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Find Your Niche at a Sacramento Museum

As California's State Capital, Sacramento is packed with history: everywhere you turn in this city, it seems, you'll run smack into an old mansion, a historic storefront, or a cobbled street. So it's fitting that Sacramento takes documenting its history very, very seriously. In fact, whatever subject you're interested in – whether it's completely esoteric or universally appreciated – chances are good that Sacramento's got a museum that's right up your alley. 

See for yourself with our guide to Sacramento's wildest, weirdest, and most wonderful museums. 

California Automobile Museum

CA Auto museumIf you've ever wanted to take your picture with a real-life DeLorean, sit behind the wheel of a Model T, or get up close and personal with a Rolls Royce, Sacramento's California Automobile Museum is the place for you. First opened in 1987 to showcase an exhaustive collection of Fords, today the museum's housed in a 72,000-square-foot warehouse and is home to over 150 vehicles of all makes and models. From Oldsmobiles to Lamborghinis, classic roadsters to the hybrids of today, this museum's got something for everyone. Special and permanent exhibits highlight the history of cars in America, from the birth and evolution of auto tourism, to the use of cars in movies and on TV. 

California Automobile Museum
2200 Front Street, Sacramento
Admission: $8 general/$4 student 

Wells Fargo Museum

Wells Fargo museum stagecoachOK, we know what you're thinking: how interesting could the history of a bank possibly be? Well, in the case of Wells Fargo, you'd be surprised. The bank was founded in 1852 to serve San Francisco back when it was a newly booming Gold Rush town, and quickly became a player in the kinds of early California stories we know from Westerns and folklore today. Think stagecoach robberies, early locomotive transportation, and the kinds of Wild West storefronts where the resident baker was also the resident banker. 

The bank has two museums in Sacramento: one's an easy stroll from the State Capitol; the other's in Old Sacramento. Inside you'll find everything from beautiful old safes and assaying scales for determining the purity of gold dust, to an original telegraph machine, to a gorgeously restored 1860s stage coach, and even examples of the types of shotguns carried in the coaches' passenger seats in case of bandits.

Wells Fargo Museum
1000 2nd Street, Old Sacramento
- or - 
400 Capitol Mall, Sacramento
Free admission

Museum of Medical History

Sacramento Museum of Medical HistoryThough not a stop for the faint of heart, the Museum of Medical History is a must for anyone who's into the off-beat, the scientific, or the vaguely eerie. With displays of everything from old vials and ads for tonics, to glass eyeballs and Civil War amputation kits, to early x-ray equipment and dentists' chairs, you never know quite what you're going to stumble upon. A huge back room houses an extensive collection of early medical textbooks and journals, doctor's black bags, army doctor and nurse uniforms from throughout the years, and much more.

Museum of Medical History
At the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society 
5380 Elvas Ave., Sacramento
Free admission
State Capitol Museum

California State Capitol Museum

CA State Capitol MuseumThe State Capitol's undoubtedly the best-known name on this list, but many may not realize it's more than a functioning seat of government: it's also a historic museum. Construction of the Capitol began in 1860 and wasn't completed until 1874; today it remains an imposing structure full of columns, domes, cupolas, gilded state seals and intricate stained glass. You can take free, guided tours every hour from 9:00 a.m. -4:00 p.m. daily, but visitors are also free to explore the museum on their own. 

California State Capitol Museum
10th and L Streets, Sacramento
Free admission

California State Indian Museum

CA State Indian MuseumRight next door to historic Sutter's Fort, a smaller and lesser-known building pays homage to another important aspect of California's history. Established in 1940, this museum documents the ways of life of some the 150 Native American tribes that once inhabited California. The museum is home to an extensive collection of photographs, ceremonial garb, weapons, instruments, baskets, and works of art by native peoples. At the center of the museum, a huge canoe carved out of a single redwood tree is the kind of unique piece the center has become renowned for.

California State Indian Museum
2618 K Street, Sacramento
Admission: $3

California State Railroad Museum

With 225,000 square feet of exhibition space, 21 beautifully restored locomotives and cars, and countless stories to tell about the importance of the railroad in shaping the history of California, this museum's a dream come true for anyone who was ever enthralled by trains as a kid (or whose inner kid still loves them!). On weekends from April through September, visitors can also take a 45-minute line alongside the river in an elegant 1920s Southern Pacific Observation Lounge Car, making this the only museum on our list where you can take your history lesson to go!

California State Railroad Museum
Corner of 2nd Street and I Street in Old Sacramento
Admission: $10, train rides $10-$20

Governor's Mansion Museum and State Historic Park

Built in 1877 by a wealthy local businessman, this Italianate Victorian mansion has housed some pretty famous residents in its lifetime. The state of California bought the property in 1903, and over the next 64 years, 13 different governors and their families called the mansion home. (The last governor to live in the mansion, Ronald Reagan, was also arguably its most famous, though he only called the place home for a few months). Today, a walk around the mansion will take you through ornate interiors, elegant gardens, and of course a lesson in the history of California.

Governor's Mansion State Historic Park
1526 H Street, Sacramento
Admission: $5

Crocker Art Museum

Crocker Art MuseumIn the mood for something a little less esoteric? No problem: try the Crocker, which brings together the work of fine art by artists from all over the world – California to Europe, Asia to Africa – for one of the most renowned collections in the state.

The Crocker Art Museum
216 O Street, Sacramento
Admission: $10 general/$8 college students. Free admission the third Thursday of every month.

For more ideas on what to do in California's State Capital, be sure to check out our staff members' guides to art spotting and antiquing, local nightlife, and dining about town. Whatever you do, don't forget to add "relaxing in a Victorian mansion" to your itinerary: it's easy with an overnight at HI-Sacramento, housed in a historic 1860s mansion in the heart of the city!

 

If You Go 

Stay at HI-Sacramento