Travel

Sacramento, CA City Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

city-guide-sacramento

Jennifer Snyder is a writer, editor and host of the Creating Your Own Path podcast, a weekly interview series featuring inspiring individuals and change-makers from various creative industries. She’s also a proud native to Sacramento, California and grew up exploring the Northern California coastline.

As someone who is perpetually interested in the stories found tucked away in life’s adventures, Jennifer enjoys traveling and exploring her own city as much as possible, which she documents on Instagram.

After living in several neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento region over the course of her adult life, she and her husband have settled in West Sacramento with their two adorable rescue pups. Today, Jennifer is joining us to share more about the sunny capital of the state of California — the ever-charming Sacramento. –Sabrina

Photography by Jennifer Snyder

The Sacramento region is often brought up in conversation as being situated between destinations like Napa, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. While geography doesn’t lie, those who only see the California’s capital city in relation to its neighbors are missing out on a place whose residents have been perfecting a special blend of art, history, food and community for generations.

One thing that both Sacramento locals and visitors are beginning to celebrate is that the city simply cannot be defined in one way. Sacramento is not just a political town, it’s not a city solely defined by its gold rush past and it’s much more than an agricultural center. Nothing illustrates Sacramento’s multifaceted identity better than the places in which people can gather together, discover Sacramento-based gems and appreciate the changing landscape of the city.

Sacramento is a city of neighborhoods and districts — no doubt about it — so any visitor would do well to pay attention to where they’d like to call home during their stay. The guide below is just a small selection of what Sacramento has to offer, but I’ve made sure to mention the area in which each place is located. And since there is no way to list every place in Sacramento in a guide like this, be sure to share your favorites in the comment section!

Eat & Drink:

Coffee
Coffee is a perfect way to start this guide and, luckily, Sacramento has become a great place for locally owned spots. In fact, a walk through Sacramento’s central city will uncover more independent coffee shops than national chains, and that’s a badge of honor the town wears with pride.

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A favorite stop in downtown Sacramento is Insight Coffee Roasters. This café, which has a past life as a bookstore, is a perfect spot to catch up with friends or get a little work done. The coffee and pastries are delicious, but the cozy window nooks, ever-changing art displays and friendly staff make the place.

Not far from Insight is the downtown location of Temple Coffee & Tea. This local coffee institution was founded in 2005 and has since opened several locations around the city.

Another fantastic coffee stop is Old Soul Co. While the patio at their Weatherstone coffee house is perfect for people-watching, their original location in a midtown alley is a favorite. They’ve also got a fantastic location in the Oak Park neighborhood worth visiting.

The Mill in midtown is another spot to put on your list, especially if you’re craving a beautifully designed space and great coffee. Bonus: they’ve just recently added made-to-order Belgian waffles to their menu and they’re delicious.

Brunch/Lunch

In terms of food, Sacramento’s dining scene has grown immensely over the last 15 years, and no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll likely be able to find it somewhere in town.

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For brunch or lunch, you could check out Tower Café on Broadway for quirky, internationally-inspired ambiance, tasty food and a touch of local history (do yourself a favor and catch a matinee at the historic Tower Theatre while you’re there!).

If you’re looking for something savory, you can stay on Broadway and head for Bacon & Butter. True to its name, the restaurant takes Sacramento’s fresh, farm-to-table traditions and serves them up with a comfort food-inspired twist. A little closer to the central city, the R Street Corridor also has several options to choose from. You simply cannot go wrong, however, with a visit to Fox & Goose Public House.

While Sacramento isn’t necessarily known for its pizza, I’m not sure any visit to Sacramento would be complete without a slice (or five). Hot Italian in midtown is not only the perfect spot for a glass of prosecco and a delicious pie, but the beautiful space is an easy place to spend an afternoon. Committed to bringing the art of Italian-style pizza to more people, the founders have opened several other restaurants in the Sacramento region and the Bay Area.

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If a relaxed atmosphere is as high on your list as the pizza itself, look no further than Federalist Public House. The restaurant, another alley-facing venture, was constructed using shipping containers and comes complete with welcoming picnic tables, a bocce ball court and a fantastic menu. The pizza is tasty, of course, but their salads, sandwiches and small bites are worth checking out as well.

