20 Free Things to Do in Sacramento County

PUBLISHED FEB 25, 2024 7:39 P.M.
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Sign up for a free spin through the Capitol Building and its gardens.

Sign up for a free spin through the Capitol Building and its gardens.   Zack Frank   Shutterstock.com

From upscale shopping centers to vintage Wild West experiences, from river sports to impressive farmers markets, Sacramento County affords a diverse array of experiences and environments throughout the year. Many of these activities can be expensive—but getting out and about in Sacramento County doesn’t have to break the bank. For both visitors and locals, there are plenty of free things to do around town.

1. Free Tours

California State Capitol—In downtown Sacramento, it’s hard to miss the gleaming white dome building that houses California’s governmental operations. The site is also worth a look for its beautiful architecture, elaborate gardens, and rich history. Visiting the Capitol is free, and you can sign up for a free spin through the interior building and gardens, or a tour geared toward visitors in kindergarten through 12th grades. 10th and L streets, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Jelly Belly Factory—Located in Fairfield, just outside of Sacramento County, the Jelly Belly Factory draws visitors with free factory tours and a generous amount of complimentary jelly bean samples. Every visitor receives a paper hat souvenir, and there is a restaurant if you wish to stay for lunch. 1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533.

Sacramento Historic Old City Cemetery—Halloween lovers who appreciate spooky things year round can head to the Sacramento Historic Old City Cemetery. Home to many old graves, including some notable Sacramento residents, the cemetery also has online brochures for free walking tours. Choose between Women in the Cemetery or the Brewers Walking Tour, which features the graves of Sacramento's earliest brewers. 1000 Broadway, Sacramento, CA 95818.

2. Outdoor Fun

Effie Yeaw Nature Center—From bird watching to butterflies, a Native American village to hiking trails, there is plenty to do at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. It’s free to visit, with a suggested donation of $2 for adults and $1 for kids. It’s a popular destination for elementary school field trips, and the center also plays host to Girl Scout events and other community collaboratives. For those interested in a specific focus like birds or aquatic studies, the center does have additional paid events to enjoy. 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael, CA 95608.

Leave the indoors behind at Effie Yeaw Nature Center.
Photo by Jared Gomez0567/Shutterstock.com

Folsom Lake—Except for parking, Folsom Lake is free to enjoy. Head to the Granite Bay side for swimming, or find a perfect spot along any portion of the lake for fishing. Sun bathing, paddleboarding, rafting, and barbecuing are other popular activities along the lake. In certain portions, one can also camp overnight.

Heirloom Acres—This quaint suburban farm is family-run and a great place to explore. In addition to activities with admission prices—including summer flower picking, a pumpkin patch, and Christmas tree sales—you can pet the very friendly cows, enjoy a tree swing, shoot photos, and explore the shop for free. 7116 Chestnut Ave, Orangevale, CA 95662.

Nimbus Fish Hatchery—The fish hatchery is home to a program to breed chinook salmon and steelhead and release them into the nearby American River. The salmon run happens in the fall, with hatchery operations open to the public beginning of November through mid-December. The steelhead trout run occurs in winter, with hatchery operations taking place in January and February. Best of all, the hatchery is completely free to visit. It’s a great place for little ones to learn and play. 2001 Nimbus Road, Suite F, Gold River, CA 95670.

3. Monthly Events

Cars and Coffee—Head to the Country Club Mall on the first Saturday of the month from 8 to 10 a.m. for Cars and Coffee. Admission to this classic car show is free, and owners of classic cars of all makes, models, years, and modifications can participate. Find the car show behind the old Macy's building. 2405 Butano Dr, Sacramento, CA 95825.

Sacramento Public Library—Sacramento County is home to a vast library system, with 30 locations in total. From the massive Central Library in downtown Sacramento to the smaller branches tucked away in Sacramento suburbs, each one holds free events. Some examples include “Beyoncé to Bach” orchestra concerts and Library After Hours: Teen Takeover. The events happen all over town.

