I’ve partnered with Holiday Inn through ShopShare Network for this sponsored post. All opinions are my own.
Like many travel writers, I am often so driven to explore far-flung destinations that I forget to travel close to home. My family has been on a mission to remedy that! This year, we have prioritized taking day and weekend trips to many of the unique family-friendly travel destinations in our home state of California. When the chance arose for a quick overnight trip to Sacramento in partnership with Holiday Inn, I naturally jumped at the chance. Sacramento, and in particular the Old Sacramento historic district near downtown, is filled with kid-friendly things to do. I knew it would be the perfect getaway for the kids and me on a weekend where my husband happened to be away on a guys’ trip.
Things to Do in Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento is the site of one of the earliest commercial areas of the city, which took off during the California Gold Rush. The area fell into disrepair over the years but was revitalized in the 1960s to preserve the historic buildings that now make it such a tourist destination.
Walking the Old Sacramento historic district is an activity unto itself. The old west style façades on the shops and wooden planked sidewalks make you feel like you are stepping back in time. There are horse and buggy rides, shooting arcades, shops, and restaurants. And of course – trains.
California State Railroad Museum
The biggest draw for families to Old Sacramento is undoubtedly trains. Old Sacramento is home to the California State Railroad Museum which houses a magnificent collection. Every type of train, from ornate Victorian-era locomotives to mockups of modern bullet trains, call the museum home.
The kids and I wended our way through the larger-than-life exhibits for several hours. Visitors can climb aboard quite a few of the train cars and locomotives themselves, making for an interactive experience. My eight year old had the chance to drive a train on the museum’s simulator. My four year old son especially loved the miniature train exhibits on the third floor, complete with Thomas the Tank Engine wooden railway layouts.
Given the breadth of the collection and size of the museum, admission is very reasonably priced at just $12 for adults and $6 for kids ages 6-17. Kids 5 and under are free. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours to do the museum justice.
Riding the Rails on the Sacramento Southern Railroad
Just a block away from the museum is the California Pacific Railroad Freight Depot where the Sacramento Southern Railroad offers real train rides along tracks paralleling the Sacramento River.
We visited in late October, when the train runs as the “Spookomotive,” donned in festive Halloween decor. In winter, it transforms into the Polar Express. The all volunteer Sacramento Southern Railroad offers regular excursion rides much of the rest of the year on weekends from April to September. The trains are either pulled by a steam engine or a vintage locomotive from the museum’s collection.
Old Sacramento is filled with quite a few additional museums and attractions – so many that we didn’t have time to do them all. We took a quick peek in the windows of the Wells Fargo Museum and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum. We did not have time for the Sacramento History Museum which covers much of the history of Sacramento as a Gold Rush town. Next visit!
We did manage to pay a visit to the California Automobile Museum. This museum is far enough from the rest of Old Sacramento that I recommend driving, taking a ride-share, or even renting bikes to get there. Its collection of classic cars was extensive. My kids loved that the museum offered a special “Trunk or Treat” event for the Halloween season.
Where to Stay in Old Sacramento
Our home away from home on this visit was the Holiday Inn Sacramento Downtown – Arena, which I selected because of its proximity to the attractions. When I am in an urban area, I like being able to walk everywhere we go. I find I can really get the feel of a city much more on foot, not to mention being a healthy way to walk off those vacation calories!
I did not fully understand, however, just how conveniently the Holiday Inn‘s downtown Sacramento hotel was located until I arrived. The side entrance of the hotel opened directly onto a plaza that led to a pedestrian tunnel under the highway. A 2-3 minute walk through the tunnel (with my 4 year old walking by himself sans stroller) deposited us directly into the heart of Old Sacramento. The location was truly ideal. It enabled us easily to hop back to the hotel whenever we needed a rest.
We stayed in a two double room which had more than enough space for a family to spread out, as well as comfy sheets and pillows. Rooms with a single king plus sofa bed are also available. Service at the hotel was friendly and prompt. The valet parking attendants were particularly kind to (and probably quite amused by) my talkative 8 year old. Insider tip: we selected a room rate that included parking, which offered valet service at a rate that was less than even the usual $18 self-parking fee.
The hotel offered the Holiday Inn value proposition for families – kids stay and eat free! Because I had to get a little work done during our visit, I personally also appreciated the free high speed WiFi that all Holiday Inn locations offer. There was a pool too, but we were so busy playing tourist that we didn’t have time for a dip.
And of course, the miles and points geek in me loved that I was earning IHG points during my stay. Holiday Inn is a member of the IHG Rewards Club program which includes a wide variety of hotel brands where you can earn points in a single currency. IHG offers high quality hotel points redemption opportunities for loyal travelers, including PointBreaks discounts.
Old Sacramento Restaurants: Where and What to Eat
Old Sacramento is filled with a plethora of eating opportunities, from high end white tablecloth dining to snack shops offering state fair style indulgences. Quite a few restaurants have an old saloon feel and indeed turn into an adults-only bar scene later in the evening. It was incredibly hard to choose from all the food options on our short 24 hour visit.
The highlight of our dining experience was undoubtedly Sunday brunch at the Pilothouse Restaurant on the Delta King. The Delta King is a riverboat docked on the banks of the Sacramento River right in the middle of Old Sacramento. Even though the atmosphere is a bit upscale, Sunday brunch is still quite kid-friendly. We even caught a rare sighting of a sea lion in the river while dining there! Yes, there are apparently sometimes sea lions that far inland.
Dinner on our only night in town was at Railroad Fish and Chips, a simple counter service restaurant serving deep fried seafood baskets – highly kid-friendly. We were able to sit outside on the wooden benches and watch the Saturday evening scene.
Since I was solo with both kids, I let them indulge in more than the usual number of treats and snacks during our visit. Our first snack stop was at Boxcar Eats directly across from the train depot. We saw a sign outside for Dole Whips and definitely could not resist!
Another unique snack stop was Danny’s Mini Donuts. The tiny tasty treats were fried up before our very eyes and were customizable on the spot. I chose the cinnamon sugar topping and my kids drowned theirs in chocolate sauce.
Beyond Old Sacramento
Our quick Sacramento trip meant we kept most of our outings and adventures in the Old Sacramento historic district. It was just enough to whet everyone’s appetite for another trip to the greater Sacramento area. We did a quick drive by the Capitol but definitely need to take a tour on our next visit.
Our previous visits to town have often brought us to watch the Sacramento River Cats AAA baseball team play. Now that the River Cats are affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, convincing my mega Oakland A’s fan husband to go to games is a bit harder. The stadium is undoubtedly one of the best in minor league baseball so I know we will forgive the team’s “questionable” affiliation and return soon.
My kids and I also stopped by Fairy Tale Town on our way home. Fairy Tale Town is in the same park as the Sacramento Zoo and just a 10 minute drive from Old Sacramento. If you are familiar with Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, this park will feel very similar. The storybook scenes come to life afforded my kids some much-needed time for free play before we hopped in the car and headed for home. It was a jam-packed 24 hours, but one that created many happy close-to-home travel memories.
Thanks to Holiday Inn for sponsoring this post. Book your room today and get the lowest rate guaranteed.