For those interested in casual dining that revolves around meat, Sacramento has got you covered. Midtown’s LowBrau, which is lovingly described as a “gourmet sausage kitchen and beer hall,” is a great place for tasty food, a solid local beer selection and people-watching. Next door is LowBrau’s sister establishment, Block Butcher Bar, and it’s perfect for a happy hour stop. If you’re heading downtown, you don’t want to miss the recently opened Empress Tavern, which is a true American carvery located in the basement of the historic Crest Theatre. Bonus: Empress Tavern’s sister restaurant, Mother, focuses on vegetarian comfort food and is located just down the street!

Dinner:

Fine dining in Sacramento is an experience not to be overlooked. Whether you’re interested in hip spots like Hook & Ladder and the recently redesigned Paragary’s Restaurant in midtown, or the classic downtown vibes provided by restaurants like The Grange, Ella Dining Room & Bar, you’re sure to find something that fits the bill.

Shop:

Once the home to more shopping malls and strip malls than anything else, Sacramento has become a small business owner’s haven in recent years. Retail recruitment is a priority in districts throughout town and both residents and visitors get to reap the rewards. The best way to approach shopping in the Sacramento area is by thinking about it as an experience in whatever district or neighborhood you find yourself visiting.

Old Sacramento:

If you’re in Old Sacramento, the city’s historic district, it’s easy to spend an entire day learning more about how California came to be. However, don’t stop there! Be sure to visit locally owned shops like Ana Apple, William Glen Boutique and Stage Nine Entertainment while you’re in the area.

Downtown/Midtown:

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Downtown and Midtown Sacramento are full of shops and, since the entire central city is walkable and bike-friendly, you can cover quite a bit of ground pretty easily. Boutiques like Cuffs, Sugar Shack and Getta Clue in midtown are perfect if new duds are on the agenda. If you’re exploring downtown and love a good vintage find, don’t miss out on Vintage YSJ. The owners bring together some of the best vintage clothing and accessory finds. Notable: You can also head to East Sacramento for more vintage and consignment goodies at Article Consignment Boutique.

Lastly, if shopping makes you work up a sweet tooth, a stop at Andy’s Candy Apothecary in downtown is a must. Chocolate lovers, however, should save room for the goods at Ginger Elizabeth in midtown. Just be sure to grab a few extra goodies for later!

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R Street:

Add the R Street Corridor to your list if you’re interested in mixing vintage finds, beautiful works of art and handmade goods with delicious food and hip drink spots (check out Shady Lady and Bottle & Barlow when you need a shopping break!).

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One of the most recent additions to this area is an absolute gem: The R Street Warehouse Artist Lofts (WAL). The The WAL Public Market, located on the ground floor of the mixed-use project, is just as cool as it seems and you’ll want to stop by Old Gold, Benjamins Shoes, Kechmara Designs and Kicksville Vinyl & Vintage while you’re there.

Oak Park:

Shop_DisplayCalifornia

The Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento is in the midst of transition, and business owners are starting to take notice. One of the newer additions, DISPLAY California, is located front and center in the newly developed triangle district and boasts a revolving pop-up concept that features California-made goods based on a specific theme. Every four to eight weeks, the owners will close it down and restock with an entirely new product mix. In the past, they’ve dedicated the space to a kids’ shopping experience, holiday merchandise and an event space. Currently, the theme is based on a bodega and the space is stocked with kitchen items, locally sourced foods, flowers and more.

Farmers’ Markets:

The Sacramento region is known as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital and the farmers’ markets around the city definitely live up to the hype. Many of the events are strictly certified farmers’ markets meaning that, aside from booths selling fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers, you won’t see many other booths with retail-type items for sale. However, in recent years more markets have opened in neighborhoods like Oak Park, midtown and Land Park that offer more than produce and food vendors. It’s a great way to get to know local makers and producers (like Sudz by Studz at the Oak Park market). Even if you’re only in Sacramento for the day, a local farmers’ market is a great way to get a feel for the agriculture and food culture the city is cultivating.

