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What To See And Do in Sacramento California in a Day (With Photos)

Looking for suggestions on what to do in Sacramento, California? Check out our list of the best things to see and do in this beautiful city! 

From touring the state Capitol building to exploring Old Town Sacramento and the more modern mural-laden Midtown, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city. 

California State Capitol
Welcome to Sacramento!

Sacramento was never on my list of places to visit in California. I barely even knew it was the capital of California and assumed it would be a bland, capital city.

I love it when my travels show me I know nothing. As our number one on our travel manifesto says. “always travel with an open mind!” Now I want to go back and explore more of this vibrant city (currently one of the fastest growing in California for affordability and lifestyle!)

As 80% of the food in the US is produced from the Central Valley region where Sacramento is located, you can expect to find a flourishing farm-to-fork foodie scene in the city.

I spent two nights in Sacramento on a tour with Globus Tours. (I was traveling on my own without Craig and the girls.) We had one full day of sightseeing, and experienced what I felt was a well rounded tour of the city. (Here is the Globus Journeys tour we did)

Below are my tips on what to see and do in Sacramento in a day. You’ll gain an appreciation of its history and modern eclectic culture that makes up its vibrant spirit today.

Getting around Sacramento

Mural of the Transcontinental Railroad
Mural of the Transcontinental Railroad

If you don’t have your own car, getting around Sacramento CA is easy with the help of Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT). Choose from a variety of bus and light rail routes to get you where you need to go.

Click here for rental car prices for Sacramento if you intend to explore further out and need one. 

If you are staying in downtown, the following highlights on this post on what to do in Sacramento in a day can easily be enjoyed walking from point to point. 

The longest distance would be from Old Town Sacrament to Midtown, which is about a 30-minute walk. 

This will also allow you to see many wonderful murals along the way, as well as getting a feel for the heartbeat of the city, and perhaps stumble upon a few hidden treasures. 

The city is laid out on a grid system with numbered streets running north to south and lettered streets running east to west, making getting around and seeing places in the area a breeze.

map of sacramento
From Old Sacramento to Midtown

san francisco to sacramento map
San Francisco to Sacramento

Sacramento is only about 93 miles northeast of San Francisco. We visited Sacramento on our Globus Northern California group tour. We stopped in for lunch at Sonoma on our way.

Visit the State Capitol Building and grounds 

California State CApitol Building Sacramento
Stunning building

The California State Capitol is a must-see for any visitor to Sacramento, if only to look at the building. After the Gold Rush in 1854, Sacramento was designated as the new capital of California.

The Capitol building serves as both a museum and the state’s working seat of government. The building houses the chambers of the California State Legislature, made up of the Assembly and the Senate, along with the office of the governor of California

The California State Capitol Park and the World Peace Rose Garden on the Capitol grounds is a popular place to relax amongst the lush gardens. It spreads across 40 acres and features trees from all around California, including Redwoods and over 650 different types of roses.

We only walked around the front area of the Capitol to enjoy the building and gardens. You can visit the gardens any time.

The California State Capitol Museum is open for guided tours Monday-Friday from 09:00am to 04:00pm, and Saturdays from 09:30am to 03:00pm (except on holidays). Guided tours are free, but reservations are recommended (check ahead in case of changes).

See the Johnny Cash Mural

large mural of Johnny Cash Sacramento
The Man in Black

Located in Old Town Sacramento, the Johnny Cash Mural is a must-see for music fans. This vibrant mural pays tribute to the legendary singer and features images of his life and career.

The Johnny Cash Mural, which is 15 stories tall and was created by the same artist who produced the 2008 Obama Hope poster to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his Folsom Prison Blues album, attracts visitors from all around.

The Johnny Cash Mural in Sacramento is located at the intersection of 16th and J streets.

Grab a Coffee at Temple Coffee (Midtown)

building midtown sacramento
Temple Coffee in Midtown

For a great cup of coffee, head to Temple Coffee in Midtown Sacramento. This hip café offers a wide variety of coffees, as well as pastries and sandwiches for breakfast or lunch.

Pay attention to the 500,000 pennies that make up the café’s floor. I’m sure you’ll find good luck.

Temple Coffee has various locations in the city. My research before visiting told me it’s some of the best coffee in Sacramento. It’s a double thumbs up from me!

