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Sacramento's reputation as the "City of Trees" and "Farm-to-Fork Capital" doesn't receive as much buzz as it should. With a rich history, diverse culture, and growing population, Sacramento is an underrated hotspot. And it's the perfect weekend getaway for parents and kids alike. Here are some of my family's favorite things to do with kids in Sacramento.

 

 

 

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Aerial view of Sacramento River with Tower Bridge in the distance (top image). Side view of California Capitol with trees (bottom image). Things to do with kids in Sacramento

 

 

The Railroad Museum and Old Sacramento

 

The Railroad Museum serves as an ode to the "iron horse" that once connected California to the rest of the country. It boasts nearly two dozen refurbished cars and locomotives, some dating over 150 years old. The real highlight, though, is hopping aboard the Sacramento Southern Railroad. For an additional $46 (for a family of four), you can enjoy a 45-minute, 6-mile-long journey. The train will take you along the levees of the Sacramento River for a serene ride. Your family can wave at passersby and admire the scenic views. 

Afterward, pop into the adjacent Old Sacramento, an area characterized by cobblestone steps and Gold-Rush Era buildings. Make sure your kids don't miss Evangeline's, a shop full of gag gifts and costumes, or G. Willikers Toy Emporium. Once you've worked up an appetite, there are plenty of dining options in the vicinity. Whether you're in the mood for traditional American fare or Asian cuisine, you can pick from a variety of choices within a ten-minute walking radius.

 

 

A statue of Frida Kahlo surrounded by painted skulls, sombreros, and other gift items. Things to do with kids in Sacramento.

Evangeline's has a wide variety of gag gifts and costumes. My family loves perusing through this vibrant shop!

 

 

California State Capitol Museum and Capitol Park

 

I still remember visiting the State Capitol with my family as a kid and being awestruck. To be honest, I still feel this way whenever I see the majestic building. Home of the California State Legislature since 1869, the Capitol showcases the state's complex history and governance system. The basement and first floor of the building comprise the museum, the part open to the public. Here your family can see the historic offices of the California Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Governor. There are additional exhibits, as well as portraits and statues of former governors, that you'll see on your tour through the regal halls. Be sure to stop for a photo with the bronze grizzly bear, California's state animal! Tours are free and are run on an hourly basis. While in-person tours are presently on hold due to the pandemic, virtual tours are available on their website 

Head to Capitol Park for a leisurely stroll afterward. This is one of my favorite green spaces in the city. It boasts a myriad of plants—from cacti to lavender, rose bushes to orange trees. There are also several memorials here that honor fallen heroes of World War II, the Vietnam War, and The Spanish-American War.  

 

 

Midtown Handle District

 

As a local, I love to show off the gastronomical and artistic sides of the city. Midtown, a lively neighborhood next to Downtown, is home to eateries and murals you won't want to miss. The Handle District is a wonderful place for your family to get your grub on. Indulge your sweet tooth with some truffles or macarons at Ginger Elizabeth's Chocolates. Have an ambient Mexican dinner at Zócalo. Gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan? No problem. Pushkin's Kitchen has brunch that packs a punch. Keep your eyes peeled for the array of murals that adorn the building exteriors and alleyways. Local and international artists alike have left their mark throughout the city, leaving behind vibrant portraits. 

 

 

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Dinner on the Old Sacramento Waterfront

 

As an avid sunset enthusiast, I take every chance to revel in the golden hour. Every now and then, my family and I enjoy treating ourselves to a nice dinner on the Old Sacramento Waterfront. There are plenty of options for every diet and budget, from Joe's Crab Shack, Pilothouse Restaurant, and Rio City Café (be sure to reserve a table online or by phone beforehand). With views of the Tower Bridge, Ziggurat building, and cruising boats, the waterfront restaurants serve up a healthy serving of charm. If you and your family are still in the mood for some fun afterward, you can take a ride on the new Ferris Wheel or Carousel

 

 

View of the Sacramento River with the Tower Bridge and other buildings in the distance. Things to do with kids in Sacramento

One of my favorite viewpoints is from the Old Sacramento Waterfront. You get a lovely view of the Tower Bridge, River, and Ziggurat building (left). Photo courtesy of Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash.

