With all the financial demands we face, it’s nice to know that Sacramento is not only a great vacation destination, but also an affordable one. Listed below is a sampling of free attractions that represent Sacramento’s identity as the home of the Gold Rush, state capital of California, agricultural powerhouse and unique, modern city. Enjoy all that money can’t buy, here in Sacramento!
The Old Sacramento historic area is a registered national landmark and state historic park off the banks of the Sacramento River. As you enter this 28-acre town of historic buildings constructed in the mid 1800s, you’ll step back in time to the California Gold Rush era. Today, after strong preservation efforts, the nostalgic appeal of early American history is reflected perfectly by the wooden sidewalks, horse-drawn carriages, old-fashioned candy shops and Mississippi-style riverboats. Rich in history, Old Sacramento is home to many free attractions. For instance, the B.F. Hastings Building (1854) houses part of the Wells Fargo History Museum, where docents are in period costume present the history of the company, Gold Rush era and early Sacramento development. (To see an actual Concord Stagecoach, visit the Wells Fargo Center at 400 Capitol Mall.)
Also free is the Big Four Building, named for the “Big Four” of western railroading: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker. Today it includes the Huntington Hopkins Hardware Store Museum and Stanford Gallery. The charming Old Sacramento Schoolhouse is in the style of one-room schools found in the 1800s and is always fun for children to see.
500 horses, 200 relay stations, 80 riders, and 10 days makes for a trip out west by the
Pony Express! Sacramento was the Western Terminus for the legendary mail service, which recruited dare-deviled orphans to conquer extraordinary physical challenges in the days before the telegraph. Check out Old Sacramento’s monument to the short-lived Pony Express.
If you forget the taxes you pay each year, then you can consider the California State Capitol Museum the best free tour around! One of the greatest restoration projects in American history, it took six years and $68 million to restore the California State Capitol to its original splendor. Free guided tours highlight the Senate and Assembly Chambers, along with the Rotunda, tiled hallways and ornate stairways. Equally poetic is the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park. This $2.5 million project was established by law and built entirely by donations. Its 22 shiny black granite panels memorialize the 5,822 names of California’s fallen soldiers. The exquisite full-relief bronze figures depict the realities of daily life during that conflict.
The newest breathtaking edition to the meticulous landscape of Capitol Park is The International World Peace Rose Gardens. Dedicated in May 2003, the Victorian-designed garden features over 800 roses in a variety of colors and fragrances. Walkways lead to a small courtyard with a fountain in the center, and a heart-shaped seating wall. www.worldpeacerosegardens.org Also worth examining are The California State Archives, which contain a wide array of historical California documents. The Constitution Wall, an outdoor piece of art, is open to the public and accessible by entering the courtyard. Rainwater alters the colors of the wall, representing the constitution as a living document that changes with the state.
Once you leave Old Sacramento and the capitol area, the variety of free attractions continues. The Blue Diamond Visitor Center introduces visitors to the largest almond processing plant in the world. The 20-minute video (in several foreign languages), tasting and gift shop are bound to give you a new appreciation for almonds! The Historic City Cemetery was established in 1849 and is the last resting place for over 20,000 early Sacramentans, including John A. Sutter Jr., Edwin and Margaret Crocker, and Mark Hopkins. Guided and self-guided tours are available.
For architectural beauty, don’t miss the 217-foot tower and Austrian stained glass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament or the Tiffany stained glass windows and rare Johnson Tracker organ at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
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