Explore Midtown and its Murals

Midtown is the hip and trendy region of Sacramento located mostly along the residential community with old homes and tree-lined streets.

It’s also the center of Sacramento’s art, music, and cultural scene filled with breweries, hip cafes, upscale dining and clubs, artisans, and vibrant murals. 

I loved wandering the streets of this neighborhood, soaking up the vibe, enjoying a coffee, shopping and exploring all the colorful and fun murals.

pink mural of girls reading a book
Stunning mural
mural of warrior boy
Love this mural
mural on wall
Everywhere you turn are cool murals like this

Many of the art galleries participate in Second Saturdays and host free receptions on every second Saturday of the month from 6pm to 9pm.

Among locals, a popular event is the Midtown Farmers Market, which brings together more than 50 farmers and other vendors selling fresh produce, fruit, vegetables, and food products

RECOMMENDED TOUR: Midtown Sacramento Arts and Food Tour

Explore the great art and food of Midtown Sacramento on a 3.5-hour walking tour. See colorful murals and hear about their history, stop into galleries, learn about the city’s architecture, and sample dishes at favorites eateries in this lively district.

Click to learn more and book your tour

Placita MX

huge mural of girl praying placita mx courtyard
Truly captivating courtyard and mural

If you’re looking for a more unique shopping experience, head to Placita MX (K Street) in Midtown. 

You’ll find a little taste of Mexico inside a small building with artisan business bordering a gorgeous courtyard area. Items range from vintage finds, incredible artwork, clothes and modern home décor.

john s huerta artist sacramento
Artist: John S Huerta in his studio

You may even see artist, John S. Huerta, at work in his studio. He is the artist behind some of Sacramento’s most famous murals, my favorite one is Frida Kahlo on the side of the Midtown MX building.

placita mx midtown
Love this mural

Lunch at Midtown’s Catina Alley

catina alley courtyard
Lovely courtyard of Catina Alley

Around the corner from Placita MX is Catina Alley, where we stopped for some deliciously fresh and spicy Asada steak and Baja fish tacos.

Cantina Alley has Oaxaca and Mexico City inspired ala carte street food; most known for their tacos. They’ve replaced the chips and salsa typically served in Mexican restaurants with chicharrons – fried pig rind.

I loved the ambiance of this restaurant, with its outdoor patio, huge mural, sculptures, and bar covered with photograph ceramic tiles. It definitely made me want to go to Mexico City!

Visit Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park

Sutter's fort white walls sacramento
Sutter’s Fort

Sutter’s Fort is a reconstructed fort from the early days of Sacramento.

It was built in 1839 by Swiss immigrant John Sutter, who received a land grant from the Mexican government.

He used the land to build an agricultural establishment and named it New Helvetia (New Switzerland.) Almost a decade after it was established, miners coming to California for the Gold Rush overran Sutter’s land grant and Sutter’s Fort is all that remains of New Helvetia.

Today, Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is open daily for self-guided tours and Visitor Center has exhibits on John Sutter and the California Gold Rush.

The fort is open for tours from Wednesday-Monday from 09:00am to 04:00pm. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, and free for children under the age of five.

This is on the other side of Midtown, so if short of time (and walking), you may want to leave this for your next visit to Sacramento. 

We had a quick stop here on a short bus tour of the city just to look at the outside.

Explore Old Sacramento State Historic Park

historical gold rush style building sacramento
Love Old Town’s style

Are you ready to step back into Gold Rush times?

The Old Sacramento Waterfront has been preserved to maintain that 1850s feel with recreated or restored buildings. You’ll find wooden sidewalks, horse drawn carriages or maybe even a living history character or two.

Old Sacramento State Historic Park covers eight blocks (28 acres) of historic buildings within the Gold Rush business district. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1965. 

Old Town Sacramento
such a fun place

Old Town Sacramento is a fun and lively district in the heart of the city, full of charming shops, restaurants, and museums, as well as beautiful architecture.

As it’s one of Sacramento’s top tourist attractions, I was worried this region may be a little kitschy, but I loved it! The architecture of the buildings were stunning and it was tastefully set out and designed and it had such a fun wild west vibe that felt authentic to that spirit, more than poorly fabricated!

