Old Sacramento applies to an approximate 28 acre area bounded by the Sacramento River on the west, the Tower Bridge and Capitol Mall on the south, the I-5 freeway on the east, and the Railorad Museum and I Street on the north. It was the area back in 1850 where individuals first settled. However do to periodic flooding from the Sacramento River the area had to be raised above flood stage.
By the 1940's the area of Old Sacramento had run into major disrepair. In the early 1960's a major redevelopment effort was undertaken by the City to restore over 50 buildings to somewhat resemble what Sacramento was like in its early days. It consists of cobblestone streets, wooden plank sidewalks and horse drawn carriages. There are many good places to eat and a few cheesy souvenir and eating establishments that cater exclusively to tourists.
Here are the sights that I recommend you consider seeing or doing while you are in Old Sacramento. There will be separate pages on each of these sights in the near future;
California Railroad Museum- An outstanding museum detailing the history of the railroad in the Western United States. The trains and exhibits are first class and this worth two to four hours.
Sacramento History Museum- An excellent museum detailing the history of the City of Sacramento. It also has several continuously updated exhibits on particular issues in the City's 150 year plus history.
Walk Old Town- Take a walk up the two main streets of Old Town and along the Sacramento River and take in the great building facades with sweeping porches in many cases.
California Automobile Museum- Just a short walk south of Old Town. This museum features a wide collection of autos from the 20th century including many celebrity cars. It has very helpful staff and several special exhibits at any one time.
Located on the American River (near downtown Sacramento) is the historic area called Old Sacramento. It's from here in 1839 that the beginnings of California's state capital began (due to rapid expansion from the gold rush, the transcontinental railroad as well as the Pony Express). You can still see today how people lived during that time period with preserved buildings and artifacts all over the area, so take some time and visit Old Sacramento.
From Spring through Hallowe'en, one can take a short 1-hour tour of the Old Sacramento Underground. The tour includes a visit to the underground/basement portions of three buildings in Old Sac, as well as an informative explanation of the history of early Sacramento and how the underground portion of the city came into being.
Essentially, the city used to be one full storey lower than it is now. However, due to periodic flooding from the Sacramento River that first occurred in 1849-1850 and then a massive deluge in 1862, they decided in 1862 to raise the entire city, which they completed in the 1870s.
They jacked up on screw jacks all the buildings in the city area, I think about 4 square miles and a few hundred buildings, raising them an average of about 18 feet and then adding to the walls to create basements. They filled in the streets and built them up to that height also but left a gap between them for the sidewalks, with buttressed brick retaining walls supporting the streets. The sidewalks were eventually covered up with boardwalks, but sometimes stairs or ladders were provided to allow pedestrians to access the basements directly from the street. Many sidewalks were then enclosed to be extensions of the basement level of the buildings. They also did not bother to raise the alleys, only raising these at the ends to meet the streets, and today one can immediately notice how the alleys all slope down away from the streets to a full storey below the regular street level. This allows immediate access to the basement levels from the alleys. It is very interesting.
However, photographs are not allowed in the underground area, purportedly for safety reasons. My photos are of above-grounds portions of the tour and an ally, showing the slope up to the street level.
Sacramento's renovated old town is certainly one of the highlights of the city. Although it has become a bit touristy, it has one of the best collections of early Victorian/Gold Rush-era architecture from the 1850s and 1860s in California and is one of the most historical places in the state. This waterfront area of downtown is where the new city of Sacramento was born in 1849, quickly growing to be the 2nd largest, 2nd richest and most important city in the state, for decades being overshadowed only by an Francisco. A natural break-of-bulk point (where goods and people transferred from one form of transport to another or where they came before going elsewhere) for river travel in the days before railroads, the city controlled the transport to and from the northern half of the goldfields, between the interior and gold regions to San Francisco and ultimately the rest of the world. This was the location of the western end of the Pony Express. This was where the Big Four - Stanford, Crocker, Hopkins and Huntington - made their fortunes and had their businesses. This is where Judah and the Big Four dreamed of the transcontinental railroad the led ultimately to the Central Pacific Railroad, so that even with the arrival of the train, Sacramento remained the leading regional transport hub with what was for over a century the largest and busiest railyard in the western U.S. Unlike San Francisco, Sacramento also was fortunate to have so many of its Gold Rush-era buildings survive. Today, while a few had to be reconstructed completely, these many surviving originals have been refurbished, allowing for a largely unbroken Gold Rush-era cityscape so that one can see and really feel what the city was like in 1860 or so.
