Sacramento Travel Information

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The heart of California's capital city at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers is, at first glance, a transplanted Midwestern downtown with its wide, tree-shaded streets of elegant Victorian homes. Sacramento, however, is a city of contrasts, defying expectations that the capital of the largest state in the union must be a bustling metropolis studded with sleek steel and glass towers. There are buildings fitting that description clustered downtown, of course, but unlike most major metro areas that grow from a civic center, several small communities grew together and now comprise Sacramento.

Today, within the sprawling metropolis, the influence of these original settlements still makes themselves felt. Just a few minutes southeast of Sacramento International Airport along I-5, visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the river meandering on down to the Delta as they arrive in downtown Sacramento. This is where, in 1839, John Sutter and his entourage first set up camp--he later built his fort a mile east, out of floodwater range. With the discovery of gold, this tiny settlement grew explosively. Disappointed gold-seekers came back from the gold fields to profit from agriculture and founded towns in the surrounding fields as processing and transportation hubs. Today, from Davis and Woodland to the west, to the lovingly preserved frontier town of Auburn northeast along I-80, to vacation spots in the Sacramento River Delta, Sacramento is growing in population and sophistication while remembering its colorful Wild West past.

Old Sacramento/Downtown/Midtown

Since its humble beginnings as a tent city, Sacramento's fate has been intertwined with the river of the same name. Today, Old Sacramento is a 12-block neighborhood preserved between the river and the I-5 freeway as a state historic district. More than a just a tourist Mecca, the old stone and brick buildings house entertainment and dining for locals, as well. There's a world-class comedy club, a live theatre, elegant restaurants with sweeping views of the river, candy stores, costume shops, pubs and bookstores to be found along the canopied plank sidewalks. The focal point of downtown is Downtown Plaza, reached from Old Sacramento through a pedestrian tunnel. This open-air market (cooled with suspended 'misters' during the summer) features a megaplex movie theater, department stores, a bookstore, specialty clothing stores and much more. Ethnic restaurants representing the cuisines of every group in the city are perched on the balcony overlooking the performance court. Here busy shopping crowds are regaled by strolling musicians, jugglers, acrobats, mimes and other hard-working entertainers. Beyond the Hard Rock Cafe anchoring the eastern threshold of the plaza, K Street Mall extends several blocks further east, past the Crest Theater, an Art Deco vaudeville theater now restored as a repertory venue featuring art and foreign titles, the Esquire IMAX with its six-story tall screen, vintage record stores, novelty shops, a blues club and several splashy psychedelic murals painted on the dignified walls.

1890-1910 Vintage Buildings

One of the first things visitors notice as they venture into the Midtown district are the trees. Throughout the city there are more than 250,000 of them--deciduous, fruit, flowering and palm. When you see a row of three-story palms gently swaying above a row of quaint Midwestern Victorians along a Midtown street you'll know you're not in Kansas anymore. Many of the trees are elms and oaks planted by homesick easterners that have now grown into huge size. In the summers, when temperatures average in the high 90s, their cool shade is welcome. This district is much more than a residential neighborhood. Along the shady streets you'll find several cutting-edge off-Broadway theaters, a diversity of art galleries, fine and down-home dining, as well as nightspots catering to every taste.

Davis and Woodland

Sacramento's development has always been in easterly directions. Unfortunately, the Sacramento River, which did so much to put the city on the map, had the alarming habit of flooding on a regular basis. The early town was practically erased from the face of the earth several times before levees were built. Today, the Causeway, a section of I-80 on stilts, crosses the Yolo Bypass, a flood-control canal which can expand to the size of a small sea in winter, and connects downtown Sacramento with Davis, a college town 11 miles to the west. Davisites are nothing if not concerned with all things cultural. The University of California, Davis, attracts thousands of students and faculty with a taste for non-mainstream entertainment. On campus and within the small downtown, which has seen a spurt of growth during the past few years yet has preserved its family oriented character, the streets overflow most evenings with townsfolk seeking unique, live events such as poetry readings, live theater, gallery openings and music concerts. There is also an interesting array of restaurants offering Asian, Mexican, European and American cuisines, plus pubs and coffeehouses.

