Travel: Sacramento - City of Trees

We have only been back in Germany for ten weeks and we already miss traveling so much! And since we can't embark on new discoveries right now, we are currently reliving memories of all the incredible places we were lucky to see during our California adventure.

Sacramento's Tower Bridge after sunset

One of my absolute favorite trips while being in the US was visiting Sacramento, the capital of the state of California, for several reasons.

I am a history buff and Sacramento has an incredibly rich and compelling past which I was eager to explore while living on the Westcoast. Also, I was joining Nicolas and his class (which meant getting to know his friends better and spending cherished time with my son), and thirdly, the itinerary the school had organized with the help of Travel Teens, a wonderful educational travel organization, sounded amazing. And it was!

To this day, Nicolas and I still speak of this unforgettable trip - our very last before the Corona pandemic hit the US.

So, if you ever want to visit California's capital and get as much a glimpse into Sacramento's past as possible, you can literally just adopt our itinerary and follow our footsteps - our path and pace will leave you tired but Sacrament's history is worth it.


We boarded the plane from John Wayne / Orange County Airport to Sacramento (we took Southwest Airlines), arriving at Sacramento Airport Airport.

There, we were greeted by a guide from Travel Teens Educational Tours and took a chartered bus to the first destination of the day, the State Capitol of California.


Sacramento's State Capitol Building

The State Capitol building (completed between 1861and 1874) is both a museum and the state's working seat of government, housing the State Legislature (a lower house, the CA State Assembly, and an upper house, the CA State Senate) as well as the current governor's office.

We therefore not only got to marvel at the Neoclassical architecture and the many historical elements and references but received an actual glimpse into daily political workings (from legislative session schedules to term and limits, recordkeeping, etc).

The children marveled at the Great seal of California and learned its semiology. They flexed their muscles in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrait (CA governor from 2003 until 2011), and sat in the impressive red Senate Chamber, learning about the tasks of the lower and upper house.

They studied Minerva and the intricate Eureka tile groupings, guessing what California's state motto translates to (from the original Greek, 'Eureka' means 'I have found it' - a reference to both CA admission to the Union as the 31st state in 1850 and the miners' famous exclamation as they struck gold).

During our visit history was also in the making: we were one of the last groups to view Larkin Mead's statue Columbus Before Queen Isabella (below) which was removed shortly thereafter as it depicted Queen Isabella financing Columbus' voyage to the New World. (Since June 2020, approximately 33 statues of Christopher Columbus - who is accused of genocide of indigenous people - have been removed).


The next stop was Sutter's Fort, a visit that transported us right to 1839, the year that John Sutter founded Sacramento's earliest settlement. There, the children learned about the life of the Californian pioneers, the famous Donner Party, and the Gold Rush. They received a glimpse of what life was like in the 1840s, cupped their ears as the daily canons went off, and marveled at the sophistication of trade items, such as clothing, weaponry, and cooking supplies.


Right behind Sutter's Fort State Historic Park was our next stop: California's State Indian Museum, which opened its doors in 1940. The small but impressive exhibition displayed historic (and some modern) Native artifacts, art, and customs. While it may be challenging to correctly reconstruct the life of California's Native Indians, this exhibition aimed to provide a glimpse: the children saw a life-size, redwood dugout canoe, discovered the world's smallest, hand-woven basket (so small it fits through the eye of a needle) and learned about the various Native ceremonial dances and regalia. After seeing Sutter's Fort, we found that our visit to the State Indian Museum was a meaningful and necessary reminder of the historic significance of the area.


Our next stop was fun, fun, fun. Our guide took us to the California State Railroad Museum and once we had entered, the kids went to explore. There was so much to see: we learned about how the first US Transcontinental Railroad was built (between 1863 and 1869) and about the Chinese Railroad Workers’ Experience (ninety percent of workers comprised of Chinese immigrants who worked using mostly hand tools).

The children loved the story of what exactly happened to that last spike at the Gold Spike ceremony on May 10, 1869, which celebrated the completion of the nations' first Transcontinental Railroad. They jumped in and out of the wagons and marveled at the 1,000 or so vintage toy trains and the six interactive displays. This museum offers so much and there is so much to see and learn - you can easily spend two hours or more here.


Our final visit of the day took the children to Sacramento's Old Schoolhouse Museum, located in the historic Old Sacramento area, and which is a replica of the traditional one-room schoolhouses (established in 1977) that could be found throughout the US in the late 1800s. A costumed teacher guided the children through a full hour of what a school day looked like for kids back in the day and needless to say that our children returned impressed and grateful that their schoolday consists of modern rules, materials, and schedules.


For dinner, we went to Joe's Crab Shack which was convenient as it is located right next to the schoolhouse (very low key and perfect for a large group of loud kids) and only a five-minute walk from our hotel, the Hilton embassy suites.

And as we walked back to the hotel on the gorgeous Sacramento riverfront promenade, the sun was setting, the sky turned vibrant and the Tower Bridge lit up. The perfect ending to a special day.

We went to bed early for our next day was going to be filled with more history: we were going to drive to Placerville and visit the Gold Bug Mine in Hangtown's Gold Bug Park and learn all about the Gold Rush. We were going to tour the Leland Stanford Mansion (CA governor from 1862 - 1863) and tour the underground of Old Town Sacramento before heading back to Orange County.

Part II of our Sacramento visit next week.


PS: ... the only moment I ignored all history: distracted by the sun, the seagulls, and the sax.

© 2019 Chantal Bufe  |  Design by LA Web Design