Other Sacramento Culinary Highlights & Attractions

Zocalo restaurant outdoor dining.
Tents appear at L Street venues like Zocalo when streets close to trafic.

In Sactown, the capital of a state known for its food-forward lifestyle, there are many fine restaurants and culinary attractions.

On L Street in Midtown, diners arrive by scooter to claim their outdoor tables at places like Aioli, a Spanish bodega known for tapas and paella.

Find delicious wines and cheeses at The Rind. We sampled a rich vegetable mac n’ cheese and grilled Brie and prosciutto. Then, we went (almost) next door to Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates for truffles. Coffee lovers should start the day at one of the three Temple Coffee Roasters in town, where farm-to-cup sourcing and roasting is the motto.

What to Do in Sacramento at Our Favorite Hotel

Pool and sundeck at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Sacramento.
The heated pool and restful sundeck at the Hyatt Regency Hotel welcomes all ages to staycate in Sacramento.

The modern Hyatt Regency Sacramento is perfectly located across from the Capitol. There’s room to play around the Instagrammable “People’s Park,” a topiary of local citizens parading around the front lawn. You won’t find a children’s program but all ages will appreciate the large heated pool and sundeck.

Rooms are business appropriate and very comfortable for families, with fast WiFi and all the amenities you’d expect from this upscale chain. There are several dining venues and a stylish sidewalk breakfast café where your teens might just spot California’s handsome governor. 

Sacramento’s Public Art Scene Means Free Urban Activities

Johnny Cash mural at 16th Street in Sacramento
This famous Johnny Cash mural is at 16th and L Streets in Sacramento.

Sacramento, especially the Midtown and Handle districts, is easy to get around on foot. Alternatively, appreciate the urban art scene on an e-bike. Use the Lime app or find a scooter or e-scoot from Lime, Bird, Jump and other competitors.

Wide Open Walls, the non-profit that runs the annual street art festival in August, sponsors a lot of important urban murals.  this map is pretty up to date so you can check them out.

Recreate and Acclimate Outdoors and In, When Discovering What to Do and See in Sacramento

Old Town Sacramento street.
The main street of Old Town Sacramento.

On bikes, lead your family to Old Sacramento along the waterfront. Park your bikes to avoid the jostle of original cobblestones in this national landmark Western town dating to the 1840s. Then, look for River City Queen, a classic paddlewheeler waiting to take tourists upriver.

Sacramento Is A Fun Family Town Full of Attractions

The stunning Roundhouse at Sacramento's railroad museum. Photo by K Huston for CSRM.
The stunning Roundhouse at Sacramento’s railroad museum. Photo by K Huston for CSRM.

Discover several unusual historical collections in the Old Town. The California State Railroad Museum , for example, is the largest train museum in North America. You can easily spend the day here. Climb intometiculously restored locomotives and cars. Study 40 one of a kind exhibits that tell the fascinating story of railroad history from 1850 to the present. The 50-minute steam engine ride from the Central Pacific Passenger and Depot Station is back this year for the museum’s 40th anniversary.

Browse the Sacramento History Museum, California Auto Museum and other small collections and house museums in town. Military buffs will especially appreciate the four-acre Aerospace Museum of California. Among the classics, it features a Curtiss Wright B-14-B bi-plane and a V3720 24 valve engine. Do you recognize thefull scale models of Sputnik and Explorer I, the satellite’s that launched the Space Race with the USSR decades ago?

Stay Fit, Stay Safe and More To Do on a Sacramento Visit

The city’s heart may be Capitol Park. A colonnade of palm trees surrounds this classic, 40-acre botanic garden. Stroll, scoot or bike among the enormous specimen trees that are well cared for and much appreciated. In fact, 14 of the labeled trees there are the largest of their species in the state. Print out the tree guide and see if the kids can find them. 

The California Capitol, built in 1874 and modeled on the Capitol in Washington DC, dominates the center. When you get to town, check and see if the capitol, museum and grounds are open to the public for guided tours.

For a longer workout, try long distance and non-traffic cycling on the mostly paved American River Trail. It runs 32 miles along the riverbank up to the Gold Country.  

It’s just one of the green spaces in a city that claims the most open space per capita of any American city.

And just as that water tower once proclaimed, Sacramento is still the City of Trees, where more trees than people make it an ideal staycation destination.

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