Northern California Weekend Getaway: Sacramento

California’s state capitol gets a bad rap. Sometimes I wonder if it’s Central Valley location or its proximity to politicians makes people think it is without gusto. But the truth is, with so many amazing California destinations nearby, it was just a matter of time before Sacramento grew up.

These days, Sacramento is downright cool.

Sure in the past Sacramento was considered a gas stop on the way to Tahoe, but today, you’ll find a fun collection of foodies, artists, and aspiring politicos.

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Where to Stay: For a bit of historical fun, check into the Delta King Hotel, located in Old Town Sacramento. This former steamboat once carted passengers along the Delta and unto San Francisco. Today, it evokes the feeling of the 1800s with small rooms and the gentle rocking of the water to help you fall into a slumber.

For those more in tune with the modern world, the hip Citizen Hotel lures the powerful politicos, musicians, and cool kids to its sleek lobby, upscale eatery, and spare guest rooms.

What to Do: If you are a history buff, Old Town Sacramento is constructed of historic saloons and candy shops nestled in 19th century architecture. Favored by families, but by no means a sophomoric endeavor, most will appreciate the California State Railroad Museum. Besides providing a decent lesson on everything train related—from dining cars to mail carriers—visitors can view a hefty collection of model trains, antsy kids can play with Thomas tracks, and on select days, everyone can ride the rails along the river.

Get up close with the ambling Sacramento River by exploring the American River Parkway. With 23-miles of trails, picnic areas, fishing bars, and swimming holes, not to mention places to drop a boat in the water, you can begin to see why locals spend their warm days congregating near the water. The closest place to access the river from downtown is Discovery Park, though it gets a bit dodgy after dark and is considered the dirtiest swimming area in town. Or hop on US-50 east and take the Howe Ave. off-ramp north. Make a left on Fair Oaks Blvd., then a right on Carlson Drive. You will find Paradise Beach. This is where college students congregate in the water and picnic.

To really get to know Sacramento’s cool kid atmosphere, you’ll have to get out of Old Town and head to the Grid. Within the last decade, the tree-lined streets of midtown have morphed into an it-destination, cluttered with galleries, alfresco eateries, shops, and renovated Victorian architecture. Stroll along I, J, and K streets (between 17th and 26th streets) and get to know the latest fashion creations, antique shops and art offerings of the valley folks.

Where to Eat: Since the majority of California’s produce is grown and nourished in this valley, you’d think Sacramento would have a thriving culinary community, and in the recent years, the state capitol has finally delivered. Probably the most famous Sac-town restaurant is Biba Caggiano’s Bologna inspired Biba, where you’ll get heaping plates of traditional handmade pastas and likely spot a Senator or two.

Another good choice, Pizza Rock, the brainchild of award-winning pizza maker Tony Gemignani. With a semi-truck cab hitched atop the bar (yes, seriously), lots of sports on TV, fine wines, and the best margarita pizza in town, you don’t want to pass up this local favorite.

A fun stop for margaritas and Mexican cuisine served outdoors is Zocalo. I especially like the festive atmosphere, and the authentic tacos.

When night falls, your best bet to find live music and stage shows is the free weekly Sacramento News and Review. Beer drinkers will be content in Sacramento, with heaps of breweries to choose from. Favorites include Pyramid Alehouse Brewery and BFD. Or if you dig the coffeehouse vibe, don’t miss a visit to Temple Fine Coffee and Tea, serving one of Northern California’s best cups of coffee.

For more information about Sacramento and the surrounding area, pick up a copy of my Northern California: An Explorer’s Guide.

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