Sacramento-Area Historic Landmarks to Check Out
Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own town. All too often, it’s easy to go about our daily lives without consideration to those who came before us. The greater Sacramento area has a rich and varied history, from the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years to the gold miners who flooded the area during the Gold Rush.
We’re probably all familiar with the major historical sites in the Sacramento area (Old Sacramento, Sutter’s Fort and the State Capitol come to mind!) But there are plenty of other lesser-known spots to explore. Following are some of the state and national historic landmarks in the greater Sacramento area. Please note: some locations may be closed due to Covid-19 restrictions; please check the websites for the most up-to-date information.
Woodland Opera House | Woodland
You don’t have to be a fan of the performing arts to appreciate this 19th-century showpiece in Woodland. The brick building was one of the first opera houses to serve the Sacramento area. A major restoration brought it back to its former glory, and although in-person performances have been on hold since the pandemic, virtual performances and classes are offered.
Folsom Powerhouse | Folsom
Ever wonder how the Sacramento area got its electricity in the early days? A visit to the Folsom Powerhouse in Folsom will show you! The structure was built in 1895, capturing the hydroelectric power of rushing water from the American River and sending it in a usable form throughout the area via copper wires.
B.F. Hastings Building | Sacramento
Old Sacramento is a historic landmark itself, and within it are several individual landmarks, including this building, which was the western terminus of the Pony Express. Built in 1852, it housed the Wells Fargo History Museum for many years, and is now home to the Sacramento Visitor’s Center.
Fountain-Tallman Soda Works | Placerville
Placerville has no shortage of historic buildings, but this one is unique in that it is the oldest building on Main Street, having been built in 1852. In fact, it is one of the first permanent buildings in the area, transforming the ramshackle mining camp into a real town. The stone building has walls that are two feet thick, plus iron shutters to protect it from fire. As its name implies, it was once a carbonated water company, but now houses a small museum.
Maidu Historic Site | Roseville
Long before eager gold miners settled in the Sacramento area, Native Americans called it home. This historic site and museum in Roseville depict the lives of the Nisenan Maidu who lived here. You can walk a trail to see bedrock mortars and ancient petroglyphs, or make a reservation at the museum to see artifacts like baskets and arrowheads.
Gibson Mansion | Woodland
What started as a tiny farm cottage in the mid-1800s evolved over the decades to become one of the largest homesteads in Woodland. In addition to the farmhouse, there were barns, a blacksmith, a dairy, and other out buildings, some of which are still standing. The property now houses YoloArts, which has a gallery onsite, as well as a historical collection with artifacts like antique farm equipment, furniture and household items.
Stanford Mansion | Sacramento
Original woodwork, gilded mirrors and period furnishings are a few of the things you’ll see at this opulent Victorian mansion in Downtown Sacramento. Built in the late 19th-century, this mansion was owned by former governor Leland Stanford, one of the “Big Four” railroad tycoons. Tours and visits are temporarily on hold but are expected to be reopened soon.
Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony | Placerville
The site of the first Japanese settlement in the United States, Wakamatsu Farm near Placerville was founded in 1869. The 272-acre site was not only a tea and silk farm, it was the birthplace of the first Japanese-American born on U.S. soil and the final resting place of the first Japanese immigrant to die here. The land itself is a beautiful agricultural and natural landscape, with independent farms, oak woodlands and babbling streams. It is open to visitors through scheduled tours and events.
Griffith Quarry | Penryn
In the late 1800s, Griffith Quarry in Penryn was renowned for its high-quality granite, used to construct buildings in San Francisco (the U.S. Mint) and Sacramento (the State Capitol). Today, you can learn about granite quarrying and local history at the onsite museum and see remnants of the quarry its processing mills.
Davis Train Station | Davis
The first railroad station in Yolo County, the Southern Pacific Davis Station was originally built in 1868, and then rebuilt in 1914 after being destroyed by fire. The Mission Revival style station is still in use today, served by several Amtrak routes connecting California cities as well as several western states.
Eagle Theater | Sacramento
Another Old Sacramento landmark, the Eagle Theater was the first permanent theater in California, providing live entertainment to gold miners in late 1849. The original structure was destroyed by flood the following year, but reconstructed more than a century later. It now offers tours for field trips and hosts other community events and performances.
Gold Discovery Site | Coloma
Less than an hour from downtown Sacramento is the spot on the South Fork of the American River where gold was discovered in 1848, thus launching the California Gold Rush. Coloma is now a state park, with a reproduction of John Sutter’s original sawmill and historic buildings. You can hike through the scenic riverside terrain and even pan for gold!
Mountain Quarries Bridge | Auburn
Ok, it’s not quite as spectacular as the Golden Gate. But the Mountain Quarries Bridge (also known as the No-Hands Bridge) near Auburn is impressive given its history as a crucial means of transport for quarried granite. Spanning the North Fork of the American River, the bridge is also impressive considering its surroundings: rushing blue-green water, dramatic canyons and dense forest. It is located within the Auburn State Recreation Area, one of the best outdoor areas near Sacramento to explore.
Sacramento City Cemetery | Sacramento
You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Sacramento where so much history is gathered in one place. Established in 1849, the “outdoor museum” in Upper Land Park is the final resting places of the city’s early residents. Its 30 acres resemble a Victorian garden, with colorful rose bushes and ornate stone monuments. You can take a self-guided walking tour or a guided special interest tour (suspended during the pandemic) with costumed docents.
Gold Bug Mine | Placerville
Mining is what put Placerville on the map, and this historic spot is a prime example of a hard rock gold mine. Founded in 1888, the mine has a solid wooden floor, lighting and an air shaft to bring in fresh air. There’s even a stamp mill, a blacksmith shop and a museum to check out. The mine was closed due to the pandemic, but it is expected to reopen soon.