With its noble columns and snappy cupola, all painted wedding-cake white, California’s State Capitol building looks like a mini replica of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Take a free docent-led tour to learn about the 1869 building’s architecture and history. (Fun—and fortunate—fact: in 1972, after it had fallen into some disrepair, plans were drawn up to demolish the capitol building and replace it with a pair of towers. The decision to restore instead prevailed by a single vote in 1975.)
Just off the opulent rotunda with the domed ceiling, a hallway leading to the museum features a series of glass dioramas, one for each of the state’s 58 counties, that contain items thought to exemplify the unique character of that county. Once in the Capitol Museum, check out the collection of cool flags—including those carried by California soldiers during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, as well as artwork by former legislators and government staffers. Kids can download puzzles and coloring sheets that feature fun Golden State facts. (Quick: Which city is the Raisin Capital of the world?)
This is very much a working capitol building, and, if legislators are in session, ask about access to public galleries to watch bills being debated or votes being cast. Outside, stroll through the adjacent 40-acre Capitol Park, where you can admire trees from around the world, and visit the sweetly scented International World Peace Rose Garden. Take note of the Civil War Memorial Grove—in 1897, saplings from famous Civil War battlefields were planted here.