Old Sacramento, born again as the place to begin Sacramento exploration!

Western Pacific locomotive 913 prepares for a departure from the California Railroad Museum.

Members of the Sacramento History Society take to the Old Sacramento streets.
Old buggy takes visitors past the California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
The Delta King Hotel and Pilothouse Restaurant offers lodging, dining and a floating museum on the Old Sacramento waterfront.
The zenith of American auto’s tailfins is celebrated with this ’59 Cadillac at the CA Auto Museum.
’65 and ’66 Ford Cobras at the California Auto Museum.

Visit Old Sacramento, born again as the place to begin Sacramento exploration!

We recently had several old friends in town for my spouse’s birthday, and had the occasion to tour several through one of the state’s seminal historic sites, Old Sacramento, located on the Sacramento River on the west end of downtown Sacramento.

When gold was discovered, in January, 1848, in Coloma (just 47 miles away), Sacramento was in the perfect position to become a boom town, serving as one of two inland ports to the Sierra mines (Stockton being the other), and soon would become the western end of the Pony Express, the first Transcontinental Telegraph and the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. By 1860 Sacramento would become the second largest town in the west, behind only San Francisco.

Old Sacramento preserves almost 30 acres and is home to over 50 historic buildings. It’s the perfect place to explore the heart of the state’s Native American and Gold Rush history while exploring unique shops and sampling delicious eateries and drinking establishments. It’s both a walker’s and bicyclist’s paradise, with low and slow traffic and plenty of shady places to take a break.

A good place to start your tour is the Sacramento History Museum, 101 I St., which offers insights into the original Native American peoples who prospered in the area, years before Spanish, European and American settlers arrived. A variety of galleries, with docents dressed in period-correct costumes, offer insight into what daily life was like, 160-some years ago.

Just steps away is the California State Railroad Museum, 125 I St., one of North America’s finest and most complete rail museums. Appreciate the famed “golden spike” that connected the two segments of the transcontinental rail system, be amazed by a 1,000,000 pound steam locomotive, salivate in a beautiful dining car with elaborate China settings and delight in a swaying Pullman sleeping car.

Even better, enjoy the rail museum with an excursion train ride, running every weekend and Monday holidays through September. Forty-five minute round-trips explore a 6 mile route along the levees of the Sacramento River, with tickets available at the railroad museum.

Within a few block walk are the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, 1200 Front St., a replica of a traditional one-room school house featuring vintage student desks and other furnishings of the period. The Wells Fargo History Museum, 1000 2nd Street, re-creating a 19th-century Wells Fargo Express office and displaying gold rush artifacts as well as the telegraph station, is nearby.

Don’t miss a visit to the Delta King Hotel and Restaurant, aboard the historic 1927 Delta King river boat, built in Stockton in 1927 along with its sister ship, the Delta Queen. Our guests spent two nights aboard the ship, in one of 44 luxury riverboat cabins, and enjoyed dining in the old Pilothouse Restaurant. In its heyday, the Delta King would depart San Francisco in the early evening, and deposit well-rested guests in Sacramento early the next morning.

Just a half mile south is a favorite, the California Automobile Museum, 2200 Front St., displaying over 150 vehicles ranging from the early 1900s, to the muscle cars of the 60s and 70s, up to the high tech wonders of modern autos.

During your exploration, sprinkled amongst over 50 unique shops, plan your epicurean stops. Reliable eateries, from expensive to more than reasonable, include Fanny Ann’s Saloon, Fat City Bar and Café, Firehouse Restaurant (inside an historic firehouse), La Terraza Mexican Restaurant (with second floor veranda for people watching down below), Rio City Café and the Pilothouse Restaurant on board the Delta King. For mouth-watering baked goods, stop at Steamer’s Bakery and Café.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 40 miles to Sacramento, exit on J Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento parking.

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail and Discovery Park; just east, the Golden 1 Center (home to the Sacramento Kings), the California State Capitol and Crocker Art Museum, to the west, Raley Field (home of the Sacramento Rivercats baseball team) just across the Tower Bridge.

Where to stay: Overnight lodging is available in Old Sacramento 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 Automobile Museum, calautomuseum.org, (916) 442-6802; California State Railroad Museum, californiarailroad.museum, (916) 323-9280; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, downtownsac.org, (916) 442-8575;  Old Sacramento, oldsacramento.com, (916) 442-7644; Sacramento History Museum, sachistorymuseum.org, (916) 808-7059;

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

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