Stay:

Sacramento’s hotel scene tends to be full of the usual suspects, but there are a few gems located in and around the central city that offer up a more boutique vibe. If your activities have you tooling around downtown, you’ll want to check out the Citizen Hotel. It’s right around the corner from both Insight Coffee Roasters and Temple Coffee (mentioned above) and across the street from Cesar Chavez Plaza, which plays host to summertime events like farmers’ markets and free Friday night concerts. Also, the hotel is stunning. The rooms in the historic building are beautiful and the entire property combines Sacramento’s political past with modern design and cheeky humor.

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If you’re looking to stay close to downtown, but still want to feel tucked away from the hustle of it all, the Parkside Inn & Spa is a great option. As the name suggests, the inn is located across from Sacramento’s Southside Park and is within walking distance to Old Sacramento, the California State Capitol, the Crocker Art Museum and the R Street Corridor.

A stay in Midtown means you should definitely look up the Amber House Bed & Breakfast. With two historic homes centrally located amongst art galleries, shops and restaurants, Amber House is perfect for those looking to get away while staying close to amenities.

Just recently, Sacramento’s City Council approved restrictions for vacation rentals like those found on Airbnb and VRBO, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great place to stay using those sites. So many Sacramentans have opted to open up their homes to travelers, and it’s a great way to experience the city like a resident.

Visit/See:

Events:

Not only is Sacramento a city of neighborhoods, it’s also a city of events. Let it be known: Sacramentans will come together to celebrate just about everything.

Sacramento’s farm-to-fork scene is honored each year with a handful of fun events, including a gala dinner that shuts down Sacramento’s iconic Tower Bridge and a festival that brings together farmers, ranchers, restaurants, wineries and vendors (like Brass Clover Cold Brew Coffee Company), who don’t currently have a physical shop to sell their goods.

If music is more your thing, look for events like downtown’s Friday Night Concerts in the Park and West Sacramento’s TBD Fest. Those looking for a true block party where music, food, art and activities all take center stage should add THIS Midtown and Gather in Oak Park to the list.

Art events in Sacramento are also a great way to see the city. On the first Friday of the month, be sure to take advantage of R Street’s First Friday event. You’ll have a chance to see more of the Warehouse Artist Lofts (including stunning works by Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel) and meet many of the resident artists and makers (like Sarah Perez). Several other galleries and studios in the area (like Beatnik) open their doors for the festivities as well.

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Sacramento’s Second Saturday is arguably one of the longest running art events in the city and it spans just about every neighborhood across the region. Some districts and neighborhoods have a block party feel while others cultivate more of an art gallery walking tour vibe.

Live Music Venues:

For live music in an indoor setting, be sure to check the calendars for the Crest Theatre, Harlow’s Restaurant & NightclubOld Ironsides, The ParkAce of Spades and Torch Club to get started.

Performing Arts:

Going to a show in Sacramento is always a good time and, with a handful of performing arts groups in town, it’s not hard to find a fantastic stage performance. Start by checking out California Musical Theatre, the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera.

History/Museums:

Sacramento has dozens of museums to visit — from the Crocker Art Museum to the California State Railroad Museum. If you’re interested in spending the day at one (or several!) museums in the area, the Sacramento Association of Museums is a great place to start your planning.

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Nearby:

Sacramento’s city center is a hub of activity, but don’t forget to head to neighborhoods and nearby cities to get a true feel for just how diverse the Sacramento region really is.

Breweries:

For self-guided local brew tour, head across the river to West Sacramento. To get you started, be sure to visit Bike Dog Brewing Co., Yolo Brewing Company and Jackrabbit Brewing Company. You’ll get bonus points if you bookend your brewery tour by stopping at Ruhstaller Beer’s brewery and taproom in downtown Sacramento and then head west on I-80 to check out their farm and yard in Dixon, California.

