A Pit Stop a Day (Day 22): Old Sacramento Historical District

California State Railroad Museum

We spent our last day, Day 22, driving from Laguna Beach to Sacramento CA on I-5, visiting Sacramento’s historic Old Town and staying our final night on the road at the Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade.

Sacramento’s Old Town is a state historic park covering 28 acres along the Sacramento River directly opposite from downtown. Wooden sidewalks, false storefronts, and cobblestones create the illusion that visitors have returned to the famed California Gold Rush days (although cheap souvenir t-shirt shops and the like seem to work equally hard to distract from this).

By far the best gem of Old Town is the California State Railroad Museum (111 I Street), located at the entrance to Old Town and commanding a distinctive presence in the district. This impressive museum is larger than life (especially for young kids entranced by trains): visitor’s can walk through historic train compartments (the sleeper car even sways and jolts under your feet as though in motion), learn about the building of the railroad, and watch a great film depicting the early railroad days. Upstairs, Thomas the Tank Engine lovers will find extensive train tables at their disposal.

Our favorite shop in Old Sacramento.

After exploring the museum, we walked through Old Town, which consists primarily of shops, restaurants, and a few other smaller museums (a Wells Fargo stagecoach museum and a military museum). The Sacramento River is one block from the museum, as is the historic Delta King riverboat (hotel) and a monument to the Pony Express.

Kids (and adults alike) will love stopping to browse the offerings at Evangeline’s, a joke shop boutique. Nearly all the joke items and gag gifts are suitable for children (apart from a well-closed off ‘adult’ section in the back) and you could spend hours laughing at all the items for sale (at least we could!). My kids finally settled on ‘handerwear’ (underwear for hands), clacking teeth, and joke mustaches.

If you’re in Old Town after dinner and have saved room for dessert, Sacramento Sweets Co has the best waffle cone sundaes this side of the Mississippi. Their Capitol Sundae feeds two (but you won’t want to share). Be sure to get it topped with their homemade caramel or hot fudge sauce!

Seasonal Tip: If your Sacramento vacation brings you to the city in late August, be sure to attend Old Sacramento’s Gold Rush Days. The streets are covered with dirt and allow only pedestrian or horse-drawn traffic, adding to the authentic old west feel. Living history exhibits and re-enactments are in play all weekend!

Note: Two other great Sacramento attractions include Sutter’s Fort (where California gold was first discovered) and FairyTale Town (located near the Sacramento Zoo).

Date last visited: July 15, 2010.

Distance off the interstate: Right off I-5.

Directions: From I-5, follow signs to Old Sacramento Historic District. Turn off I-5 at J Street, turn left onto 3rd, then turn onto I Street to the California State Railroad Museum.

Up Next: Or last, that is: we review our stay at the Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade!