Old Sacramento and Downtown Sacramento, family destination for the holidays!

The 60 foot Christmas Tree in Old Sacramento, corner of Front St. and K St. (several photos courtesy of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership)

Holiday destinations for the family in Old Sacramento and Downtown Sacramento…

Conductor greets holiday guests on the Polar Express Train, departing from the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

A winter wonderland with huge lighted Christmas trees, evening skits, ice-skating, Christmas train rides, museums decked out for the holidays, all in an historic downtown. Best of all, it’s less than an hour from San Joaquin County.

It’s Old Sacramento and adjacent Downtown Sacramento District, an area undergoing tremendous transformation in the last 20 years, steadily becoming a slick, cosmopolitan and thoroughly visitor-friendly city. The holiday season is perfect for shopping, celebrating the holiday spirt and exploring. Happily, Old Sacramento retains its charm and history in the face of the developing capital city.

It’s the holidays when the area really sparkles. Now through early January, Old Sacramento features a 60 foot tall Christmas tree at Front Street and K St, along with buildings dating to the 1860s decked out in beautiful holiday splendor. Additionally, the Theatre of Lights occurs, with free holiday outdoor theater presented on the balconies of the old town, performed Thursdays through Sundays, at 6:00 and 7:30 PM (see Old Sacramento’s website). The old historic district is packed with unique shops for holiday gifts and features a wealth of creative restaurants and night-spots.

The Theatre of Lights is performed Thursdays through Sunday evenings in Old Sacramento.

From the California River Road Museum, the popular Polar Express Train chugs down the tracks along the mighty Sacramento River, transporting holiday revelers in a variety of historic rail cars. Trains depart Wednesday through Sundays, through December 21, at 3:30, 5:00, 6:30 and 8:00 PM with prices starting at $45 per person and up, depending upon departure time and level of service (see the Museum’s website for detail).

Just blocks from Old Sacramento, the Downtown Sacramento Ice Rink has been a seasonal hit at K St. and 7th St., offering skating to young and old. Notes Michael Ault, Executive Director of Downtown Sacramento Partnership, “With the opening of Golden 1 Center last year and the energy it has spurred into surrounding areas, the region is experiencing downtown like never before. As new holiday traditions are created, we’re pleased the ice rink continues to be an integral part of the experience everyone has come to love about the winter season in downtown Sacramento”.

Ice skaters enjoy the Downtown Sacramento Ice Rink at 7th and K Streets; for over 20 years a Sacramento tradition for family fun.



The rink is open seven days a week through mid-January (closed Christmas Day). From Old Sacramento, just follow K St. west, past the new Golden 1 Center (a grand venue enlivening downtown Sac’s energy level. See the Downtown Partnership’s website for daily hours and prices for the skating rink.

In the downtown area, K Street with new Golden 1 Center Entertainment and Sports Complex now brings action 150 nights per year with King’s games and many traveling shows and artists.  New restaurants and hostelries have opened in response to growing visitation.

K St. features the old Crest Theater, newer Esquire Theater complete with IMAX screen and the Sacramento Convention Center and Community Theater complex and a host of classy restaurants and bars – you will always find action and night-life! Getting around this area can be done by car, to some degree by light rail, on foot, by horse-drawn carriage or by bicycle.

I suggest starting your visit in Old Sacramento. With the Gold Rush, it became the world’s seaport to the gold mines, anchored the Pony Express, 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.

Tailfins (like this on a '59 Cadillac at the California Auto Museum) reached their zenith in the late 1950s.

Old Sacramento includes the California Military Museum, the California State Railroad Museum, the Delta King Riverboat (built in Stockton in 1927), the Huntington & Hopkins Hardware Museum, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and the Wells Fargo History Museum. Just a mile south is the California Auto Museum with a stunning variety of classic and novelty autos, dating back more than a century, at 2200 Front Street.

The nearby State Capital retains its grandeur and remains the center of state governance.  The Crocker Art Museum, 216 O Street, founded in 1885, is the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi.  The Crocker and the half dozen history museums in Old Sacramento are decked out for Christmas, making visits extra festive.

Calendar a visit, better, a weekend trip, to our unique capital city. Bursting with holiday energy, shops and eateries, live theater, living history amid world-renowned museums, kids and family activities – all within an hour, it’s a fine time to visit!

Public art outside the new Golden 1 Center; the new arena has brought about 150 nights of action yearly to the Downtown Sacramento District, with new restaurants and bars open to expanding crowds.

Where to stay: Overnight lodging is available in Old Sac 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.

For more info: California Railroad Museum, californiarailroad.museum, (916) 323-9280; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, GoDowntownSac.com, (916) 442-8575;  Old Sacramento, oldsacramento.com, (916) 970-5226.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

Reader Request: Seeking your suggested “best place for family vacations”, sharing 100 words or less on why your family likes the destination, and a photo if you have one – top submissions will be featured in the Record right around Christmas-time. Send to tviall@msn.com.

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