I was a kid when I moved to Sacramento, and now I’m raising a child here. I’d say that gives me a well-rounded perspective of the city some call “Cow Town.” But I’m not even sure how the city earned that nickname. Was this land once full of cattle? Where are they now? Though Sacramento has embraced its nickname and even hosts the Cow Town Marathon, don’t be fooled by the misnomer. There’s plenty of fun to be found in this cowless Cow Town that also happens to be the political center of the state. So without further ado, here are my top picks for families to experience in Sacramento.
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1. Play at William Land Park
William Land Park offers shaded picnic spots and three fantastic attractions for kids. Fairytale Town is a Storybook Park with 25 three-dimensional playsets that bring nursery rhymes and fairy-tales to life. Down the street, Funderland dishes up kid-sized thrills with rides and attractions designed specifically for preschoolers. Enjoy a $5 pony ride at the entrance, or tour the Sacramento Zoo which stands directly in front of the park.
2. Explore Sacramento Children’s Museum
At the Sacramento Children’s Museum, pint-sized artists can paint Plexiglass walls with colorful tempura paints and chubby babies can splash about in specially designed seats within the water activity tables. Five miles away at Safetyville USA, children learn safety education in an interactive 3-acre miniature city. This tiny town is complete with small-scale versions of the California State Capitol building, municipal building, business buildings, and various Sacramento streets.
3. Shop at Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento is a historic eight-block section of the city and its oldest shopping district. Locally owned souvenir shops and old-fashioned candy stores adorn cobblestone streets. Kids love its balloon twisters, horse-drawn carriage rides, and costumed actors. In December, experience the magic of the Theatre of Lights holiday performance. In May, the streets come alive with the sounds of jazz and popcorn scents the air at the annual Music Festival.
4. Visit Sacramento Area Museums
Enjoy gold panning at the Sacramento History Museum. The building itself is a replica of Sacramento’s 1854 City Hall and Waterworks building. Nearby, the Old Schoolhouse Museum is a mockup one-room schoolhouse with costumed schoolmarm and The California State Railroad Museum is a State Historic Park and one the nation’s most popular railroad museums. Kids under 5 years can experience weekend train rides for free!
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5. Cruise the Capitol Hornblower
Capitol Hornblower is Sacramento’s one-hour narrative historical cruise. Tours include entertaining stories from Sacramento’s illustrious past, from the early years of the Gold Rush to the legendary Pony Express. Families can overnight at Embassy Suites Sacramento and explore Old Sacramento on foot. Walk to Raley Field Stadium, where Sacramento’s minor league baseball team plays. Take in the view as you cross the Tower Bridge en route to watch the game. Rivercats lawn tickets are $8 each!
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6. Explore that American River Parkway
The beautiful 23-mile American River Parkway is a great place to bike, hike, fish, and picnic. Highway 50 offers many access points. Effie Yeaw Nature Center, within Ancil Hoffman Park, is an environmental and cultural education center. Self-guided trails and interpretive signs point out native plants and trees, animal habitats, and river views. California’s state guide names Effie’s Nature Area a “Watchable Wildlife” site.
7. Get Creative at Crocker Art Musuem
The Crocker Art Museum’s All About Families initiative supports a rich array of year-round and seasonal programs. Check the online calendar before you visit because they’re always offering something exciting. Throughout summer, the museum offers Family Friday’s to celebrate the art in children’s books. Free admission days occur the third Sunday of each month. Be sure to check out Totland which is a fun play area for kids under 5.
8. Celebrate at the California State Fair
Each year the California State Fair offers robust carnival rides and games, enticing vendor booths, livestock exhibits, and mouthwatering menu selections to make the summer heat tolerable! Kids 12 and under receive free admission and $1 rides on Tuesdays. Fun attractions include free evening concerts and horse racing. Raging Waters and the State Fair share the same Cal Expo location.
9. Visit the State Capitol
Since your vising California’s capital city, you must also visit its State Capitol building. Activities abound downtown. The Sacramento Food Truck scene is big, and they’re competitive, which means their awesome! My son loves Drewski’s tator tots. Visit artBeast Studio—a drop-in kids studio which offers art classes and art exploration rooms. Play with pizza dough at Pizza Rock. Enjoy the McKinley Park playground. Saturday’s in June, Pops in The Park captivates picnicking families at Bertha Henschel Park while Crawdads on the River offers Sacramento River views and casual dining.
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10. Cheer at the Sacramento Kings Game
Win or lose, we love our Sacramento Kings. When they’re winning, we go bananas! If you really want to experience Sacramento, pick up tickets to a Kings game.
We’d love to hear from you. Have you been to Sacramento? What’s your favorite thing to do with kids in California’s state capitol?