Stacy Antonopoulos

California Museum

In trying to provide our children with the best possible experiences, we often get tied into a number of kid-centered activities. Sacramento standards such as Fairytale Town and Funderland are great favorites with my kids, but there are times when I’d prefer to do something with them, rather than for them. That’s when we hit the museums; and in case you didn’t know, Sacramento has many. We’ll be highlighting one each month, from the best-loved Crocker, to some lesser known gems, starting with Downtown’s California Museum.

If you didn’t know Sacramento had a California Museum, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either – though it opened right before I moved here in 1998. The museum houses what you might expect: a rich exploration of Native American history, recollections of the Gold Rush era, and an homage to Californian celebrities and heroes. But beyond the mission models and fine pottery, there is a great deal of beauty, attention to detail, and quite a few surprises.

The architecture and design of the building are impressive on their own. A large sweeping staircase punctuates the open space filled with natural light. The museum is large, but not overwhelming: an industrious family could run the circuit in about an hour or so, but to really appreciate all it has to offer, I’d plan at least two hours. 

The first area to pique my interest was the California Remarkable Women exhibit. From astronauts to celebrities, social activists to artists, women are an important part of any history, and as a mommy of one young lady in the making, I appreciate the focus on strong female role models. If your little ones gravitate towards the glamorous, however, there is a lovely collection of classic Barbie dolls and period costumes as well.

In the California Hall of Fame, local celebrities are honored through a number of visuals and personal artifacts. Dr. Dre and Joe Montana, personal favorites, are represented through photos and news clippings while the work of Warren Beatty is given over to a display of classic film posters. 

Anthony and Zoe particularly enjoyed the Health Happens Here exhibit, which provides a number of interactive tasks to teach nutrition, community, and responsible living to the smaller Californians. The room itself looks like something out of a citrus colored Star Trek episode: lemon and lime walls provide a cheerful backdrop to the latest technology used to deliver a few valuable lessons in a fun and engaging way.

Some of California’s more somber history is addressed through the Uprooted exhibit, which features photos, artwork, and artifacts from Japanese internment camps. A large American flag, made up of tiny paper cranes, stands as a poignant centerpiece to this moving exhibit. 

I really loved the glimpse of public and private transit: a classic car and bus sit right outside of a display of early 1900’s luggage, guaranteed to transport you back in time. The kids loved the theater inside of the bus and the working lights on the front of each vehicle which illuminated the darkened room.

The museum also boasts a number of traveling exhibits, such as Dig It, which showcases local soil and sediment, its development, and environmental significance. Look out for a collection on loan from the Charles Shultz museum, coming in September.

My personal favorite exhibit resides in the courtyard, which is not visible from the outside. This open space houses The Constitution Wall, an installation made up of sculpted words, taken from our United States Constitution. The massive size serves as a symbolic reminder that the laws are intended to protect and shelter us all.

We really enjoyed our visit to The California Museum. Each room was able to hold the interest of the adults while keeping the kids engaged the entire time. If you are looking for something to enjoy with your family, rather than to set off on the side while the kids play, The California Museum is really a great choice. Its located at 1020 ‘O’ Street, and is open from 10-5, Tuesday through Saturday, and on occasional Sundays. As an added bonus, children 5 and under receive free admission!

Thank you to Sacramento Association of Museums and California Museum for making this post possible.


Photos | Stacy Antonopoulos