Ten miles north, Woodland offers an Historic District centered around the restored Opera House which offers quality amateur productions of musicals, dramas and comedies. A short stroll away along the leafy streets are movie theaters, nightclubs, and restaurants ensconced in restored Victorian houses. An interesting local history museum in one of the original ante-bellum farmhouses, features a potpourri of memorabilia: treasures such as political campaign buttons and antique stereograph images.

North Sacramento

Across the American River this old neighborhood centered on Del Paso Boulevard had once fallen upon hard times as evidenced by its boarded-up storefronts and litter. Today, a virtual renaissance has taken hold. Attracted by cheap rents, artists have arrived during the past few years to open studios. In their wake came the gallery owners. More than a dozen galleries, including Michael Himovitz and MatrixArts, two of the largest exhibiting nationally recognized artists, are now situated within a few blocks of each other. Today, spiffed up and known as Uptown, the area has also attracted interesting restaurants, cafes and other businesses busily renovating the formerly boarded-up buildings. To the east is Arden Fair Mall, with theaters, restaurants and a dizzying array of shopping opportunities.


East of Sacramento proper, the town of Folsom directly traces its history to the Gold Rush. Many of the older buildings are worth a visit. Built in 1860, the Wells Fargo Assay Office was a stage depot and Pony Express terminal. Along a four-block stretch of Sutter Street now designated an historic district are restaurants, coffeehouses and boutiques. The Folsom Zoo, affectionately nicknamed the 'Misfit Zoo,' provides a haven for animals such as bears, bobcats, cougars, wolves, dogs or domestic cats injured in the wild or raised as pets and then abandoned. The recently renovated Folsom Hotel (1885) is a historic hostelry still renting rooms with a saloon offering weekend entertainment.


Thirty miles northeast of downtown Sacramento along I-80 on the way to Lake Tahoe, this small historic town rivals Old Sacramento for charm. Historic neighborhoods were destroyed when the freeway was built, but there has been a recent revival, with many of the buildings restored. Unlike Old Sacramento, there's hardly a square block to be found here--the streets follow old miner's trails back up into the hills. Centerpiece of the town square, the dignified old domed courthouse is an architectural jewel. One of Old Town's most photographed building is the four-story red and white Firehouse; its steep-pitched tower culminating in a cupola is an instant attention-getter. Lots of specialty shops in Old Town sell everything from old gold panning equipment to spinning wheels. You can choose from a large variety of restaurants and cafes also. Awful Annie's is a patio cafe; the Blue Heron Gallery Cafe offers breakfast, lunch and artwork for sale by locals. Housed in an 1855 building, the Shanghai is a popular watering hole locals favor.

The Sacramento Delta

You won't find the kind of grandeur that knocks you over here, like your first view of Yosemite perhaps, but the beauty of this place is distinctive. The charms of the meandering river will more likely grow on you after a time. Most activity here revolves around the levees and the string of small towns built on them. These range from Locke, which was entirely populated by former Chinese railway workers and still boasts interesting restaurants and a small museum--to Clarksburg on the western bank of the Sacramento River, which is home to more than 25 wineries. Further south, Isleton sponsors the annual Crawdad Festival, which features the distinctive Delta creatures prepared in every way imaginable. Houseboating has become, since Erle Stanley Gardner first popularized this mode of river transport in the 1960s, the ideal way for families to vacation in the Delta. Several marinas along the river offer houseboats, floating mini-hotels with all the comforts of home, for short-term rental. Nothing compares to floating down the river or exploring the vast network of sloughs while taking time to fish, swim or sunbathe.

Regardless of which part of Sacramento you plan to visit, rest assured that here along the banks of the river with such a rich past, you will also find a city with a promising future. It is, after all, the address of bustling and productive new enterprises; home to a major university; and, the seat of government for the great state of California.


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