Explore Sacramento! is a series that seeks to discover and explore the sites, sounds, communities, and things to do in Sacramento and northern California.
In Explore Sacramento! we will take a look at some of the more interesting and fun sites and activities in Sacramento and the surrounding communities. What better way to kick off this new feature than California’s State Capital and a look at a look at the California State Capitol – the politics, history, gardens, and memorials on its grounds.
A brief history of the California State Capitol
For many people visiting Sacramento, the California State Capitol may not be their first stop on a tour but it’s the building where which governs the most populous state in the United States as well as one of the largest economies in the world. Located at 10th and L Street, this building is home to the California State Legislature and the Office of the Governor.
The California State Capitol building was built in the early 1860s with final completion in 1874. For many who visit the capital, they may recognize it – it was modeled after the US Capitol in Washington DC. The Neoclassical design features arches, Corinthian columns, and a dome giving the building a classical feel that goes well beyond its age. The beauty of this building, both exterior and interior, has earned it a place on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a California Historical Landmark.
California State Capitol – Gardens, Memorials, and History
While the State Capitol plays a vital role in governing the state and offers tours to those who want to check out the building, some of the best history and beauty lies on the grounds. The grounds make up a number of city blocks and have something for everyone – botanists and plant lovers, US and California history buffs, and veterans. Here are a few highlights of the California State Capital grounds.
Check out more photos in my California State Capitol photo essay!
USS California - This ship was the fifth to bear the CALIFORNIA name for the Navy and it played part in one of the most historical events in US history. On December 7 1941, the ship was docked at Pearl Harbor and had a bomb dropped on it by Japanese kamikaze pilots. A number of men were killed. However, the ship was repaired and took part in a number of important battles in Japan and the Philippines during World War II. Battled and scarred, this ship was valiant and played a vital role in WW II before it was retired in 1947.
Today, the bell from the USS California is on display on the State Capitol grounds with a monument dedicated to the service of this ship.
Liberty Bell- California’s version of the Liberty Bell was dedicated to the people of California under the direction of then Secretary of the Treasury John W Snyder. This bell is the same dimension and tone of the one in Philadelphia and was one of 53 made by France in 1950. From May 15, 1950 to July 4, 1950, the bell made its way around California and was displayed in every part of the state.
Today it stands on the grounds of the California State Capitol as a symbol of freedom and independence in the United States.
Thomas Starr King monument - Starr King was a Unitarian preacher and San Francisco minister who kept California from seceding during the Civil War. His advocacy for the union led to the title of “Apostle of Liberty” and was dedicated to those who fought in the Civil War. While King held many titles and jobs during his lifetime, this monument was dedicated to his efforts to keep California a part of the United States.
This was the first monument in Capitol Park and welcomes visitors to the Civil War Grove. This grove was dedicated on April 1, 1897 to honor all of those who fought in the war.
Father Junipero Serra monument - A Franciscan missionary from the Roman Catholic Church who made his way to California to help colonize the area. Father Serra was sent by Spain to start a new civilization in the area. While he started in Mexico, he made his way to Baja California in 1768 as he founded the 21 missions that now exist in California. In August 1784, Junipero Serra died and was buried at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
A map of all 21 missions in California lies at the base of the statue.
California Firefighters Memorial – This monument is dedicated to the more than 855 firefighters who have died in the line of duty since California became a state in 1850. The memorial is made up of three parts – a limestone wall with the names of firefighters who have died, a statue of a firefighter carrying a fallen brother, and a statue of firefighters carrying a hose.
This monument was dedicated in April 2002 by the California Fire Federation and the California Professional Firefighters.
California Veterans Memorial - In honor of all the California soldiers who gave their lives in the Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War, this granite obelisk monument and information center is a fitting tribute to those who served in the US Armed Forces.
Surrounding the obelisk are flags of each of the branches of the military. This monument is one of the tallest structures in Capitol Park.
California Vietnam Veterans Memorial - The most impressive and most beautiful memorial on the California State Capitol grounds, this monument features statues of soldiers in various positions to honor different aspects of the war. Along with the nearly 6,000 names of soldiers who gave their lives or were never found, this monument has a large map of Vietnam as well as artistic displays to honor the fallen.
The monument is solemn but dignified and elegant. The California Vietnam Veterans Memorial was established in January 1984 at a cost of $2.5 million dollars funded entirely by donations.
California State Capitol World Peace Rose Garden - Sacramento is one of five world peace rose gardens around the world by the International World Peace Rose Gardens organization (based in Sacramento). The purpose of the organization is to advance peace around the world through rose gardens by engaging youth and communities. The rose garden in Sacramento was named one of the Top 10 public rose gardens in America.
This nearly half acre garden on the State Capitol grounds has around 650 roses and even includes a veterans section. The rose garden was dedicated on My 16, 2003 and is a must see for anyone who loves flowers.
Explore the California State Capitol – outside!
While the California State Capitol is the center of government for the state of California, don’t miss what is outside of the building. While politics, bills, and economic decisions are going on inside the building, visitors can learn about California history, explore the beauty of California’s unique natural environment, pay homage to veterans of world wars, and enjoy a peaceful stroll through downtown Sacramento.
Directions: From San Francisco, take I-80 to Hwy 50/I-80 E Business and take Exit 3 to Downtown. Cross over the Tower Bridge to Capitol Mall and turn right on 9th. Turn left on N St.
From South Lake Tahoe, take Hwy 50 West to downtown Sacramento. Exit 4B on 10th St. Continue on W St and immediately turn right on 10th St. Follow this street to 10th and N.
Coming from I-5 South (Woodland) towards Los Angeles, take exit 519B to J St for about a mile before coming to 9th St. Turn right on 9th and another right on N St.