Sacramento is an area rich in historic significance, with many landmarks celebrating the past and present contributions made to the state and to the entire country. A walking tour of even a few of these sites will prove that learning about history is anything but dull, and that an afternoon exploring Sacramento is time well spent. From gold miners, graveyards and cabooses to glorious Victorian gardens, notorious criminals and politicians, it is exciting to visit Sacramento’s past.
Sacramento City Cemetery
1000 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 264-5621

People that have never before explored a burial ground will be surprised by how fascinating this cemetery is. Established in 1849, the original 10 acres donated by Captain John Sutter – a Swiss-born sailor who settled the land originally inhabited by the Nisenen and Miwok Indians – have expanded to more than 60 acres today. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the place looks like a lush Victorian garden or park, with gorgeous flora, winding paths and statuary. Early headstones mark the passing of 600-plus victims of a cholera outbreak in 1850, and subsequent stones and mausoleums honor individuals including gold miners, Civil War vets, railroad pioneers, entertainers, Donner party members, heroes, villains, Alexander Hamilton’s son, Sacramento mayors and past governors of the Golden State. The cemetery has several memorial gardens with roses and other plants from around the world, and much of the cemetery is kept well groomed by community volunteers.

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California State Railroad Museum
125 I St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 323-9280

Railroads literally laid the tracks for the development and growth of Sacramento and the entire state of California. The museum has restored locomotives dating from as early as the 1800s, including those operated by steam, compressed air, electric and internal combustion engines. There are exhibits highlighting much of the industry’s history, including the contributions of women and immigrants, the Gold Rush boom and much, much more. Historic photographs, artwork and signage help paint the picture of Sacramento’s trains, but the museum is also a hands-on experience. Visitors can climb aboard actual train cars, including a Pullman-style sleeper that gently rocks as if in operation, a Railway Post Office car and an authentically stocked dining car. Train excursions both short and long that originate at the museum are also available.

Old Sacramento Underground
101 I St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 808-7059

Intense flooding in 1862 buried much of the Sacramento Valley, including the land now known as Old Sacramento. While most abandoned the area, a group of residents devised a way to lift the streets, resulting in some structures and tunnels remaining beneath the original town. Guided tours allow visitors to explore excavated building foundations and covered paths that resulted and to learn more about the devastation of fires and floods, and the inspiration and ingenuity that drove the area forward. Some of the entertaining tours explain Old Sac’s more ribald underground past, including tales of brothels, smugglers, criminals and conmen.

California State Capitol
1315 10th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 324-0333

This Sacramento landmark and true piece of living history was built during the 1860s, with grand halls, gilt columns, marble floors and a spire reaching nearly 250 feet in the air. This architectural showplace includes elaborate statues, murals and artwork, and offers an engaging look into the state’s cultural, economic and political history. Each of California’s 58 counties is represented with unique displays, and guests are free to climb on giant golden bear statues for photo ops. There are exhibits with artifacts, photographs, artwork and period furnishings highlighting different important historical periods, and another display shows 50 American flags that were carried by units from California during World War I and the Civil and Spanish-American wars. Be sure to tour the camellia grove, rose gardens and other botanical wonders in the surrounding park, along with memorials to California’s heroic soldiers, firefighters and other citizens.

Leland Stanford Mansion State Park
800 N St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 324-0575

The Victorian mansion was originally built in 1856 and later purchased by California governor Leland Stanford. Part of it was used as an office for Stanford and two subsequent governors, and in 1872, it was vastly expanded and updated to become the imposing estate it is to this day. The mansion and grounds were donated to Sacramento’s Catholic Diocese in 1900, along with an endowment to operate it as a facility for homeless children. The Stanford Home for Children ultimately moved to another location during the 1980s and California bought the national historic landmark for use as a state park. After a massive restoration, the mansion is open to the public as well as being California’s official reception center for worldwide leaders. With high ceilings, original furnishings and restored or recreated woodwork, linens, fixtures and architectural features, the 19,000-square-foot mansion is surrounded by elegant gardens.

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Valerie Heimerich is a freelance writer out of Sacramento. She typically covers animals and community issues. She has volunteered and worked for many organizations helping animals and people.
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