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Up The Road: Where To Now? Old Sacramento

Daniel X. O’Neil
Old Sacramento preserves many monuments to early California settlement.

The original gold rush boomtown of Sacramento boomed first as a tent city on the mudflats along the river, an area partially defined these days by the intersection of Front and J Streets, just west of I-5.

Now both a state historic park and national landmark, Old Sacramento captures the feel of California at the rugged edge of the gold rush, despite the looming freeway. Especially during Gold Rush Days over Labor Day weekend, when suddenly the streets are dusty again, pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles only.

There are good restaurants in Old Sacramento, fun shopping, and family-friendly diversions, but history is the main attraction.

The California State Railroad Museum, appreciated last time, tells the story of railroading innovation—California’s first major technological breakthrough. But there’s so much more story. The Sacramento History Museum at 101 I, is dedicated to exploring it. Housed in the reconstructed 1854 City Hall and Waterworks, the red-brick museum lays out local history with artifacts, photos, and hands-on activities.

Old Sacramento during Living History Days, over Labor Day weekend.

Expect surprises. For example: Did you know that California women could vote almost a decade earlier than nationally? Following many defeats—and some successes, such as the 1878 Woman Lawyer’s Bill, which allowed California women to practice law.

And about those elevated Old Sacramento boardwalks and original streetside curbing: You’ll get more of that story—and an up-close look at what city leaders decided to do about rampaging winter floods—on the engaging Old Sacramento Underground Tour. Offered only on weekends, Sacramento Underground demonstrates how buildings and streets were literally “jacked up” to rise above rising rivers—visiting “underground” flood spaces, wandering sloped alleyways, and peeking into hollow sidewalks.

Old Sac’s impressive military museum is now being reorganized and relocated as the California State Military Museum – Sacramento. (In the meantime, visit the website for military histories.) Self-guided maps will point you to other notable historic sights, including the small Wells Fargo Museum, the Schoolhouse Museum, and other buildings.

Then there’s the five-story Delta King, the last of California’s original steam paddle-wheelers. Now docked, a floating luxury hotel with public restaurant and saloon, the King faithfully delivered passengers between San Francisco and Sacramento until the 1940s and World War II, when he and sister ship Delta Queen dressed in battleship gray to transport Navy troops. Other waterfront attractions now include an old-fashioned Ferris wheel and merry-go-round.

Davey Nin
Old Sacramento Schoolhouse.

North of Old Sac, set to open before the end of 2021, is the new Museum of Science and Curiosity (MOSAC), now under construction at the Old Powerhouse site on Jibboom Street, overlooking Matsui Waterfront Park. MOSAC’s motto is “Question Everything.” Indeed.

To make a real trip of it: Just across the river in West Sacramento is championship Triple-A Minor League Baseball—the Sacramento River Cats, affiliated with the San Francisco Giants.

Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel

Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:

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Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.