If it’s your first time in Sacramento what you need to know is that you don’t have to spend a lot of cash to get to know the city. In fact, some activities will cost you nothing (or next to nothing), and while you’ll be enjoying them, you will also get to see this gem of the California state in all its beauty.
In this article, we will cover a few best free-of-charge activities in Sacramento.
We’ll start with one of the main historical attractions of Sacramento. As you probably know, the city’s history is closely related to the period of The Gold Rush in California. To be precise, it was not for the gold in Sacramento’s soil, and there would be no Sacramento as we know it today. That is why there’s an abundance of locations in the city harkening back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Gold Rush Days is a yearly event that takes place in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. The event will take you on a four-day journey back in time to show you the old pioneer days of Sacramento’s Gold Rush. You will see historical reenactments and demonstrations by local costumed actors set on several stages.
During the festival, all streets are closed for all sorts of vehicles. There are only wagons, ponies, and stagecoaches that any visitor may get a ride on. There are also 1850s food and soft drinks available. A great chance to try the famous traditional beverage called sarsaparilla.
You may as well take part in a bar-hop, a country dance competition, or visit a free-of-charge outdoor movie showing. Among the fascinating events during the festival is a parade accompanied by costumed actors and a brass band.
Sutter’s Fort is another historical attraction you may want to attend. This is an actual history museum that offers its visitors to take a peek at what life was like during the Gold Rush. There are several fully functional canons, and if you’re lucky, you will see them fired.
Visiting Sutter’s Fort is mainly free; other services are quite cheap. This attraction is suitable for kids and infants and is considered a good spot to arrange a date.
On Sacramento Museum Day, 26 Sacramento museums welcome guests for free visits. This event takes place each February on a select Saturday and is possible thanks to the financial help of several local organizations. To name a few, they are Sutter Helth and California Family Fitness.
Museums that take part in the event include:
There are also special events that take place in several locations around the city. Those events include storytime performances for children, family-friendly entertainment, thematic demonstrations. Attractions that are also open during the Sacrament Museum Day include Fairytale Town and the Zoo. This is important to know that the two aforementioned locations are not fully free of charge, but they offer a 50% discount during the event. Restaurants and other recreational spots also offer discounts for visitants. If you provide a printed Museum Day flyer, you will be entitled to free rides on public transport all day long.
The Discovery part is a recreational area built on the banks of two rivers – the American and Sacramento rivers that converge in that location. This makes Discovery Park a great place for boating since it’s very convenient to launch boats there. In the park, visitors may take long strolls through walking trails and arrange picnics. The only thing that you should keep in mind that the parking fee in the location is pretty high.
This recreational area is among the most popular public spots in the Sacramento region. It covers almost 20,000 acres and draws up to 2,000,000 visitants yearly. Here, guests enjoy multiple outdoor activities. People can go hiking, take a bike trip, go boating, waterskiing, and even ride a horse.
Fishing is also available at Folsom lake. There is plenty of bass, trout, and catfish. However, people are advised not to eat fish from the lake. The reason is that there is too much mercury in the waters which makes fish unsafe to consume.
At Folsom Powerhouse State Historiс Park, you can visit an old power plant that was used from the late 1880s to 1952. There are also several campgrounds. Among them is Beals Point. This camping site is available all through the year.
More Folsom must-see locations include:
With its twenty-eight branches, the Sacramento Public Library is among the four major library systems in the state of California. The library was founded back in the late 1850s and became public a few years later. The central building of the Library is open for visitants six days a week (Tue to Sun). Guests are welcome to explore a vast selection of nearly 290,000 items, including books and other printed materials in multiple languages. There are also free-of-charge services too. The Sacramento Public Library system holds free public events such as lectures, storytimes for kids, and art studios.
Old Sacramento Historical Park is a twenty-eight-acre historic location that occupies eight blocks of a nineteenth-century downtown area. The area itself is an 1840s legacy of the California Gold Rush era. Annually, this tourist location accepts more than 5,000,000 visitants and is considered one of the most favorite spots that Sacramento’s guests choose to attend.
The location is famous for elegant Spanish architecture with arched doorways and exquisitely designed balconies made of wrought iron. All these architectural legacy has been preserved to this day.
The Historical Park of Old Sacramento also has a number of museums. Among them are the California Automobile Museum, the Sacramento History Museum, and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum. Admissions to some museums are free of charge all through the week or on certain days.