Therefore, even for those who don't like the touristy shops and bars, etc., this is a unique and highly importance and interesting place to visit for California history and old architecture. One must simply look past the touristy element and know that this really is the real thing, refurbished but not just a mock-up.
It also is home to the California State Railroad Museum and train, Sacramento Museum, the California Military Museum, a number of restaurants, candy stores and more. There is a passage under the freeway to the rest of downtown and the downtown mall.
Not much to see. The train museum is good for a few hours. Once the nostalgia of the old buildings wears off, it gets old pretty fast. Trying not to be too negative. Almost no locals hang out there, which should tell you something.
This is the original Sacramento, dating back to the mid-19th century. Built mostly during the Gold Rush, it has been beautifully restored. It's full of restaurants, shops, and museums.
Old Sacramento State Historic Park includes a number of restored, historic buildings right near the waterfront. Its point of contact is below.
These photos were taken during the annual Gold Rush Days festival, held on Labor Day Weekend. It that time, the streets are covered with dust and normal traffic is blocked off. Actors in cowboy garb re-enact scenes from the old West. You feel that you're on the set of a Western as it's being filmed.
All the guidebooks talk about Old Sacramento like it must not be missed when visiting Sac. I think Old Sac HAD huge potential as a tourist attraction. It is visually very attractive, but the businesses there are so incredibly cheesy and intrusive and the obnoxious teens and bums who hang out there really destroy the character of the place.
Old Sac, in its current state, is a Bourbon Street wannabe.
Which isn't to say Old Sac isn't worth going to. The Railroad Museum is great. In the summer the KCRA sponsored free jazz concerts are terrific. You can buy a glass of local wine there, eat at one of the seafood places, or bring a picnic and it is very enjoyable. I like parking a mile away at the water exhibit on Jibboom Street and walking in to Old Town via the Sacramento River Trail. (It isn't pretty, but it can be interesting.) I often walk my dog to the waterfront there and just watch the boats and the people.
I'd say put Old Sac on your list, just know that it isn't one of the cool Gold Rush Towns, that it is incredibly cheesy, and that it is Sac's biggest tourist trap.
We took a break from dress shopping and took a walk down to Old Sacramento. You walk thru a pedestrain tunnel under the highway to enter what Sacramento would have lookd like back in the day of steam trains and the gold rush. It basically is lots of little stores full of kiche touristy stuff but it's fun to go into the candy stores set up old style and sample free taffy and other yummy stuff!!!
Find souvenirs, coffee, chocolate, teas, clothing, accessories, jewelry and hats, antique furnishings, collectible art and rare books at the numerous boutiques that comprise Old Sacramento. If shopping is not your bag, then simply enjoy the old-fashioned train or riverboat located in Old sacramento proper.
Old Sacramento (Old Sac) is like a Western town during the Gold Rush. It has been faithfully restored to reflect the architecture and other trappings of that era. There are even horse-drawn carriages that take you around the place.
There are several museums located at Old Sac. The best known probably is the California State Railroad Museum. It has on display several locomotives and cars; some of them played an important part during the railroad's heyday in California.
During summer weekends, you can take a (very short) round trip on board a steam train. It is a great opportunity to experience this mode of travel, which is slowly dying out.
There's also a water taxi. For only $6, you get to see the Sacramento River. You can also do this by taking a cruise on board the riverboat "The Spirit of Sacramento," which looks like a paddlewheeler.
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