Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Free Things to Do in Sacramento
- 2. California State Capitol and Park
- 3. Picnic in a Sacramento Park
- 4. Sacramento Farmers Markets
- 5. Historic City Cemetery
- 6. Sacramento Art Walk
- 7. Skate Parks in Sacramento
- 8. Splash Pads and Spray Parks in Sacramento
- 9. Nimbus Fish Hatchery
- 10. Pops in the Park
- 11. Chinatown Mall in Sacramento
- 12. McKinley Rose Garden
- 13. Sacramento Museum Day
- More Free Things to Do in Sacramento
Step back in time to California’s Gold Rush Days in Sacramento, the state’s capital city. Old Sacramento, a recreated 1800s Old West town is just one of the many free things to do when visiting. Sacramento has many parks to explore, including some with splash pads, ideal for steamy summer afternoons. Stretch your vacation budget with one or more of these free things to do on your next northern California vacation.
Free Things to Do in Sacramento
As the state capitol of California, Sacramento is located between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe at the intersection of Interstates 80 and 5. Additionally Sacramento offers two different rivers and lots of park space to roam. Sample the bounty of the region at a farmers market or stroll the streets to enjoy an art festival or live music. The arts and foodie scene offers free events throughout the year perfect for the littlest fans. Or, pack your mat and practice your favorite pose at free yoga. There are lots of choices.
Taking a road trip? Then you’ll want to check out our free road trip checklist!
1. Explore Old Sacramento
The Old Sacramento State Historic Park is a registered national landmark and state historic park off the banks of the Sacramento River. This 28-acre town is a throwback to the California Gold Rush era, complete with wooden sidewalks, horse-drawn carriages, old-fashioned candy shops, Mississippi-style riverboats and historic buildings constructed in the mid-1800s.
Old Sacramento is home to many free attractions, including the B.F. Hastings Building, which houses part of the Wells Fargo History Museum and the Big Four Building, named for the Big Four of western railroading: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington and Charles Crocker. Three sure-fire kid-pleasers are the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse in the style of one-room schools found in the 1800s, the monument to the Pony Express and a walk through the G. Williker’s Toy Emporium.
Where to Find Old Sacramento
Located between Tower Bridge and I Street Bridge in downtown Sacramento, Old Sacramento is open every day except major holidays. Most stores and attractions open at 10 a.m. Pick up a free copy of the Sacramento Visitors’ Guide at the Old Sacramento Visitors Center and check out the section dedicated to Walking Tours of Sacramento, like the Capitol Mansions Tour.
Ages: All ages. For adults and teens, there is free yoga Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday at various times.
2. California State Capitol and Park
California State Capitol Museum: Tour the state capitol building of California. Learn about the history of the building, built in the 1800s, as well as about the workings of the state government. Find the Kids Zone for special kid-sized programming. Be sure to head to the basement for a free movie.
Capitol Park: Visit the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial with 22 shiny black granite panels memorializing the 5,822 names of California’s fallen soldiers. Then stroll through the International World Peace Rose Gardens, home to more than 800 roses in a variety of colors and fragrances.
Located between 10th and L streets and open every day, except major holidays. Free guided tours of the capitol from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free for both.
Ages: All ages
3. Picnic in a Sacramento Park
Parks offer some of the best free things to do in Sacramento with kids.
William Land Park: The 166-acre park offers playscapes and several picnic areas along with several lakes and a wading pool. Find the Sacramento Zoo (admission) and Fairytale Town (admission), a land dedicated to beloved stories inside this park. Or head to the free-to-enter amusement park, Funderland Park (ride tickets are extra).
Located at 3800 Land Park Dr. and open every day from dawn to dusk. Free.
Ages: All ages, though the zoo, Fairytale Town and Funderland Park appeal to preschool and school-age kids.
American River Parkway/Discovery Park: Discovery Park is where the Sacramento River meets the American River. Find a 302-acre park with lots of space for picnicking, kite-flying or just running around.
Jedediah Smith Bike Trail: Also called the American River Bike Trail. A 32-mile paved and lined bike path is perfect for riders. Located at 1600 Garden Highway. And open every day day from dawn to dusk. Free but $5 to park.
Ages: All ages
4. Sacramento Farmers Markets
Learn to be a locavore and walk through the stalls at a Sacramento farmers market. Thanks to nearby California’s central valley, the rich agriculture heritage is apparent in a rainbow of colors. The market often stocks produce too delicate for cross-country trips, so you’ll find different varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Starting in May, the Capitol Mall Farmers Market is held on Wednesday mornings starting at 10 a.m. This is located in-between 5th and 6th streets at the Capitol Mall. Free to browse or do a little grocery shopping.
