It’s been called, “The City of Trees,” “River City,” “The Camellia Capital of the World,” “Sac Town,” and (a favorite moniker among locals) “Sacratomato.” No matter what name the capital city of California goes by, Sacramento is a wonderland for history buffs. Long before the Gold Rush lured miners and settlers to the region, the Miwok and Maidu Indians flourished in the Sacramento Valley, where the Sacramento and American Rivers converge, living off acorns, berries and fish from the waters. Today, Sacramento bustles as the center of state politics, with more than 2.5 million people in the metropolitan area.
If you go to Sacramento, of course you’ll want to see the beautiful, gold-domed capitol and perhaps take the Capitol Park tour. But for a real taste of Native American history and natural splendor of Sacramento, we suggest the following must-see adventures:
California State Indian Museum
Located next to Sutter’s Fort, the California State Indian Museum opened in 1940 and offers self-guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. All the exhibits and photographs center around three major themes of Native life in California: nature, spirit and family. Some Native treasures you’ll find include an assortment of traditional baskets, a canoe made of redwood, ceremonial regalia, beadwork, and hunting and fishing tools dating back more than 2,400 years. The museum also pays tribute to California elders with a wall of photographs donated by many Native families. Visitors can purchase jewelry, dolls, baskets and other Native-made items at the museum store, which also features the area’s largest selection of Indian books in the state.
For more details, visit: parks.ca.gov/indianmuseum
California Indian Exhibit
At another museum, the California Museum at 1020 O Street in Sacramento, visitors will be treated to a one-of-a-kind exhibit featuring Native voices from more than 100 tribes across the state. This special 3,000-square foot gallery called, “California Indians: Making A Difference," took more than two years to create with the guidance of a tribal advisory council. Highlights include video stations, an interactive language kiosk and more than 400 artifacts, including a life-sized reproduction of a Channel Island pygmy mammoth and works from contemporary Native artists Frank La Peña and Fritz Scholder.
For more details, visit: californiamuseum.org
Can’t get enough Native American history? There is also a small Native American exhibit at the Sacramento History Museum in Old Sacramento. historicoldsac.org
American River Bike Trail
Bike riding is a popular pastime in Sacramento, as it is a great way to appreciate the abundant foliage and nature-filled landscape of the city. One of the best ways to experience the riparian habitat of The River City is biking along the American River Bike Trail, otherwise known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail.
This paved 32-mile trail runs between Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and Folsom Lake's southwestern banks at Beal's Point. It’s easy to stay cool, too, with plenty of shade from trees lining the path, and bikers will appreciate the many mile markers, water fountains and restrooms along the way, too.
For more details, visit: americanriverbiketrail.com
Indian gaming has definitely made its mark in the capitol city, with a choice of four casinos in or near the metropolitan Sacramento area:
Cache Creek Casino Resort: This 415,000-square foot property owned by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation is located just a few miles outside of the Sacramento area, in Brooks, California. It started as a small Bingo Hall in 1985, and in 2004, became a $200 million enterprise that includes a full-service casino, a 200-room luxury hotel and health spa, outdoor swimming popl, nine restaurants, a 700-seat indoor concert venue and seasonal 3,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. cachecreek.com
Jackson Rancheria Casino and Hotel: Owned and operated by the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians in Jackson, California, this impressive property has recently completed a five-year, $80 million renovation, which included a complete overhaul of its hotel, five new restaurants, and a remodeled gaming area and Poker Room. jacksoncasino.com
Red Hawk Casino: The Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians’ own and operate this casino in Placerville. The gaming operations include 2,100 slot machines and 75 table games. Five restaurants offer diners a wide variety of cuisine, from steak to tacos to sushi. Red Hawk is the only casino of the four that does not have a hotel on site. redhawkcasino.com
Thunder Valley: The United Auburn Indian Community opened Thunder Valley in 2003 as a gaming and entertainment facility, then in 2010, the tribe added a AAA Four-Diamond-rated,
17-story hotel and 12,000-square-foot spa. It is becoming well-known for its summer concert series in the expansive outdoor amphitheater, a venue spotlighting big-name bands from all over the music industry. thundervalleyresort.com
Wildlife Refuge and Nature Center
Tourists hoping to connect with the wildlife in the Sacramento area have a number of options. The Effie Yeaw Nature Center is an award-winning environmental and cultural education center in Carmichael. Casual hikers will enjoy the interpretive trails along the American River on the 77-acre nature preserve. It’s not unusual to spot deer, coyotes and wild turkeys in the oak woodlands. The Center offers guided tours, educational workshops, interactive exhibits, s gift shop and a replica Maidu Indian summer village.
For more details, visit: sacnaturecenter.net
The Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, slightly south of Sacramento, is home to more than 200 species of birds, fish, wildlife and plant species along what is called the Pacific Flyway, a protected area dotted with precious wetlands and lakes. Visitors will likely see mallards, heron, egret, raccoons, great horned owls and hawks, to name a few of the happy residents. Guided tours are available.
For more details, visit: stonelakes.fws.gov