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Photo of horse-drawn carriage along Old Sacramento
Photograph: Carlos Eliason/Visit Sacramento

The best things to do on the Old Sacramento Waterfront

Explore Sac from the Gold Rush through today with our guide to the best things to do on the Old Sacramento Waterfront

Written by
Clara Hogan
Contributor
Garrick Ramirez
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There are plenty of charming things to do on the Old Sacramento Waterfront, but the most essential is rather obvious: taking an old-fashioned stroll. Minutes from Sacramento’s modern Golden 1 arena and bustling downtown, an afternoon spent meandering this riverfront Old West town—lined with wooden sidewalks and 19th century brick buildings—is worth every step. California’s state capital is home to the largest concentration of Gold Rush-era buildings in the nation, most of which are set here, along the eastern banks of the river, in the Old Sacramento Waterfront neighborhood.


This atmospheric area immerses visitors in a time when Sacramento was a Gold Rush commercial hub and served as the West Coast endpoint for the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad. Today, its historic 19th-century buildings house contemporary shops, bars, and restaurants with nods to SacTown’s rollicking past.

Here's what to see and do in Old Sacramento, from old saloons to museums and antique shops. And, after you've explored this old-timey neighborhood, don't forget to check out everything downtown Sacramento has to offer, too.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Sacramento

Old Sacramento Waterfront guide

Blocked off to street traffic, this corner of the Old Sacramento Waterfront relives the days when the Pony Express and first Transcontinental Railroad rolled through town. Run your hand against the exterior walls of the historic Eagle Theater, a replica of the original 1849 structure. Like many buildings of the time, it was constructed of canvas and wood salvaged from ships, earning Sacramento the early title of tent city. Other notable buildings include the 1855 Huntington-Hopkins Hardware store, opened by Big Four railroad magnates Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, which today stocks fun trinkets from the era.

A historic riverboat that once shuttled travelers from SF to Sacramento is now a waterfront hotel and dining destination. Docked at the edge of Old Sacramento on the Sacramento River, this grand 1927 riverboat welcomes guests to explore its ornate interiors and spend the night in one of the shipshape rooms. Yet, you needn’t be an overnight guest to enjoy the two restaurants on board. The Pilothouse is fine dining, while the Delta Bar & Grill offers more casual fare including happy hour cocktails and an exceptional American Kobe burger.

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Set within the Old Sacramento Historic State Park, the museum’s nondescript exterior hides one of the region’s most thrilling museums with immersive displays that transport you to the glamorous, pre-ridesharing-app days of rail travel. Its cavernous, hangar-sized interior features over 40 magnificent engines and railcars including the house-sized Southern Pacific Railroad Cab Forward No. 4294, and a rocking sleeping car that simulates a night journey. Don’t miss the top floor’s impressive display of toy trains which zip around a mini countryside of towns, bridges, and tunnels.

After a series of devastating floods in the 1850s and 1860s, the early town of Sacramento raised its street level up to 20 feet. Led by costumed docents, you can explore the hollow sidewalks and dark, subterranean spaces left behind. Your tour ticket also gets you into the museum; the exhibits take guests from Sacramento’s booming Gold Rush past—the third floor features half a million dollars worth of gold—to its shift to an agricultural hub in the early 20th century.

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Housed in an 1853 former firehouse, this special occasion, fine dining spot has been dishing up elegance since 1960. The stately dining room hung with museum-worthy framed artworks sets the stage for dishes such as herb-crusted rack of lamb and a vintage Burgundy pulled from the 15,000 bottle wine cellar. Service is a first-class affair, and its historic charm has made it a popular wedding destination. If weather permits, nab a seat on the outdoor courtyard with gurgling fountain.

Named for the famous 1842 Sacramento steamship that served in the Civil War, this old-timey saloon is crammed with a museum’s worth of bric-a-brac hanging from its ceilings and walls (some of it supposedly rescued from the original boat). There’s a good selection of local beers, as well as a smattering of pinball machines on multiple floors. A tiny downstairs kitchen cranks out burgers, wings, and other pub grub staples including a signature Jiffy Burger topped with peanut butter and bacon.

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Step back in time at this old western saloon with punched tin ceiling, sawdust floors, and bordello-red wallpaper modeled on the bar’s original 1870s appearance. Whether or not the Shanghaiing tales are true, the raucous bar stirs its guests with stiff drinks, free peanuts, and weekend karaoke. Plus, there’s a locally brewed sarsaparilla for teetotalers.

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It’s Halloween all-year-long at this goth palace filled with every costume and accessory imaginable. Wander the many themed rooms spread across two buildings like the 1852 Lady Adams Building—built of brick ballast from a ship of the same name—and the show-stopping, three-story Howard House built in the mid 1860s. Explore the latter with the shop’s Murder & Mayhem scavenger hunt which sends participants throughout the manor learning about the most notorious murders in history.

With a minuscule footprint inside SacTown Sports Bar, husband-and-wife team and former tortilla factory owners Andy and Lola Madri crank out hearty, handmade tamales alongside their son Anthony. Tucked inside fresh masa, the soulful tamales feature stew-like fillings such as green chile cheese and the best-selling Hatch red chile with pulled pork.

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