You can also head to the American River Ranch Farm for a farmers market on a farm with live music and activities for the kids. This is located in nearby Rancho Cordova and held on Saturdays during the season.
Ages: All ages
5. Historic City Cemetery
Established in 1849, The Old City Cemetery of Sacramento offers lush Victorian gardens and a look back to Gold Rush California. The cemetery is the last resting place for more than 20,000 early Sacramentans, including John A. Sutter Jr., Edwin and Margaret Crocker and Mark Hopkins.
Located at 1000 Broadway and open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided and self-guided tours are available. Free
Ages: Older tweens and teens
6. Sacramento Art Walk
Second Saturday Art Walk, or, as the locals call it, Second Saturday, is a favorite. Stroll along the streets of downtown and midtown Sacramento while discovering the local artists. The art galleries open doors and feature live music, special events and exhibitions.
Located along I Street and J Street in-between 11th and 29th Streets. Free.
Ages: Best for art-loving tweens and teens.
7. Skate Parks in Sacramento
Grab a board and a helmet for some outdoor fun at one of Sacramento skate parks dotted across the area. Kids who skate will want to drop in.
- Baer Skate Park
- Granite Skate Park
- McClathy Skate Park
Ages: Tweens and teens who know how to skate.
8. Splash Pads and Spray Parks in Sacramento
If the sun is blazing overhead and the kids are cranky, duck into one of Sacramento’s splash pads or spray parks. Check out a splash pad for free things to do in Sacramento.
- Shasta Park
- McClatchy Park
- Guero Park
Ages: All ages
9. Nimbus Fish Hatchery
Learn about the life cycle of the Chinook Salmon and the Steelhead Trout. Yearly, the Nimbus Fish Hatchery collects 4 million Chinook Salmon eggs and 400,000 Steelhead Trout eggs.
Cultivated, raised and released, the young fish restock the American River. Kids learn about the process along a .25-mile trail that walks by holding ponds, fish ladders and raceways.
Located at 2001 Nimbus Road in Rancho Cordova and open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. year round.
Ages: All ages
10. Pops in the Park
Every Saturday in June, find live music at East Portal Park. This free show starts at 6 p.m.
Ages: All ages
11. Chinatown Mall in Sacramento
Starting during the Gold Rush of the 1840s, Chinese immigrants moved to California. This area of Sacramento became a hub for the Chinese residents. I recommend checking out the Paifang Gate and the Confucius Temple.
Located between I and J Streets and 3rd and 5th Streets in downtown.
Ages: Teens and older
12. McKinley Rose Garden
Walk through a historic rose garden with 1,200 rose plants. The McKinley Rose Garden is one of 130 All American Rose Selection Display Gardens across the U.S.
Located at 601 Alhambra Blvd and open daily from dusk to dawn.
13. Sacramento Museum Day
The annual Sacramento Museum Day provides free admission to several Sacramento museums. These include:
- Aerospace Museum of California
- California Automobile Museum
- California Museum
- Historic Sacramento Cemetery
- California State Capitol Museum
- California State Railroad Museum
- Leland Stanford Mansion
- Sacramento Children’s Museum
- Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park
- Wells Fargo History Museum
You can check out these museums individually to see what their regular admission policy is. Of particular note is the Crocker Art Museum. This art museum has a collection of California art as well as European master drawings. The Crocker Art Museum hosts several free family events during the year. The third Sunday of the month is pay what you wish.
Ages: All museums are appropriate for all ages, although your mileage may vary depending on your kids’ interests.
More Free Things to Do in Sacramento
If you’re driving to the Sacramento region from San Francisco, a stop to Jelly Belly Factory is a must. You’ll find a a free tour and, of course, sample. Located in Fairfield, along Interstate 80.
The Sacramento area offers free day trips as well, like the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. Located on 100 acres, the nature preserve offers a riparian and oak woodland to explore. The Effie Yeaw Nature Center is located at 2850 San Lorenzo Way in Carmichael. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. No admission fee but donations are accepted.
Johnny Cash fans will want to visit Folsom, which is about 23 miles from Sacramento. You can hike on the Johnny Cash Trail, a 1.2-mile trail dedicated to the “man in black.” You can also tour the Folsom Prison Museum, where Johnny Cash recorded some of his iconic tracks.
Robb H says
Love these ideas. We’ve done most of these but haven’t tried the cemetery. Could be interesting learning experience for the kiddos. Ours also had a blast at a scavenger hunt we did in Capitol Park – http://www.scavengerhuntwalkingtours.com