Situated at the confluence of the Sacramento River and American River, Sacramento is a city of contrast, defying expectations that the capital of a state must be a bustling metropolis studded with sleek steel and glass towers. There are buildings fitting that description clustered downtown, but the heart of California's capital city has tree-shaded streets lined with elegant Victorian homes. Unlike most major metropolitan areas that grew from a civic center, Sacramento started from several small communities that grew together.
Today, within the sprawling metropolis, the influence of these original settlements can be seen throughout the city. Just a few minutes southeast of Sacramento International Airport along Interstate 5, Sacramento visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of the river meandering down to the Delta. Sacramento's tiny settlement grew explosively with the discovery of gold. Disappointed gold-seekers returned from the gold fields and founded the surrounding towns. Today, the Sacramento region extends west from Davis and Woodland to the lovingly preserved frontier town of Auburn, northeast along Interstate 80, and to vacation spots in the Sacramento River Delta. Sacramento has grown from a tent city to the capital of California and has never forgotten its colorful Gold Rush roots.
Since its humble beginnings as a tent city, Sacramento's fate has been intertwined with its namesake, the Sacramento River. Today, Old Sacramento is a 12-block restored neighborhood between the river and Interstate 5 and is a state historic district with interesting old stone and brick buildings. There is 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 the Downtown Plaza , reached from Old Sacramento through a pedestrian tunnel covered with colorful murals. This open-air mall (cooled with suspended “misters” during the summer) features a megaplex movie theater, department stores, a bookstore, specialty clothing stores and much more. Plaza shoppers are entertained by strolling musicians, jugglers, acrobats and mimes.
Beyond the plaza is the K Street Mall , which extends several blocks to the east and is home to the Crest Theatre . This Art Deco venue was a vaudeville theater that has been restored and is now a repertory cinema featuring art and foreign titles. Further down K Street is the Esquire IMAX Theatre with its six-story tall screen, several vintage record stores, novelty shops, a blues club and several splashy psychedelic murals painted on the dignified walls.
The trees grab the attention of the first-time visitor to the Midtown district. Throughout the city, there are more than 250,000 varieties of fruit, flowering and palm trees. Many of the trees are huge elms and oaks planted by homesick settlers. In the summers, when temperatures average in the high 90s, the cool shade of the trees is welcome. Along the shaded streets are several cutting-edge off-Broadway theaters, a diversity of art galleries, fine and down-home dining establishments, as well as nightspots catering to every taste.
Across the American River, this old neighborhood centered on Del Paso Boulevard has more than a dozen galleries and, as a result, is a popular area during Second Saturday , an event that happens on the second Saturday of each month and showcases free entrance (and often free food and drinks) into many art galleries around Sacramento. Today, spiffed up and known as Uptown, the area has also attracted interesting restaurants and cafes, and other businesses busily renovating the old neighborhood. To the east is Arden Fair Mall , with theaters, restaurants and a multitude of shopping opportunities.
East of downtown Sacramento, the town of Folsom traces its history directly to the Gold Rush. Along a four-block stretch of Sutter Street, now designated a historic district, are restaurants, coffeehouses and boutiques. Also, here, you will find the Folsom Zoo , affectionately nicknamed the "Misfit Zoo," which provides a haven for injured animals such as bears, bobcats, wolves, dogs and domestic cats.
Unfortunately, the Sacramento River that did so much to put the city on the map also had the alarming habit of flooding on a regular basis. The early town was practically erased several times before levees and the Yolo Bypass were built. The Causeway, a section of Interstate 80 on stilts, crosses the Yolo Bypass and connects downtown Sacramento with Davis. The University of California, Davis, attracts thousands of students and faculty with a taste for non-mainstream entertainment. Most evenings, the downtown streets overflow with townsfolk seeking unique events such as poetry readings, live theater, gallery openings and music concerts.
Regardless of which part of Sacramento you plan to visit, rest assured that here along the banks of the river with its Gold Rush past you will find a city with a promising future. It is, after all, the location of bustling and productive new enterprises, home to a major university and the seat of government for the great state of California.
