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Sacramento’s Most Fascinating Museums
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Sacramento’s Most Fascinating Museums

Picture of Catrina Pang
Updated: 11 December 2015
When traveling in California’s historic capital city, visitors will find no shortage of activities to do. Sacramento’s numerous museums reflect the diversity of its residents, its geography, and its history. Whether you’re interested in art, science, history, or wildlife, you’re sure to find a museum you’ll love in this beautiful city. Below, we explore some of the most fascinating museums that Sacramento has to offer.

Crocker Art Museum

In 1868, Judge Edwin B. Crocker purchased the property and existing buildings on the corner of Third and O Streets that would later become home to the Crocker Art Museum. He commissioned local architect Seth Babson to renovate the home into a grander Italianate mansion and design an elaborate gallery building adjacent to the mansion for the purpose of displaying the family’s growing art collection. The museum, established in 1885, became the first public art museum founded in the western United States and continues to be one of the leading art museums in California to this day. It offers a diverse spectrum of special exhibitions and programs to complement its collections of Californian art, works on paper, European art, international ceramics, photography, Asian art, and African and Oceanic art. In October of 2010, the 125,000-square-foot Teel Family Pavilion was added next to the historic gallery building, allowing the museum to dedicate gallery space to all collecting areas and turn the historic building’s entire first floor into the museum’s Education Center, including four studio classrooms, space for Student & Community Exhibitions, an expanded Gerald Hansen Library, the Art Education Resource Room, and Tot Land.

Crocker Art Museum, 216 O Street, Sacramento, CA, USA, +1 916 808 7000

California State Railroad Museum

First opened to the public in 1976, the California State Railroad Museum complex is one of Sacramento’s largest and most popular destinations, with over 500,000 annual visitors from all over the world. The museum consists of six original, reconstructed, and new buildings totaling 225,000 square feet of exhibit space. There, visitors will find stimulating exhibits, enthusiastic and knowledgeable docents, and beautifully restored railroad cars and locomotives to illustrate railroad history in California and the west. Throughout the main Railroad History Museum building, 21 meticulously restored locomotives and cars, as well as numerous other exhibits, illustrate how railroads have shaped people’s lives, the economy, and the unique culture of California and the west. Visitors get the chance to see a Pullman-style sleeping car, a dining car filled with railroad china, and even a Railway Post Office that they can actually step aboard. There are also on-site theaters that showcase films on the history of trains and their impact on the growth and development of the west, as well as special excursion train rides at certain times of the year.

California State Railroad Museum, 125 I Street, Sacramento, CA, USA, +1 916 323 9280

The California Museum

Through a unique partnership with the State of California, The California Museum opened in June of 1998 as a private non-profit institution focused on California history and culture. Under the development of the Secretary of State’s office, the Museum was created to be the public showplace for contents of the California State Archives. In 2003, however, former First Lady Maria Shriver began working with the Museum to expand its vision and mission, creating exhibitions that emphasize stories not presented to reflect all aspects of California’s diverse population and culture, with a focus on the contributions of women and under-represented groups. In the museums permanent exhibits, visitors can hop aboard a bus to hear immigrants tell their stories of coming to California, meet a ghost who recounts his family’s experience in California from the Gold Rush to the present, or step inside a theater to see how Hollywood has portrayed the Golden State. Perhaps its most popular exhibit is the Constitution Wall, towering six stories over the courtyard and featuring sculpted words taken from the California Constitution chosen for their meanings to inspire reflection on the freedoms guaranteed to all Californians. The museum also hosts six to seven annually changing exhibits highlighting the people and places that make California unique.

The California Museum, 1020 O Street, Sacramento, CA, USA, +1 916 653 7524

California Automobile Museum

On the banks of the Sacramento River in the shadow of Old Town, the California Automobile Museum displays vehicles of all makes and models, creating a broad story of the automobile through history. It was originally known as the Towe Ford Museum, home to the largest collection of Fords in the world owned by Montana banker Edward Towe, but when a tax dispute with Mr. Towe caused the collection to be auctioned off in 1997, the museum had to start showing other vehicles. Since the museum no longer housed the Towe Collection, the Board of Directors decided to officially change its name to the California Automobile Museum in 2009, with the expanded mission of preserving, exhibiting, and teaching the story of the automobile and its influence on people’s lives. Many of the cars are set off in eye-catching displays, educating people about cars and telling the story of the development of the automobile and its effect on people’s lives and culture. Approximately 25% of the vehicles in the museum are currently owned by the California Vehicle Foundation, and the rest are displayed by private exhibitors. Some of the cars are on loan for a month and others for five years, so the museum’s display is a constantly changing exhibit of rolling stock.

California Automobile Museum, 2200 Front Street, Sacramento, CA, USA, +1 916 442 6802

State Indian Museum

Native peoples lived prosperously for thousands of years in what is now California, and the State Indian Museum’s exhibits and photographs are presented with respect for the original inhabitants of this land whose descendants continue to live in California communities today. Since its opening in 1940, the museum has depicted three major themes of California Indian life: Nature, Spirit, and Family. Cultural items on display in the museum include some of the smallest traditional baskets in the world, a redwood dugout canoe, ceremonial regalia, beadwork, and hunting and fishing tools, some of which are over 2,400 years old. There is also an exhibit depicting the life of Ishi, reputedly the last survivor of the Yahi tribe, illustrating how native culture was powerfully impacted and forever changed when outsiders arrived. In addition, many native people have donated photographs of family and friends for viewing in the museum, and there is even a wall of photographs devoted to honoring California Elders. The museum also has a hands-on area where visitors have the opportunity to utilize Indian tools like the pump drill, used for making holes in shell beads, and the mortar and pestle, used for grinding acorns.

State Indian Museum, 2618 K Street, Sacramento, CA, USA, +1 916 324 0971