California’s capital city first began in the mid-1800s as a settlement along the Sacramento River. It marked the spot where gold seekers heading for the Mother Lode in the Sierra foothills would leave their sailing ships and continue east on foot. In response to the flood of gold-fevered adventurers, a settlement began to grow along the river’s southern banks—a place bustling with shops, eateries, and lodgings.
Though the area was convenient for river access, it had a problem: It flooded—a lot. To get above the river’s incessant rising flow, the town began to raise its streets and buildings. Recent excavations have uncovered the former first floors of Old Sacramento, a maze of hidden underground spaces and streets. Sacramento History Museum guides in period costumes lead you down sloped alleyways and narrow passages into some of these gloomy spaces, all the while sharing details on the town’s early history and citizens. Special “Underground After Hours” tours, offered on select evenings for ages 21 and over, delve into the city’s darker past. Guides shed light on Old Sacramento’s shadiest characters, sharing the early town’s gossip of murder, mischief, and madams.