Locating between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, Sacramento, the state capital of California, is often overlooked by tourists. Surprisingly, budget travelers can experience the best of Sacramento without paying a cent. From an array of educational and historic museums, art festivals to free tours to California State Capitol Building, and live music; there are plenty of free things to do in Sacramento, California.
During a stay in Sacramento or a day trip to Sacramento, you will find lots of things to see, hear, eat, and do. Regardless of your interests, you will find plenty to keep you entertained. Here is the scoop on 10 awesome free things to do in Sacramento, one of the cheapest places to visit in California.
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Free Things to do in Sacramento: The California State Capitol Museum
It is a must-visit place in Sacramento with your family if you have an interest in California history and art. This is basically an executive building of the California state government which is incredibly beautiful and meticulously maintained. The museum is situated in a well-maintained park with shade trees, lush grass, and many walking areas.
Join the free guided tour which is conducted from 10 am to 4 pm. The tour is very informative, fun, and well worth it. The tour takes you inside the assembly rooms and senate chambers with their Czech lead crystal chandeliers, and walk passed the governor’s portraits. Don’t miss the free documentary films that are shown daily at the building’s basement theater.
Open Hours: 7:30 am-6 pm(weekdays) 9 am-5 pm(weekend)
The American River Bike Trail
One of the many outdoor activities that I really like is the American River Bike Trail. The American River Trail, also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail stretches 32 miles from Discovery Park in Old Sacramento to Beal’s Point near Folsom Lake. The entire trail is fully paved, wide, and well maintained.
It’s a flat trail through fields and trees with lovely views of the calm river. If you are lucky enough, you can see deer, turkeys, rabbits, raptors, ducks, and herons. There is no shortage of amenities along the way such as restrooms, water fountains, washrooms. If you are hungry, stop at any good eating spots, grab a bite, and explore.
The park is open year-round and there are numerous access points and parking areas($5 parking charge).
Tour Around the Historic City Cemetery
Established in 1849, this remarkable place is quiet, full of rich history, and popular among cemetery fanatics. Visitors can explore the 44-acre cemetery for free from 7 am to 5 pm.
The cemetery is the last resting place for more than 20,000 Californians, and some notable burials of state politicians and business leaders including John A. Sutter Jr., Edwin and Margaret Crocker, and Mark Hopkins.
You can see many beautiful monuments, classic sculptures, and gorgeous statues, and a well-kept garden in this oldest graveyard of Sacramento. Just walk around the place or you can take a self-guided walking tour. People are buried here from the Gold Rush era and it gives a sense of old Sacramento.
Jelly Belly Factory
If you are looking for fun free things to do in Sacramento with kids, Jelly Belly Factory is the place to be. The walking tour is now self-guided and you will get a free sample at the end of the tour.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see how the world-famous jelly beans are made in their factory. Once you are done with the walking tour, buy some jelly beans from the gift shop.
Visitors can watch explaining each step in producing Jelly Beans on a video screen. While at the factory, visitors are also allowed to browse the Jelly Belly Bean Art Gallery. You’ll also find some art pieces made completely out of jelly beans.
Open Hours: 9 am-4 pm(daily)
The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum
It’s another great place to visit in Sacramento with kids. The Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum is a replica of a typical 19th-century one-room schoolhouse in California. Now it is open to the visitors for free as a living history museum.
You will be amazed by seeing how different school was in the past. You can visit the schoolhouse museum and learn more about the old days of education. The tour is not long since it’s a small schoolhouse, but you can learn a lot in that time.
You can see the antique desks and the large furnace, sturdy wooden desks, the chalkboards in the museum. They also sell souvenirs. It’s a small museum but full of history.
Folsom Lake is a manmade reservoir that is perfect for relaxing and picnic in a peaceful ambiance. It is one of the best lakes in California where visitors come to enjoy nature.
Although you can visit Folsom Lake throughout the year, you will see a heavy crowd during summer weekends for its plethora of outdoor recreational activities such as cycling, hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing.
There are lots of hiking trails that you can explore at Folsom Lake. I will recommend Avery’s Pond Trail(2.7 miles) that offers relief from being removed from noise and traffic. If you like to stay overnight, camping options are available at Beal’s Point. The campsites are well maintained, clean, and have enough spaces between each other.
Sacramento Museum Day
Sacramento Museum Day happens each year on a particular day(usually the first Saturday in February) when the visitors are allowed to explore some museums for absolutely free.
Participating museums include smaller establishments like the California State Indian Museum and California Military Museum; as well as the popular museums such as the Aerospace Museum of California, the Crocker Art Museum, and many more.
Free Museum Day isn’t just about the popular museums; Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Zoo are also included in the Free Museum Day with half-price or free admission. Sacramento Area Museums have also partnered with local restaurants and SacRT to give exclusive discounts on food and free rides to get around all the museums.
Explore the Old Sacramento State Historic Park
Exploring the Old Sacramento State Historic Park is perfect for budget travelers looking for the best things to do in Sacramento for Free. It is actually the entire area of the 1850’s downtown district.
This 28 acre National Historic Landmark is the main tourist destination of Sacramento that is brimming with historical buildings including the B.F. Hastings Building, the Big Four Building, and Eagle Theater.
You will get a typical old western type feel here with gorgeous Spanish architectural buildings and elegant arched doorways. Stroll along the river and the heritage train tracks.
There are several free museums at this site including the California Automobile Museum, the Sacramento History Museum, and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum. Take a brochure of the Sacramento Visitors’ Guide at the Old Sacramento Visitors Center and check out the Walking Tours section to explore the spot at your own pace.
The California State Library
What to do in Sacramento for free? Visit the California State Library. Enjoy visiting both buildings which include taking a self-guided tour of the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building.
Don’t miss the 3rd floor Gillis Hall reading room where you can see a 70 foot long mural over the entrance and several large chandeliers. There is a circulation room too on the same floor with its provocative bronze status.
The 2nd Floor also has magnificent murals from the ’20s. On the 4th floor, there is a great picture and exhibit on the State Supreme Court. This is a must-see place in Sacramento for library and book lovers as well as those that love the arts, history, and architecture. Check the website and register for docent-led tours in advance.
Open Hours: 9:30 am – 4 pm(Mon-Fri)
Visit Tower Bridge
This historic vertical lift bridge is one of the popular landmarks of Sacramento that connects West Sacramento in Yolo County to Sacramento County in the East. Although the bridge does occasionally lift up for boat crossings. It was painted a rusty orange which has now oxidized to its current gold color. There are pedestrian pathways on both sides of the bridge that allows visitors to get an up-close view of this majestic bridge.
The views of the Sacramento River from the Tower Bridge are insanely beautiful in the evening. The view of the setting sun cascading against the bridge is truly magical. Couples who are looking for romantic getaway in California can explore Sacramento.
This is our sorted list of the best free things to do in Sacramento. You don’t have to spend a penny to enjoy these activities.
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Happy traveling… 🙂
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