The atmosphere at night was buzzing and the perfect place to end our day of exploring in Sacramento.

Highlights include:

  • The California State Railroad Museum: The largest railroad museum west of the Mississippi is in Sacramento and houses numerous locomotives, rail cars – including dining and mail cars – a model train exhibit and tells the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad as well as the role the railroad played in the history of California and the western states.
  • The Eagle Theater: the first ever theater built in California.
  • The Wells Fargo History Museum: recreates what a 19th century Wells Fargo office looked like in California and showcases how the company influenced Gold Rush era commerce 
  • Pony Express Terminal: the western end point to the Pony Express and the first location of the California Supreme Court. For those of you who don’t know, the Pony Express was a US mail service in the 1860s that delivered letters and newspapers between Missouri and California by horseback.
  • Pony Express Riders Statue nearly-two-ton statue honoring the Pony Express riders
  • Sacramento History Museum: fascinating look at the city’s past with the story of the California Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad which began in Sacramento.

Sunset on the Riverfront Promenade and Tower Bridge

Sacramento promenade view of bridge
Part of the promenade within Old Sacramento

With its views of the Sacramento River and the iconic bright yellow Tower Bridge, the Riverfront Promenade is perfect for a stroll at sunset.

The Sacramento Riverfront Promenade is a mile-long, 20-foot-wide, pedestrian and bicycle path extending from the existing promenade (Tower Bridge to O Street) to Miller Park.

Tower Bridge is a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture and is well worth a visit. Constructed in 1935, the center section of this bridge lifts 100 feet above the Sacramento River.

As the sun sets, the bridge and river are bathed in a warm orange glow, making for a truly stunning sight.

Drink at Fanny Ann’s Saloon 

If you’re looking for a great place to drink in Sacramento, look no further than Fanny Ann’s Saloon. This historic bar is one of the oldest in the city and offers a wide selection of beers on tap, as well as cocktails and wine. 

It’s named after the steamboat that was used for transportation during the Gold Rush (and later helped the North in the Civil War!)

There are three levels of memorabilia, including an ancient firehose on wheels, posters, arcade games and funky nooks and crannies. It has a Wild West quirky feel. Some of the posters gave us a great laugh for days after!

If you’re looking for a casual dinner, Fanny Ann’s has been serving up burgers to rave about and beers since 1973! The peanut butter burger is the specialty!

Dinner at Rio City Cafe, Sacramento

group sitting at waterfront restaurant
Rio City Cafe riverside dining

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated Sacramento dining experience, but with a relaxed feel, then Rio City Café on the Sacramento River is the perfect spot. 

The open and airy warehouse-style structure is suited to its riverside location as it was constructed to resemble a 19th century steamboat depot. Sunset on the patio overlooking the river and historic Tower Bridge is tranquil. 

The farm-to-fork menu features dishes made from seasonal ingredients sourced from area farms and ranches. I loved my Atlantic salmon and blood orange mezcal signature cocktail.

OPTIONAL AFTERNOON TOUR IDEA: RIVER CRUISE

The Sacramento River offers beautiful views of the city and its surroundings, and what  better way to enjoy them than on a river cruise? This relaxing and informative tour takes passengers down the river, past landmarks like the state Capitol and Tower Bridge. It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Sacramento. Book your tour here.

Stay: Embassy Suites by Hilton Sacramento Riverfront

Embassy Suites by hilton Sacramento riverfront
Embassy Suites room

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Sacramento, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Sacramento Riverfront Promenade is a great option. 

The hotel is only a short walk to Old Sacramento Waterfront District and about 30 minutes to Midtown Sacramento. The suite rooms are spacious with a separate lounge area and desk for those who work as they travel.

They also have evening social hour with free drinks and snacks! Look for their special cocktail of the day. Warning, it may be strong.

This hotel offers stunning views of the river and Tower Bridge from its rooms and suites, as well as free breakfast, WiFi, and parking. 

There you have it. Our guide to spending a day in Sacramento, California.

There is so much to see and do in Sacramento, California! This vibrant city has something for everyone, from beautiful architecture and museums to great restaurants and bars. So get out and explore all that Sacramento has to offer!

Comment: What else would you recommend seeing and doing in one day in Sacramento?

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