There is always a sense of surprise as you walk towards an auto museum entrance. “What cars am I going to see,” “What history am I going to learn” are just some of the questions that immediately spring up as you open the doors of a museum. Be it the sleek and modern lines of the Petersen Museum or an old-timey theme of some Route 66 auto museums they all elicit different feelings. The California Auto Museum evokes an appreciation for auto history and keeping classics running.

Classic cars being worked on the left and far back (right).

Last Minute Plans

While planning for The Northern California Road Trip a last-minute attraction added to the list was The California Auto Museum. The Roadtrippers app indicated it was along our route from Napa Valley to Lake Tahoe. The museum had good reviews and a lot of cars, what more reason is there to go? Sometimes those last minute things you include to a trip are some of the best.

Some cars in the for sale section. The best quote of the day “no reason you have to leave in the same car you came in.” My kind of people work here.
I have a thing for small roadsters like this Sunbeam

Cars And Bonding

I stand by the idea that a roomful of car guys, no matter the generation will end up bonding over cars. Now there is a caveat, in my experience, it tends to be a passion for cars that have function and form that bond all generations. The function over form debate has been going on for many years, but in my experience, all car guys respect work ethic and creativity.

Perfect setup for some old-school car guy bonding.

The Occasional Tour Guide

While walking The California Auto Museum, the greeter is a free tour guide. The tour guide will walk with you and tell you stories or history of the cars. It is a nice touch because the tour guides are car guys and car lovers speak the same language. You can tell that your free tour guide does it for the passion of cars. A car guy recognizes another one within a few sentences. The older gentleman’s first name was Roger. In my head, I called him “the car guy Mr. Rogers” because of his pleasant demeanor and passion for storytelling.

An eclectic array of vehicles, all with different stories. This Mazda Miata is the car that gave the sports car racing world a great driver by the name of Randy Pobst.

At this point, my camera’s shutter was firing away. It was a great experience hearing stories of the cars while taking pictures of them. Roger noticed I may not be the regular tourist and would periodically check-in to see where we were and add some history to what we were seeing. I try to savor the special moments on road trips, with pictures or taking notes for Sexto Elemento. Epic road trips are not common, so it is a balancing act to live in the moment and documentation.

All cars and the people who take care of them have a story to tell. I wish I would see all these cars in a real drive-in theater, that would be a story worth telling.

“Road Trippin’ Through The Years”

The start of the exhibit “Road Trippin’ Through The Years.”

There is thorough enjoyment for me in classic auto museums, it all started with the Route 66 road trip. Ironically, The California Auto Museum display theme was “Road Trippin’ Through The Years.” Wagons were prominent in the road trip display area. There has always been an allure to wagon’s functionality and versatility. You can have the best of all worlds. A performance car, practical road trip car, and even in-car camping car.

How can you have a road trip exhibit without wagons? What is better than a wagon, a performance-based wagon.
Wagons and road trips go together perfectly.


Driving Not Just Displaying

The cars at The California Auto Museum get worked on and driven around as you walk around. The vehicles are not museum queens, the sounds of ratchets, metal clanking on the floor and engine start-ups are common. The test driving of cars past you on occasion is moving eye candy for any car guy. The museum even lets you sit in some of the vintage cars. Sitting in a vintage car is not a common experience in auto museums, and it grows the allure of this must-go-to destination if you are passing by Sacramento.

Inside a vintage car is a rare photo-op and made possible by the California Auto Museum.

What pictures look like when you are composing a shot for another car and surprised by another driving by inside the museum.
Getting to work on diagnosing an issue.

Nostalgia And Car Culture

The California Auto Museum is the best mix of nostalgia and car culture. You see cars you recognize for various reasons. Be it movies, TV shows but there is a display for any car lover. Now mix in a knowledgeable tour guide who treats you with great stories and history lessons, and what you get is a great experience. Auto museums to me are all about inspiration and knowledge. You always leave an auto museum learning something new.

In some cases inspiration for your projects. Auto museums are the perfect roadside attraction for a road trip. Even if you are just a casual car lover, the California Auto Museum is a great experience. The perfect mix of cars, rest from driving and you may leave with new friendships all in a matter of an hour or two.


California Auto Museum
– Hours: 10 am to 5 pm
– The Last Admission at 4 pm
– Closed On Tuesdays

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