Sacramento Student Travel Itinerary Teaches Gold Rush and California History in a Fun Way

Fourth-grade student travel groups coming to Sacramento get a wealth of information from overall California history to Gold Rush history. A comprehensive two-day trip gives an exciting real-life experience of otherwise dusty topics in history books.

Arriving at Sacramento International Airport or in Downtown Sacramento, your student travel group can be met by costumed historical reenactors, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau staff or knowledgeable tour guides. Free backpacks are provided for groups that book through the SCVB and stay overnight in Sacramento hotels.

Recently, we tagged along with a Travel Teens fourth-grade student group from Southern California. Tour operators like Travel Teens work directly with the SCVB, local museums and charter bus companies to ensure your group tour goes as smoothly as possible.

Upon arrival at Sacramento International Airport, students were met by Travel Teens staff, where free backpacks were passed out.

Stop One: California State Capitol

A visit to the California State Capitol gives your student travel groups a memorable immersion into the California government. Groups tour the grounds, learning about the history of the state, the elements in the seal embedded in the courtyard, and then head inside.

Once inside, students tour the Capitol museum, with preserved and restored rooms showing how the building was in the pioneer days before heading to the rotunda and viewing the impressive dome. 

Tours then progress to the Assembly and Senate chambers for more insight on the government, and possibly seeing the Legislature in session.

Student Capitol Tours finish with a stop in front of the Governor’s office, which is flanked with windows dedicated to each California county.

Stop Two: California State Railroad Museum

The California State Railroad Museum is among the best-regarded train museums in the world. At the museum, student travel groups learn about the history of the Transcontinental Railroad and its transformative effect on the United States and the Wild West.

Set in the 28-acre Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the railroad museum is central to a tour about California history and the history of Sacramento.

Life-size exhibits with real locomotives showcase the railroad story, from the Chinese laborers who constructed much of it to the driving of the golden spike to complete the lines. Tours then take students through several cars including a dining car, a mail car and a refrigeration car, among others. Docents in each explain the golden age of rail travel.

One highlight for students is learning about the million-pound locomotive and then taking a tour through the engineer’s space for a hands-on learning experience.

Stop Three: Sutter’s Fort

Before Sacramento was a part of California, John Augustus Sutter emigrated from Switzerland and set up a pioneer outpost in what he called New Helvetia. That outpost later became Sacramento and was a central hub during the Gold Rush. When the Donner Party was trapped in the Sierra Nevada, rescuers from Sutter’s Fort braved the treacherous conditions to reach them.

At Sutter’s Fort, student travelers will meet costumed reenactors, see demonstrations of the cannon being fired in the courtyard and get insight to life in the 1830s through the 1870s. Adjacent to the fort is the California State Indian Museum, and the grounds around both of them are a great place to eat a sack lunch.

Stop Four: Marshall Gold Discovery State Park

From Sutter’s Fort, it’s about an hour’s drive to Coloma, a Gold Rush town that’s home to the gold discovery site. As the second day of a two-day student travel itinerary, the park can be combined with a trip to Gold Bug Mine in nearby Placerville.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park is the site of the find that set off the Gold Rush, complete with gold panning demos, a ruined frontier jail and a full-size replica of Sutter’s sawmill. The town is little changed since the Gold Rush, and students can check out the post office and the gold discovery museum before eating lunch in the outdoor picnic area.

Gold panning is always a student favorite, as rangers like to say, “you’re fishing from a stocked pond,” so there’s a good chance every student will be shouting “Eureka!” and taking some gold home.

Stop Five: Gold Bug Mine

Gold Bug Mine in Placerville, about an hour’s drive from Downtown Sacramento, gives students the chance to explore several real gold mines.

Entertaining docents wearing prospector attire lead students hundreds of feet underground in mines where gold was actually found. They show the veins of quartz and describe the techniques used by miners in the Gold Rush to find the quartz, which led to gold.

Do your students want to play the part of a miner? In Gold Bug Mine, they get to push a mining cart, help the docents pack “dynamite” into the mines and get their hands on prospectors’ tools. A few surprises in the mine make sure everyone has a good time.

Student travel groups get a great immersion in California history by visiting Sacramento’s historic sites and learning about the early days through the present times with hands-on experiences that take learning out of the textbooks and present it in a fun way that makes sure they remember the material long after test day.

To set up your student travel tour, contact the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Tourism Department’s Linda Eldred at leldred@visitsacramento.com