Memories of fun-filled childhood vacations are in the making in this northern California city, the state's capital of family-friendliness.
To the delight of both children and their parents, excitement awaits railroad buffs, sports enthusiasts, lovers of art and fantasy and, for the more adventurous, boundless outdoor offerings. In Sacramento, the rest is history!
The local businesses have made Sacramento a fun and very affordable weekend getaway with their innovative discount program, the Sacramento Discover Gold card. It’s distributed free of charge through the tourist information offices or at dozens of participating hotels, and it guarantees visitors discounts to more than 30 attractions, restaurants, retailers, theaters, and sports venues throughout the region. Take advantage of the savings to expose your children to a month’s worth of learning in just a few days.
Family Fun for Kids of all Ages
Armed with your easy to use Gold Card, step back to California’s Gold Rush era in Old Sacramento, a 28-acre town of historic buildings built in the 1800s. Delight in walking on cobblestone streets bordered with wooden sidewalks, or taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, guaranteed to have the kids cuddling and giggling under the blankets.
Stop in to sample some yummy treats at the old-fashioned candy shop, get to see what a one-room schoolhouse looked like, listen to historic tales narrated by a Mark Twain impressionist on coin-operated audio boxes, and get dressed in period costumes for an “old-fashioned” family photo. The area is the perfect setting for a disguised history lesson.
Old Sacramento is also home to the California State Railroad Museum (916/445-6645), the largest train museum in North America and a big draw for families. You can easily spend the day here viewing the 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars, and viewing over 40 one of a kind exhibits that tell the fascinating story of railroad history from 1850 to the present. Guided tours and interpretive film screens are offered daily, and there’s a special Kids Corner equipped with puzzles, coloring books and games.
The inspired exhibit “Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains,” showcases approximately 1,000 vintage toy trains collected over several decades by Mr. Thomas W. Sefton of San Diego. There are 3,300 square-feet of exhibits in six specific themes, with interactive displays and a dazzling operating toy train layout.
On spring and summer weekends, kids can ride on a steam engine from the Central Pacific Passenger and Depot Station on Front Street to Miller Park. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. While general admission is charged for entrance, children under 5 are free.
You’ll also find a kid-friendly style at the Discovery Museum Gold Rush History Center (916/264-7057) with historic artifacts that will fascinate older generations, while hands-on eye-level activity stations will keep the little ones busy. The adjacent Discovery Museum Science Center (916/ 575-3941) features planetarium shows as well as wildlife and science exhibits. A small admission fee is charged.
The California State Capitol Museum (916/324-0333) is the name given to the grounds and buildings of the state capitol building, which features exhibits and tours, and a special “Kids’ Guide” assures an easy visit. The Capitol reflects the beauty and grandeur of the 1900s with its magnificent dome, marble and mosaic floors, and monumental staircases. There are 40 acres of gardens in the surrounding Capitol Park, including trees from around the world.
A spring or summer afternoon calls for the outdoors, and Sacramento’s variety of options will satisfy the adventure bug from toddlers to grandparents. The city is focused around both the Sacramento and American Rivers, provides a natural playground for jet skis, ski boats, patio boats, and houseboats. Family houseboats are also available for rental at the nearby Sacramento Delta.
The Sacramento Zoo (916/808-5888) is located in the heart of beautiful William Land Park and is home to over 400 exotic animals including one of its most popular exhibits, the adorable “Penguins of Patagonia,” that are native to the coast of Argentina. Its newest member is a tiger cub, born on March 18th.
Especially for the tots, a quick walk from the zoo leads to Fairytale Town (916/808-5233), a gigantic fun-filled playground where favorite Mother Goose characters come to life along with puppet shows that will have the kids jumping up and down with delight.
Nearby Funderland (916/456-0115) is an amusement park with rides geared for the elementary school set. Raging Waters (916/924-3747) will have the whole clan joyfully cooling down on one of the 25 water rides, or in the wave pool and lazy river. The highlight is the five-story Dragon’s Den, an inner-tube slide down a 45-foot enclosed flume.
Especially for Mom & Dad
Kids at heart and airplane enthusiasts will love the Aerospace Museum of California (916/643-3192), featuring the recent addition of a Curtiss Wright B-14-B bi-plane, V3720 24 valve engine, and full scale models of Sputnik and Explorer I, the satellite’s that launched the Space Race between the US and the USSR 50 years ago. Past exhibits included Da Vinci Experience, hosting nearly 60,000 guests. The Museum ‘s newest exhibit explores the history of flight in Sacramento.
The Crocker Art Museum (916/808-7000) housed in a restored Victorian mansion, is the oldest public art museum in the West. Showcased are a superb collection of early California paintings and European masters. The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts (916/653-7524) tells the rich history of California and its influence on ideas, innovation and culture.
We enjoyed our stay in one hotel participating in the Sacramento Discover Gold discount program. The centrally located Sheraton Grand Sacramento (916/447-1700) offers a variety of family travel packages. Beautifully restored, this four-diamond historic hotel has over 500 premier guest rooms (many connecting), nearly 30 suites, and concierge floors with a private lounge. Sheraton “Sweet Sleeper” cribs and rollaway beds are available. There’s a spacious fitness center, outdoor heated swimming pool and on-site health club.
Inside the hotel, family dining with kid’s menus is offered in Morgan’s Central Valley Bistro, serving California cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a casually elegant atmosphere. Either get cozy in the cafÃ© style seating or enjoy outdoor patio seating.
Outside the hotel, a fun place for the whole family, with lots of choices on their kid- friendly menu is the Old Spaghetti Factory (916/443-2862). Lucca (916/669-5300) has a California-Mediterranean influenced menu and Paesano’s Pizzeria (916/447-8646) serves oven roasted pizza, pasta and salads. Applebee’s, always a family favorite, can be found throughout the city.
Sacramento is easy to reach because it’s within two or three-hours’ driving proximity of San Francisco, Monterey Peninsula, Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley. The city is easily accessible from all directions. Interstate 80 and US Highway 50 run east/west; Interstate 5 and US Highway 99 run north/south.
Sacramento International Airport is served by all major airlines. Also check out the Sacramento County Airport System; non-stop service to the east coast has been added by several carriers. All major car rentals are located right outside the terminal.
Sacramento is pretty advanced when it comes to how to get around too. Visitors can leave the car at the hotel, and let the Sacramento Regional Transit (916/321-2877) take you to exciting destinations around town. Light rail trains operate seven days a week, and there are 47 light rail stations with many offering bus connections. Regional Transit’s downtown trolley operates weekdays and Saturdays.
For detailed information on all area attractions contact the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/292-2334).
Photos by Mel Greenberg
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.