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9 Best Things To Do on the Old Sacramento Waterfront

9 Best Things To Do on the Old Sacramento Waterfront

The Old Sacramento River’s eastern banks are where you’re heading for this adventure.


5 min read

February 15, 2024

Only a few minutes away from Sacramento’s sleek, modern Golden 1 Center, the Old Sacramento Waterfront stands as a time capsule of sorts. Its wooden sidewalks serpent around 19th-century buildings, providing a glance into the Gold Rush you can’t experience anywhere else in California—not at this concentration at least. The Old Sacramento River’s eastern banks are where you’re heading for this adventure.

Old Sacramento Waterfront is a 28-acre National Historic Landmark District that lives in homage to California's beginning with the Gold Rush of 1849.

Gold Fever: The History of the Old Sacramento Waterfront 

When glittering nuggets of gold were discovered in the Sierra Foothills, a hell-bent tide of fortune-hunters raced as fast as they could to the Gold Country. Sailing as far as they could up from San Francisco Bay east on the Old Sacramento River, the gold-hungry pioneers pulled up at the furthest point they could given that they were in their sailing ships. A town sprang up seemingly overnight, with a slew of buildings constructed out of leftover ship timbers and sails—this was the birth of Old Town Sacramento. And today, on those same sycamore-shaded banks of the Old Sacramento River, you too can get a sense of those years; only now you can do so at a 28-acre National Historic Landmark.

Old Sacramento Waterfront Things to Do

1. Travel Back in Time at Old Sacramento State Historic Park

Completely blocked off to street traffic, this section of the Old Sacramento Waterfront preserves the time when the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad were active within the town. Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a beauty to behold, with the exterior walls of the historic Eagle Theater still intact, constructions of canvas and wood taken from ships, and the 1855 Huntington-Hopkins Hardware store full of fun trinkets from the bygone era.

The Delta King is an authentic, historic, and permanently moored riverboat on the Sacramento River.

2. Explore the Delta King

Step back in time and experience the charm of early 20th-century river travel with a modern twist at a unique hotel and dining spot, anchored along the picturesque banks of Old Sacramento. This splendid 1927 riverboat, which once ferried passengers between San Francisco and Sacramento, now invites visitors to immerse themselves in its beautifully preserved decor. Guests can enjoy a cozy overnight stay in rooms that boast a nautical flair, making for an unforgettable experience. For those on a tighter schedule, the boat houses two delightful eateries. The Pilothouse offers an upscale dining experience, while the Delta Bar and Grill presents a laid-back setting perfect for savoring a standout American Kobe burger among other culinary delights.

The California State Railroad Museum interprets the role of the "iron horse" in connecting California to the rest of the nation.

3. Pop by the California State Railroad Museum

Nestled within the Old Sacramento Historic State Park, the California State Railroad Museum may appear unassuming from the outside, but it houses an extraordinary journey through the golden era of train travel. This expansive space is home to over 40 impressive locomotives and railcars, capturing the essence of luxury travel before the advent of modern ride-sharing services. Highlights include the colossal Southern Pacific Railroad Cab Forward Number 4294 and a dynamic sleeping car exhibit that replicates the sensation of overnight rail travel. The museum's upper level enchants visitors, especially children, with a captivating display of model trains navigating through a miniature landscape filled with towns, bridges, and tunnels, offering a delightful experience for the entire family.

4. Take the Underground Tour at the Sacramento History Museum

In response to catastrophic floods during the 1850s and 1860s, Sacramento's pioneering residents undertook the remarkable task of elevating the city's streets by up to 20 feet. Today, the Sacramento History Museum offers an intriguing Underground Tour, where knowledgeable guides lead visitors through the remnants of the old cityscape, including eerie hollow sidewalks and hidden underground areas. Admission to the tour also grants access to the museum itself, which is a treasure trove of information on Sacramento's vibrant Gold Rush era. Among its many fascinating exhibits, the third floor proudly displays a collection of gold valued at half a million dollars, showcasing the city's rich historical legacy.

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5. Shop at Brook’s Novelty Antiques 

While a good portion of Old Town Sac proffers in Gold Rush romance, Brook’s Novelty Antiques is a timewarp to a pre-Spotify era when record stores were an essential component of a trendy neighborhood. Located on Firehouse Alley, this hidden gem brims with bins of jazz, soul, and classic rock. You can also find a small collection of vintage Americana; keep an eye out for jukeboxes, pinballs, and slot machines.

6. Wander ARound Evangeline’s Costume Mansion

Ever wished it was Halloween all year long? Well, one of the best things you can do in Old Sacramento is visiting Evangeline’s Costume Mansion, a goth palace filled with every costume and accessory imaginable. Wander around the many themed rooms spread across two buildings; one of them is the 1853 Lady Adams Building built of brick ballast from a namesake ship and the other is the show-stopping three-story Murder and Mayhem scavenger hunt. Participants in the latter experience are sent into a manor to learn about the most notorious murders in history.

Once home to the Sacramento Firehouse No. 3, the Firehouse Restaurant is a must-stop lunch spot on the Old Sacramento Waterfront.

7. Lunch at the Firehouse Restaurant

Nestled within a historic 1853 firehouse, the Firehouse Restaurant is a gem of fine dining, known for its elegant ambiance and exceptional cuisine. Since opening its doors as a restaurant in 1960, this venue has charmed guests with its museum-quality Gold Rush-era artwork adorning the walls, creating a backdrop of unparalleled sophistication. The menu, featuring exquisite dishes like herb-crusted rack of lamb, is matched by impeccable service that elevates the dining experience to a first-class level. The restaurant's blend of historical allure and culinary excellence makes it a must-visit destination at the Old Sacramento Waterfront. For an even more enchanting experience, guests can dine in the outdoor courtyard, where the serene sound of a fountain complements the exquisite meal.

8. Dine at Fanny Ann’s Saloon

Drawing inspiration from the storied 1842 steamship that played a role in the Civil War, Fanny Ann's Saloon offers a unique blend of history and hospitality. This establishment is a treasure trove of memorabilia, with walls and ceilings adorned with an eclectic mix of artifacts, some of which are said to have been salvaged from the very ship it's named after. Despite its compact kitchen, the saloon impresses with a remarkable menu that celebrates the region's farm-to-fork offerings. Among its hearty pub fare, the standout Jiffy Burger—a creative concoction topped with peanut butter and bacon—stands as a must-try, alongside other favorites like burgers and wings, ensuring a culinary experience as memorable as the saloon's rich historical backdrop.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. You’re off to great places, and today is your day.

9. Hike the Sacramento Waterfront Trail

The Sacramento Waterfront will always remain one of the state capital’s best walking trails. The year-round wander encircles the banks of the Sacramento River, boasting multiple Instagram-worthy angles of the nearby pedestrian bridges—stunning mountainous landscapes reflecting in blue waters are guaranteed to flow all the heart reacts.

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