With 53 historic 1800s era buildings packed into 28 acres, Old Sacramento feels like you’ve walked right back into the Gold Rush…
These days, people heading to California in search of fame and fortune often end up in Hollywood or Silicon Valley, but in the mid-1800s, the place to be was Sacramento (with a gold pick in your hand).
The Gold Rush of 1848 really built what is now called Old Sacramento… When gold was found in the nearby foothills by James Marshall, people from all over began flocking to the area and the area adjacent to the Sacramento River, known as Sutter’s Embarcadero. The sudden influx of prospectors with a little gold in their pockets quickly attracted merchants, and the city quickly became a major hub for miners and traders.
As the gold rush slowed and commerce moved further to the east, what was left of early Sacramento fell into disrepair. Old Sacramento even called it the “worst skid row west of Chicago.” For decades, well-intentioned individuals tried to help the area, but it wasn’t until the 1960s things began to change. From Old Sacramento:
In the mid-1960s, a plan was set forth to redevelop the area and through it, the first historic district in the West was created. Today, with 53 historic buildings, Old Sacramento has more buildings of historic value condensed into its 28 acres than most areas of similar size in the West.
One hot summer day, we found ourselves roaming the streets and wooden sidewalks of this historic district. Limited on time, we quickly tried to take in the sights as beautifully restored and preserved buildings appeared at every turn.
The mix of businesses in Old Sacramento is as varied as one could imagine… From tattoo parlors to candy stores, there’s something for everyone in Old Sacramento.
We did what we like to do in every town… Find a cool bar and sit for a drink. We couldn’t have picked a better place than Fanny Ann’s Saloon on 2nd Street, a bar that pays homage to a rowdy riverboat from the 1800s. (Read more about Fanny Ann’s on our longer post about the bar itself)
Of course, you know we also have a soft spot for history, especially if it involves anything with wheels. After our drink at Fanny Ann’s we headed to the massive and impressive California State Railroad Museum.
California Railroad Museum
Ok, you know we’re suckers for car, train, and plane museums at Two Lane America, so it should be no surprise we spent our limited amount of time in Old Sacramento at the California State Railroad Museum. (See more pictures and read our full story from the museum here)
The first thing we noticed about the museum… It’s huge. Over 225,000 square feet to be exact, which is definitely needed to fit the 21 locomotives and railcars scattered throughout other exhibits through the museum.
From the California State Railroad Museum:
Throughout the main Railroad History Museum building, 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars and numerous exhibits illustrate how railroads have shaped people’s lives, the economy, and the unique culture of California and the West. Included are a Pullman-style sleeping car, a dining car filled with railroad china, and a Railway Post Office that visitors can actually step aboard. Click here to see some of the Museum favorites.
And there’s all the stuff we wish we’d done…
Unfortunately, we had to hit the road after the Railroad Museum, but here are some of the things we’re definitely going to check out on our next trip to Old Sacramento… (Hopefully this’ll help you not miss things like we did!)
Huntington, Hopkins and Company Hardware Store
Located next to the Railroad Museum (Yes, I know it’s ridiculous we missed it.), the Huntington, Hopkins and Company Hardware Store has the look and feel of a functioning 1860s hardware store. Based on the real Huntington, Hopkins, and Company Hardware Store from the 19th century, the current store displays all sorts of old tools, hardware, and historical artifacts. On one side of the store, tourists can also buy period replicas of wooden toys, oil lamps, blue speckle-ware, books, and more.
Sacramento History Museum
The hub of all things Old Sacramento, the Sacramento History Museum is a great place to learn about the Gold Rush and how it lead to Sacramento’s boom in population and commerce. The museum has plenty of interactive exhibits to keep your attention and make history come to life.
Have enough time for a tour? Well, you’re in luck. The Sacramento History Museum offers several different tours depending on your interests. The tour we’re most looking forward to taking when we return is the Underground Tour. You see, while Old Sacramento was booming in the 1800s, it was also flooding like crazy. After multiple devastating floods, the town literally “jacked” itself up, raising the foundations, streets, and sidewalks, leaving behind a bizarre underground to explore.
If you’re over 21, choose the “After Hours,” Underground Tour for some of the really scandalous tales of the Gold Rush. (For more info on all the tours offered by the museum, visit their website.)
Where to stay?
How does a real riverboat sound? Yeah, sounds awesome. In our humble opinion, the Delta King is the absolute coolest place in the area to spot for a night or two. Sister ship to the famed Mississippi Delta Queen, the Delta King is a 1920s 285 ft. riverboat that used to travel between San Fran and Sacramento on 10+ hour party cruises complete with booze, big bands, and gambling (the booze had to have been a plus during prohibition). Today, the Delta King has been lovingly restored and features 44 rooms, a murder-mystery dinner theater, a bar & grill, the fine-dinning of the Pilothouse Restaurant, and more.
So yeah, not only should you stay at the Delta King, but you should eat there, catch a show there, and just generally hang out as much as you can there.
Old Sacramento, we’ll be back!
We can’t wait to spend more time in Old Sacramento on our next trip through the Golden State, knowing we missed so much great stuff. If you find yourself cruising through the state’s capital, be sure to check out Old Sacramento’s website and Facebook page to be in-the-know on all there is to see and do from shopping to dining to entertainment.