In the slide show above, you're viewing pictures of Old Town Sacramento and the nearby California State Railroad Museum. Passing through California's state capital, Sacramento, is a major highlight of an I-5 road trip through the state. This is a town that history buffs are certain to enjoy, as you might decuce from seeing these pictures!
Sacramento's fabulous historic district...
directly to the side of Interstate 5!
Visiting Sacramento, California is a highlight of any Northern California I-5 road trip. It's the biggest city you'll pass along Interstate 5 in Northern California...and many sight-seeing opportunities await you here.
Old Town Sacramento and the California Railroad Museum: Two top-notch tourist attractions just off of Interstate 5 in Sacramento are the California State Railroad Museum and the Old Town Sacramento district. Old Town Sacramento, as you can tell from its pictures in the slide show above, is an area in which a number of the city's original buildings have been restored. While shopping, dining and office spaces are found in Old Town Sacramento, this area has been preserved in such a way that it looks more "plain and simple" than other restoration projects you've witnessed in the past. The emphasis here isn't on "looking cute." It's all about the realism.
Will these echoes of the past really interest the kids in your family? Probably! Just because the Old Town district has been preserved accurately, doesn't mean there's not any fun included!
Your kids just might see a paddle-wheeler on the river here...or a train chugging by. Why? Because 2 of Old Sacramento's family attractions happen to be the "Spirit of Sacramento" historic river boat and the California State Railroad Museum...and BOTH are activities which kids enjoy.
For a not-so-common diversion, you can take a sight-seeing tour out on the Sacramento River aboard the "Spirit of Sacramento." If you also decide to tour the California State Railroad Museum, you'll find exhibits, a film, and a number of restored train cars to explore. Best of all--kids under 17 get in free!
State Capitol Building nearby! If you stop to visit Old Sacramento, then you'll also be near the California State Capitol Building. You might want to take the family on a tour! This is one of the USA's loveliest, most stately Capitol buildings, and it's centered in a green, park-like setting featuring shrubs and plants from around the world. For tour information, here's the State Capitol Museum's website.
Funderland Amusement Park & the Sacramento Zoo
Are your children getting wiggly in the car? Making a stop at the enchanting Funderland Amusement Park can help...and like Old Town Sacramento, it's not far at all off of the interstate (just one block away at the Sutterville Rd exit!) This is an old-fashioned park featuring kiddie rides that you can purchase per-ride...or get a wristband for a full day of fun. If you have time for still more roadtrip fun, the Sacramento Zoo is adjacent...and so is the imaginative play park called Fairytale Town. Here's a Google map to Sacramento's Land Park, where you'll find all three attractions. And, here are the Sacramento Zoo, the Funderland Amusement Park and the Fairytale Town websites where you can get complete information.
I-5 Road Trip: Beautiful, but dull?
Most tourist attractions will require a trip off of the freeway
Here's the bad news: California's I-5 is efficient and pretty. But attraction-filled, it's NOT. It's difficult to say that about a road which passes through so much beautiful scenery, but it's true. If your family has kids along for the road trip, there's going to be some squirming in the back seat unless they've got their tablets, video games or movies with them.
Some sections of I-5 are woodsy; some are lined with farms. By no means is I-5 through California an ugly drive. However, what it's missing are places where families can get out and explore around together. For example, between Sacramento and Southern California, there are no major towns of any size. There are only "pit stops" aimed at feeding & housing travelers, and filling up their cars. That's it.
Once you reach metro Los Angeles, you'll find plenty to do along I-5. As you enter the metro area, in fact, a view of Six Flags Magic Mountain's tall roller coasters directly to the side of the freeway will be one of the sights that greet you to the city! Other major theme parks---Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, and Sea World San Diego---lie directly to the side of I-5, too....once you've hit the metropolis.
So your big question until you reach SoCal is this: should you drive straight through, or should you wander and turn your travels into a road trip? If you decide that you'd like to enjoy a road trip filled with natural wonders and historical points of interest, then there's only one conclusion you can come to: you have to leave I-5 at some point. Interstate 5 may continue to be the "backbone" of your trip. You may come back to it again. But you'll definitely have to veer away if you'd like to take in some popular tourist attractions.
Would you like spectacular ocean views? I-5 is land-locked, so you'll have to veer off the freeway (towards the west) if you'd like to enjoy the ocean front. You may enjoy beautiful Monterey Bay and the incomparable Big Sur coastline. For more details about planning a road trip near the Pacific Ocean coastline, please visit the Central California Coast Road Trip page of this blog.
