Located in Sacramento, California, Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a preserved eight-block historic section of the city’s downtown. Recognized as a National Historic District Landmark, the district’s businesses and historic buildings have been incorporated into a major tourist destination.
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Old Sacramento State Historic Park History
Sacramento’s development can be traced to the 1839 establishment of Sutter’s Fort, a trade post and agricultural colony. The 1848 Gold Rush moved local business to the Sacramento River waterfront, where the burgeoning city grew rapidly into a major trading center connected to the mining industry. Flooding and fires plagued the area throughout its early years, and despite a project in the 1860s to raise the commercial district above flood level, much of the city’s business moved east, causing the original district to fall into crime and disrepair.
In the mid-1960s, a revitalization plan inspired by Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg was initiated for the old city center, resulting the creation of the first historic district in the American West. Today, the Old Sacramento Historic District, commonly referred to as Old Sacramento, is recognized as both a National and California Historic landmark. It has become a lively tourist destination and commercial center, attracting more than five million annual visitors.
Old Sacramento State Historic Park Attractions
Old Sacramento encompasses a 28-acre area between the Sacramento River and Interstate 5. 53 restored historic buildings, most dating back to the 19th century, house a variety of museums, restaurants, and shops.
Due to the former colonial rule of the area, many of the buildings of the district display a distinctly Spanish style, with arched doorways and wrought-iron balconies with full windows. Among the district’s most notable historic buildings are two National Historic Landmarks, the B.F. Hastings Building, which served as the Pony Express’ western terminal and the California Supreme Court’s first location, and the Big Four House, the former joint location of California’s earliest railroad pioneers. Also of prominence are the Lady Adams Building, the city’s oldest non-residential building; Sacramento’s oldest surviving firehouse, Sacramento Engine Company No. 3; and the reconstructed Eagle Theatre.
Tourists to the district can visit several museums, including the Sacramento History Museum, housed inside a reproduction of the former City Hall and Waterworks building, and the California Automobile Museum, a riverfront car history museum opened in 1987. Many recreated historic buildings are available for tours as living museums as well, including the Wells Fargo History Museum, featuring a recreated historic Wells Fargo agent office, the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, a one-room schoolhouse replica, and the recreated 19th-century Huntington & Hopkins Hardware store. Statues and memorials throughout the district pay homage to the city’s founders and early business owners, including monuments honoring the Pony Express and First Continental Railroad designer Theodore Judah.
Old Sacramento State Historic Park - The California State Railroad Museum, the most-visited railroad museum in North America, offers summertime rides aboard the Sacramento Southern Railroad excursion train. Riders can choose from open air-gondolas, closed coach cars, or a first-class observation car for a ride along the riverfront, all pulled by the museum’s restored vintage locomotives. Horse-drawn carriage and wagon rides are also offered for private booking, departing near the Old Sacramento Visitors Center.
Walking tours presented by the Old Sacramento Historical Foundation offer an informative, personalized look at the city’s history. The Gold Fever tour reenacts the city’s formation and first decades, while the Old Sacramento Underground tour takes visitors below the city to see some of the excavated original foundations and pathways from before the street level raise. Ghost tours are also offered by the organization every October.
Over Labor Day weekend, the annual Gold Rush Days Festival travels back in time to the city’s colonial days for a four-day heritage celebration. Several stages present live entertainment and Old West reenactments, and horseback riders and street performers line the streets, which are filled in with dirt and barred from automobile traffic. Wagon, stagecoach, and pony rides are offered to the public as alternative transportation means. Other annual festivals held in the district include the Sacramento Jazz Festival and the World Music and Dance Festival.
The Delta King Riverboat, a restored 285-foot sternwheel riverboat docked along the river shore, serves as a floating museum, hotel, restaurant, and entertainment complex all in one. Guests can stay in a variety of refurbished stateroom quarters or enjoy an evening at the Suspects Murder Mystery dinner theater. The district is also home to dozens of specialty retailers, including art galleries and old-fashioned toy stores, and a large variety of casual and formal dining options. All businesses are independently owned and operated and are easily accessible from downtown Sacramento on foot or by several Regional Transit lines.
1014 2nd Street, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95814, Phone: 916-970-5226