Sacramento: A rich and dynamic past

Beale Air Force Base -- What began as a supply town in the mid 1800s for boomtown Gold Rush miners has evolved into one of California's fastest-growing areas.

The river city of Sacramento is the California state capitol and home to many historical attractions showcasing its rich and dynamic past.

Laid out in a grid fashion, Sacramento is easy to navigate on foot or by car, making it an ideal place to explore. City attractions range from the kid-friendly places such as the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, to museums that would suite any history-lover including the California State Railroad Museum and the Governor's Mansion State Historic Park.

Although Sacramento has served as the state capital since 1854, it wasn't always the case. From 1849 to 1851 San Jose was the capital but was moved to Vallejo in 1852 when General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo offered more promising lands for a state building and money to fund the construction. When the lack of furniture and inadequate building required the legislature to move sessions temporarily to Sacramento, the capital headquarters were moved to Benicia, a town named after General Vallejo's wife.

Again, the facilities at Benicia weren't sufficient for the state legislature and all its employees; allowing the city of Sacramento to step in with a general proposal including the free use of their county courthouse, fireproof vaults and a building site for a permanent capitol building.

Often delayed by floods and supply delays caused by the Civil War, the capitol building took 14 years to build, beginning in 1860 and finishing in 1874. Today people can take a free tour of the capitol building, which covers the building's architecture and the workings of the government. The capitol is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, and tours are offered every on the hour until 4 p.m.

Another unique Sacramento site is the 28-acre National Historic Landmark District of Old Sacramento. When gold was discovered, Old Sac rapidly grew into the commercial center of Sacramento, but eventually commercial development spread east into the city and Old Sac became a run-down 'skid-row.' In the 1960's a major re-vitalization plan brought back development and restored many of the old buildings. Today Old Sac is home to numerous restaurants, shops, and museums where visitors get a glimpse into the cities origins. With cobblestone streets and wooden boardwalks, the area has an old-saloon town look and feel, compounded by the Central Pacific Railroad passenger station that offers train rides 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sundays, April through September and on special holiday weekends October through December. Train rides can be purchased at the California State Railroad Museum, which is around the corner from the station.

The California State Railroad Museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives along with exhibits of train artifacts, a toy train gallery and a theater that shows a 20-minute movie on the history of western railroads. The exhibits document the building of the transcontinental railroad and how the railroad shaped American work and leisure lifestyles.

While there's a lot to see, touring the city doesn't have to be expensive; several of its main sites are even free of charge, including the state capitol building, which resembles the U.S. capitol building in Washington D.C. Visitors can just walk around Old Sac, soaking up the western town atmosphere, while listening to the Central Pacific railroad.

No matter what part of the city you choose to visit, the colorful and vibrant history of Sacramento shines through.

The particulars:
What: California State Capitol Building
Where: 10th Street between N and L Streets
How much: Free
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours offered on the hour until 4 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

What: California State Railroad Museum
Where: 125 I St, in Old Sacramento
How much: $8 for adults, $3 children ages 6 to 17; free for children under age 5.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.