A pilot sinks into her cockpit, buckles up, checks the controls, and gets ready for takeoff. The engine hums to life and soon the ground rolls beneath her, until she lifts away and the buildings nearby shrink to the size of dust motes. But there's something unusual with the scene: the pilot isn't old enough to see a PG-13 movie let alone pilot an aircraft. That's because the Aerospace Museum of California doesn't let age become a barrier to flight. Children of all sizes climb into airplanes, pilot virtual jets in simulators, and experiment with the physics of flight while adults do the same, exploring the history of aviation both on Earth and beyond.
More than 37,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits chronicle everything from the very first airplanes made of cloth and wood to futuristic Mars-destined craft made of space-wood. Some of the museum’s prize possessions include the McDonnell-Douglas A-4C Skyhawk I, better known as one of the Blue Angels’ stunt rides, and the Grumman F-14D Tomcat, just like the one co-starring in the 1986 film Top Gun. The Fun with Physics exhibit hammers home the idea of hands-on learning, letting young engineers play with simple machines, whereas the engine room dishes up eye-candy for motorheads, including specimens from 1910’s Le Rhone to the marvels that propelled the Titan rockets.
A whirlpool drags boats into the watery abyss. Racecars vie for supremacy on a track. Inexorable gears grind in a vast and purposeless machine. These are not the dreams of a dozing Rube Goldberg, but the interactive exhibits at the Sacramento Children's Museum. Next to the fluid-dynamics room, where child Poseidons subject boats to their tidal whims, a solar-powered raceway and an interactive gear assembly teach important lessons about the forces that keep the natural world moving when it would much rather be eating Almond Joys. These entertaining, hands-on experiences with scientific fundamentals are bolstered by the museum's calendar of events. Regular showcases such as story time, cultural-history lessons, and exercise classes intersperse children's-museum interaction with traditional word-of-mouth learning sessions.
Each April, a tear in the space-time continuum opens up along the Sacramento River. Through it rolls a first-class locomotive right out of the 1940s and 50s. For 45 minutes, passengers in the train's coach and luxury first class car soak in the sights of California's fruit-growing deltas as the vintage diesel engine carries them into another time.
The California State Railroad Museum conducts these scenic, historic train rides. The excursions play a crucial role in the museum's mission to chronicle California's railroad history from the early days of the Gold Rush to modern agricultural transports and the proposed railroad to Mars. Spanning centuries, 21 restored locomotives and train cars blanket the museum's 225,000 square feet of exhibit space. A Pullman-style sleeping car and a dining car filled with fine china both sit on display, while the museum's Sierra Scene places a vintage steam locomotive next to a breathtaking mural of snow-dusted mountains. The popular Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains exhibit currently commands the second floor, and with hundreds of examples of early electric toy trains and accessories such as stations, signals, tunnels, and bridges, it should delight even the most discerning miniature conductor.
Behind the Victorian columns of Crocker Art Museum’s 126-year-old gallery building, ornate chambers house works that span six continents and several centuries. Established in 1885, it remains the first art museum in the Western United States, boasting collections that pay homage to the region’s cultural lineage with a robust Californian collection.
The museum updated its look and tripled both its exhibit space and running time for games of hide-and-seek in 2010 with the addition of the Teel Family Pavilion, a 125,000-square-foot building that boasts geometric designs and sunlit rooms. The expanded gallery furthers the museum’s mission to function as a community hub by hosting Art Mix, social events that feature live music, djs and a cash bar on the 2nd Thursday of every month. Studio-art classes keep adults informed, and children’s programs inspire young artists to commit their creativity to canvas, rather than living-room walls or ephemeral Mr. Potato Heads.
The California Automobile Museum weaves the story of the automobile's birth and development through a gleaming collection of cars that dates back to the 1880s. Guests meander through 72,000 square feet of luxury and muscle vehicles, from pre–Model T Fords and green vehicles to Lamborghinis and modern NASCAR vehicles. In addition to its permanent collection and current exhibits, the museum's displays are always changing due to donations from private collectors and the hot rod fairy, allowing visitors to see a varying display of vehicles on different visits. The museum also offers a wide variety of classes that are fun and educational, and open to both adults and children. Guests can also visit the gift shop stocked with auto-centric goodies, including car-related fine-art photography, T-shirts, kids' arts and crafts, and die-cast models of classic cars.
The Sacramento History Museum recounts the narrative of Sacramento through insightful exhibitions of antiquities and accompanying anecdotes. The current offering of Gold, Greed & Speculation: The Beginnings of Sacramento City tells the tale of Sacramento’s first 50 years, delving into the birth of a city with a story much more complex than modern gold miners would have us believe. Headlining this exhibit is an interactive, computer-augmented mural, as well as more than $1 million worth of gold specimens, including a golden replica of an Olympic bronze medal that secretly contains chocolate. For a broader perspective of Sacramento, check out the Community Gallery, a chronological re-telling of events and traditions from the relics of the Nisenan and Maidu Native Americans to artifacts from modernity, such as objects and accounts from the city during World War II. The Agricultural Gallery shows how ingenious innovations in farming technology sprang from the fertile fields of the Central Valley, much like birds springing from a recently smashed cuckoo clock.