Would you like to enjoy majestic mountain scenery? I-5 through Central California is flat...so once again, you'll have to veer away from the main road. This time, though, you'll be heading east towards the spectacular Sierras. To get an idea of some things you might enjoy on side-trips east of I-5, you'll find some possibilities listed below on this page.
I-5 Side Trip -- Gold Country!
Both historical and natural wonders await you off of the main route
Do you have time for a side trip on your way to Los Angeles? If so, Sacramento is the gateway to California's "Gold Rush Country," where relics of the state's mining history are ever-present.
On the left, you see a photo of Columbia State Park, which showcases authentic old-west buildings and is, in effect, a walk-through museum of the California gold rush days. And yet, even though buildings have been restored to their 1850's Gold Rush appearance, this town isn't totally a museum, either. Columbia's population shrank considerably after the Gold Rush, yet it never totally became a ghost town, either. People have really been living here since the "olden days!"
Columbia State Historic Park is great for families, because this is one "museum" where the kids won't have to tip-toe and keep hush-hush quiet. This old-fashioned town is all about exploring--just what kids always love to do!
Also in Gold Rush Country you'll find the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park (in Coloma.) There is a replica of the now-famous Sutter's Mill here, along with a museum of artifacts from the mill site.
Why isn't this called "Sutter's Historic Park" then? Well, James Marshall was hired by Mr. Sutter to build a lumber mill here...and during the process of doing just that, HE was the person to first spot the gold---and NOT Sutter himself!
Interstate 5 Road Trip Planner -- Incomparable Yosemite National Park
Discovering natural beauty is your reward for taking this side trip
Central California is even more well-known for its natural scenic beauty than it is for its Gold Rush history. Here, you'll find the VERY, VERY popular Yosemite National Park, famous for its lush greenery, towering and distinctive mountains (like Half Dome), and tall, flowing water falls.
To get to Yosemite, you'll have to detour off of I-5, so if you're in a hurry this trip, you might not be able to spare the time. But one day...sooner or later...you'll surely make your way to Yosemite, one of the high points of our National Park system.
On the other hand, if this trip finds you with time to spare, Yosemite National Park can provide you with outdoor adventure and educational fun. Fill your brain with interesting info at the park's visitor's center, then fill your heart with wonder as you hike the woodsy trails. At Yosemite, you can enjoy a short walk with the kids---or backpack for days! Other Yosemite activities include fishing (license required), ranger-led walks, tram tours, horseback tours, and bicycle rentals.
Camping is a highlight here...but, remember that in the summer months, camping is a VERY popular thing to do at Yosemite. Luckily, if you know in advance, you can make reservations through the Park Service. You may use the following link to learn more Park Service info for planning your Yosemite sidetrip at the
Yosemite National Park official website.
Routes from I-5 to Yosemite NP
There are a number of points from which you might leave Interstate 5 to head towards Yosemite National Park. If you're heading southbound, you might choose Stockton, Lathrop or the junction of I-5 & I-205 to leave the freeway and head eastwards towards the park. Here's a Google map of the route from Stockton to Yosemite, which would give you a 137-mile side trip to reach the national park (and a driving time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes without stops.)
If you're heading northbound, there are also several points at which you could leave I-5. One such route is from Kettleman City northwards through Fresno. This would be a 183-mile side-trip and would take about 4 hours to reach Yosemite. Here's a Google map of this route to Yosemite.
On the other hand, if you leave I-5 at Los Banos, you'd travel through the city of Merced instead of Fresno. The route would be about 150 miles long and would take about 3 hours and 15 minutes. Here's a Google map of the Los Banos to Yosemite route that you might want to explore.
Interstate 5 Road Trip Planner -- side trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
If you'd like to see the famous National Parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon, now's your chance! On your road trip down I-5, you'll pass closer to Sequoia National Park than you will on any other US Interstate Highway. True...once again you'll have to detour off the freeway. But you'll be rewarded by glimpsing the largest trees in the world!
(There's actually 2 definitions of "large" trees. The redwoods of northern California are the world's TALLEST trees. The giant sequoias of central California are the most MASSIVE because of their greater girth. Because sequoia trees are so big around, they contain more wood than the taller California redwoods.)
Be sure to take a short hike out to see some of these trees. In person, you'll get a greater sense of their true size than when you're simply riding by in the car. In fact, you'll be awed by their size!
As always, the National Park Service has interesting exhibits and informative tidbits in the visitor's centers at both Sequoia National Park AND Kings Canyon National Park. In addition, you can enjoy campfire talks by a naturalist, go fishing, or even take a horse trip through the back country. Camping is also available in this beautiful area. For more info on visiting these awesome national parks, use the following link to view the
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park official website.
(Information about these two national parks can be found together on this one website.)