OLD SACRAMENTO — Not only is it the definitive museum for Sacramento history but it is arguably the best located museum in the north state if not all of California when it comes to surrounding amenities.
The Sacramento History Museum located next door to the world-renowned California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento is worth the $10 price of admission for adults while youth 6 to 17 are $5 and those five and under are admitted free. In a city crawling with museums — there’s seven in Old Sacramento alone — you’ll be hard pressed to find one that tells the story of Sacramento per se as well.
It has a series of permanent exhibits as well as temporary exhibits. The permanent ones explore Sacramento’s first 50 years dubbed “Gold, Greed, & Speculation”, the Gold Rush complete with gold samples, a working 19th century print shop (they even print personalized wanted posters), agriculture, and one focusing on Sacramento’s community from the Nisenan Indian culture, Victorian era childhood, and riverboat transportation to the nuts and boats
Among the temporary exhibits now on display, it’s tough to top the “Place and Replace: Making of Old Sacramento” exhibit.
It is the story of the 28-acre National Landmark known today as Old Sacramento.
Anyone who grew up in the Sacramento area in the 1960s and ventured to downtown Sacramento knew the area as the place where your parents warned you to lock the doors as you made the return downtown loop from one-way J Street to one-way K Street as you looked for a parking place to shop at Breuner’s Furniture Store — they sold the state the desk for California’s first governor — or places like Flagg Brothers Shoes that sold the day’s fashion craze Beetle boots.
It was a mini version of the skid row you see in Los Angeles today complete with transients, homeless, and all of the anti-amenities that includes. Seeing the exhibit might just jar some people’s memories to realize homeless and substance abusers living in the streets isn’t a recent occurrence.
The exhibit tells of how redevelopment transformed the city’s derelict west end in tandem with the creation of the K Street Mall.
Those living in the 209 are arguably among the few who — on day trips — can visit three prime, and very different, examples of the Old West towns born during the Gold Rush.
There’s Bodie State Park — an Old West mining town that has been left in a state of arrested development after being abandoned for good after gold mines were reopened temporarily for the war effort in the 1940s — that is about four hours away via Highway 108 and Sonora Pass.
There’s Columbia State Park — a living Gold Rush town complete with hotels, restaurants, theatre, and stores that has been kept as true as possible to its roots — that is a short drive away just north of Sonora.
And there’s Old Sacramento — a restored Gold Rush era business district that has been transformed into an entertainment and dining mecca with shopping as well as an extremely healthy dose of history ranging from the Gold Rush and river transportation history to the railroad that opened the West — that’s about 90 minutes away via Interstate 5.
Old Sacramento boasts five other museums besides the Sacramento History Museum and the California State Railroad Museum. There’s the California Automobile Museum, the Delta King Riverboat, Huntington & Hopkins Hardware, Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, and Wells Fargo History Museum. You are also within blocks of the California State Capitol Museum and Crocker Art Museum.
The Sacramento History Museum also conducts tours with the Underground Sacramento Tour and Ghost Tour being the most popular.
The hour-long Underground Sacramento Tour covers a half mile and shows how the city addressed repeat flooding concerns that crested with the flood of 1961-62 of biblical proportions that covered much of the Great Central Valley. Sacramento literally lifted itself up roughly 10 feet.
You’ll see hollow sidewalks, sloped alley ways and the underground spaces that were created.
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for ages 6 to 17 and free for those under 5. There are discount package tickets when you combine the underground tour with a regular museum admission.
There are also Underground After Hours tours for those 21 and older that touch on more risqué and violent history.