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Gorden - Sacramento paddlewheel

Sacramento — The nerve center of the Old West

Sacramento has much to offer to tourists or as a day trip for RVers. It is difficult to decide where to begin. Let’s start with the Old Town Sacramento located along the Sacramento River with I – 5 as a border on the east. There is easy access and parking from the Interstate for cars, but no parking for RVs.

Having parked your car, stroll casually along the several streets of the original site of the city of Sacramento observing the restored buildings, storefronts, the levees, bridges and museums. Then, walk a block or two to the Sacramento History Museum and reserve a tour of Underground Old Town.

Next, find a likely spot where you may sit for an hour or so and “people watch” for low cost entertainment. Step into the visitor center and into the old Wells Fargo office for information and a bit of the history of Old Town.

Gorden - Sacramento hardware

Sacramento History Museum

The good thing about visiting a museum of this type is that it brings back many memories for an old man like me. The bad thing is that so many of the “antiques on display” are items that were in use every day when I was young.

Sacramento has found, preserved and displayed items, articles and artifacts from the past 175 years that describe several story lines of this important river city. The first display is of the old-style printing presses, complete with a qualified printer who carefully describes the printing process and offers detailed answers about printing. The Sacramento Bee has been the newspaper of choice since the beginning and founding of the city.

From there, pass through displays of agriculture equipment, riverboats, family dining, the canning industry and similar professions which had an impact on the growth and development of the city. Gold Rush Days are a large component of the museum, with gold nuggets, jewelry and mining equipment on display.

Gorden - Sacramento Dunlap dining

For many years, the most popular restaurant in the entire city was the Dunlap’s Dining Room, hosted by the Dunlap parents and two daughters in their own dining room.  This is one of several permanent exhibits. The best food and service, in the minds of most customers, was served the Dunlaps.

Perhaps the most surprising is a temporary display which portrays many of the negative aspects of the heavy-handed manner in which authorities dealt with the unions and individuals who were instrumental in obtaining fair wages and fair treatment for agricultural workers. Prior to these persistent efforts the agriculture workers of all ages were mistreated and persecuted.

The Sacramento History Museum serves as a starting point for the tour of the Underground Old Town, a unique tour which leads to the basements of several structures that were raised when Old Town flooded in the period between 1850 and 1860. This tour is $15 per person and the cost of the History Museum is reduced to $3 per person when purchasing tickets for the underground tour on the same day.

Gorden - Sacramento steam engine

For an in-depth experience of the technology that connected California to the rest of the nation, tour the California State Railroad Museum, which houses a large and diverse display of train engines and cars. There are 21 restored locomotives and other railroad cars dispersed among six original, reconstructed and new buildings. Be sure to check out the dining car decked out with railroad china, the Pullman sleeper car and a post office car that delivered mail along its route.

Between the two museums is a hardware store that will revive many memories for old-timers like me and create new memories for younger folks.

The Crocker Art Museum was the first public museum founded in the western United States. Dating back to 1885, it is home to a varied collection of paintings, ceramics, photos and foreign collections. Because displays change frequently, there is always something new to see.

(Photo courtesy of California State Parks)
(Photo courtesy of California State Parks)

Modeled after the U.S. Capitol in Washington, the California State Capitol is a 19th century granite building people can tour free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. An attached museum offers a historic glimpse of political life in California as well as the state’s people and culture. A gallery of portraits of California governors and other famous Americans will test your identification skills.

Speaking of wild, untamed creatures, check out the Sacramento Zoo, which is home to more than 140 native, rare and endangered animals. The staff regularly scheduled activities just for kids to spur creativity and imagination.

The California Automobile Museum includes a collection of more than 150 vehicles from Model Ts to Lamborghinis, including cars owned by famous people or involved in historical events. A newer exhibit focuses on the state’s effort to create alternative fuels and green energy.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the California Indian Museum and state historic park showcases the lives of California’s first settlers. From exquisite beadwork to a redwood dugout canoe and ceremonial clothing, visitors can explorer the nature, spirit and family of the state’s natives. Want to take home a souvenir?  The gift shop offers plenty of native-made items from pottery to jewelry. Click here for more information.

The American River and Sacramento River have brought both economical blessings and flooding curses to the Old Town area. These waterways served as the original highways for large and smaller ships to travel through the river delta from San Francisco to Sacramento and beyond. Old photos shows several dozen ships of various sizes that were moored at the Old Town docks. Material goods of all types were transported up and down these riverways to contribute to the growth of the state capital city.

Gorden - Sacramento old town 2

Unfortunately, the rivers sometimes overflowed their banks and the hastily constructed levees which weren’t high enough to contain the flood waters during the 1850s and 1860s. One flood resulted in a virtual cesspool of mud, debris and septic waste that lasted in place for approximately three months. Finally, the downstream levee was opened so that the water, mud and debris could be released.

It was then obvious that it would be necessary to raise the buildings of the Old Town district by as much as 16 feet in order to lift them above flood level. Thus, the underground area of the town was formed from what had been the first floor of the now raised buildings. Tours of the Underground Town begin at the Sacramento Historical Museum.

With all the river trails, Sacramento entices bicyclists and hikers of all ages a connected system of paths to explore the city and surrounding area. Because it doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles on the trails, it’s safe for kids and strollers.

Gorden - Sacramento Bee printing press

Modern Sacramento has much to offer including museums, parks, universities, professional sports and all types of entertainment. To the south, the fertile agricultural valley is extremely productive when sufficient water is available. In every direction, you’ll find interesting, unique and exciting cities, towns, mines and natural beauty to be enjoyed.

There several RV park and resorts in and near Sacramento. Here are a few:

  • Sac-West RV Park and Campground — This park is located right off Interstate 80 and offers full hook-up, pull-through sites up to 105 feet long. The 24 Karat Grill is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to serve up breakfast to burgers. There are several cottages and cabins also available.
  • Capitol West RV Park — Centrally located near the downtown area, this park offers 20-, 30- and 50-amp service at all spaces. Sites even include concrete patios.
  • Cal-Expo RV Park — Located at the California State Fairgrounds, the 65-site park boasts of pull-though sites offering 30- and 50-amp service. The park is open year round.

I have always stayed at RV parks in the Delta region, south and west of the city. It is an easy drive up I-5 from the Delta to the state capital city and also easy to drive into San Francisco and the Bay area.

About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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