It’s Not Just For Tourists: A Local’s Guide to A Full Day in Old Sacramento
Nestled along the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento is pleasantly caught in time, providing a bit of insight into the way Sacramentans lived more than a century ago. In the present day, this historic hub is teeming with locals and visitors alike experiencing the wonders of this once Wild West metropolis. It may be a popular destination for tourists, but that doesn’t mean it is not suitable for locals, too!
Whether you are a new resident to the area or you’ve lived in Sacramento for decades, you’re never too “local” for a walk down memory lane in Old Sacramento. The 28-acre district offers inspired eateries, renowned museums, exceptional views, and of course, the authentic and charming architecture Old Sacramento is known for. Select a few of these activities or make a full day out of it. Plus, this is the perfect itinerary to pass along to someone visiting Sacramento!
Start With Coffee
Any good day starts with a cup of coffee and a pastry from a local shop. And if you’re going to check several of these activities off your list, you’ll need the caffeine.
District provides a casually inviting ambiance that caters to an early morning, busy mid-day, and lingering post-dinner and event crowd. District is owned by the folks behind The Firehouse Restaurant and Ten 22, each of which make excellent lunch and dinner options. Stop by District to enjoy gourmet coffee from Old Soul Co., delicious on-the-go breakfast items, sandwiches and desserts, and more.
Steamers is an inviting coffee shop in the heart of Old Sacramento serving coffee and espresso drinks, plus a full breakfast and lunch menu with beer and wine options. Visit this one-stop shop for a bite to eat and a caffeinated beverage!
Travel By Train or Boat
Experience a throwback in your mode of transportation by hopping on board one of Old Sac’s most iconic attractions — the train at the California State Railroad Museum or Hornblower’s River Cruises.
Photo Courtesy of Kelly B. Huston via The California State Railroad Museum
The California State Railroad Museum operates Excursion Train Rides, which travel along the levees of the Sacramento River each spring and summer. From April through September, tickets for the train rides are available to purchase online during the week or on a first-come, first-served basis on the weekends. Visit the ticket office located on Front Street between J and K Streets to purchase your ticket.
Or hop on board Hornblower’s Sacramento Historic River Cruise to see this historic district from a fresh perspective. This delightful one-hour river cruise will take you past Old Sacramento as you hear fascinating stories about the history of the city, from John Sutter, the founder of Sacramento, to the wild first days of the Gold Rush and the legendary Pony Express. The cruise departs from L Street Dock on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Get your tickets in advance!
Eat Lunch Along the River
What good is it to be so close to the river if you don’t get to enjoy a view of it? Multi-task by taking in the spectacular Sacramento River while you eat lunch. There are a few riverfront restaurants in Old Sacramento, all of which are included on our list of the 8 Best Sacramento Restaurants With a View.
Photo Courtesy of Rio City Cafe
Rio City Cafe is known to attract a number of celebrities. Dine on their spacious outdoor patio offering clear views of the historic Tower Bridge and the grandiose Ziggurat building. In addition to the farm-fresh and creative cuisine at Rio City Cafe, you’ll love the open, airy and rustic style of the building, designed to replicate a steamship warehouse of the late 1800s.
Nestled along the water’s edge, Joe’s Crab Shack offers the perfect setting for enjoying their tasty seafood, including their infamous crab buckets and stuffed shrimp. Take in enchanting views of the Tower Bridge and the calm waters below.
Get even closer to the water by enjoying lunch on board the Delta King at The Pilothouse Restaurant. This historic 1927 riverboat was once a working paddle wheel boat and a troop transport vessel during World War II. Today, it has a hotel, two restaurants, two theaters, a wine school, and wedding and event facilities. Enjoy seafood and other main courses on their lunch menu, and complement your meal with a glass of wine!
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Trust us. There are plenty of places to get a sweet treat in Old Sacramento. After just a few seconds of strolling the sidewalks, you are bound to encounter a vintage candy shop serving fudge, taffy, and a myriad of classic sweets. Make sure you don’t miss Danny’s Mini Donuts, a must-visit and favorite amongst visitors and locals alike. These hot, mouth-watering donuts are freshly made and bursting with flavor, whether you prefer chocolate, vanilla, sugar-powdered, cinnamon, or plain. Danny’s Mini Donuts claims, “They may burn your fingers, but they will melt in your mouth!” Try them yourself to see what all the hype is about.
Travel Back in Time
Your trip to this historic district wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of Old Sac’s many historic sites and museums. One of the most well-loved museums in the area is the California State Railroad Museum. Experience the feats of engineering and ingenuity that have kept the Golden State steaming along for nearly 200 years at this exciting museum showcasing immaculately restored engines and cars, exciting events, and rotating exhibits. Admission is just $12 for adults, $6 for youth, and free for children 5 and under.
After all this activity, it’s time to relax at one of Old Sac’s most beloved eateries.
Photo Courtesy of The Firehouse
In addition to serving exceptional creative plates, The Firehouse boasts one of the best atmospheres in any Sacramento restaurant. Dine under the stars in their romantic outdoor courtyard or in the comfort of the elegant interior. This fine dining establishment fuses sophistication with everyday excellence, showcasing the region’s most extensive wine collection and an unparallelled menu.
Ten 22 is another excellent Old Sacramento option. This New American eatery prides itself in its award-winning cuisine and superior quality brews. Chef Jay C. Veregge creates an eclectic menu featuring locally sourced ingredients from regional farmers. Ten 22 also offers an ever-changing selection of bottled beers and 24 taps.
Willie’s Burgers is a hidden gem tucked away along K Street. While it is housed in a historic building, Willie’s has a modern and sleek interior. But more importantly, they serve amazing burgers and fries! This is an excellent option for a more casual dinner after a long day in Old Sacramento.
See a Comedy Show
Laughs Unlimited has established itself as one of the country’s premier comedy venues since it opened its doors in 1980. The venue has helped shape the careers of many comedic legends, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Dana Carvey, Bob Saget and more. And today, Laughs Unlimited is still home to many famous and soon-to-be famous comedians! Grab a drink at the bar and laugh with some of the best comics in the business. Check out their list of upcoming shows and purchase your tickets in advance.
Grab a Drink at a Speakeasy
Old Sacramento has a myriad of bars lining the streets, so it is not difficult to find a place to grab a drink! However, you may not realize there are two speakeasies hidden in the district that many do not know about.
Back Door Lounge is only accessible through the back door of a vintage lounge in Old Sacramento. You can find the entrance on a clearly marked red wall behind the courtyard of the Firehouse Restaurant. The place is not usually packed or overwhelming, but maintains a steady flow of regulars and curious wanderers discovering the place for the very first time.
River City Saloon has a long and complex history dating back to 1857, and is now Sacramento’s last Old West saloon. During the Prohibition, it was continually raided as the owners insisted they were only serving Sarsaparilla and alcohol for medicinal reasons. Today, you’ll find a restored space that resembles its original grandeur — even down to the wallpaper. Belly up to the bar, grab a basket of peanuts, throw the shells on the floor, and order the Old West Sarsaparilla brewed exclusively for River City Saloon by River City Brewing Company.
What Old Sacramento spots are your favorite?
Share the gold nuggets of insider insight you have! (See what we did there?)