Old Sacramento: 5 Amazing Attractions

Old Sacramento

Updated On: April 29, 2024 by   Courtney AugelloCourtney Augello

Old Sacramento beckons visitors with its timeless charm and historical allure. This historic district, with its rich history, diverse attractions, and significant cultural and economic impact, stands as a testament to the vibrant legacy of the California Gold Rush era.

From its establishment in the mid-19th century to its present-day preservation efforts, the district has become a captivating destination that seamlessly blends the past with the present.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento boomed during the California Gold Rush.

There are many things to do and see in the district. To help you plan your trip to Old Sacramento, we’ve explored its various attractions, delved into its significance, and shed light on its enduring appeal for residents and visitors alike.

Old Sacramento
The district was established in 1848.

Historical Background

Establishment of Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento, located on the Sacramento River and the American River in California, has a fascinating history dating back to its establishment in 1848. Originally known as “New Sacramento,” it was founded by John Sutter Jr., the namesake of Sutter’s Fort.

It began as a trading post and agricultural settlement. The location was strategic, serving as a central point for transportation and commerce in the region. The settlement grew rapidly, attracting merchants, miners, and pioneers seeking their fortune during the California Gold Rush.

Role in the California Gold Rush

The district played a significant role in the California Gold Rush, which began in 1848. As news of gold discovery spread, the settlement experienced a massive influx of fortune seekers, transforming it into a bustling hub of activity.

It became a crucial supply and transportation centre for gold miners heading to the Sierra Nevada foothills. The Sacramento River acted as a vital waterway, enabling the transport of people, goods, and equipment to the goldfields.

Old Sacramento thrived as a commercial and industrial centre, housing numerous businesses, including general stores, saloons, hotels, and warehouses.

Old Sacramento
The area went through many transformations to be what it is today.

Transformation and Preservation Efforts

Over time, the district underwent transformations as the city of Sacramento developed around it. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the district faced challenges such as floods and changes in transportation systems, which impacted its economic prominence. 

However, in the 1960s, recognizing its historical significance, efforts were made to preserve and revitalise Old Sacramento.

Preservation initiatives focused on restoring the district’s original buildings and structures. Today, Old Sacramento stands as a well-preserved historic district, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the ambiance of the Gold Rush era.

The district’s preservation efforts have been recognized, and it has been designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark.

The transformation and preservation efforts undertaken in the district have ensured the preservation of its historical legacy and have made it a popular destination for tourists, history enthusiasts, and locals alike.

Old Sacramento
The district is dedicated to maintaining its historic buildings.

Attractions in Old Sacramento

Historic Buildings and Architecture

One of the main attractions of Old Sacramento is its impressive collection of historic buildings and architecture. Walking through the district, visitors are greeted with a charming streetscape that reflects the architectural styles of the mid-19th century.

The buildings showcase a blend of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Italianate influences, transporting visitors back to the days of the California Gold Rush. Some notable structures include the Big Four Building, the B.F. Hastings Building, and the Eagle Theatre.

These historic buildings serve as a tangible link to the past and provide a unique backdrop for exploring the district.

California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum, located in Old Sacramento, is a must-visit attraction for train enthusiasts and history buffs alike. This world-class museum showcases the history and significance of railroads in California and the American West.

Visitors can explore a vast collection of restored locomotives, railroad cars, and exhibits that depict the evolution of rail transportation. The museum offers immersive experiences, including train rides and educational programs that provide insights into the stories behind the railroad’s development.

Old Sacramento
The California State Railroad Museum features restored trains.

Delta King Riverboat

Moored along the Sacramento River, the Delta King Riverboat is a historic paddlewheel steamboat that has been converted into a unique hotel, restaurant, and entertainment venue.

The Delta King dates back to the 1920s and has a rich history as a passenger vessel that plied the waters of the Sacramento River between San Francisco and Sacramento. Today, visitors can step aboard the beautifully restored riverboat and enjoy a stay in one of its cosy cabins.

Guests can also dine in its elegant restaurants or catch a live performance in the onboard theatre. The Delta King offers a charming and nostalgic experience that captures the spirit of riverboat travel in the past.

Old Sacramento Waterfront

The Old Sacramento Waterfront is a vibrant area that runs along the Sacramento River and serves as a hub of activity within the district. This picturesque waterfront location offers a range of attractions and experiences for visitors.

