Sacramento is the capital of California, the world’s sixth largest economy. Despite its importance, the city reflects the casualness of the Golden State. People are open, not too dressed up, and the city simply delivers fine food, recreation, and accommodations without bragging about it. When you visit, make time to see the giant oak trees and abundant bird life in the peaceful Cosumnes River Preserve.
Sacramento lies in the northern San Joaquin Valley, about halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Numerous airports surround the city, but Sacramento Executive Airport provides perhaps the best combination of services and convenience for the general aviation pilot. Two major rivers border downtown Sacramento. The American River flows in from the east, joining the Sacramento River at downtown’s northwest corner, where the Sacramento River flows south.
You can also walk or ride the Capitol Mall east from Tower Bridge to the Capitol. The 40-acre Capitol Park boasts over 1,100 trees and more than 150 memorials to significant California people or events. In April, giant orange trees blossom and their fragrance permeates the air. The Victorian-designed World Peace Rose Garden features about 650 roses with walkways, numerous benches, and 44 youth-written Inspirational Messages of Peace inscribed on plaques throughout the garden. Step inside the neoclassical California State Capitol Building and marvel at the intricate wood moldings, granite archways, gilded Corinthian columns, California golden poppy mosaic floor, and 210-foot-high dome.
Continue down L Street to Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park. On K Street, the State Indian Museum displays what must be the world’s tiniest basket. J Street has several interesting stores that appealed to my 29-year-old son, including Big Brother Comics, which he calls “a classic comic store, the kind you don’t see many of anymore.”
Kids, and the young at heart, love the California State Railroad Museum, including my 91-year-old dad! The railroad museum sits along the Sacramento River at the north end of the Old Sacramento Historic District, which harkens back to the city’s Gold Rush era, with its wooden sidewalks and restored 19th-century buildings. We booked an Underground Tour, given by a docent in period costume, to see the underground spaces.
One of Sacramento’s oldest and best museums is the Italianate Victorian Crocker Art Museum, across the street from Crocker Park. Early California works, including Thomas Hill's gigantic “Yosemite” form the heart of the impressive collection. Catch a Triple-A Sacramento River Cats home game at Raley Field, with fireworks on Saturday nights. Sunday afternoon games are great for kids, who also enjoy a play structure, bounce houses, and a giant slide above right field.
Three Sacramento hotels stand out among the crowd: The Citizen Hotel is a luxury boutique property in the heart of downtown that combines the feel and formality of Sacramento’s history with modern expectations. The Inn Off Capitol Park is indeed just a block away from the Capitol, and breakfast is included in the room rate. For a truly waterfront experience, stay at the Delta King Hotel, aboard the historic Delta King stern wheel paddle boat, moored on the Sacramento River.
Sacramento bills itself as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” certainly doable with the country’s most productive farmlands so close. The Grange Restaurant and Bar, fine dining inside the Citizen Hotel, makes ample use of the Central Valley’s bounty in its seasonal menus. You’ll find lots of eateries near the river, including Spud Shack, with over a dozen kinds of fries (funnel cakes too). Soothe your caffeine cravings at Steamers Coffee and Tea Exchange, serving breakfast and lunch as well as fine espresso. Just west of the comics store on J Street, Lucca Restaurant offers a Mediterranean-influenced menu accompanied by friendly service and a lively atmosphere. A few more blocks down J Street, Tapa the World will spice up your day with Spanish-style tapas, open till midnight and offering live Spanish guitar music Wednesday through Sunday.
So, check out California’s capital, but don't miss the birds and the groves of mighty oak trees in the Cosumnes River Preserve (see photos for details). Along with your memories of Old Sacramento, you’ll depart with an appreciation for an important part of California’s natural history.
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