Things to do and see in California’s capital: sites, attractions, restaurants, and wineries
(Text and images by Jenna Francisco)
Sacramento may not be one of the best known cities of California, but for the traveler, it offers an interesting peek into both California history and the trends that define this progressive state.
Sacramento is not only the capital of California, but also a diverse metropolitan area with over one million residents. In fact, it was named the most integrated city in the U.S. by Time because its residents, who come from so many places, live side by side – the result is a city that combines the slow pace of California valley with influences of the nearby Bay Area and the diversity of its population.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
Because Sacramento was the center of the Gold Rush in the 1850s, it makes an appropriate place to see California history.
The city’s most renowned attraction is Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the original city from the Gold Rush days. A collection of old streets with beautiful architectural details and wood plank covered sidewalks takes visitors back in time, until the many tacky souvenir shops are noticed, that is.
The old school house and the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento are worthwhile stops. Also in Downtown Sacramento is the Capitol building, where the governor works and state laws are passed. Free entrance allows visitors to view the historic rooms, dome, and large Senate assembly room. The adjacent Capitol Park is definitely worth visiting, with a variety of trees from around the world as well as monuments and a rose garden.
If you want to know more about the city’s original history, try Sutter’s Fort where the first settlement is still preserved and shows what life in 19th century California was like.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Two of my favorite places to visit in Sacramento are less familiar to visitors. Near Old Sacramento is the Leland Stanford Mansion, a beautiful example of the finest Victorian architecture and formal gardens in town.
Anyone who enjoys art and architecture should save time to visit the Crocker Art Museum, between the Capitol and Old Sacramento. The museum is housed in two buildings, one a beautiful historic mansion, and the other a new, modern building that makes a great art exhibition space.
FOOD & DRINK
Sacramento has called itself the “Farm-to-Fork Capital of the U.S.” because of the city’s location in the heart of agricultural California and the restaurants’ use of locally grown ingredients. It is possible to taste the freshness of ingredients that come from just a few miles down the road at many restaurants.
A locals’ favorite is Magpie Catering and Café at 15th & R Streets, a renovated block with trendy bistros and salons. For a lively atmosphere with interesting food and superb cocktails, try Red Rabbit in the Sutter District around 27th and J Streets.
A longtime favorite of Sacramento residents is Tower Café, next to the retro Tower Theater and the original Tower Records location. Its outdoor garden and brunch, especially the custard-filled French toast with seasonal fruit, are loved by locals.
Coffee & Wine
Sacramento’s favorite coffee is served at Temple Coffee with two locations in downtown and Midtown Sacramento. Temple also offers monthly classes on everything about coffee. Next to Temple’s S Street location is Sacramento’s only urban winery, Revolution Wines. Stop in for a tasting, sip a glass on the outdoor patio they share with Temple Coffee, or stay and grab a bite. Revolution Wines pride themselves on serving truly local wine since the grapes are grown just outside the city; they are also proud of their ports, and they are so good that even if you don’t like ports, you must try these.
One of the best features of Sacramento is the variety of day trips available. Within two hours are world-class destinations such as San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley.
The closest day trip option is Davis, the home of University of California Davis. Being a center of agricultural and food innovation (with degrees offered in beer making and viticulture), the town has a fantastic farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Walking the arboretum and cute downtown make for a nice day trip, and Davis is an easy 15-minute train ride from downtown Sacramento.
Wine lovers can easily go to Napa Valley, especially the tasting rooms and chic restaurants of Downtown Napa, which is just one hour from central Sacramento. However, another option is the quieter Lodi, 40 minutes south of Sacramento, where 100 grape varietals are grown. Harney Lane Winery, Oak Farm Vineyards, and Lodi’s downtown tasting rooms make excellent places to taste California wine, all for about $5 per tasting.
For travelers who prefer outdoor activities, the American River in Sacramento is a popular place to go rafting or bike on its 32-mile long trail that leads to the town of Folsom. Folsom and Auburn, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, have nice hiking, but for those who really want to experience the mountains, beautiful Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake are just two hours away.
Sacramento is spread out, but the main attractions are located within the city center of Downtown and Midtown Sacramento. The area can easily be walked, but biking and light rail are popular modes of transportation here, too. For traveling outside the center, travelers will probably need a car. Trains and buses can be used to connect to most places outside the city, such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and Davis. There is no train service to the airport yet, but the airport offers shuttle service.
The weather in Sacramento is pleasant most of the year, with a mostly warm, dry climate. Expect rain and fog in December and January, then a mix of rain and sun in spring, a very hot summer, and a warm, sunny fall. July is the hottest time of the year, but temperatures over 100 degrees can continue into early September. October and November are the best months to visit Sacramento and the surrounding areas.
- Visit Sacramento – the official visitor site
- Sacramento 365 – event listings
- Sacramento International Airport
About the Author (Author Profile)Jenna Francisco is a freelance travel writer and runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and slow travel. She enjoys writing about what makes places unique to provide a deeper look at travel destinations and help people travel smarter. She lives in Sacramento, California, where she teaches ESL at a community college.
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