The Tower Bridge Crosses the Sacramento River in the heart of Downtown Sacramento, California. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Sacramento

BY Matt Meltzer | February 16, 2021

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Sacramento? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Sacramento?”

California’s capital city is often overlooked behind the glamour of Los Angeles and the big-city bustle of San Francisco. But spend a few days in this cultural, agricultural hotbed and you’ll find a place full of rich history, a sparkling scenic river and some of the best food in America. Whether you’re looking for the preserved frontier of Old Sacramento or the relaxing waters of the American River, Sacramento is full of classic California experiences. So come with us as we show you all the best places to eat, drink and play in Sacramento, Calif.

You’re here for the American River

The American River is the epicenter of social life in Sacramento, whether it’s epic weekend boat days, brisk bike rides or a scenic place to cool off during the summer. 

The American River Parkway in Sacramento, Calif.
#1
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail in autumn with fall colors.The paved bike path runs from Sacramento to Folsom, Calif., along the American River parkway. Photo via Shutterstock.

The American River Parkway

American River Parkway, Sacramento, CA, USA

The parkway, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, is the city’s crown jewel, stretching 32 miles from Discovery Park near Old Sacramento to Folsom Lake. It’ll take you through shady eucalyptus groves, past picturesque bridges and through countless secluded spots to pull off and enjoy a picnic.

American River access in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.
#2
American River access in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.

American River Access

American River Access - Harrington Way, Harrington Way, Carmichael, CA, USA

If you’d rather enjoy one spot on the river, or take a boat out on the water, you’ll find river access in several spots around the city. There’s a full list of them here, but some of the easier to reach are off Watt and How Aves., as well as at Discovery Park and Ancil Hoffman Park.

But you can’t skip out on fresh California cuisine

When restaurants in Sacramento say “farm to table,” they mean it, with over 250 crops grown within a few hours of the city in the San Joaquin Valley. Chefs here still shop at weekly farmers markets full of fresh, local produce, and the result is some of the best food in America.

Localis in Sacramento, Calif.
#3
Localis in Sacramento, Calif.

Localis

2031 S St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

Chris Barnum-Dann’s California-centric spot in midtown is Sacramento’s best bet for foodies, with a tasting menu that rotates based on ingredients the chef is able to source. That’s a big part of what earned it a spot in the vaunted Michelin Guide in 2019.

Mulvany’s B&L in Sacramento, Calif.
#4
Mulvany’s B&L in Sacramento, Calif.

Mulvany’s B&L

1215 19th St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

New York chef Pat Mulvaney does more with fresh meats and vegetables here than he could have ever done in the Big Apple, creating weekly menus from stuff he sources from nearby farms. The hot spot is housed in an old firehouse, too, for a dose of history with your dinner.

OneSpeed Pizza in Sacramento, Calif.
#5
OneSpeed Pizza in Sacramento, Calif.

OneSpeed Pizza

4818 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento, Calif, USA

The quality that comes from fresh ingredients extends to the world of pizza, too, as you’ll find at this bike-themed pizza shop in East Sac. The fresh-made tomato sauce and flavorful toppings make this not only the best pizza in Sacramento, but put it in a league with any pizza in America.

And don’t miss these Sacramento eating icons

Frank Fats in Sacramento, Calif.
#6
Frank Fats in Sacramento, Calif.

Frank Fats

806 L St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

This classic downtown Chinese spot has been a favorite for legislative power lunches, special occasions and Friday night takeout since 1939. It’s still regarded as the best Chinese in the city, and the closest Sacramento has to a landmark restaurant.

Squeeze Burger in Sacramento, Calif.
#7
Squeeze Burger in Sacramento, Calif.

Squeeze Burger

5301 Power Inn Rd, Sacramento, California, USA

Originally housed in a tiny house where one literally had to squeeze in to get a seat, Sacramento’s most famous hamburger has expanded to nine locations and an appearance on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” It’s best known for its “cheese skirt,” a layer of cheese that drips down over the bottom bun.

Learn California’s fascinating history

Before California was all about showbiz, beaches and Silicon Valley, it was an agricultural paradise and railroad epicenter. You can learn the history of early California, and see the center of its government today, all within a few blocks downtown.

Old Sacramento Historic District. Photo by Shutterstock.
#8
Colonial architecture in Old Sacramento Historic District. Photo by Shutterstock.

Old Sacramento Historic Park

Old Sacramento State Historic Park, I Street, Sacramento, CA, USA

Old Sacramento is an odd mix of museums, candy shops, bars and chain restaurants, stuck somewhere between a historic site and tourist trap. Head over to the edge of the river and peruse the restaurants in the Front Street Depot. Or try an underground tour of the old city, then hop aboard the Delta King Hotel for a drink on an historic riverboat.

California State Railroad Museum. Photo via Shutterstock.
#9
California State Railroad Museum. Photo via Shutterstock.

California State Railroad Museum

125 I St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

You don’t need to be a railway enthusiast to be captivated by the massive locomotives and historic rail cars at this Old Sac museum. You’ll learn the incredible story of the transcontinental railroad, plus see high-speed trains of the future and walk through a yard of retired cars.

California State Capitol Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.
#10
California State Capitol Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.

California State Capitol Museum

1315 10th St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

Every tree native to California fills the landscape of Capitol Park just outside the Capitol Building. It’s just the beginning of the education, though, as inside you can learn about every county in the state, see the Assembly chamber, and take a picture in front of a massive portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

See all your favorite fairy tales come to life

FairyTale Town in Sacramento, Calif.
#11
FairyTale Town in Sacramento, Calif.

