Old Town Sacramento, as its name implies, offers a trip into California history and the Gold Rush that created Sacramento. There are several museums where you can pick up California trivia, including a car and a train museum. You can even catch a ride on the Sacramento Southern Railroad and see an old diesel train in action. Or if the river calls your name, you can tour the Delta King riverboat that started making trips to San Francisco and back in the late 1920s. Eat at the restaurant on board or even choose to stay the night as the riverboat also functions as a floating hotel.
Just walking through the 20+ acres of this national and state historic landmark is a walk back in time with the cobbled roads, the horse-drawn carriages (yes, you can ride them), the historic buildings, and glimpses of the original city level (Sacramento was built up due to flooding). There are trails along the river that allow great views of the Ziggurat (which turns out to be just an office building, sorry to say) and the historic Tower Bridge, which opened in 1935 and was painted gold in 2002. In one of the tunnels that connects Old Town to downtown Sacramento, there's a lovely historical timeline to consider as well.
If you don't care about the history of Old Town, there's plenty of shopping and dining. I got an adorable Totoro wallet at one of the gift shops (attention Studio Ghibli fans), and a lawn ornament of a T-Rex eating garden gnomes for my mom. Many of the gift shops offer a great selection of collectibles from Star Trek to Doctor Who. And I always like to fill a couple bags with hand-selected salt water taffy from one of the many candy stores to share with folks back home. In terms of food, I like to keep it casual with fish tacos from Railroad Fish & Chips, a variety of international fries from the Spud Shack, or pizza from Annabelle's Pizza & Pasta, but there are restaurants and cafes and even bars of all shapes and sizes to suit your tastes.
Old Town Sacramento also hosts a variety of cool events throughout the year, including Gold Rush Days, a Mardi Gras celebration, a music festival, Halloween festivities, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and more. Visit the town's website for more info: http://oldsacramento.com/.
Driving and parking at Old Town is surprisingly stress-free. In the town itself, you can park with change or credit card at one of the meters (and there are change machines everywhere where you can get quarters) but there's also a parking garage right next to the action. Bathrooms are not only plentiful but convenient. Most are separate from businesses so one doesn't need to ask permission to use them, which any Bay Area resident will appreciate as a rarity. Although tourist traffic gets heavier in the early afternoon, the crowds are not nearly as stifling or annoying as in San Francisco or other Bay Area tourist locales.
If you want to feel like you're getting away from the city but still enjoy the comforts of city life, Old Town Sacramento is definitely a Miss-Me-Not.
View of a train car.
The Delta King
You can visit the original city level through that gate to "Pioneer Park."