California’s capital enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate that facilities outdoor living nine months a year. The other three months? December-February is when we get foggy mornings and almost all our 21 inches of annual rainfall. If your visit falls on a rare, dreary day, here are some ideas for making the best of it.
Get a taste of history. The B.F. Hastings Building and Big Four Building, both in the Old Sacramento historic district, are free and well worth a peek as you clomp around the area’s wooden sidewalks. The former, at the corner of 2nd and J streets, houses one of the city’s two Wells Fargo History Museums as well as the Old Sacramento Visitor Center. Back in the day, this building served as the western terminus of the fabled Pony Express, which galloped into town for 18 months in 1860-1861. The Big Four Building at 113 I Street is named for the barons of Transcontinental Railroad fame and now houses an old-timey hardware store, historic exhibits and the California State Railroad Museum Library.
Take the kids to Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, where they can learn about regional wildlife and sit in on educational, demonstrations with birds, reptiles and amphibians. When the rain lets up, explore the surrounding 77-acre nature preserve along three self-guided trails. Admission is free; donations welcome.
Learn how medicine was practiced back in the day at the Museum of Medical History, a repository of artifacts large and small related to patent medicines, pharmacology, laboratory medicine, surgical diagnosis, quackery and much, much more. One look at a Civil War amputation kit will make you ecstatic to be living in the 21st century! 5380 Elvas Ave.; open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Free admission.
Go bird watching. Sacramento’s position on the Pacific Flyway, a major avian migration route, makes it a great place to see snow geese, tundra swans, and many species of ducks. Take advantage of a pause between showers and head over to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, just off Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Davis. Here tens of thousands of waterfowl roost and feed in 17,000 acres of flooded rice fields. You can observe from from the elevated perspective of a levee or on a self-drive tour through the preserve when conditions permit. Free tours ($5 donation suggested) are offered the second Saturday of each month. The annual California Duck Days festival, February 21-22 in 2014, includes many field trips and educational opportunities.
Learn something new at the California State Archives, 1020 O Street. The fourth-floor research room of this treasure trove of historic records is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and there’s always an interesting exhibit on display. Admission is free. Downstairs in the same building, the California Museum, “home of the California dream,” is a family-friendly institution with permanent and changing exhibits related to ideas, innovation, culture and the arts. A highlight is the California Hall of Fame, featuring photos, anecdotes and artifacts related to a growing list of inductees. Admission $9 general.