FairyTale Town

3901 Land Park Dr, Sacramento, Calif, USA

Humpty Dumpty, Peter Rabbit, The Little Engine That Could and pretty much every other story you remember from childhood come to life in this massive children’s park. In addition to mock-ups of 39 different stories, there’s also an animal park with the three little pigs, Mary’s little lamb and others.

Explore the country’s most underrated street art scene

Mural created by street artist duo Herakut for 2018's Wide Open Walls in Sacramento, Calif. Photo by Mike Stalter.
#12
Mural created by street artist duo Herakut for 2018's Wide Open Walls in Sacramento, Calif. Photo by Mike Stalter.

Wide Open Walls

Sacramento, CA, USA

A great place to get grounded in Sac’s street art is to check out work by Brandon Alexander, Lily Mott, Raphael Delgado, Ana Valentine as well as curator David Sobon’s Wide Open Walls mural festival. The latter started in 2017 and imports international street artists to work alongside local talent, endowing Sacramento with fresh large-scale installations. The idea came to Sobon while walking his dog along the languorous city streets. Admiring the pockets of local art, he realized “we needed to paint big walls with big names in order for anybody outside of the area to notice.” 

Get cultured at the Crocker Art Museum

Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.
#13
Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock.

Crocker Art Museum

216 O St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

Once housed in an historic Victorian home, this vastly expanded museum includes epic exhibits of early American art, as well as photography and Native American ceramics. It also boasts a pretty solid restaurant on the ground floor, if wandering the galleries works up an appetite.

Go wine tasting 20 minutes from downtown

Though Sacramento is only a short drive from the Napa, Sonoma and Shenandoah Valleys, the river basin right outside the city is home to some fantastic places for wine tasting. And it’s only a short drive from downtown.

Bottles of Bogle wine. Photo by Shutterstock.
#14
Bottles of Bogle wine. Photo by Shutterstock.

Bogle Vineyards

37782 County Rd. 144, Clarksburg, CA, USA

The folks who brought petite sirah to the American masses have their largest vineyard just down I-5 in Clarksburg, where you can taste vintages you’ll never find in the supermarket while relaxing under shady trees in Bogle’s massive backyard.

Neighborhoods to know

Sacramento is a city of fantastic residential enclaves, where neighborhood restaurants and corner bars offer just as much character as you’ll find downtown. That said, if you’re looking for where to stay and play, here are the neighborhoods to know

Downtown Sacramento, Calif. Photo by Shutterstock.
#15
Downtown Sacramento, Calif. Photo by Shutterstock.

Downtown Sacramento

Downtown, Sacramento, CA, USA

Once a place that rolled up the streets after all the government workers went home, downtown Sacramento has turned into a legitimate destination with the opening of the Golden 1 Center. Hit Ella, Grange or Mayahuel for one of the best meals of your life.

Midtown Sacramento.
#16
Sacramento, CA - October 3, 2020: Wide view of sidewalk in midtown next to an office building. Photo by Shutterstock.

Midtown

Midtown, Sacramento, CA, USA

As the name might imply, Midtown sits just next to downtown and is full of historic homes, small restaurants and breweries. Start the day at Temple Coffee Roasters, easily the city’s best coffee. Then get a different kind of buzz on at Fieldwork, Big Stump or Sacrament Brewing.

Stay in Sacramento’s best boutique hotels

Until about the past decade, staying in Sacramento meant a choice between suburban Super 8s and the Hyatt downtown. Now the city has a bevvy of restored gems, allowing easy access to some of Sacramento’s coolest areas.

The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, Calif.
#17
The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento, Calif. Photo by Shutterstock.

The Citizen Hotel

926 J St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

If you’re looking to stay downtown, nowhere will put you in a Sacramento state of mind like the Citizen. The striking architecture of this 1925 building is a throwback to the city’s past, with panoramic views from nearly every room, a cozy library lounge and the stunning Grange restaurant on the ground floor.

 

The Greens Hotel in Sacramento, Calif.
#18
The Greens Hotel in Sacramento, Calif.

The Greens Hotel

1700 Del Paso Blvd, Sacramento, California, USA

This rehabbed motel along once-struggling Del Paso Blvd. is an icon for the resurgence of up-and-coming Del Paso Heights. For under $100, you’ll find rooms with a sleek modern design set around a sprawling courtyard. Just across the street is King Cong Brewing, if you’re looking for a drink before dinner.

Catch some live music

While Sacramento may not have produced as many bands as, say, the Sunset Strip, it’s still a great place to check out live music. Many touring acts play a show in Sac before heading down I-80 to San Francisco, and if you play your cards right you can catch a big name band in a small venue for a fraction the price.

Ace of Spades in Sacramento, Calif.
#19
Ace of Spades in Sacramento, Calif.

Ace of Spades

1417 R St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

National acts that aren’t quite big enough to fill an arena often find themselves at the venerable Ace of Spades, a large-format live music club that’s open to all ages. With four bars and a regular rotation of known names, it’s widely considered Sacramento’s best spot for live music.

Harlow’s in Sacramento, Calif.
#20
Harlow’s in Sacramento, Calif.

Harlow’s

2708 J St, Sacramento, Calif, USA

If you’re looking for a night of dinner, drinks and dancing to a live band, nowhere in Sacramento is better than Harlow’s. You won’t find huge names here, but you will find an atmosphere that’s always upbeat and exciting, and a one-stop shop for entertainment in California’s capital city.