- California's state capital
? Where's that ? Many visitors from outside the USA, and even from
other parts of the USA, presume that the capital of California is Los
Angeles, or if not Los Angeles, then San Francisco. But then many
people imagine that the capital of New York state is New York, which it
isn't. It's Albany... even if you've never heard of it.
Before California was ceded to the United States by Spain,
capital of all the Californias (Baja California, now part of Mexico)
and Alta California (now just California) was Monterey, on the coast.
Following incorporation of California into the US, the capital moved
three times before finally being established in 1854 at Sacramento. The
choice was logical; Sacramento was close to the main entry to
California from the landward side, and was a key staging post for gold
miners and other settlers moving into the state. In addition,
Sacramento is connected to the coast by the Sacramento river, the
largest river in California, navigable for over 250 miles.
Sacramento does not attract as many visitors as Los Angeles, San
Francisco, or even San Diego, it is a city that is well worth visiting
by anyone wanting to fully discover California. After all, it is the
state capital, and has been so for over 160 years.
It is easy
for visitors to imagine that California's cities lie on or close to the
coast, and that the rest of California is made up of agricultural land,
forests, deserts and mountains. Most of it is, but there are also
plenty of middling to small towns, and three big cities, Fresno,
Sacramento, and Bakersfield.
Sacramento's historic legacy
Sacramento is California's oldest
city – at least in the sense that it was the first place in American
California to be officially incorporated as a city, back in the year
1850. Although nearby San Francisco had developed into a bigger town
and the biggest port on the west coast of North America, it was not
incorporated as a city until 1856, six years after Sacramento.
Sacramento is thus the Californian city that most prides itself on
history; and even if its history is rather short in comparison
other historic US cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte or New
Orleans – let alone in comparison to the historic cities of Europe or
Asia – Sacramentois a place with history, and it likes to show it.
Sacramento's history is the history of modern California. The area in
which Sacramento is located was first explored by the Spanish cavalry
officer Gabriel Moraga, who gave the Sacramento river its name. The
first settlement, called New Helvetia, was established by Swiss pioneer
John Sutter, who appreciated the area's potential for agriculture. Soon
the township's population exploded following the discovery of gold in a
nearby river, and the start of the California Gold Rush; and before
long the Central Pacific railroad arrived, first from the San Francisco
bay area, then connecting across the Rockies towards the east and a
junction with the Union Pacific, to create the first transcontinental
railroad, opened in 1869.
Already the state capital,
Sacramento was thus from then on and for years to come, the hub of
traffic between California and the rest of the United States.
Today it is Sacramento's historic heritage that draws in the visitors.
The biggest attraction is Old
Sacramento State Historic Park
, between I Street and K
preserved and rejuvenated area that covers about a third of the
historic area of Old Sacramento, on the east bank of the Sacramento
river. The historic park area is essentially composed of
nineteenth-century buildings, built in the classic architectural style
of the American West, a form of utilitarian American architecture
embellished and adapted for a hot climate with balconies and
impressive facades involving features of colonial Spanish style.
The historic park is an open air museum, and
many of the buildings now in it have been relocated from other sites.
They include the famous Big
, made up of the former
Sacramento headquarter buildings set up by pioneering railroad
tycoons, Huntington, Hopkins, Stanford and
Crocker. Another significant building is the former Pony Express
Terminal, a.k.a. the B.F.Hastings Bank building, that now houses part
of the Wells Fargo museum
For visitors wanting to get a real understanding
of California's history, Old Sacramento is the place to do so, as it is
also home to the California
State Railroad Museum
parks and museums
), the State
Military Museum, and the Sacramento History Museum. There are
even historic train rides
that depart for a short trip up the river
bank from the former Central Pacific Railroad station. On the river
itself, the most popular sight is the historic sternwheel riverboat,
the Delta King, which is nowadays a floating hotel and restaurant.
At the southern end of Old Sacramento, Sacramento's Tower
a vertical-lift bridge across the Sacramento river, is anaother
building registered as a historic monument, opened in 1935.
Within easy walking distance of Old Sacramento is the
Crocker Art Museum (see Art
), and a bit further south is the California
Automobile Museum. It is a twenty-minute walk, down Front
Street, from the center of Old Sacramento to the Automobile
A half hour walk from Old Sacramento, past the State Capitol
Building and museum, lies Sutter's
state historic park. This is the site of the
original settlement in Sacramento. The fort's main building, dating
from 1841, is the oldest building in Sacramento, and was the
original home of Sutter's first colony.