The center spire of the Cathedral rises 217 feet from the Cathedral Square in the midst of a slowly revitalizing downtown core with State of California workers mixing with the homeless in the large plaza in front of the Cathedral. The gathering space is connected by a pleasant walkable passage to the California State Capitol only one block to the south.
The proximate location of the two buildings reinforces the important relationship of the undertakings of Church and State within these two historic, large-domed buildings. Along the connecting corridor between the two sites is a memorial statue of the Most Reverend Alfonso Gallegos, the first Hispanic Bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, which attracts notice each day from curious tourists and locals. However, the building is, most importantly, a reflection of the vision of the first leader of the Diocese, the Most Reverend Bishop Patrick Manogue and the Cathedral, and surrounding buildings show his continued presence.
Light-colored stone masonry walls cover the three balanced towers on the western side, and a Duomo-like cupola-topped dome graces the opposite end of the building. Three large entrance portals hold decorative, heavy metal doors at the top of eight entrance steps. The exterior design is referred to as neo-Italian Renaissance and incorporates rounded arch windows, with some beneath Roman-style pediments, and the square-based central tower rises to an ever-narrowing peak beneath one of the seven gold-leaf crosses on the top of the building. The central tower also includes a working clock which kept the time for quarter-hourly bell tolls until the chimes were stopped for structural concerns. On the façade, the 31 darkened stained-glass window openings hint of the beauty within; and the four statues of saints speak to the sacredness and tradition housed in the edifice.
The Cathedral is a landmark within the urban setting. The church and related building for the rectory and administrative offices, take up most of one-half of a city block. Trees and vegetation are incorporated into the environment, but are kept to a minimum allowing the sun to illuminate the red-roofed structure and to penetrate the cavernous interior. The exterior design has changed relatively little over more than a century as the towers, crosses, and large dome have served as a beacon of Catholicism through the years; however, the interior, originally Victorian-design, has had many alterations.