Wine Tasting:

You don’t have to go far from Sacramento to enjoy local wines. Wine growing areas surround the Sacramento Valley, including Clarksburg, Placer County, Amador County, El Dorado County and more. If you want to visit a specific region or area, your best bet is to plan your trip using the Sacramento Regional Wine Guide.

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Get Outside:

Technically, you don’t need to leave Sacramento to enjoy the outdoors. With access to two major rivers, miles of bike trails and a tree canopy worth noting, the city has you covered. However, the valley’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada Mountains makes for a perfect excuse to do a little day hiking. Check out this article for a great roundup of nearby trails.

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Get planning!

If there’s one thing Sacramentans love to do, it’s brag about Sacramento. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to check out local publications for the scoop on what’s going on in and around town. I recommend starting with Sactown MagazineSubmerge Magazine, The Seen and City Scout. Lastly, if you’re into Instagram, hit up the Visit Sacramento account for fun updates about the city!

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Comments

  • My favorite Sactown places that didn’t make it to the list include:

    Chocolate Fish coffee house – their cold nitro brew is awesome!
    Magpie Cafe – amazing and beautiful local, organic and sustainable food, right next to Shady Lady.
    Ella’s – haven’t been here but highly recommended restaurant known for their in-house made gin and tonics. Sounds delicious, no?

  • We just moved out of Sacramento after ten years there, and here are some of our favs for food:

    Masullo, definitely the best pizza in Sacto. Also the arugula salad with fennel is delicious. On Riverside, a few blocks south of Broadway.

    Sampino’s Towne Foods, really fantastic sandwiches. We’ve tried most of the menu and there isn’t a lackluster one in the bunch. On 16th and F. (Or G? One of those.)

    Volkswaffle, waffle food truck. They do real liege style Belgian waffles with strawberries. Usually at the Midtown farmers market on Saturdays and most food truck events.

    Cafe Morocco, for a nice $5 lunch special–a gyro or falafel sandwich with either lentil soup or salad. We went here so much we’d just sit down and they’d bring us our food without having to order. In the strip mall on Alhambra and Folsom.

    Orphan, for breakfast. The Zen breakfast was always my go to but everything’s good. Up at the top of East Sac on Elvas/C and I think 34th?

    And the SactoMoFo events are generally worthwhile for food truck eating, if they are still doing those.

    • Aimee, thanks so much for recommending Sampino’s. I went the other day and LOVED it. Good food and nice people.

  • SACTOWN BABY. I’ve literally never seen a Sacramento city guide and I’m so glad you guys are featuring it! I live up towards the mountains, but I actually really love going into Sac. Tower Cafe is the BEST and don’t forget Rick’s for dessert! My dad would tell everyone to go to the Railroad Museum because he loves trains, but I really love the Crocker and they have some amazing exhibitions.

  • Shady Lady has (NO COVER) live music every single night starting at 9 pm.! Their sister bar, B side, is worth a visit if listening to vinyl is your thing.

    The Zoo and Fairytale town are nice ways to spend a day (and the Zoo has live concert series in the summer)

    Every Tuesday evening at 8PM, local treasure Cactus Pete spins 78’s at the Hideaway in Curtis Park!!

    Oh, Sacramento!! There are just a million cool things to do!!

  • We lived in Sacramento for many years & I must say that Ginger Elizabeth is a must! The beautiful little jewel box of a shop has the absolute best macaroons in the country! They are the perfect texture, not too sweet, and the the filling is a dream. This is what the French intended. Her truffles, chocolates, ice cream, and espresso drinks, equally outstanding.
    She trained in Europe & it shows… this is no ordinary sweet spot.

  • If you’re going to send folks to Amador County for wine, why not make the trip to Lodi – much closer (35 minutes by two major highways) and recently named as Wine Enthusiasts Region of the Year for 2015

    http://www.lodiwine.com/

    • MC, you’re absolutely right! I couldn’t possibly fit everything into this post, but I’m so grateful people are jumping in to add their favorites. Guides like these are the perfect team effort. :)

  • What a wonderful guide to Sacramento! This city definitely has more to it than most Bay Area locals know. We love all the spots, but have to agree that Magpie would be a great add as well. We dream about their beef stew.

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