Just one of the 30 public libraries in Sacramento County.
Photo by Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock.com

Second Saturday—Every second Saturday from May through October, midtown Sacramento turns into an all-access arts event, featuring free art gallery shows, music, activities, and more. It's all free to attend. During the off-season, many of the area galleries still host pop-up Second Saturday events for the public to enjoy.

Sunday Movie Matinee at the Guild Theater—Every first Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., anyone can come enjoy a free, family-friendly movie at the Guild Theater in Oak Park. The movies are different every month, and no reservations or ticket purchases are required. 2828 35th St, Sacramento, CA 95817.

4. Annual Events

California Capital Airshow—The annual air show takes place each year between July and September at Mather Airport near Rancho Cordova. While the airshow itself isn’t free, there are plenty of viewing spots to watch the exhibition jet flyovers without paying a dime. Head over to Hagen Park the day prior to view the rehearsals, or park along Happy Lane between Kiefer Boulevard and Old Placerville Road, or on Mather Boulevard along the bike path.

The spectacle of the California Capital Airshow can be seen for free from certain vantage points.
Photo by Karin Hildebrand Lau/Shutterstock.com

Free Museum Day—Every spring, select Sacramento museums have a designated weekend where participating museums are free. Up to 25 museums have participated in past years, including the world-renowned Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Children’s Museum, and several museums that focus on specific genres of history and diversity. 

Kids Day in the Park—Every spring, the city of Rancho Cordova holds a Kids Day—a completely free event filled with activities, entertainment, crafts and more. Each year has a different focus (2024 is science), and the entire day is geared toward children ages 12 and under. It's a great free family outing. Be on the lookout for similar events around the county—Fair Oaks, Citrus Heights, and other areas hold similar events at least once per year. This year, Kids Day takes place April 27 at Hagan Park. 2197 Chase Dr, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670.

Wide Open Walls—All throughout Sacramento County, large murals are painted on the sides of large buildings; each year, some are replaced while others are added to fresh walls. Be on the lookout for receptions and events to unveil new murals, or visit the website to design your own mural tour around town any time. The site is interactive and allows users to select their own tour stops. Then, go take some selfies and enjoy some stunning art. Located around Sacramento County, including downtown, midtown, Citrus Heights, Del Paso Heights, Carmichael, and more.

5. Other Sites to Delight

Dive Bar—This unique Sacramento bar is free to visit, and features a 40-foot saltwater aquarium filled with exotic fish and mermaid performers. The mermaids are free to watch Sunday through Thursday evenings; a cover charge of $10 applies on Fridays and Saturdays. The bar is also home to various events, including live DJs and bingo nights. 1016 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Stage Nine—Located in historic Old Sacramento, Stage Nine is a movie memorabilia and pop culture shop that is a blast to explore without spending a dime. This store is heavy on the Disney memorabilia, and even has a downstairs “vault” area that has featured original Disneyland ride vehicles, animation cels, and more. It’s a great spot for Disney, kawaii, and comic book fans. Come to shop, or come to admire. 102 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Evangeline’s Costume Mansion—Located near Stage Nine is Evangeline’s, a novelty store that sells knickknacks and gag gifts. But the real star of the show is its Costume Mansion. For years it was only open during the Halloween season; now, it’s in operation year round. Take the vintage elevator up to the mansion and explore elaborate costumes, accessories, and props. It’s the ultimate window shopping experience for those exploring Old Sacramento. 113 K St, Sacramento, CA 95814.

There and Back Cafe and Games—This Lord of the Rings–themed cafe features many game events and also open board game time. From Magic: The Gathering to Dungeons and Dragons, group fantasy game play is open to any who make a minimum $5 cafe purchase. During weekdays, anyone can come play games for free. Game rooms are also reservable for private events. For those looking for some relaxing free game time, bring your own board or choose from several supplied games. There and Back Cafe and Games also hosts miniature painting events. 1020 11th St, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Editor's note: Tamara Warta is a writer and cofounder of Royal Stage, a “creative community in Christ,” which produces live musical performances year round and a monthly Friday Night Shine community talent show. The company distributes free tickets to low-income families, abuse survivors, and anyone who has fallen on hard times. 6174 Sunrise Mall, Citrus Heights, CA 95610.


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