Strolling along the riverfront, one can enjoy scenic views, spot riverboats passing by, and take in the bustling atmosphere. The waterfront area is lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops, offering opportunities for dining, shopping, and leisurely walks.

During the summer months, the waterfront often hosts outdoor events, concerts, and festivals, adding to the lively ambiance of the district.

Old Sacramento
The waterfront is great for scenic strolls.

Other Notable Attractions

In addition to the California State Railroad Museum and the Delta King Riverboat, the district boasts other notable attractions that enrich the visitor experience.

The Wells Fargo History Museum provides insights into the history of the iconic Wells Fargo stagecoaches, banking, and the Gold Rush era.

The Sacramento History Museum offers a deeper understanding of the city’s history through exhibits, artefacts, and interactive displays.

These attractions contribute to the overall historical and cultural immersion that Old Sacramento offers, allowing visitors to engage with the stories and heritage of the region in diverse and engaging ways.

Events in Old Sacramento

Gold Rush Days

Gold Rush Days is an annual event in Old Sacramento that takes visitors back in time to the exhilarating days of the California Gold Rush.

Held over a weekend or multiple days, this event features lively re-enactments, interactive exhibits, and demonstrations of various Gold Rush-era activities. Visitors can witness gold panning demonstrations, blacksmithing displays, and historic firearm demonstrations.

Old Sacramento
Gold Rush Days is held every year in the district.

The streets of the district come alive with costumed performers, musicians, and entertainers, creating a vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of the 1850s.

Gold Rush Days provides an immersive and educational experience, allowing visitors to gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges and excitement of the Gold Rush era.

Theatre productions and Live Performances

Old Sacramento is home to several theatres and venues that host a variety of theatre productions and live performances throughout the year.

The theatres in the district showcase a range of genres, including classic plays, musicals, comedy shows, and more. These productions often reflect the rich history and cultural heritage of the region, bringing stories of the past to life on stage.

Visitors can enjoy professional productions by local theatre companies or catch performances by touring acts. Whether it’s a captivating drama or a musical, the theatre scene in the district offers a diverse and entertaining array of performances.

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Other events and festivals are hosted year round.

Annual Festivals

Old Sacramento is known for its vibrant annual festivals that celebrate different aspects of culture and entertainment

 The Jazz Jubilee is a popular event that brings together jazz enthusiasts from around the country. This multi-day festival features live jazz performances by renowned musicians. The lively music fills the streets of the district, creating a festive and energetic atmosphere.

Mardi Gras is another exciting annual festival that brings a taste of New Orleans to the district. This celebration includes colourful parades, vibrant costumes, live music, and traditional cuisine. Visitors can enjoy the spirit of Mardi Gras, performances, and indulge in the flavours of Louisiana.

These annual festivals add to the vibrant cultural scene of the district, offering opportunities for locals and visitors to come together and celebrate music, art, and diverse traditions.

Holiday celebrations

Old Sacramento embraces the holiday spirit with a range of festive celebrations throughout the year.

During the winter season, the district transforms into a magical wonderland with holiday lights, decorations, and special events. The annual Theatre of Lights is a holiday tradition where historic buildings are illuminated, and a musical light show tells holiday stories.

Old Sacramento
The holidays bring cheer to the Old Sacramento district.

Visitors can also enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday markets, and visits from Santa Claus. These holiday celebrations create a joyful and enchanting atmosphere, attracting families and individuals to experience the magic of the season in Old Sacramento.

Amenities in Old Sacramento

Dining Experiences

Old Sacramento offers a diverse array of dining options, ensuring that visitors can satisfy their taste buds while exploring the district. From casual eateries to upscale restaurants, there is something for every palate.

Many establishments showcase the flavours of California, incorporating fresh and locally sourced ingredients into their menus. Visitors can indulge in farm-to-table cuisine, seafood delicacies, classic American dishes, and international flavours.

Some restaurants even occupy historic buildings, adding to the charm of the dining experience. Whether it’s a quick bite or a leisurely meal, the district provides a range of dining options to cater to different preferences and budgets.

Old Sacramento
There are many places to dine and shop in the district.

Shopping Opportunities

Shopping enthusiasts will find plenty to explore in Old Sacramento’s unique shops and boutiques. The district is home to an eclectic mix of stores, offering a variety of merchandise, including fashion, jewellery, art, souvenirs, and specialty goods.

