California State Capitol
The grand Corinthian columns and the high granite archways of the California State Capitol show that this is a building of serious history and relevance. Completed in 1874, the building’s design was based on the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Inside, however, you will find a wealth of information, art and history that is uniquely Californian.
Very few areas within the building are out of bounds to the public. You are free to wander the large chamber room in which the bills that make up Californian law are still passed. Forty seats, one for each senator, are arranged beneath a huge chandelier, an electric replica of the original gas version. If the senate happens to be in session, take a spot to the side and watch history in the making as new legislation is passed or debated.
For a deeper understanding of California’s rich political history, visit the museum. The most significant areas are on the first floor and the basement. Tour the restored historical offices of the Governor and the State Treasurer, or browse the extensive collection of Californian art. More than 50 paintings depicting California, as well as murals, furniture, and statues, are in the west wing and the east annex. Look out for the collection of contemporary art too — each of the current senators selects a contemporary artist from his or her district and the works are displayed in the offices behind the senate chambers.
As you make your way around, look for the many uniquely Californian designs and motifs throughout the building. Grizzly bears, as well as the goddess Minerva and scenes of the state’s past and future, are represented in murals, mosaics and bronze reliefs around the building.
For detailed and enthusiastic explanations of what you are seeing, take one of the free guided tours. These run on the hour every hour, and sometimes include a short film in the theater.
You’ll find a good range of restaurants in the basement, where there’s also a gift shop.
The California State Capitol is located at the west end of Capitol Park. There is metered parking on the street and Amtrak buses stop nearby. The capitol is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.