A Local’s Guide to Sacramento

Things move a little more slowly in Sacramento than in California’s other big cities. Local food and wine, an eclectic vibe, beautiful weather, and history as the state capital and center of the Gold Rush make Sacramento a fun yet laid-back place to explore.

Highlights
2409 21st Street
Fringe just oozes character. From the moment I walked past the racks of vintage clothing and battered cowboy boots outside the shop, I knew I had to go inside. The interior is like a hip warehouse of sorts—a large but cozy space full of vintage furniture, clothing, art, and lots of unclassifiable goodies. The owner also carries carefully selected body products such as Kai fragrances. The shop is best known for its vintage signs, many of which have been carefully restored and are alone worth a look. Fringe is located on a fun section of 21st Street at the south end of Midtown Sacramento. Next door is the lovely It’s All Yoga studio and a large antiques store. Around one corner is Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies and around the other is the Vietnamese Buddhist restaurant Andy Nguyen’s (all vegan).
800 N St, Sacramento, CA 95814, USA
While San Francisco and L.A. often steal the limelight from Sacramento, I often remind myself that Sacramento has long been the center of much of California’s history. The Leland Stanford Mansion is one place where that history is reflected. The mansion, located in Downtown Sacramento just blocks from the Capitol, is worth visiting not only because of its historical value but also for its beautifully restored interior and exterior. The mansion was built in the Renaissance Revival style soon after Sacramento was founded in the mid-1800s. Seeing the architectural details up close is impressive. In 1861, it was bought by Leland Stanford, Governor of California, a U.S. senator, and founder of Stanford University. One interesting fact is that after Stanford’s death, his wife donated the mansion to be used for the children of California, and in 1900, it became an orphanage. After a $20-million renovation, the mansion opened for tours in 2005. It has also been designated a National Historic Landmark. Tours are offered here Wednesday through Sunday every hour beginning at 10:00 a.m. (the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.). The tour allows visitors to see what such a residence would have looked like in the 1860s and 1870s. You can also walk through the Victorian gardens. The tour can accommodate groups, but groups of more than 10 must make reservations two weeks in advance.
1800 L St, Sacramento, CA 95811, USA
Aioli Bodega Española, also known just as Aioli by locals, is a Spanish restaurant located on a trendy block of Midtown Sacramento. Tapas are served here, either inside the elegant restaurant or on the intimate garden patio, which features a bubbling fountain and live guitar music (Thursdays and Fridays). The menu includes true Spanish-style tapas such as a charcuterie plate with Iberian ham, patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo (shrimp cooked in garlic, white wine, and olive oil), and beef short ribs with an orange mole and saffron rice. Aioli also serves paella for two and delicious desserts. Large groups can be accommodated in a separate seating area inside. Aioli is open daily from 11:00 a.m. and serves lunch and dinner.
L St & 18th Street, Sacramento, CA 95811, USA
Zanzibar is a place I enjoy returning to whenever I am in the area. Located on a trendy strip of Midtown Sacramento, next to wine bars and upscale restaurants, this quirky shop sells fair-trade products from around the world. Despite its global origins, the shop most notably reflects the local Latino population through its array of beautifully painted Day of the Dead items. In fact, the store offers classes in making sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos each October.
1820 29th St, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA
Located on the hip corner of 29th and S Streets with Temple Coffee and Revolution Wines, Pushkin’s Bakery addresses an increasingly-popular niche--gluten and dairy free food. While all the items are dairy-free, not all are vegan because eggs are used in some recipes; however, there is plenty here for vegans to choose from. On my visit, one of the co-owners Olga (whose other half of the cute husband and wife pair is Danny) was full of smiles and enthusiasm for her products. On this day, the Awesomes (mini lemon-poppyseed cakes) and vegan Barracudas (triple chocolate cupcakes) caught my attention, but I opted for a crispy chocolate cookie and beautiful strawberry vanilla cupcake. Both were lighter than regular baked goods, with fresh, not-too-sweet flavors.
2924 Freeport Boulevard
It’s easy to pass by Taylor’s Kitchen and not realize there is a fantastic restaurant inside...I had visited the neighboring shops without noticing the new restaurant, but I knew I had to visit once I heard people raving about the food. Taylor’s Kitchen uses ingredients from local farms and ranchers to create vibrant dishes that reflect the seasons of this agricultural region of California. This is not unlike many new restaurants in Sacramento, but what Taylor’s Kitchen does so well is create consistently good food. The restaurant is elegant yet cozy, suited to couples or small groups. The menu changes frequently based on what’s seasonally available and is a great reflection of Sacramento’s commitment to farm-to-fork dining.
3199 Riverside Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95818, USA
Vic’s Ice Cream is a fixture in Sacramento. Opened in 1947, the neighborhood diner has maintained its original look from the black-and-white floor tiles to small booths and black bar stools. The employees have looked the same since I started coming here in junior high school—the all-male staff still wear jeans and a tucked-in black polo. They greet customers with that same laid-back smile. Vic’s makes its ice cream and serves about 29 original flavors plus seasonal varieties such as lemon chiffon and pumpkin pie. The menu is simple, old-fashioned diner sandwiches (kids love the hotdog sandwiches!). All sandwiches come with chips, and locals know to ask for red sauce for dipping the chips. Add a lime rickey to drink and a malt for dessert, and you will leave feeling like you just visited the 1950s. Vic’s can get crowded, especially on hot days when neighborhood kids stop in for a snack after school or families grab ice cream cones after a walk in nearby Land Park. Free street parking is available, and Vic’s is on bus line number two.