Visitors can browse through shops that feature local artisans and craftsmen, finding one-of-a-kind items and gifts. Additionally, there are specialty stores that focus on products related to the district’s history and the Gold Rush era.

Exploring the shops in the district provides an opportunity to discover distinctive treasures and take home a piece of the district’s charm.

Lodging and Accommodations

While Old Sacramento doesn’t have a wide range of lodging options within its immediate boundaries, visitors can find convenient accommodations in the nearby downtown area of Sacramento.

Numerous hotels and inns are within walking distance or a short drive from the district, providing comfortable and convenient places to stay.

Old Sacramento
There are many accommodations located near Old Sacramento.

These accommodations cater to various budgets and preferences, ranging from luxury hotels to boutique inns and budget-friendly options. Visitors can enjoy the convenience of staying close to the historic district while having access to the amenities in the downtown area.


Old Sacramento is easily accessible by various means of transportation. For those arriving by car, there are parking facilities available throughout the district, both in parking lots and street parking spaces. Visitors can then explore the district on foot.

Additionally, public transportation options, such as light rail and bus services, provide access to the district. The Sacramento Valley Station, located near Old Sacramento, is a major transportation hub, offering connections to Amtrak trains and regional transit services.

For those who prefer an alternative mode of transportation, the district is also bike-friendly, with designated bike lanes and racks available for cyclists.

Significance of Old Sacramento

Cultural Significance

Old Sacramento holds significant cultural value as a well-preserved historic district. Its carefully restored buildings, architectural styles, and overall ambiance provide a tangible connection to the past.

Old Sacramento
The restoration of the historic district has increased tourism in the area.

The district allows visitors to immerse themselves in the history and heritage of the California Gold Rush era. The district’s cultural significance lies in its ability to transport people to the past, preserving the stories, experiences, and architecture that shaped the region’s history.

Old Sacramento serves as a living museum, contributing to the cultural fabric of the city and providing a sense of identity and pride for residents and visitors alike.

Economic Impact

Old Sacramento plays a crucial role in driving tourism and supporting local businesses. Its historical appeal attracts a significant number of visitors from near and far, boosting the local economy.

Tourists flock to the district to experience the unique atmosphere, visit the museums, dine in the restaurants, shop in the boutiques, and participate in events. The influx of visitors generates revenue for local hotels, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.

The economic impact of the district extends beyond the district itself, benefiting the wider Sacramento area by creating jobs and stimulating economic growth.

Old Sacramento
The district’s museums have many artefacts on display.

Educational Value

Old Sacramento holds immense educational value. The district is a valuable resource for learning about the California Gold Rush, the development of Sacramento, and the social and economic factors that shaped the region.

Museums like the California State Railroad Museum and the Sacramento History Museum offer educational exhibits, artefacts, and interactive displays. The district’s historical authenticity provides a hands-on experience that fosters a deeper understanding of the past.

Community Involvement

Old Sacramento fosters community involvement and a strong sense of place. It serves as a gathering point for locals, who take pride in their city’s rich history and actively participate in community events and celebrations held within the district.

Residents engage in various capacities, from volunteering during festivals and events to supporting local businesses and organisations. Old Sacramento is a cultural and social hub that fosters a sense of community.

The community’s involvement in preserving and promoting the district contributes to its ongoing vitality and ensures that it remains a vibrant and cherished part of the city.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento is a popular area for both locals and tourists.

Old Sacramento is a Historic Treasure Trove

Old Sacramento stands as a captivating destination that seamlessly weaves together history, attractions, and significance. As a district steeped in history, its establishment and early history during the California Gold Rush laid the foundation for its enduring legacy.

Today, Old Sacramento’s attractions serve as gateways to the past. Its historic buildings and architecture transport visitors back to the vibrant mid-19th century, while the California State Railroad Museum immerses them in the story of rail transportation.

The significance of the district extends beyond its attractions. It has cultural and educational value, serving as a well-preserved historic district that allows visitors to experience the rich heritage of the California Gold Rush era.

Old Sacramento stands as a testament to the resilience and enduring spirit of a place that continues to captivate the hearts and minds of all who venture within its historic boundaries.

If you’re planning to visit Sacramento, check out the Sacramento Zoo.

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