Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Vacation Schooling in Sacramento, California

Vacation Schooling in Sacramento, California

By Jen Henderson


Vacation Schooling in Sacramento, California Image by Annette M. Hall

Our state capitol is Sacramento. Sacramento is home of the nexus of two major watersheds, the Pony Express terminus, the railroad, and more. Learn about historic Sacramento by walking through Old Sacramento and Downtown Sacramento. See the commercial buildings dating back to the mid 1800's. Try the weekend steam train excursions. Dig up a Sacramento Gold Card. Certain hotels offer these passes for savings throughout Sacramento.

Sacramento used to flood when the river filled. In order to keep the capitol in Sacramento, they had to do something about the flooding. They decided to jack up the buildings, streets, and sidewalks. If you pay close attention to the architecture of the old buildings, and the level of the alleyways, particularly near the Railroad Museum, you can see where the level of Downtown Sacramento used to be. You can still go "underground" if you dine at Fulton's Underground or at Round Table Pizza.

Check out the Old Sacramento Living History Program to see what special events they have while you are visiting. Check out their ghost tours on the 17th, 18th, 24th, and 25th of October. If you go on one of these tours, be sure to ask about the underground.

Downtown and Old Town Sacramento

Visit the workplace of your state legislators and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. State Capitol Museum tours depart on the hour. Whether you take the tour or do a self-guided tour, you can't miss the beauty of the rotunda. The kids were interested in the preserved historic offices. If you're lucky, you may get a chance to see the legislators in action. The outside of the capitol is amazing. The frescos and columns really make the point of the importance of the work that happens inside. Take the time to write a note to one of our state representatives. You may even get to meet them and hand deliver your message.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is an active church with beautiful, ornate architecture and stained glass. Built in the late 1800's, and recently restored, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament looks like something out of a book or Grandma's vacation slides from her trip to Europe.

Esquire IMAX

The Esquire IMAX has multiple 3D films available for viewing. When you arrive at the ticket window, you will be allowed to choose your seats. If you have trouble with motion sickness, consider sitting further back in the theater. Be sure to visit the projection room either before or after the show to see how an IMAX projection system works.

Homeschooling — California Style

Wells Fargo Museum

We took the self-guided tour of the Wells Fargo Museum. We saw pictures and read plaques about the Pony Express, Black Bart, and panning for gold. We also saw the tools used to pan, mine, and measure gold. Michaela is interested in horses and was excited to see the way horses were outfitted in the 1800's. There were also stagecoaches to see, though they were not open to physical exploration, much to my Ian's disappointment.

Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum

If your kids are interested in the Little House on the Prairie books, they will love the late 1800's schoolhouse replica. With knowledgeable docents, the schoolhouse comes alive. It was a quick stop for us, but we enjoyed it.

Candy Heaven

Filled with free candy samples, Candy Heaven wants you to "Have a sweet day... Harry Potter fans will have the opportunity to buy chocolate covered grasshoppers. There is a whole section devoted to taffy. If there is a type of candy you parents had as a child, but haven't seen in a long time, Candy Heaven may have it. My family was interested in the six foot long Pixie Sticks that they can fill themselves.

Hardware Store

Next to the Railroad Museum, this was our favorite place to visit. We saw household, mining and farming tools. It was like walking through a shopping catalog from 1850. The docents were extremely knowledgeable and even taught the kids how to play children's games from the 1800's. We visited the hardware store for about an hour, then walked next door to the Railroad Museum.

Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum tour is great. However, it can be difficult to listen to all of the interesting things the docents have to say if you haven't had the chance to climb on everything first. The docents have the passion on young children and are happy to answer questions. They are able to tie history together whether it is race relations, gender relations, economics, politics, or labor history, all via the railroad history. If you love history, trains, or getting the inside scoop, this is the museum for you.

Allow at least half of a day to experience the Railroad Museum. You could easily spend all day there. Touch everything; look at the pictures and models; check out the second floor; visit the Pullman, refrigerator, and mail cars which are open for exploration, then go on the tour.

Sutter's Fort

For the first time since arriving in Sacramento, we took the car out of hotel parking and drove to Sutter's Fort. There were living history actors, an audio tour and a gift shop. We were able to see where various visitors had been, how the fort worked, and why it was designed as it was. A docent dressed as a trapper told us all about furs and why trapping was a valuable skill in his time. We spoke to a shopkeeper who actually still pans for gold today. Maybe we'll have another gold rush!

Get more information on Sacramento museums.

Joe's Crab Shack

In Old Sacramento, near base of the Tower Bridge, across the river from the Ziggurat Building, is an eatery that feels like a party. Whether you choose indoor or outdoor seating, ask to be seated in the section of the best dancer. We went to Joe's Crab Shack twice because after going once, the kids begged to return.

The second night, we were excited to be seated in the section of the best dancer of the night. The kids cheered for him between bites. The first night we went, the kids were afraid to try the bucket of crabs, but the second night; they were outfitted in bibs, given the appropriate tools, and definitely took advantage of the roll of paper towels at the table. If you don't know how to eat crab, just ask your server for a lesson.

The food came quickly and parents of young children will be happy to know that Joe's does have kid cups with lids. Sponge Bob fans will love the menu, but with the disco balls, music, and general party atmosphere, this may not be the place for a little one who gets over stimulated. It was perfect for us, though crab is a bit expensive.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Embassy Suites on Capitol Mall. The view from one side of the hotel was the Tower Bridge and the Sacramento River. The view from the other side was of the Capitol Building, which was amazing after dark. We scheduled our time so that we woke up in the morning, went swimming in the hotel pool, had the all you can eat buffet breakfast, and then walked off our breakfast as we toured Sacramento. We returned in the evening, had snacks at the manager's reception, and then walked along the river until bedtime. Call for rates and availability.

On the way...

Jelly Belly Factory

Vacation Schooling in Sacramento, California

Less than an hour from Old Sacramento, the Jelly Belly Factory gives kids a taste of the history of Jelly Belly jellybeans. The Jelly Belly visitor center is open 9-4 daily except around holidays. Tours depart every 15 minutes. The busiest time of year for tours is during the spring break season. Allow extra time if you go at the end of March or during April. The factory tour is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

While you are waiting for your tour, you can watch videos of how the factory works and sample the famous candy. You can also see these videos on their website. We liked the videos and the tour, but our favorite parts of the visit were shopping and lunch. We bought Belly Flops, the slightly misshapen Jelly Belly candies that taste the same as the regular Jelly Belly candies, but have fun, odd shapes. For lunch we had jelly bean shaped pizza and burgers at the Jelly Belly cafeteria. There was a lot of stimulation and there were noisy parts, but we didn't notice until we left the factory.

We loved our trip to Sacramento. There were so many things to see and do. It was exciting to see the places that we had seen in photographs in history books. Now we've been there and have a handle on what Sacramento was really like during the Gold Rush years. We give it a hearty recommendation.

  • Attention Vacation Schoolers! Take the whine out of drive time and turn your kids into Road Scholars with the fun, educational car games and actives in the book, Carschooling!

About the Author

Jen Henderson is a travel writer for Central Coast Family Newspaper, which allows her to "Vacation School" her children, Michaela (10) and Ian (6). She also teaches adult education and community college classes which required various degrees, credentials and certificates. She still believes her best education continues as she learns beside her children. Jen lives in San Luis Obispo County with her partner, kids, puppy, and cat.

Sacramento Virtual Tours and Museums