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 stores, eateries, and lodgings.
Though Sacramento 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. To understand how this remarkable reengineering feat was achieved and to gain a glimpse into history, the Sacramento History Museum offers one-hour, half-mile Old Sacramento Underground Tours, led by docents in period costumes. Your charming Old West hosts will lead you down sloped alleyways and narrow passages into some of the gloomy spaces created by this elaborate anti-flood measure, 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, who you’ll meet as they share the early town’s tales of murderers, thieves, gamblers and madams.
Know before you go: With more than two million followers, the Sacramento History Museum’s TikTok page is a phenomenon in itself, and it’s made the museum’s on-site printer, Howard, one of social media’s most unwitting stars. Take a tour for a chance to meet the man with the meditative voice in the ink-stained apron.