Old Sacramento: Built by the Gold Rush…where what’s old is new again!

The Firehouse Restaurant is an Old Sacramento institution, known for fine food and special occasions - and housed in an old fire station on 2nd Street!

Joe’s Crab Shack and the Rio City Cafe on the Sacramento riverfront (with historic Tower Bridge in distance) are favorite restaurants in Old Sacramento!
Southern Pacific Locomotive 6051 takes visitors on tours along the Sacramento River in open-air rail cars; kids love these trips!
View of 2nd Street in Old Sac indicates how bicycle-friendly these old streets are.
The Delta King Riverboat is now a floating hotel, restaurant and theater (and, museum) on the Old Sacramento waterfront! It was built in Stockton and began Delta service in 1927.

When gold was discovered in Coloma in January, 1848 (just 47 miles away), the world rushed to get rich, by boat or horseback, passing through Sacramento to get provisioned.  Others came and set up shop to provide equipment and food to the miners.  The area known as Old Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” and grew rapidly in the 1850s and 1860s; fortunately, much is preserved for today’s  visitors!

Old Sacramento was the world’s seaport to the gold mines, birthed the Pony Express, anchored the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  By 1860 Sacramento had grown to be the second largest city in the west, eclipsed only by San Francisco.

For today’s visitors, it’s a step back in time, with much of the area looking just as it did 150 years ago; buildings and then-modern amenities remain just as they were.  Old Sacramento is home to seven museums, quaint shops offering period-authentic goods, plenty of kids activities, scores of inexpensive to upscale restaurants and a variety of places to stay overnight.

Many of the museums present “living history programs”, with docents acting out the part of Gold Rush  residents and business people – from period-correct engineers and conductors at the CA Railroad Museum to docents dressed in their finest 1860’s clothing at the Sacramento History Museum.  Take a carriage ride or a train ride and it’s like you were part of the historic western action in this former boom-town!

The old town is pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, with blocks of shady boardwalks for strolling (you might run into period-dressed docents taking a leisurely walk!) and several miles of quiet old-time streets for bicycling.  The Jedidiah Smith Recreational Trail connects to Old Sacramento right beside the Sacramento History Museum – from there one can ride one mile north to the American River and continue cycling all the way to Folsom, or beyond!  Several bike shops rent bikes nearby.

The many museums offer world-class attractions.  The California Railroad Museum is recognized as one of America’s top railway museums; the museum offers weekend rail excursions in open air cars along the Sacramento River, pulled by old Southern Pacific locomotive 6051.  The Sacramento History Museum, housed in the beautiful 1854-constructed former City Hall, offers a wealth of insight as to how quickly Sacramento grew during the Gold Rush and beyond, with docents dressed in period-garb ready to make history come-alive for the youngest to oldest visitor.

Within a few blocks are the California Military Museum documenting 200 years of Californian military tradition, at 1119 2nd St., www.militarymuseum.org, the California State Railroad Museum, 111 I St., www.csrmf.org, the Delta King Riverboat, 1000 Front Street, www.deltaking.com (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, a free museum, offering insights into a small town hardware business, 113 I St., www.csrmf.org, the Sacramento History Museum, 101 I St., www.historicoldsac.org , the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, 1200 Front St., www.scoe.net/oldsacschoolhouse, and the Wells Fargo History Museum, 1000 2nd St., https://www.wellsfargo.com/about/history/museums/sacramento.   And, just one mile south is the California Auto Museum with a stunning variety of classic and novelty autos, dating back more than a century, 2200 Front Street, www.calautomuseum.org.

As Sacramento sprouted, innovation grew with it.   The city would become home to the Pony Express, the western anchor of the first Transcontinental Telegraph (which correspondingly put the Pony Express out of business) and the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  The Folsom Powerhouse/Sacramento Station A, just blocks east of Old Sacramento, was the first large city electric distribution facility and helped Sacramento become the first electric streetcar system in the central valley.  All these innovations would allow Sacramento to become one of the largest and most modern cities in the west.

The area is very kid-friendly, with safe walking and cycling options and plenty of shops that will interest youngsters.  Consider taking an Underground Sacramento tour (HistoricOldSac.org), where visitors descend below the old town, into old basements and subterranean passages that offer glimpses of days long past.

Take a carriage ride or a railroad excursion from the California Railroad Museum and your kids will be worn out at days end!  For those with more energy, explore the bike trail on the Sacramento River that connects to Discovery Park and the American River Bike Trail, or walk through the underpass, under Interstate 5 and right into downtown Sacramento.

Calendar a visit to the past in this unique National Historic Park.  Located right on the Sacramento River, the Old Sacramento experience offers it all – bustling shops and eateries, living history amid world-renowned museums, kids and family activities – all set in the time of the California Gold Rush!

How to get there: From Stockton, it’s 50 minutes; take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J. Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento parking.

When to go: Old Sacramento is open year-round, and many of the attractions are indoors, so even inclement weather should not prevent your visit.  Watch www.oldsacramento.com for special holiday celebrations like Gold Rush Days over the Labor Day weekend!

What to see while there: The riverfront, once home to the bustling Port of Sacramento, the Delta King steamboat, sample some of the museums noted above and take a carriage or train ride!

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail; to the west, Raley Field (home of the Sacramento Rivercats baseball team) just across the Tower Bridge; and just east, the State Capital, the Crocker Art Museum and downtown Sacramento.

What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

Where to eat, where to stay: Old Sacramento offers a host of inexpensive to upscale dining options.  For coffee, pastries and light fare, we enjoy Steamer’s Coffee House; for upscale dining the Firehouse Restaurant, housed in an historic fire house, is a local institution.  Several options for waterfront dining include the River City Café, a classy and scenic bistro, or dine in a one-of-a-kind restaurant aboard the Delta King!  Overnight lodging is available on the Delta King and the nearby Embassy Suites (beside the historic Tower Bridge).  Other nearby motels and hotels can be found in downtown Sacramento and just north of Old Sacramento, as well.

For more info: Old Sacramento Business Association, 980 9th Street, Suite 400, (916) 442-8575,  info@oldsacramento.com.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.  Happy travels in the west!

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