Tours of Beauty

They’re some of our most iconic landmarks, but look deeper and you’ll see that they’re also filled with fascinating stories that shed light on Sacramento’s rich history. Check out these five architectural tours for a behind-the-façade peek into a few of the stunning structures that have helped build this city.
Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit
Ninety feet above the Capitol’s interior dome is a second dome, which has been hidden from public view since World War II.

California State Capitol

If Sacramento has one defining structure, this is it. And on this hour-long guided tour that runs every day, you’ll get an in-depth look below the dome. Among the highlights: the ornate Assembly and Senate chambers, whose walls, carpets and gilded ceilings were modeled after the historic color schemes of the British Parliament. You’ll stroll through the governors’ portrait gallery, which includes the avant-garde 1984 likeness of Gov. Jerry Brown, and hear about the architectural details that were painstakingly restored when the Capitol underwent a massive renovation from 1975 to 1982, including an intricate 600,000-piece Italian mosaic floor depicting golden poppies, the state’s flower. Free. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily on the hour. 10th and L streets. 916-324-0333.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

A docent will guide you on a tour—which takes place every Wednesday and Sunday and lasts 45 minutes to an hour—of this majestic house of worship that dates to 1886 and was based on the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris. The K Street cathedral is filled with exquisite stained glass windows and marble altars, as well as paintings like an 8-by-10-foot reproduction of Raphael’s 16th-century Sistine Madonna. A $34 million renovation was completed in the early aughts by New York-based architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle (which also spearheaded the restorations of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station and Empire State Building) and repaired features like the church’s stunning inner dome, which had been concealed since the 1930s. Free. Wed. at 12:40 p.m. Sun. at 10 a.m. and noon. 1017 11th St. 916-444-3071.

The Crocker’s 2010 expansion was designed by Gwathmey, Siegel & Associates, which also architected the annex to Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum. (Photo by Stacy Kolb)

Crocker Art Museum

The museum itself is on display during this guided tour, which focuses on the two distinct wings of the Crocker—the elegant 1872 mansion designed by Seth Babson (the same architect behind the Leland Stanford Mansion) and the 2010 expansion by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates—and takes place the first Sunday of each month, from May through December. The 50-minute excursion highlights the historic wing’s Victorian Italianate design and explores aspects of the newer Teel Family Pavilion, like the acoustically treated oak floors and the fact that all the art is displayed and stored only on the upper stories in case of a 100-year flood. Free with $12 museum admission. Every first Sunday from May to December. 1 p.m. Crocker Art Museum. 216 O St. 916-808-7000.

Golden 1 Center

Open since 2016, the eye-catching Golden 1 Center gained global acclaim a year later when it won an American Architecture Award. Designed by L.A.-based engineering firm AECOM—whose other projects include Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium—the world’s first LEED Platinum arena boasts 21st-century technology and displays of hometown pride like the original neon signs for Tower Records and Shakey’s Pizza. While the venue stopped offering guided visits last fall, you can still pull up the Kings + G1C app for an audio tour, which will lead you to visual elements like the living walls that house over 5,400 plants (the flowering ones bloom varying shades of purple, natch), the five massive hangar doors that allow for natural airflow, and the leaf patterns on the exterior panels that are a nod to Sacramento’s remarkable tree canopy. Free. 500 David J. Stern Walk. 916-840-5731.​

The design-forward Golden 1 Center won an American Architecture Award in 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings)

Jane Jacobs Walks

Each year, hundreds of cities around the world celebrate the late urbanist Jane Jacobs—whose 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, raised revolutionary ideas on civic design—with walks that explore everything from green infrastructure to public art and pedestrian safety. This spring, Preservation Sacramento will host its own such strolls on May 4 (Jacobs’ birthday) and May 5, and will include a walkabout in Curtis Park, where you’ll learn about the peculiarities of the neighborhood (yes, like those hitching posts) and the architectural significance of Gunther’s ice cream shop, a mid-century modern building that was recently added to the local register of historic landmarks. Free. Times and locations vary by tour. 916-202-4815.

The beloved Gunther’s ice cream parlor with its iconic Jugglin’ Joe sign (Photo courtesy of Gunther’s Ice Cream)