 

 

The California Museum

 

As a shameless previous social studies nerd, the California Museum holds a special place in my heart. It has interactive exhibits and activities that teach my kids fascinating information about the state and its history in a unique way. Adults will walk away with newfound knowledge, too. Its signature exhibits include the California Hall of Fame, California Missions, Unity Center, and Women Inspire. With plenty of photos, videos, and replicas, the museum brings to life the integral parts of California's past, present, and future. 

Children 5 and under are free to enter, though older children and adults must pay a small fee (under $10). You can purchase your tickets in advance or at the door. 

 

 

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The Sacramento Zoo

 

Home to exotic animals like the Red Panda and the Caribbean Flamingo, the Sacramento Zoo offers a wide range of exhibits and activities for families. Admire African lions and snow leopards at Big Cat Row. Marvel at ostriches and crested coua in one of the many aviaries. Purchase a $5 ticket to the Giraffe Encounters to feed one of the gentle giants. The Zoo will take you around the world as you walk through its 14 acres. The Sacramento Zoo commits itself to many conservation projects, so your family will be saving the planet while it admires the beings that depend on it. Still in the mood for some fun afterwards? Hop across the street into Fairytale Town, a storybook-themed park that brings to life age-old nursery rhymes and fairytales. 

 

 

A red panda lays atop a log. Sacramento Zoo--Things to do with kids in Sacramento

The adorable Red Panda is one of many furry friends you'll see at the Sacramento Zoo! Photo courtesy of Jessica Weiller on Unsplash.

 

 

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Farmers Markets

             

What would the Farm-to-Fork capital be without its festive farmer's markets? On Saturdays from 8 A.M - 1 P.M, head over to the Midtown Farmers Market. It offers a play area for little ones, live music, and local vendors. You can purchase fresh fruit to snack on throughout your trip, a variety of baked goods, a bite from one of the food trucks, or artisanal handicrafts. 

If Sunday morning works better, head over to the Arden Fair Mall parking lot. From 8 A.M. to noon, you can sift through mounds of seasonal produce, or grab some freshly made breakfast items. The farmers market will be temporarily held here until December 2021, while its usual location under the Capital City Freeway undergoes construction. 

 

 

Lake Natoma

 

Located fifteen miles east of Sacramento, this small lake along the lower American River is the perfect half-day activity from Sacramento. From May through September, you and your family can rent kayaks, canoes, or stand-up paddleboards by the hour from the adjacent Sacramento State Aquatic Center. Not in the mood for water sports? Go for a dip or take a short hike along the trails. There are also ample picnic tables at the Aquatics Center for your family to have a peaceful lunch with a view of the water.

 

A young boy in a green life vest, shown from behind, stand-up paddle boards on a lake. Kid-friendly fun at Lake Natoma involves stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking

Stand-up paddleboarding: one of the many activities your kids can enjoy at Lake Natoma. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

 

 

PRO TIP: Although a vending machine is on-site at the Aquatic Center, they don't have a restaurant or café.

 

 

When You Go

 

 

Getting There

 

There are numerous direct flight options from LAX to SMF. Airlines such as United, American, and Southwest have nonstop flights lasting about an hour and a half. If you choose to drive, it'll take around five and a half hours via I-5 North.

 

Where to Stay

 

Budget-friendly options, such as the Econo Lodge Sacramento Convention Center, will keep you in the heart of downtown at a reasonable rate. For a mid-range hotel, I'd highly recommend the Holiday Inn Sacramento Downtown- Arena. Its location is centralized between Old Town and Downtown Commons (an area full of dining and entertainment options). If your family is in the mood to treat themselves, the Kimpton Sawyer will cater to your every need and is situated at the heart of all the action, too.

 

 

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Capitol building of California. Sacramento: Family fun in California's Capital. Photo by Joel Durkee on Unsplash.

 

 

Brina Patel is a freelance writer from Northern California. She holds a BA in Psychology from UC Santa Barbara and worked as a behavior therapist for children on the autism spectrum prior to pursuing a writing career. Her wanderlust was sparked when she studied abroad in London her junior year of college. Travel has become a non-negotiable part of her life ever since. When she isn't writing or adventuring, she enjoys reading, painting, and spoiling her sassy Maltese. She can be reached on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or through her website.