California Auto Museum and nearby Old Sacramento offer exciting day or weekend-trip

This line-up of early Ford automobiles sets the tone for the California Auto Museum, with over 150 classic autos from days gone by!

The tail fin of a 1959 Cadillac celebrates perhaps the “zenith year” in tail fin popularity among American classic cars!
This huge 1933 Lincoln Limo once was the car of A. P. Giannini, head of the Bank of Italy, which would become the Bank of America.


Ford Model T, converted with a kit to a snowmobile, ushered in the first use of the term 'snowmobile' in American vernacular.

1965 and 1966 Ford Cobras take center stage!

With the weather changing, you might be thinking of nearby destinations where one can tour indoors and discover what made America great.  Consider a day trip to the California Auto Museum and nearby Old Sacramento.

The California Auto Museum was originally the Towe Ford collection, and moved to its current location in the late 1980s.  It’s just a half mile south of the Old Sacramento, making an auto museum tour, linked with a stroll through Old Sacramento a natural (and with short distance between, the two are easily walkable, or, bikable)!

The Auto Museum offers a unique collection of over 150 classic American and foreign autos, ranging from 1885 to current day.  And, the museum hosts regular traveling displays of specialty cars (Nissan offered “the Future of Hydrogen Vehicles” recently), so the experience changes by the visit. 

From early, affordable kit cars, to the Ford Model T, to luxury cars like Cadillac and Packard, to exotic models like Ford Cobras and Lamborghinis, the collection has cars that you, your parents and grandparents once drove and treasured.

One of the more impressive cars is the huge 1933 Lincoln KB Salon, with V12 engine, one of only 50 built. Owned by A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, it offered 150 horsepower, every creature comfort of its day and cost $4500.

Walking through the expansive museum buildings, we saw specimen examples of a 1965 Mustang, 1969 Boss Mustang, 1957 Ford Fairlane retractable hardtop, huge 1959 Cadillac and a host of Ford Crestliners, Edsels Thunderbirds, pickups and more.

Other unique autos include a 1921 Ford Model T, with a kit converted into the first snowmobile, a 1938 Rolls-Royce 25/30 sports sedan originally priced at $35,000 and a 1912 Metz (two years later, a Metz would be the first auto to reach the floor of the Grand Canyon),

A lineup of old Fords includes a red 1908 Ford Model T Touring, a 1907 Ford Model T Roadster,  1906 Ford Model K Touring and 1904 Ford Model B Touring.  They evoke the words of Henry Ford: “I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It shall be large enough for the family but small enough for the unskilled individual to easily operate and care for – and it shall be light in weight that it may be economical and maintenance. It will be built of honest materials – for the best workman that money can hire – after the simplest designs modern engineering can design. But it shall be so low in price at the man of moderate means my own one – and enjoy with this family the blessings of happy hour spent in God’s great open spaces”.

Nearby Old Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” in the 1850s and grew rapidly; today, much is preserved for 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 kid’s 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 California 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!

Within a few blocks are the California Military Museum (closed currently), the California State Railroad Museum, the Delta King Riverboat (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, the Sacramento History Museum, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and the Wells Fargo History Museum.

Calendar a visit to the Auto Museum and Old Sacramento – with classic cars, bustling shops and eateries, living history amid world-renowned museums, kid’s and adult activities – it offers an exciting family experience!

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.  From Old Sacramento, go south on Front Street a half mile to the Auto Museum..

When to go: The California Auto Museum and Old Sacramento are open year-round, the autos and many of the attractions are indoors, so even inclement weather should not prevent your visit.  Watch for special holiday celebrations, too!

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 is a local institution.  Several options for waterfront dining include the River City Café, a classy and scenic bistro, or aboard the Delta King!  Overnight lodging is available on the Delta King and the nearby Embassy Suites (beside the historic Tower Bridge). 

For more info: California Auto Museum; 2200 Front St., Sacramento, CA 95818; phone: 916-442-6802. Open seven days a week, 10 AM to 6 PM.  Admission, $8 general, $4 student, $1 off for senior and AAA membership.  Old Sacramento Business Association, 980 9th Street, Suite 400, (916) 442-8575,

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!


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