Tower Bridge, Sacramento
Tower Bridge (credit: Randy Yagi)

Even though it’s the capital of the Golden State, Sacramento isn’t always on the radar as a tourist destination in California. However, that notion has radically changed in recent years and in fact, this trailblazing city founded in 1850 has become one of the finest and most culturally diverse places for to visit in the entire country. Contributing to its ascension among the distinguished ranks of the America’s best overall cities are the addition of a stunning new cutting edge multipurpose entertainment venue and the emergence of its scorching hot culinary scene. But what’s more, the capital city offers a wealth of affordable lodging, activities and attractions for all ages, to complement its world-class entertainment, phenomenal restaurants and award-winning chefs. If you really need any reasons why you should consider Sacramento for your next vacation, here are just some of the best for you to ponder.

Mulvaney’s B&L (credit: Randy Yagi)

It’s America’s Farm to Fork Capital

Although the origins of the Farm to Table movement can be traced to the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento lays the accurate claim as the Farm to Fork Capital of America. That’s because the city lies in a bountiful region described as the largest agricultural producer in the nation, with 1.5 million acres of farmland and yielding more than 120 types of crops. To further stake the claim, there are over 40 regional farmers markets in the Greater Sacramento area including the Sunday Farmers Market, the largest in the state featuring some of the freshest and most delicious fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and dairy products that can be found anywhere on the planet. This also means popular Sacramento restaurants like Mulvaney’s B&LGrange Restaurant and Sacramento’s first Michelin-starred restaurant The Kitchen are all blessed with an abundance of locally sourced foods, like almonds, rice, gourmet cheeses, heirloom tomatoes and grass fed beef. Even one of the city’s hottest attractions – the Golden1 Center – whose food concessions program will offer gourmet dishes.

Next week, the Capital City will once again host its annual, admission-free Farm to Fork Festival, featuring the Street Fair with musical acts acts like Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the Legends of Wine event and the extravagant Tower Bridge Dinner, which unfortunately has sold out.

California State Capitol building in Sacramento
California State Capitol (credit: Randy Yagi)

California State Capitol

Completed in 1874, the California State Capitol is easily the most recognizable landmark in Sacramento as well as the most visited. Designed in the familiar Roman Corinthian architectural style much like the U.S. Capitol, complete with a central rotunda and Roman columns, the State Capitol is home to both chambers of the California State Legislature and the office of the Governor of California. The State Capitol is open to visitors daily and includes free hourly tours of the State Capitol Museum, situated on the basement level and the original section of the first floor, which includes a visit to the restored offices of the Secretary of State, State Treasure and the Governor of California. Visitors may also be able to visit the offices of members of the California State Senate and Assembly, as well as attend a live Floor Session. As California’s seat of government, all visitors will be subject to security control measures and checks, including passing through a metal detector. The California State Capitol resides on 40 acres just south of the heart of downtown Sacramento and also features a large number of notable memorials and monuments on the Capitol Grounds, such as a Veterans Memorial and a Vietnam Memorial.

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Crocker Museum Sacramento
Crocker Art Museum (credit: Randy Yagi)

Museums and Historical Attractions

For some visitors, it may come as a complete surprise to discover that Sacramento has about 30 exceptional museums and historical sites. Among the most-see for first time or even repeat visitors are the California State Railroad Museum, California History Museum and the renowned Crocker Art Museum, oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi. Formerly known as the E.B Crocker Art Gallery, it possesses one of most important collections of California art dating back to the Gold Rush, but also holds thousands of other prominent works of art, from such important artists as Thomas Hill, Georgia O’Keeffe, Richard Diebenkorn, Edwin Deakin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The California State Railroad Museum is located in historic Old Sacramento and is a definite must for railroad buffs and for families with children who love model railroads or holiday train rides on the Polar Express beginning Thanksgiving weekend. Other notable spots to consider visiting in Sacramento are the Governor’s Mansion, Sutter’s Fort, the California Automobile Museum, Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park and the Sacramento Zoo.

Golden 1 Center downtown Sacramento
Golden 1 Center (credit: Randy Yagi)

Golden1 Center

The dazzling Golden1 Center is one of Sacramento’s newest and without question one of its most important attractions. The state-of-the-art facility is home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and was the world’s first arena to be entirely solar powered. The Golden1 Center also holds the NBA’s largest and only high resolution 4K video screens, as well as the most efficient and most expansive Wi-Fi network, reportedly far surpassing the Bay Area’s Levi’s Stadium. The breathtaking arena also features exclusive lounges for season ticket holders, interior and exterior artwork from local artists and quite possibly the world’s best arena food backed with a “Farm to Court” philosophy. The crowning achievement of former mayor and NBA star Kevin Johnson’s tenure, the Golden1 Center is the centerpiece of of Downtown Commons (DOCO) a vibrant retail, dining and entertainment center, which has completely revitalized downtown Sacramento. Upcoming events at the arena include John Mayer September 17, Post Malone September 19, WWE’s “Hell in a Cell” October 6 and the Jonas Brothers October 15.

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Bogle Vineyards Wine
Bogle Wine (credit: Randy Yagi)

Wine & Cheese

Also contributing to Sacramento’s epic Farm to Fork movement are its regional wineries, many of which contribute to some of the most famous wines from the fabulous Napa and Sonoma Wine countries. In all, the region has over 200 wineries spread across eight counties, yet all within a day’s drive from the capital city. But for a shorter, more casual drive, visitors should head over to wineries like Bogle Vineyards, Heringer Estates and Julietta Winery for superb wine tasting in Clarksburg, a small farming community about 15 miles south of the capital city. The Greater Sacramento region is also renowned for its award-winning farmstead cheeses, from family owned businesses like Jollity Farm, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Company. Lastly, it’s also worth mentioning the availability of exceptional honey and extra virgin olive oil from the Sacramento Sunday Farmers Market from regional businesses like Bariani and Mad Dog Mesa.

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9-11 Memorial at Cal Expo Sacramento
September 11th Memorial Plaza at Cal Expo (credit: Randy Yagi)

Cal Expo

The popular California State Fair and its horse racing events may have already passed but there’s still plenty of things going on at Cal Expo. With a history that dates back to California’s early years of its statehood, the California Exposition and State Fair hosts events throughout the year, with upcoming events like the Tree Harvest Festival, Fall RV Show, Wizard World, American Trucking Show, Sacramento Home and Garden Show and in November, live harness racing. Additionally, the Turf House at the race track continues to host satellite racing and Raging Waters, Sacramento’s largest water park is located onsite. Lastly, visitors will also be interested in stopping by September 11th Memorial Plaza, which features an authentic I-beam from the World Trade Center and a granite sphere with the inscribed names of all of the victims from the 9-11 tragedy. Upcoming events at Cal Expo include Wizard World September 20-22 and The Alchemy Tour October 3.

Sacramento River Parkway Trail Along Tower Bridge (credit: Randy Yagi)

Outdoor Recreation

The state capital is also a great spot for outdoor recreation, with its location at the confluence of two major rivers and miles of hiking and biking trails nearby. The best known trail is Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which extends 32 miles between Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and Beal’s Point at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. However, sections of the trail are currently closed for repairs. However Folsom Lake SRA, in particular Lake Natoma are very popular spots for boating, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, water skiing, jet skiing and more. Other suggestions for outdoor fun in and around the city include river rafting, golf and tennis and mountain climbing tours.

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About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who has covered national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University and a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

He is a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County, in California.