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California Capital: A Beginner's Sacramento Guide

by Janet January

Centrally located between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, California capital, Sacramento, is known for its mild climate, easy access to outdoor recreation and growing culinary scene. Sacramento International Airport, just 10 minutes from downtown, also features a flashy new terminal that makes a great first impression. Take a look at our Sacramento guide for a taste of what you’ll find...

 

Sacramento cultivates its image as the bustling hub of the California Gold Rush even as it reinvents itself as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Eating out is a passion for many, but the topics that dominate the news are politics (it’s the state capital, after all) and basketball—specifically, the Sacramento Kings, a bottom-of-the-basement franchise that’s rebounding under new ownership, the promise of a new stadium and a fan base considered the most rabidly loyal of any in the league.

 

California Capital | Sacramento Guide | Capitol Building

The California capitol is the nucleus of state politics © Brandon Bourdages/iStock/Thinkstock
 
A first-time visitor to Sacramento will find plenty to see and do—and, chances are, great weather in which to do it. A mild, Mediterranean climate fosters outdoor living most of the year, and there are parts of town with more restaurant tables outdoors than in. The “City of Trees” is also exceedingly shady, a characteristic that makes prized assets like the 32-mile American River Parkway all the more appealing.
 

California’s capital got its start when Johann Augustus Sutter, a Swiss adventurer, founded New Helvetia in 1839 at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. Arriving from San Francisco with a crew of 10 Hawaiians, he subdued the indigenous Miwok and Maidu people, built an adobe fort, raised a private army and envisioned an agricultural utopia. In January 1848, a trusted employee, James Marshall, found gold in the tailrace of a sawmill Sutter had commissioned in Coloma, about 40 miles upstream. He couldn’t keep the secret. The cry “Gold in the American River!” went out across the land, and the world rushed in with gold pan, pickaxe and dynamite to dissect the Sierra Nevada foothills.

 

California Capital | Sacramento Guide | Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento is a captivating historic district © Janet Fullwood
 

Today, a restored Sutter’s Fort and the 28-acre Old Sacramento historic district captivate visitors with a sanitised whiff of the time when Sacramento was a Wild West outpost overrun with prospectors. More grist for the history books arrived with the fabled Pony Express, which galloped into town for 18 months in 1860-61. Then came the Transcontinental Railroad, connecting the California capital with the rest of the world and hastening Western expansion.

 

California Capital | Sacramento Guide | Delta King Hotel

The Delta King is both a 1920s paddle-wheeler and a floating hotel © Janet Fullwood
 

The California State Railroad Museum, considered one of the top train museums in the world, is Old Sacramento’s interactive repository of railroad equipment, artifacts and memorabilia. Within a short stroll are two of the city’s most distinctive restaurants: the Firehouse, a fine-dining venue with a romantic patio and extensive wine list; and the Pilothouse, a cosy corner aboard the Delta King, a 1920s paddle-wheeler serving as a floating hotel permanently moored on the Sacramento River.

 

California Capital | Sacramento Guide | Crocker Art Museum

The Crocker Art Museum sponsors a number of late night events © Crocker Art Museum
 

A few blocks away, the Crocker Art Museum, founded by the banker brother of one of the Transcontinental Railroad’s “Big Four” barons, sponsors popular Thursday-night social events that see patrons sipping wine while touring the galleries. The art scene extends into Midtown, a low-rise neighbourhood that in the past decade has become the hip new face of urban Sacramento. It’s home to trendy everything, from restaurants, theatres and consignment shops, to nightspots that throb into the wee hours. The farm-to-fork movement finds expression here in eateries like Mulvaney’s Building & Loan and Hock Farm, which source their ingredients from farms within a few miles of the city centre.

 

California Capital | Sacramento Guide | Skiing

Sacramento is also located close to a number of top skiing sites © Stas Volik/iStock/Thinkstock
 

For all its in-town assets, Sacramento also bears the distinction of being a “close to” destination—as in “close to” San Francisco, the Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe. Residents can be especially smug when it comes to snow: Seventeen Sierra Nevada ski areas (including Heavenly and Squaw Valley) are within a two-hour drive, but here in the valley, we never have to shovel.

 

Header photo: © Janet Fullwood

 

Our partnership means you can enjoy our award winning service on Virgin Atlantic flights to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco and then travel onwards to 45 North American destinations with Delta Air Lines – earning miles every step of the way.

 

You’ll also be able to book direct flights from London Heathrow. Plus, you can look forward to more frequent flights from Heathrow to New York and Boston, giving you even more choice.

 

What’s your favourite thing to do or see in Sacramento? What would you suggest to someone just passing through? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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About the author: Janet

Janet Fullwood

Janet Fullwood didn’t see the ocean until she was 10 or a mountain until she was 15, but once she started traveling, there was no stopping her. In her personal life and professional career, Janet has traveled to 80 countries on seven continents and written about everything from hot-tubbing in Antarctica to threatened cultures in Yap. Her professional career has included more than two decades as a newspaper journalist specializing in travel and tourism. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor contributing to a broad spectrum of magazines, newspapers and websites. Janet is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Outdoor Writers Association of California and North American Snowsports Journalist Association. She lives in Sacramento.