Guests can also sign up for walking tours organized by the Old Sacramento Historical Foundation. The aforementioned annual Gold Rush Days festival takes place there.
Rides on the Sacramento Southern Railroad excursion and Delta King Riverboat are among the most popular paid attractions.
More Old Sacramento sites and activities include:
A Victorian-era garden-style cemetery is Sacramento’s oldest graveyard, and it is still in use. This place is famous not only for its age but also for its outstanding collection of roses – one of California’s best ones. The forty-four-acre area is free for guests of the city to attend during the daytime all through the week. Here you can find the burials of the state’s political figures and entrepreneurs. The famous names include Mark Hopkins, the man who founded the Central Pacific Railroad back in 1861, and Jerome C. Davis, a famous agriculturalist who gave his name to the town of Davis (CA). Guests are welcome to join guided tours that are held daily and are completely free of charge.
Sacramento City College does not only offer a vast campus filled with numerous buildings and sites to enjoy. This location is also used for a variety of cultural and sporting events.
For movie lovers going to Sacramento, there is an annual film festival that is held each fall at Fremont Part. This festival offers free outdoor film showings for viewers who are 18 years of age and older. The reason is that films shown during the festival are of certain themes that may not be suitable for younger viewers.
Before and during film showings, you can buy food, beer, and wine from local vendors. You can also entertain yourself by joining lawn games in between films. Since one of the festival’s creators is Front Street Animal Shelter, this organization receives all profits from purchased liquor.
Wide Open Walls is another annual art festival held in Sacramento. During the festival, you will get to see fresh works of independent street artists in street and mural art genres. For ten full days, artists from all over the country and even from abroad use city walls, buildings, and other public spaces as a canvas for their artwork. Later, these works – created in natural balance with metropolitan surroundings and the city’s style – become creative gifts to the city and its residents. One of the most notable participants of the Wide Open Walls festival is Shepard Fairey, the talent behind the famous “Hope” design used when Barack Obama ran for president in 2008.
Annually, almost fifty street artists come to take part in the Wide Open Walls festival. And while they work, visitors get to watch the whole process or enjoy the works of the previous festivals. Wide Open Walls creators also hold a few other free public events. Among them are Mural Jam, open-air parties, and music festivities.
A 166-acre location known as William Land Park (or simply Land Park) is named after a local historical figure – a pioneer William Land. In 1875, William Land built Western Hotel, a building which is now #601 in the list of the most famous California’s Historical Landmarks. Today, William Land Park is also home to the Sacramento Zoo.
Western Land Park offers a diversity of attractions, including paid activities such as the Fairytale Land and Funderland park for kids and the William Land Golf Course.
Also, guests are able to play several team sports using the park’s recreational areas. There are also children’s playing fields, a wading pool, and a picnic location.
Built back in 1850, the California State Library is our next pick among the best free activities in Sacramento. The State Library is situated in Capitol Mall and functions as the principal study and reference library in the state of California. Originally, in the 1850s, the building was used as the state’s data center and a research department for the government of California. Today, the Library offers an enormous selection of printed materials on various topics and matters, including historical literature and documents, civic and law materials, geological publishings, and many more. Also, in the California State Library, one can find books in Braile and audiobooks.
The Library is open for visitors Monday to Friday (business hours). Besides printed materials, the Library offers free-of-charge exhibits of photography, art, and historical artifacts.
Professional experts conduct free tours for fifteen persons and less, as well as tours for school students. All of these are available Monday to Friday.
Every month, in midtown Sacramento, a majority of local art galleries and studios welcome art lovers from all over the state and beyond to join Second Saturday Art Walks. The event is held on the second Saturdays of each month, hence the title, and starts at 5:30 pm. Despite the common closing time is 9:00, some locations are open late hours. In addition to exhibits, music concerts, and art presentations, guests can also enjoy wine and soft drinks in many galleries during the event.
Sacramento is well-known for its food festivals since the region is among America’s agricultural leaders. Certified Farmer’s Markets are part of Sacramento’s love for healthy food raised on local farms. This event takes place every week throughout the whole town. On Tuesdays, for instance, you are welcome to buy fresh farm products at Fremon and Roosevelt Parks. On Wednesdays, Cesar Chavez Park markets wait for their customers. On Thursdays, markets at the Capital Mall are open. All products that you can find on Farmer’s Markets are grown and produced by local farmers.
We are almost through with our guide to Sacramento’s best free/affordable activities.
In this section, we will give you a shortlist of honorable mentions that for various reasons did not make a list: