We have long said Sacramentians have a poor view of their city. Here is a view from the East Coast.
36 Hours in Sacramento
DESPITE California’s fiscal crisis, Sacramento has no deficit of quirky cultural offerings. Situated at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, this capital city has a gentle, small-town charm, with a strong theater tradition, delightful new restaurants and a vibrant art scene. It also has a wealth of greenery — residents proudly claim more trees per capita than any city in the world besides Paris. It’s enough to make you forget about the state’s yawning budget gap.
1) GRIN AND BEAR IT
Who says California’s capital is a mess? A stroll through the California State Capitol (10th and L Streets; 916-324-0333; www.capitolmuseum.ca.gov) — a neo-Classical confection of Corinthian and other classic columns, parget plasterwork and mosaic floors — makes everything feel like it’s in grand order. Painstakingly restored in the 1970s, the interior is graced with numerous artworks, including presidential portraits, WPA murals and a stunning marble statue of Columbus and Queen Isabella by Larkin Goldsmith Mead. There’s also a lush park and a 250-pound bronze statue of a grizzly bear guarding the door to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office. Wander at a leisurely pace while government employees rush by.
2) FARM TO TABLE
To dine in modern elegance head a few blocks to the Ella Dining Room and Bar (1131 K Street; 916-443-3772;www.elladiningroomandbar.com), which is draped with dramatic scrims of white linen and which emphasizes local produce. Dishes include pappardelle, poached egg and prosciutto in preserved lemon butter sauce ($15), and grilled flat iron steak with caramelized salsify and braised celery root ($29). You could also have a soothing elderflower gimlet ($11) and chocolate crème caramel for dessert ($9).
3) ACT THREE
Sacramento has a vibrant theater scene, judging by the well-chosen productions at the intimate B Street Theatre (2711 B Street; 916-443-5300; www.bstreettheatre.org). A current production is “The Maintenance Man,” a comedy about divorce by Richard Harris, a prolific British playwright. “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” a tale of seduction and sibling rivalry by Joe Orton, opens Nov. 15. Draw out the drama with a nightcap at Harlows (2708 J Street; 916-441-4693; www.harlows.com), where you’ll find live rock or jazz downstairs and purple backlighting and plush and inviting seats in the Momo Lounge upstairs.
4) MIMOSA BRUNCH
Get to the Tower Cafe (1518 Broadway; 916-441-0222; www.towercafe.com) early, and you’ll have a better chance of snagging an outdoor table under the shady mimosa tree at this quirky restaurant across the street from the original (and, sadly, defunct) Tower Records. But you could do a lot worse than sitting indoors — where you’ll be surrounded by an eclectic collection of objets d’art, including African beaded belts, Mexican Day of the Dead sculptures and 1930s travel posters — as you dive into toothsome specialties like the Mexican scramble ($8.95), blueberry cornmeal pancakes ($8.95) or chorizo burrito ($9.95).
5) A BUFFET OF ART
The Crocker Art Museum (216 O Street; 916-808-7000; www.crockerartmuseum.org; $6 entry) is the perfect museum for a weekend getaway: compact yet diverse, including works from prehistoric to modern times. Oswald Achenbach’s painting, “Festival and Fireworks by Moonlight,” circa 1855, has a fiery luminescence so true that you expect to feel heat rising off the canvas. In the contemporary gallery, the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s “Laughing Woman,” from 1950, is dark and whimsical. And the building, an 1872 Victorian Italianate mansion, is absolutely grand; an addition tripling the museum’s size is scheduled to open in 2010.
6) BOATS AND TRAINS
Old Sacramento (www.oldsacramento.com), a historic district with costumed cowboys and Old West facades, is a hokey, tourist-mobbed scene. But two spots stand out: the Pilothouse Restaurant (1000 Front Street; 916-441-4440; www.deltaking.com) and theCalifornia State Railroad Museum (Second and I Streets; 916-445-6645;www.californiastaterailroadmuseum.org; $9). The restaurant is on the Delta King, a 1920s riverboat-turned-floating-hotel, and offers dishes like a Shrimp Louie salad ($13) and fish and chips ($12). The museum features restored locomotives and railroad cars that you can climb aboard, including a 1937 stainless-steel dining car with white linen, fancy china and a vintage menu offering a “lamb chop, extra thick, 80¢.”
7) SHOP MIDTOWN
Midtown, the area bordered roughly by 17th and 29th Streets and H and P Streets, may be Sacramento’s hippest district. Stop into boutiques like Dragatomi (2317 J Street; 916-706-0535; www.dragatomi.com), for designer collectibles like Kidrobot. Midtown is also home to art galleries, so if you’re not in town for a Second Saturdays Art Walk, pop into a few, including b. sakata garo (923 20th Street; 916-447-4276; www.bsakatagaro.com) and the 20th Street Art Gallery (911 20th Street; 916-930-0500; www.20art.net), which focuses on Sacramento artists.
8) SEASONAL FARE
For a taste of Sacramento’s new culinary scene, make reservations at Grange (926 J Street; 916-492-4450; www.grangesacramento.com), a sleek new restaurant in theCitizen Hotel. Michael Tuohy uses local ingredients to make seasonal dishes like risotto with morels and fava beans ($22), grilled sturgeon with polenta and shiitake mushrooms ($25) and slow-smoked pork shoulder with turnips ($25).
9) CLOSER TO WINE
If the art gods are on your side, you’ll be in town for a Second Saturdays Art Walk (www.2nd-sat.com), when galleries stay open until 10 p.m. with live music, food vendors and, of course, vino. Though most of the action is in Midtown, around K Street, galleries in other neighborhoods get involved, too; it’s best to check in with the art walk’s map, on its Web site. Any other Saturday, remind yourself how close Napa Valley is at Revolution Wines (2116 P Street; 916-444-7711; www.revolution-wines.com), a tiny industrial-chic winery with free tastings, or at L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen (1801 L Street; 916-443-6970; www.lwinelounge.com), which has at least 20 wines by the glass.
10) PAINT THE TOWN GREEN
Sacramento isn’t known for night life, but there are a few surprises. One is the glossy and upscale Lounge on 20 (1050 20th Street; 916-443-6620; www.loungeon20.com), where a seat on the patio, glass of emerald absinthe ($8 to $15) in hand, conjures up South Beach — without the limos, celebrities and models. Across the street is Faces (2000 K Street; 916-448-0706; www.faces.net), one of five gay clubs clustered near K and 20th Streets.
11) GOING COUNTRY
It may be stuck under a freeway overpass, but the Sunday Certified Farmers’ Market(Eighth and W Streets; www.california-grown.com) is a country-fresh way to start your day. Open year round from 8 a.m. to noon, the market offers a bounty of white pomegranates, Asian pears, fragrant persimmons, harvested honey, farm-fresh eggs, cut flowers and just-caught fish. It feels like a festive street fair, with nothing but delicious foods.
12) BIKE THE RIVER
Bond with the American River by riding along the Jedediah Smith Memorial Bike Trail, a 32-mile loop that snakes along the water and through a series of parks featuring sand dunes, oak groves, picnic areas and fishing nooks. City Bicycle Works (2419 K Street; 916-447-2453; www.citybicycleworks.com), which is less than a mile from the trail, has rentals starting at $5 an hour and $20 a day.
JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) offers direct flights from Kennedy International in New York to the Sacramento International Airport. Round-trip tickets in November started at $369, a recent Internet search found.
Another, often cheaper option is to fly to San Francisco and drive 90 minutes northeast.
The Citizen Hotel (926 J Street; 916-447-2700; www.citizenhotel.com), which opened downtown in 2008, is a designer boutique hotel that is part of California’s Joie de Vivre collection. The 198-room hotel features a tented meeting space, gym and the trendy Grange restaurant and Scandal bar. Rooms start at $189 on weekdays and $129 on weekends.
The Inn & Spa at Parkside (2116 6th Street; 916-658-1818; www.innatparkside.com), in a 1936 mansion at the edge of downtown, has a spa, outdoor hot tub and 11 elegant rooms with spiritual themes like Dream and Tranquility. Rates start at $169 during the week and $199 on weekends, breakfast included.
The Delta King hotel (1000 Front Street; 800-825-5464; www.deltaking.com), aboard the Delta King riverboat in Old Sacramento, is a quirky and affordable option with river- or town-view rooms starting at $99.