The Sacramento and American rivers aren’t all that converge in California’s capital city. Sacramento is a hub of government, history, and culture, and the towering State Capitol building casts its shadow not only on the gardens of Capitol Park, but also on the chic boutiques and record shops of nearby Midtown. The city hosts an abundance of things to do that are both entertaining and educational—here, the two are rarely mutually exclusive.
The aforementioned Capitol Park houses two memorials dedicated to veterans and a grove planted with saplings from major Civil War battlegrounds. Sacramento’s scaled-down version of Manhattan’s Central Park, the rectangular plot is also home to beautiful gardens and exotic trees. A visit to nearby Old Sacramento—the city’s birthplace—may include a lesson or two about its 50 historic buildings and its former role as the final stop for the Pony Express. Take a pit-stop at the California State Railroad Museum to revel in the history of locomotives. Though trains still run through the city, it’s more fun to get around by hopping in an old-fashioned carriage or floating down the river on a sightseeing cruise.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park pays homage to its past with a display of artifacts that once belonged to John Sutter, a key figure in the California Gold Rush. Delve into the backstory of this Swiss immigrant, who founded New Switzerland as Sacramento’s earliest settlement and a haven for fellow immigrants. History also echoes in the halls of the Crocker Art Museum, which holds masterpieces from California, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Fairytale Town unites the lore of yesteryear with 25 modern playgrounds that kids can get excited about. Each play set is based on a beloved nursery rhyme or fairytale, and a larger-than-life Mother Goose presides over them all. Kids can climb aboard Cinderella’s carriage, spend teatime with the old woman who lived in a shoe, or scramble up the beanstalk in hot pursuit of Jack. Fairytale Town also houses three learning gardens, one inspired by Mr. McGregor’s in the tale of Peter Rabbit. Just across the street, the Sacramento Zoo introduces a bit of wildlife to its urban environs, including a Masai giraffe, a snow leopard, and a trio of zebras.
Giraffe and zebra prints abound in Midtown, the hip and fashionable district located just east of downtown. This neighborhood is home to an eclectic array of boutiques, bars, and enduring record stores such as The Beat on J Street. One of Midtown’s standout shops—and CityVoter’s top dessert restaurant in 2012—is Rick’s Dessert Diner. Rick’s embodies Sacramento’s love for sweets, and its chefs create more than 285 European and American treats from scratch each morning.