Sacramento rail museumCredit: JL Tuso

Have just a day or two or three to spend in Sacramento, California? If you’re a history, art, and museum buff, you can spend your time exploring the many museums in Sacramento. Most are located in Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River, or just a few blocks away in midtown. You don’t even need a car to get there, as there’s a train station stop in Old Sacramento, conveniently near the California State Railroad Museum.

Day 1: Museums in Old Sacramento

California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum may be the most popular museum in Sacramento’s old town for kids and adults. It houses several restored historic trains that you can walk through, plus a toy train area upstairs. If you have a toddler or young child crazy about trains, plan to sit and spend at least an hour watching him play. The train museum also has rotating exhibits. Just a short walk from the museum is the excursion train that runs along the river on weekends in the summer.

Located in Old Sacramento State Historical Park.               

California State Military Museum

Thousands of artifacts representing California’s involvement in military actions and major wars are housed at the main California State Military Museum. The museum’s Director Anthony Palumbo, a retired lieutenant colonel, states that the military museum, “does not glorify war. Rather, its intent is to remind this and future generations of the sacrifices made by previous generations to keep our state and nation free.”  In addition the museum is responsible for the Major General Walter P. Story Memorial Library and Research Center, which is free to use and is involved in preserving California military history and the development of curriculum materials for California schools. 

Located in Old Sacramento State Historical Park.

Old Sacramento Schoolhouse MuseumOld Sacramento Schoolhouse MuseumCredit: Flickr:

This one room school house lets you experience education as it was in the later 1800s. Depending on volunteer docent availability, you may encounter a teacher from the past and even sit in on lessons. It’s free to visit the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, but donations are always appreciated.

Located in Old Sacramento State Historical Park.

Sacramento History Museum

Learn and experience what shaped modern day Sacramento and much of Northern California, from the Gold Rush to agriculture. The Museum is housed in a building designed to replicate the 1850s building that housed City Hall, the City Waterworks, police, courtroom, and jail. It is also the starting point for the underground tours that run from spring through fall. The original old town is below the streets of Old Sacramento. The entire city center was raised to avoid the yearly river flooding. 

Located in Old Sacramento State Historical Park.

Crocker Art MuseumCrocker Art Museum in SacramentoCredit: Wikimedia Commons: Crockerart

Established in 1885, the Crocker Art Museum houses a diverse collection of art from around the world. In the permanent collection are African handmade masks, Asian ceramics, paintings of California landscapes, and much more. Its temporary exhibits are no less unique or diverse and have included 16th century engravings and etchings of anglers, Warner Bros. cartoon art, and the photography of Ansel Adams.

Located at 216 O Street, you can walk to the Crocker Art Museum from Old Sacramento via the Riverfront Promenade.

California Automobile Museum (Formally the Towe Auto Museum)

The collection at this car museum spans from the 1880s to today, including green cars of today and classics from every decade. The museum started with the Ford collection of Edward Towe who in the mid 1980s owned the world’s largest collection of Fords. Many of the cars are owned by the museum while others are on loan from private collectors. The rotation of loan vehicles means there’s always a new auto to see.

Located at 2200 Front Street, it’s a little farther out from Old Sacramento than the Crocker Art Museum, but still only a 2 minute drive from the art museum.

Day 2: Museums in Sacramento near the Capitol in Midtown

Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic ParkLeland Stanford Mansion State Historic ParkCredit: Flickr: Kansas Sebastian

After being closed for 14 years, the Leland Standford Mansion reopened to the public and to serve as a meeting place for state and visiting dignitaries. Built in the mid 1800s, it was once the residence and business office for California governors including Leland Stanford. By tour only, you can view much of the mansion’s 19,000 square feet filled with Victorian era furnishings and décor. You can walk the outside gardens without a tour.

Located at 8th and N Streets in downtown Sacramento, CA. It is only two blocks from the California State Capitol.

California State Capital Museum

Stop in at the State Capital for a tour and stroll though the surrounding lawns and gardens that make up Capitol Park. In the museum tour you’ll learn about the building’s architecture, see art collections, and see the rooms used by members of the state legislature and governor. In Capitol Park you’ll find the Firefighters' Memorial, Peace Officers’ Memorial, and USS California bell, among other monuments, gardens, and points of interest.

Located at 10th and L Streets in downtown Sacramento, CA.

California State Indian Museum

See exhibits and photographs detailing the life of Native Americans who have lived in what is now called California for thousands of years. There are some interactive exhibits alongside the baskets, family photos, canoe, and tools used in everyday life. The museum also has regular exhibitions of local art made by local Native American artists.

Located at K and 28th Streets behind Sutter’s Fort.

Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

John Sutter, an immigrant from Switzerland, was the first European to settle the Sacramento area in the early to mid 1800s. Sutter’s Fort is what is left of John Sutter’s once expansive settlement and agricultural lands. The Gold Rush brought an end to Sutter’s settlement. There are several docents dressed in period fashion and performing duties as they would have before the Gold Rush. You may encounter a leather smith, storytelling, blacksmith, or a baker.

Sutter’s Fort takes up a couple city blocks and is found on L St between 26th and 28th Streets, on the same property as the California State Indian Museum.

Day 3: Museum Near Sacramento

Aerospace Museum of CaliforniaAerospace Museum of CaliforniaCredit: Flickr: Ricin

At the Aerospace Museum of California you see several airplanes in the collection, including the one of a kind 1932 Curtiss-Wright B-14-B bi-plane and a McDonnell-Douglas A-4C Skyhawk 1, and vintage engines. There’s a flight simulator and Fun with Physics interactive exhibit meant for kids but is just as much fun for adults.

Located just north of Sacramento in the old McClellan Air Force Base at Freedom Park Dr., McClellan, CA.  This one you will have to drive to, but it’s well worth it for aerospace enthusiasts.