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Simply Smart Travel
by Jeff Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein
Old Town Sacramento - Reliving California History
Sacramento is justly renowned as the capital of California, the largest state in the union. This attractive, treelined and funfilled city has plenty of worthwhile attractions that can delight visitors yearround. While those are more than enough reasons to put Sacramento on your vacation bucket list, there is more. This beautiful city on the Sacramento River is the center of a region with a rich history with a knack for historical preservation that simply delights tourists. The epicenter of all of this is Old Town on the riverfront, officially known as the Old Sacramento Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District. It is just a short walk from the Capitol building and worthy of your exploration no matter what brings you to Sacramento.
Filling 28 acres, this authentically restored area was the terminus of both the transcontinental railroad and the Pony Express. It was also the Golden State’s first booming business district. It became the supply center for the California gold rush and remains a center of agricultural trade.
The riverfront now known as Old Town has endured through fire and flood in its history and was finally restored to an authentic mid19th century ambiance in the 1960s. Today, Old Town’s wooden plank sidewalks and cobblestone streets are lined with shops, eateries upscale and casual, entertainment and are bustling with tourists and residents alike. Railroad tracks, trains and buildings dating back over a century and lovingly restored old buildings and replica school houses can be found on its streets. You are never far from the riverfront no matter where you are in Old Town and antique riverboats and steam trains run through the area carrying happy tourists.
The crown jewel of Old Town is the California State Railroad Museum. The modern museum main building showcases railroad history with authentic period steam locomotives and its roundhouse and display areas are home to many giant steam and early dieselelectric locomotives, passenger cars, dining car china and even an opentothepublic highspeed rail driver simulator that is included with admission, as is the original Central Pacific railroad shops.
There is also an extrafare excursion train that runs along the Sacramento river on a 40 minute narrated journey that is well worth the $12 fare.
Major airlines serve Sacramento International Airport (SMF) which is 11 miles from Old Town, and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 98 miles away.
Amtrak operates frequent north and south service the length of California and connects to the east. Sacramento’s Amtrak station is only a block from Old Town.
By car, Sacramento is 90 miles from San Francisco and served by I5 and I80. Lake Tahoe is 118 miles away on I80 and is reached over the spectacular Donner Pass. Napa, gateway to the Napa Valley and nearby Sonoma wine regions is 62 miles distant. No car is needed to explore Old Town.
The best choice for a cruise port is San Francisco.
Must-Sees for A Short Trip:
Old Town and the California State Railroad Museum
Capitol Park and the California Capitol Building. Free tours available.
Crocker Art Museum
Sacramento Southern railroad excursions. Fortyminute train ride along the river from Old Town and back.
If You Have Several Extra Days, enjoy:
The Sacramento Zoo
Discovery Museum Science & Space Center
A Hornblower sunset or history cruise on the Sacramento River.
Riding the Sacramento Rivertrain. Dinner trains, wine and beer trains and murder mystery rides (not the museum train).
Napa or Sonoma Valley wineries
San Francisco, 88 miles away via i80.
Way For Exploring Old Town:
Dress casually. If you are riding a steampowered train, wear comfortable shoes for walking on woodenplank sidewalks and cobblestone streets.
This Destination At A Glance Over 50 Advantage:
Fairly easy walking and many eateries and shops to browse in Old Town.
Low to moderate. Old Town requires easy walking on cobblestone streets.
When To Go:
Sacramento’s climate is relatively mild with hot summers and very pleasant spring and fall weather. Winter can be rainy and cool. The best times are April to June or September through November. Festivals abound in May and June.
Where To Stay:
The Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront Promenade is right on the river and literally just steps away from Old Town. Ask for a riverfront view room. The nearby Delta King river boat also has restaurants and hotel rooms. Other hotels are in Sacramento.
Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in eight states. Reach them at jorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com