. Explore Sacramento! The California State Capitol and grounds : Budget Travel Adventures

Explore Sacramento! California State Capitol – politics, history, gardens, and memorials

California State Capitol building grounds Explore Sacramento

California State Capitol Building and grounds in Sacramento, CA

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 bell from WWII California State Capitol

The bell from the USS California which fought in World War II

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 State Capitol grounds

California Liberty Bell

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 California State Capitol Park

Thomas Starr King monument

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 California State Capitol

Father Junipero Serra monument

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 California State Capitol

California Firefighters Memorial

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 obelisk California State Capitol Park

California Veterans Memorial

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 California State Capitol Park

California Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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

California State Capitol World Peace Rose Garden

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. 

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Filed Under: CaliforniaDestinationsExplore Sacramento!Sacramento


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  1. Laurel says:

    You’re right that Sacramento wouldn’t be the first place to think of when I’m visiting California, but it looks like it has a fascinating history. I had no idea it had so many memorials.

    • Not many people put Sacramento at the top of their list when coming to California. Although it is the capital, California has so many interesting places. It is in a great location so hopefully this series will help highlight some of the interesting things to see and do in the area.

  2. Matt Hope says:

    Sacramento is beautiful, I really love that city. Great post!

  3. I’m embarrassed to say that I only live an hour and a half from Sacramento yet have never seen any of these things! Planning my next day trip right now!

    • Well don’t feel bad. The State Capitol isn’t always at the top of people’s list when they visit Sacramento. However, the grounds are worth walking around and exploring if you get the chance to visit.

  4. jenjenk says:

    I haven’t been to the state capitol since I was a kid!! I remember absolutely nothing about it – will definitely have to see some of these sites when I visit my friend up there!

    • I think most people think about government and politics when they visit the State Capitol. Many may have gone as kids as part of an educational experience. And while the building is beautiful, I want to show people the beauty and education that is on the outside of the building. :)

  5. Been over 30 years since I was in Sacramento.
    Bet things have changed a lot!
    Good research and info about the city.
    Enjoyable read.
    John D. Wilson

  6. ayngelina says:

    California seems like it should be its own country because there is so much to see. I keep putting it off but I really should go visit soon.

  7. Sacramento is a place that most visitors to California probably don’t go to (I skipped it too), so this is a cool series to spotlight the city. I had no idea CA had a Liberty Bell!

    • I had no idea we had a Liberty Bell either. So this series will be educational for me as well. Sacramento is not at the top of the list for most people with all the places here in northern California. Hopefully, this series will make it an interesting destination for a few people.

  8. Annie says:

    I lived nearby Sacramento for about 5 years before. It has a great train museum that features many old trains, and you can go inside the trains too!! =)

  9. Sophie says:

    Must admit, I’ve never thought much about Northern California. I’m considering taking a long-ish road trip with my children, though – from San Francisco up to Alaska. Looks like Sacramento could be an interesting stop on the way.

    Also, I like visiting parliament buildings, especially when they’re in session. They can be very colourful. In London, insulting the opposition has almost become an art form. And I remember visiting Canberra and hearing delegates calling each other maggots and the like. Very entertaining.

    • Lots of people think of Hollywood, San Diego, and LA when they think of California. However, San Francisco, Napa, and Tahoe are all northern California and are pretty popular as well. Sacramento, despite it being a capital city, is often overlooked. Doesn’t mean there isn’t some history and fun things to do here.

      As for the political side, can’t say I enjoy that aspect too much. I don’t have much faith in politicians. However, the grounds on the state capitol here in Sacramento are worth a look. Nowhere near as derisive and just as interesting if you ask me. :)

  10. I have to admit that I have ignored Sacramento as well.But of course now I’ll have to rethink my next visit. Great write up Jeremy

    • Thanks Todd. I think Sacramento is a place that is easily overlooked because of all the places close by – San Francisco, Napa, Lake Tahoe. I will do my best to try and get people a little more interested in the city. :)

  11. Suzy says:

    It is really interesting all of the monuments and memorials, especially all of those imitating originals out East. I had no idea Sacramento had all of these. Adding the rose garden to my list next time I drive through.

  12. Great round up of things to do and see in our state’s capitol! You’re right… I think most people are surprised that Sacramento is the capitol, let alone that it has a lot of interesting history.

  13. Everything I ever needed to know about Sacaramento I learned from “Eight is Enough”. And this post! :)

  14. I have to admit that as often as I’ve traveled through and around Sacramento, I’ve never visited any of these places. Looks like I’ve missed out on some interesting things to do — I better make up for it now.

  15. Whenever family comes from Holland to visit, I never think of taking them to Sacramento. Thanks, Jeremy. You’ve opened my eyes.

    • Sacramento isn’t always at the top of everyone’s list in California. Admittedly, there are more interesting and exciting places to visit in northern California. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find some enjoyable things to do here when you are passing through!

  16. Cassie says:

    Thanks for this, Jeremy! I’ve been here a few times but never took the time to walk around. Next time. My favorite thing at the Capital building is no doubt the governor’s dog (@sutterbrown on Twitter). Hilarious!

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