Need a new idea for a kid-friendly day trip from the Bay Area? In the mood for a dose of summer sun? Head on out to Sacramento!
We spent a couple of sunny Saturdays exploring our state capital and found so much to love about this family-friendly destination.
Sacramento is about 88 miles from SF and even closer to the East Bay which makes it a pretty quick drive (a requirement for us when we’re pondering a kid-friendly day trip from the Bay Area). Time your trip around commuter traffic and it’s an easy drive on Highway 80 all the way to Sacramento.
You could also leave the car at home and book your trip on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train that goes directly from Richmond BART station to Old Town Sacramento! From there it’s easy to catch Uber or Lyft to other spots in the city.
Tip: Tickets on Capitol Corridor on Saturdays are BYGO Free all summer!
The train route rolls over the Benicia-Martinez bridge (the second-longest railway bridge in North America) and the views are amazing! If the kids get restless, wobble your way down to the cafe car for snacks (guaranteed to be your kids’ favorite part of the ride). The train passes waterways, marshlands and farmland and arrives in Old Town Sacramento about 1 hour 45 minutes after leaving Richmond.
Old Town Sacramento is the former last stop on the Pony Express and now it’s a touristy, yet charming, historic landmark with wooden sidewalks and original 1800s buildings. There are several shops and candy stores to visit in Old Sacramento. Our favorite was Evangeline’s, where the kids picked out bead necklaces, rubber ducks and other costume bits and pieces. The store is full of costumes, flamingoes, monkeys, pirate treasure and sparkly jewelry. After a sweet sarsaparilla at River City Saloon walk over to the California State Railroad Museum to climb inside the 19 historic steam locomotives. Our favorite train was the futuristic high speed train mockup. The entire top floor is 3,300 square feet of train tables to play with and breathtaking, interactive installations of historic Lionel model trains.
Magpie Cafe in Midtown is our pick for lunch. This local favorite, farm-to-table spot has a huge porch to enjoy the Sacramento sunshine. There’s not a kids’ menu but our kids loved sharing the hummus bowl, turkey, cheese and pickle sandwich and local honey lemonade. Midtown Sacramento is a hip, walkable part of the city packed with cafes, coffee, shops, parks and murals. We strolled over to the Fremont Park playground after lunch to get the wiggles out.
If you end up in Midtown, head over to Sutter’s Fort and step back in time. This restored early 19th century fort shows visitors what it was like to live in California in the 1800s. When we visited we saw a cannon and musket firing and a blacksmith demonstration. The volunteers and docents are in period dress and full of enthusiasm and historical knowledge.
The California State Indian Museum is next to Sutter’s Fort and showcases traditional baskets, ceremonial dress, beadwork, and tools over 2,400 years old. It’s an important visit along with Sutter’s Fort to illustrate how Native culture was impacted by the arrival of outsiders. The museum store has a wonderful collection of Native children’s books.
The Trifecta of Kid Fun:
Fairytale Town, The Sacramento Zoo and Funderland are all on one property! When we picked Sacramento as a new favorite kid-friendly day trip from the Bay Area we were thinking back to this amazing trio of destinations.
Fairytale Town is a sweet, non-profit park with three dimensional play sets featuring classic fairy tales. Kids can walk the Crooked Mile, climb into Cinderella’s pumpkin and visit the real rabbits in Peter Rabbit’s Garden. Our kids loved the old-school, super steep slides most of all. The park also has performances and miniature farm animals. It’s a magical place for younger kids (we think it’s best for ages 2-7) to explore.
The Sacramento Zoo is steps from Fairytale Town. You don’t even have to re-park the car. Our highlights included feeding the giraffes, watching the river otter feeding and exploring the labyrinth of the reptile house over and over again.
Tips: You can leave and re-enter the zoo! Just ask for a hand stamp at the exit. Buy a combo Zoo & Fairy Tale Town ticket and save on admission.
Funderland also shares space with the Zoo and Fairy Tale Town. Our kids went wild over this pint-sized amusement park with free admission.
All 9 of the classic rides are safe for kids to ride solo. There are rides for even the smallest kids like Oscar The Fisher, an octopus themed ride made out of recycled WW II tanks.
Art for Everyone:
Art Beast is the place to let kids get messy and creative! From outdoor sand and water play, to play doh and manipulatives, a fire station themed playspace and an open art studio, Art Beast offers so many invitations to create! This is a community gathering place with true heart. The proceeds fund programs for local homeless children and youth.
Families feel truly welcome wandering the expansive galleries full of the world’s foremost collection of California art at the Crocker Art Museum. If the kids get antsy, families can visit Tot Land, the interactive, first floor children’s space that is designed to inspire creative little brains. They even have programming for babies as well as weekly hands-on art activities for toddlers and big kids. It really is a space for the entire family to be happily immersed in art.
Definitely visit the California State Capitol when you’re in town. It’s open to visitors Monday-Saturday. There are free tours on the hour but visitors can also do self-guided wandering. Make sure to go upstairs to view the Senate and Assembly rooms and take a photo with the giant bronze bear outside the governor’s office. Outside, stroll through Capitol Park. There are trees that were planted from Civil War battlefields and the International World Peace Rose Garden.
If you make it to any of these spots, shout out to us on Instagram. We’d love to see pics of your adventure. What’s your favorite kid-friendly day trip from the Bay Area? Almost all of us are local parents at Reso and we’re always looking for fun little getaways for our families!