Sacramento for Free History Lessons

On the Road, United States
Happy and Homeless, River guide. Digital nomad. Always looking for my next adventure.

When I get ready to travel to a new place, I dive into the research. I pour over Trip Advisor, Google Destinations, AAA, and local newspapers. I love to check out the weekly alt news papers of bigger cities and search the calendar of events. That’s how I discovered Free Museum Day in Sacramento on Saturday February 4th.

When I find little gems that interest me, even if the chance is small that I will actually go, I add it to my Google Calendar. I would be bored and lost without it.

Planning this museum venture, I first picked the sites that most interested me. Out of 26, I narrowed it down to a handful, then mapped them on Google Maps and saved them with a bright yellow star. Upon deeper digging, I discovered the Sacramento History Museum is located within very short walking distance of the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum and the California State Railroad Museum. And they’re all situated in the Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Four stops in one parking spot! Winner.

The State Indian Museum and Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park share a common green space just east of downtown. A two for one deal!

And I picked the Maidu Museum & Historic Site because I could stop there on my way home, and I wanted to check out an Asian market not far from there. I also love taking a different way home and this created a loop drive for me to explore.

Old Sacramento State Historic Park

Exiting the highway, I needed a chance to get my bearings and weigh my parking options. So I drove around in a circle, figured out where to find Old Sac and scoped out parking garages and pay lots. Event parking at the nearest parking garage advertised $15, which seemed a bit steep to me, so I drove a few blocks away and found parking for $4/hour. I forked over $10, not expecting myself to explore much more than 2 hours, and believed I had found the better deal.

But not the best deal. Not even close.

I didn’t check the street parking meters (forehead smack)! As I’m hoofing it to Old Sac, I decided to compare and am blown away. $1.75/hour! And when I got to those wooden flanked streets of old, I found empty parking spots everywhere!

So I kicked myself in the butt all morning for paying so much more and missing such a simple option…but alas, lesson learned and a little more of my precious budget gone.

But back to the FUN of museums!

I wandered around Old Sac, once again gaining my bearings and started with some pictures of Tower Bridge, the glowing yellow behemoth spanning the swollen Sacramento river.

Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum

This one-room schoolhouse is a stone’s throw away from Tower Bridge and transported me back in time. Chalkboards line the walls, big and little desks for children of all ages, the pot-bellied stove…I could just hear the lessons being taught over whispers of children with the fire crackling away.

Sacramento History Museum

Following the river upstream on Front Street, I entered the Sacramento History Museum. Floods, fires, and the gold rush consumed and defined this growing town over 150 years ago. Snaking my through three floors of exhibits, I was swept away with the 49ers battling high water, introduced to Native Nisean culture and handicrafts, and stamped with nostalgia by the historic print shop and custom made “Wanted” posters.

California State Railroad Museum

By far the most modern, popular, and crowded with families, I rushed through the Railroad Museum. Not personally interested in these iron horses, but I was genuinely impressed with the sheer number of giant machine engines stuffed into this space. With three stories of exhibits, numerous hands-on displays, and an entire floor dedicated to toy trains, you could spend hours here, it’s just not really my thing. And my parking spot is soon to expire…

Sutter’s Fort

I found free parking on the street three blocks from Sutter’s Fort and ate my simple packed lunch of an apple and a wild boar Epic Bar while walking. While initially impressed with the steep white walls protecting the inner fort, when I learned that most of the site had been replicated, I was a little less moved. The only original building sits in the center of the fort, housing a few small offices and the parlor. A musket demonstration attracted almost everyone to the South Gate and a sharp “kaboom” followed my exit.

State Indian Museum

The State Indian Museum tops my list as most informative and compelling. You’ll find an exquisite display of Native California basketry that is considered some of the best in the world. Hand-crafted tools and weapons, gorgeous traditional feather and bead regalia, and a giant 18 foot redwood canoe share this small space nestled next to the fort. With the influx of non-natives that came with the gold rush, the Native population here was reduced by more than 90% due to disease, dwindling natural resources, and violence.

Maidu Museum & Historic Park

Almost side-tracked by a farmer’s market and a Deseret Industries thrift store, I continued my museum quest east to my final destination: the Maidu Museum and Historic Park. I marveled at a detailed display of native foods and medicines that at one time grew abundantly in the valley, now all but gone. The heart-wrenching tale of native abuse, kidnapping, and identity stripping stand tall and bold in the middle of the circular building, designed to replicate the ceremonial Roundhouses constructed by the Maidu. A short interpretive trail curls around the back, displaying pictographs, translations, and mortar holes.

Insider Tip

Arrive early for best parking in Old Sac and skip the expensive parking garage

Where I stayed / started

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