California State Capitol [Amazingly Interesting and Affordable]
My son and I took a day trip to visit the California State Capitol building in Sacramento. Well, actually, my son and all the rest of his classmates, a host of other parents and teachers, and I took a day trip to visit the State Capitol. Considering I was a chaperone with a bunch of 5th graders, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the trip!
California’s State Capitol is a pretty amazing building with so much to learn about and see. Not only is it an amazing history lesson, but there is so much actually happening within its walls right now to learn about.
A visit to the State Capitol building/museum is a really interesting trip for school-aged kids. Younger ones probably wouldn’t get as much out of the visit. Plus, since it is a working government building, it might be more stress than it is worth trying to keep younger ones quiet and calm for a visit. But I leave that choice up to you!
When you visit, be prepared to go through a security checkpoint. It only took us a couple minutes to get through. And once that was done, we were able to enjoy our visit.
We started by visiting the Rotunda and admiring all the Christmas decorations and grandeur of the space. Since we had some time before our tour was starting, we were at our leisure while wandering around. We were even lucky enough to be there when a choir was performing and got to listen to a few songs before our tour. (They even had a huge Christmas tree out front of the Capitol building. It was all decorated with ornaments and even had a star at the top.)
Then we headed downstairs where they have a little “movie theater” where you can watch short films about the history of the State Capitol building. I loved what I learned from them. My favorite was the one about the ghosts. They were definitely not big budget films and special effects were not what we are used to from Hollywood. But for a quick history lesson made in a fun and engaging manner, it totally worked! They run every 10 minutes or so, so you can enjoy 1 or more as time allows and really come to better understand the building and area you are visiting.
The gift shop, which is also downstairs, had some fun California souvenirs available. Be sure to check it out before you head back upstairs. They even have one of those machines that flatten a penny and imprint it with a picture or words. We chose to do that for a very cost (and space) effective souvenir. You can find it in the hall right next to the “movie theater.”
There was also a big statue of Ronald Regan. I had to explain to my son that he was a former President of the United States, a former Governor of California and a famous movie star. He thought that was pretty funny that we had a movie star for a Governor and President. And I had to remind him that California had another movie star as a recent Governor, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We even saw his portrait in the hall outside the State Assembly Room. The most recent governors’ portraits were there, each representing a bit of their personality in how they chose to be painted. The kids saw the portraits and yelled, “It’s the Terminator!” That got a laugh out of the parents and teachers!
The governors’ portraits were right outside the State Assembly Room (or also called “The Green Room”). This was one of my favorite places to visit. Besides the beauty of the architecture, the main reason I really enjoyed this part of our tour was that this was the place where all the State Assembly representatives voted. Their names are listed on the wall displays to show how each had voted. Green for “Yes” and red for “No.” You can even watch things in action in the balcony gallery.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the State Senate room (or the “Red Room”) because the State Senate was in session and it wasn’t open to the public.
The county exhibits are another really cool thing to see while visiting. All the counties in California are represented. The exhibits show off what each county is known for and what they have to offer visitors. It was pretty neat to see. I noticed a trend of lots of grapes and vineyards showcased.
Just down the hall from the county exhibits is the Governor’s office. Right outside his office is a huge golden bear. The kids loved taking their picture in front of the bear. They all worked hard to keep quiet so as to be respectful of the work going on in the Governor’s office. While we couldn’t go in to see his office, the tour guide did get the kids business cards for the Governor. Such a fun keepsake from their visit!
By this point, the morning had passed and the kids couldn’t wait to eat their lunches. We ended up sitting on the back steps and enjoying the view of the park right outside the Capitol building. While we didn’t get to visit the Rose Garden, I did enjoy the quiet beauty right in the middle of the city.
The State Capitol is free to visit, which definitely makes it easier on the budget to bring our family of 5 back for another visit. Street parking is free on Sundays, but the rest of the week it is metered or you can pay to park in the nearby parking garage. There is also a cafeteria available in the Capitol building if you don’t want to pack a lunch or eat at a nearby restaurant.
I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and so did my son! We really enjoyed the holiday decorations and entertainment. And even though those aren’t there year round, we definitely want to go back to spend more time checking things out in the Capitol and visit the Rose Garden outside.
Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Visit
- Plan to take a guided tour. You can find the timing and contact information on the Calfornia State Capitol website.
- Give yourself enough time to check out the movie theater downstairs. A great, quick history lesson.
- Bring some money for the gift shop (or 2 quarters and a penny to get a penny souvenir).
- Pack a snack so you aren’t running out too quick to grab lunch/dinner.
- Visit on a Sunday to get free parking.
- Be sure to visit the restroom before you leave the building, otherwise, you will have to go through security again if the bathroom in the park is closed.
- You can also try stopping by your Representative’s office. Talk with your kids in advance and have them think about questions they might be able to ask if you plan to stop by. They can brainstorm about things that would affect their lives, like what the Representative’s stance is on helmet laws or length of lunchtime at school.