California's capital city still has essentially a hometown feel despite its phenomenal growth during the past decade. For most of its 150-year history, Sacramento's culinary scene has featured Middle American fare served in fine dining rooms, steakhouses and grills. Its growth has resulted in an explosion of culinary choices. Sacramento has seen a staggering influx of quality ethnic dining venues. Throughout the metropolitan area a variety of sleek, sophisticated and elegant restaurants have opened, while venerable institutions underwent renovation. On the breezy banks of the Sacramento and American Rivers, patio dining includes spectacular views. Under the leafy canopy of the Midtown district, the view from patio tables beside Victorian mansions is pleasantly intimate. Throughout the capital region are a variety of distinct districts with eclectic and exciting dining experiences to satisfy both the gourmet and the aficionado of traditional American favorites.
Along the banks of the Sacramento River, a few blocks west of the Capitol Building, is where it all began 150 years ago. Merchants who built their shops in the Gold Rush town to serve the 49ers got rich. Today, this neighborhood sports roofed plank sidewalks and fine examples of 19th-century architecture and is a state historic park with some excellent dining choices. You can stroll through the pedestrian tunnel covered with colorful murals beginning beside the Plaza and emerge on Second Street bustling with horse-drawn carriages, characters dressed in period costume and plenty of dining experiences. A few doors to your left is Fanny Anne's Saloon , a loud, funky four-story nightspot where a cross-section of society comes to have a good time.
Walk a block to the west and perched on pilings above the Sacramento River is the Rio City Cafe , a restaurant that offers a spectacular view of the Tower Bridge and serves eclectic Southwest and seafood cuisine. Located across First Street from the historic Central Pacific Railroad depot, California Fats presents California cuisine and stir-fried dishes in a modern electric-green dining room. On board the Delta King riverboat, the Pilothouse Restaurant dishes up fresh seafood, its signature clam chowder, and steaks. Along the brick streets are funky boutiques, a few jewelry stores, sports memorabilia shops, candy stores and a farmers market.
This neighborhood has two districts of more than 60-square-blocks and features dozens of restaurants, bars and trendy nightspots. After a brief stroll through the “rabbit hole” (the pedestrian tunnel under Interstate 5), you arrive at the threshold of the Westfield Downtown Plaza . This shopper's paradise is an open-air mall featuring a variety of department stores and specialty shops. At the far eastern entrance, the Hard Rock Cafe offers wall-to-wall rock memorabilia, a great sound system and American fare. Further down J Street is Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar , a popular restaurant offering creative sushi rolls and a trendy, bustling atmosphere.
On the L Street side of Downtown Plaza, Morton's of Chicago is the place to go for prime rib that melts in your mouth. Over the past two decades, the Mexican culture has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance in Sacramento. This means there is an incredible array of authentic Mexican dining experiences. Downtown/midtown Sacramento is replete with Hispanic eateries from the typical mom-and-pop taqueria offering generous portions for a reasonable price, to the latest trend-setting interpretation of traditional recipes. Ernesto's , located in midtown, offers al fresco dining, an Art Deco interior and authentic Mexican cuisine. The chefs of Centro Cocina Mexicana experiment with the traditional to create unique and flavorful Mexican dishes.
East of downtown, among its tree-lined streets and solid Victorian houses, there is an abundance of unique dining treats. The Broiler Steakhouse in the K Street Mall is a time-honored restaurant that has been in business since 1950, and serves aged steaks, unique pasta dishes and fresh seafood. Harlow's offers modern Italian/California cuisine in a sumptuous setting, as well as an upscale nightclub. Biba is arguably the best Italian restaurant in the city. The eatery is named for its chef, a native of Bologna, who extensively researches and constantly refines the Northern Italian dishes on her menu. Zelda's Original Gourmet Pizza takes the Italian specialty, filters it through Chicago, and serves you crispy, hot pan pizzas that are uniquely Sacramento.
The sweeping river vistas along the aptly named Garden Highway, which borders the American River Parkway preserve, offer an intriguing mix of dining experiences. The quaintly ramshackle Rusty Duck , with its wide verandas, has been a landmark on the American River for two decades and emphasizes fresh fish and steaks, prime rib and pastas. Enotria Cafe & Wine Bar , in the heart of Uptown, offers award-winning California/Mediterranean cuisine complemented by an intriguing wine list.
Carmichael, Rancho Cordova, Folsom
While experiencing explosive growth, these suburbs to the east of the metro region somehow seem to maintain their rural small-town feel. Zinfandell Grill , located in Folsom, features wood-fired ovens, a mesquite grill and the latest gourmet Southwest-style dishes. For Vietnamese, try Andy Nguyen's located in a strip mall in Rancho Cordova. Its exterior is definitely not a representation of the quality of its Vietnamese cuisine.