Thursday, December 10, 2009

River City USA...Surprising Sacramento

Unless it's for business, family, or a pit stop while traveling to or from Tahoe, many Bay Area residents probably would not consider a trip to Sacramento. While it's true the city can't compare to the sights and sounds of San Francisco, it does offer some experiences that make a pleasant weekend trip...especially for those interested in a classic mid western style river city experience in California.

Sacramento also has one of the largest concentrations of late 19th century architecture in California, with its historic Old Town and its Mid-town collection of late Victorian homes. Below are several LCBV favorites in Sacramento.

Old Town Sacramento:

While touristy, the architecture in this district is unique with a number of Gold Rush and Victorian era commercial buildings. The whole area owes its preservation due to it being a slum for a good part of the 20th century until its re-development. There is also the tree lined Sacramento riverfront promenade, with views of the 1935 historic yellow vertical lift Tower Bridge. A must visit is the California State Railroad Museum, which has one of the nation's largest collections of restored and preserved steam locomotives including the Genoa and Sonoma, both classic Western style Baldwin engines. In addition, a seasonal steam train runs along the riverfront during the summer and on certain weekends.

On the waterfront is the Delta King, an original Sacramento Riverboat. While in service during the first half of the 20th century, it would carry passengers on overnight trips between San Francisco and Sacramento. Now a hotel, it provides unique accommodation with a river view. Ask for a room with a view facing the river, preferably a corner room. The decor has a nautical theme, and the rooms are very cozy, though larger than they originally were when it was in service. The boat also has a decent restaurant and bar, with a nice Sunday brunch buffet. For those into theater, the on board venue provides live entertainment on certain nights. During the summer and fall, the roof promenade is a good place to watch the fireworks show over the river after a minor league baseball River Cats game (the local team).

Make sure to grab a bite to eat at the Rio City Cafe, a classy riverfront venue with outdoor deck and historical decor. While the food is reliable, you also typically escape the Summer weekend tourist hoards who are congregated outside the nearby Joe's Crab Shack.

Alphabet District/Midtown:

Over the past 10 years, this district has started to attract a more cosmopolitan vibe. For those familiar with Portland, OR, the district is somewhat reminiscent of the NW 21st/23rd shopping and restaurant areas, as large Victorian and early 20th century houses are interspersed with shops. Many of the worthwhile spots are located along or nearby Capitol Ave, to the East of the State Capitol park. Both Rubicon Brewing, a pioneer in the craft brewing scene, and Zocalo, an upscale Mexican restaurant in an historic auto dealership are located here. The nearby Old Soul Co. coffee shop and bakery is also worth a visit. Worth a small detour is the old white California Governor's Mansion a few blocks to the North. Built in 1877, it's a rare example of a large Second Empire-Italianate Victorian. Now a museum, Ronald Reagan was the last governor to live inside.


The K Street Pedestrian promenade anchors the downtown area of Sacramento and has a number of outdoor cafes and shops. The intersection of 11th and K Street is particularly leafy during the summer and is a pleasant spot for lunch. The circa 1887 Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento and the 1940's era Crest Theater are nearby.

A block to the South is the State Capitol, constructed between 1861 and 1874. The building's dome, at 220 ft, was designed to equal the height of the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. It's worth the time to enter and see the interior of the House and Senate Chambers as well as the interior dome decoration Of note, the interior of the dome is painted with shades of pink, which was considered a very masculine color in the late 19th century.

A block to the North of K Street on J Street lies the City Hall plaza and the Citizen Hotel. Along with the Delta King, the recently opened Citizen Hotel is one of the more unique places to stay. Originally constructed in 1925 for the California Western Life Insurance Company, the building is classically designed with marble and a mansard roof. Prior to the hotel conversion, the building was unofficially known as the "Poverty Palace" due to it holding the offices of numerous social service and charity groups. The developers did an excellent job preserving historical elements including the original lobby with its carvings and brass elevator doors. While cozy, the rooms are well appointed and are decorated with political cartoons. The on-site restaurant, The Grange, is a good spot for a cocktail or breakfast. The balcony lobby bar "Scandal" has a dark library feel. In fact, the designers did a good job preserving the historic original marble lobby while adding another, darker lobby behind where you actually check in. The hotel occasional runs a $99 per night promo, so it's best to call ahead to see about that rate. Normal rates start around $139, which is still very reasonable.

During the summer, the plaza across the street often hosts a farmer's market. Around the corner is Bud's Buffet. Not a true buffet, but a sandwich shop/deli that is very popular with the government crowd. While the immediate area is improving, the area gets pretty empty at night save for the corner liquor store/pawnshop crowd. Down the street from the Citizen is the old Elks Building, another grand old high rise. It's currently the home of a McCormick & Schmick's Seafood restaurant on the ground floor.


Selected Listings:

Citizen Hotel
926 J St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 447-2700

Delta King
1000 Front St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 441-4440

Rubicon Brewing
2004 Capitol Ave
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 448-7032

Rio City Cafe
1110 Front St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 442-8226

Old Soul Co.
1716 L St
Rear Alley
Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 443-7685

Bud's Buffet
1016 10th St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 443-6905

California State Railroad Museum
111 I St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 322-8485

Governor's Mansion Historic Park
1526 H Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

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