Planning Your Visit to the California State Capitol -- Self-Guided Tour

The California State Capitol was completed in 1874, and since then, it has been an enduring and must-see Sacramento attraction. It is a living museum, dedicated to sharing California’s past and at the same time working to build California’s future. When you visit Sacramento, the Capitol should be on your list of attractions to see. Even if you have toured the Capitol and its grounds before, a second visit might turn up something completely new. The California State Capitol is the people’s building. Seven days a week, you are welcome to explore the Capitol and its grounds. Tours are available; however, here is some information to help you explore the Capitol on your own.

Getting There

The California State Capitol is easily accessible, located in downtown Sacramento. For specific directions, the Capitol’s website has provided turn-by-turn directions if you are coming from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Reno or Redding. There are metered parking spots surrounding the Capitol. If you would like to park in a garage, the closest garage to the Capitol is located on 10th and L streets. The rate for the garage is $1.50 per half hour. The maximum charge on a weekday is $20. On weekends and evenings, the maximum charge is $5.

The Capitol is open seven days a week. Weekend hours are 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Weekday hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tours are available by signing up with a docent in the Capitol Rotunda. And most importantly, admission to the Capitol is always free.

Inside the Capitol

Once you have made it inside the Capitol, try not to be overwhelmed. On the entry-level floor, you may look at all of the county displays. Every county in California has a display in the halls of the Capitol. Many visitors like to search for their country and see how the display compares to other counties' displays.

While roaming the halls, look out for the governor’s office. You can spot it by the life-size golden bear that holds a post right outside the doors. Many visitors like to pose for pictures with the bear, which was added to the Capitol’s décor by former governor Schwarzenegger.

As you continue through the hallways, you will enter the Capitol Rotunda, one of the most amazing architectural features of the building. The rotunda at once divides and unifies the Senate and the Assembly, the two houses of the California State Legislature, which occupy the south and north wings of the Capitol, respectively. The heart of the California State Capitol is the rotunda. This circular room is 53 feet in diameter and rises 128 feet from the basement of the building to the oculus at the apex of the inner dome. You may sign up for your docent-led tour here.

In both directions leading away from the rotunda, you are welcome to view the historic rooms of the Capitol. These rooms have been restored to reflect various architectural and legislative eras representing the evolution of California’s history and philosophies through the legacy of its leadership. Some historic rooms that served former governors, secretaries of state, and treasurers are now preserved to show visitors what the offices looked like at the turn of the 20th century. Other rooms in the “West Wing” may still be in use by the leaders of the Legislature.

The architecture of the Senate and Assembly galleries, open to the public whenever the houses are in floor session, reflects an open form of government, inviting visitors to sit and observe the Legislature in action. The red of the Senate and green of the Assembly are borrowed from our centuries-old British parliamentary heritage. Between the two galleries, portraits from former governors decorate the walls.

Outside

Your tour of the Capitol is not done after visiting the building. Capitol Park surrounds the Capitol building. The grounds encompass 40 acres and 12 city blocks. The park is filled with trees, plants and shrubs that have been gathered from all over the world. And it features some incredible memorials dedicated to different facets of California history. Memorials in Capitol Park include Mexican-American War, Junipero Serra, Firefighters Memorial, Memorial Grove, Peace Officers Memorial, Spanish-American War, USS California Bell, Veterans Memorial and a Vietnam Memorial. For detailed information about each monument, click here.

Don’t worry if you can’t see all of these attractions on your first visit to the California State Capitol. With each visit to the Capitol, you are likely to see something new or find yourself on a completely different track, from history to current events to other hidden gems. Adding a visit to the Capitol into your itinerary allows you to see a very important part of Sacramento and the state of California.

Start planning your visit to Sacramento and the California State Capitol today. Click here for more information.