2701 L St, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park is what remains of the first settlement in Sacramento. John Sutter was given a land grant from the Mexican government in 1839 (when California was still part of Mexico). He used this land to develop agriculture and set up the first non-Native American settlement in the Central Valley of California. Now Sutter’s Fort sits right in the center of Sacramento, surrounded by Midtown apartment buildings and restaurants, but offers a place to see a bit of California history. The large white fort has been restored to look as it did in the 1840s. Original rooms include a kitchen, stables, store, carpenter’s shop, mill, doctor’s office, and other places that served the small local community at that time. A free audio tour is available. The grounds of the park include the California State Indian Museum and a small but nice area to walk with ponds, fountains, and heritage trees. Sutter’s Fort is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. Entrance fees are $5 for adults and $3 for kids over five. Street parking is available, and free street parking can be found one to two blocks south on 27th Street.
1801 L Street
I hear about Ginger Elizabeth all the time—a friend’s favorite new flavor of macaron or the chocolate gift box received as a birthday gift. When I finally made it here, I was impressed by the beautiful interior, friendly staff, large selection of macarons, and most of all, the beautiful chocolates. Ginger Elizabeth trained as a chocolatier and pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America and takes pride in using all-natural, high-quality ingredients. She also promotes responsibility through carefully choosing organic and fair-trade products and local packaging. Ginger Elizabeth surprised me with flavors like grapefruit and fennel chocolate caramels and blackberry coffee macarons. Fun seasonal delights include chocolate skulls, Day of the Dead chocolates, and pumpkin pie macarons. It’s a great place to indulge yourself or buy gifts from the heart of Sacramento.
2405 21st Street
It’s All Yoga is a special place. It’s where teachers embrace their students, both with hugs and with gentle encouragement, kind words, and even poetry. This studio openly encourages people of all backgrounds, experiences, and body types to come and discover a quieter side of themselves, whether in a slow, restorative class or a workshop of challenging arm balances. This is a great place to rejuvenate and connect with the local community while on vacation . It’s All Yoga has a full schedule with a variety of classes every day. Classes are $15, but a week of unlimited classes is available for $20.
1518 Broadway
Tower Cafe, which sits next to the landmark Tower Theater and original Tower Records, is a favorite among locals. The outdoor garden seating makes you want to stay for a long, relaxing meal; the bubbling fountains (with birds stopping for quick baths), canopies of Japanese maples, baskets of hanging flowers, and benches welcoming you along the surrounding path form an oasis that can be enjoyed much of the year. Tower serves globally-inspired food with a menu that changes frequently to highlight seasonal ingredients and the chef’s new creations. The restaurant is best known for its breakfast, and its most famous dish is the seasonal French toast (a baguette stuffed with custard, baked and served with cinnamon butter and a compote of seasonal fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries). Their beautiful desserts are worth at least a look--go inside the eclectically decorated interior and peek in the dessert case. The Yin/Yang cheesecake (dark and white chocolate) is one of my favorite choices. Tower also has a great selection of California beers and wines. Tower Cafe is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. or later on weekends. Breakfast is served until 11:00 a.m. on weekdays and until 3:00 p.m. on weekends; however, be warned because weekends here are packed!
2730 J St, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA
Centro Cocina Mexicana showcases the regional foods of Mexico with fresh ingredients made in-house every day. Here you are likely to find Mexican dishes you have never heard of, all with bright, vibrant flavors. From Oaxacan mole and fish tacos to enchiladas with corn and zucchini, the food here is never boring. Centro is proud of its tequila, and the bar offers more than 150 kinds. Fruit-infused tequilas are made in the back of the restaurant, and some are on display behind the bar—look for the glass containers with colorful cut fruit inside. Some favorite tequila infusions are strawberry-pineapple and vanilla-pear. Centro is located in the Sutter District, named for the nearby historic Sutter’s Fort, on a lively block of J Street in Midtown Sacramento. Grab a table outside or by the window, enjoy drinks and small plates at Happy Hour, and watch local residents gathering for the evening here or at one of the other trendy neighborhood establishments.
Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, California, USA
Sacramento has an average of 270 sunny days per year, and local residents love to take advantage of the nice weather on the city’s extensive bike trails. One trail runs along the Sacramento River, starting in Old Sacramento and continuing down the river (with a couple of places where cyclists have to get off and then back on the levee path). Much of this bike trail is quiet and offers nice river views. The other, more popular, trail is the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail. It follows the American River for 32 miles, from the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers just north of downtown to Folsom Lake. Due to the varied nature and scenic points, this trail is also a great place for hiking and seeing wildlife. Bikes can be rented in Old Sacramento and various spots along the American River bikeway.
Land Park, Sacramento, CA, USA
Sacramento has been called “City of Trees” because of the abundance of trees that fill the neighborhoods and many parks. Land Park is a favorite place to enjoy the shade these trees provide. The park features large, open patches of grass flanked by trees, including three types that form an odd but common mix here: oaks, redwoods, and palm trees. This is an oasis during the hot summer months. The park also has two duck ponds, an amphitheater, a garden, a popular playground, paths for running, and a golf course. Shakespeare in the Park happens in the amphitheater in the summer. Land Park also makes a convenient stop with children since the zoo, Fairytale Town, and Funderland are located at one end. My favorite walk in this park is a loop from Riverside and 13th Avenue, up 13th to Freeport Boulevard, and back. Veer off on side streets between South Land Park Drive and Freeport to see some of the city’s most charming houses. Stop for ice cream at Vic’s Ice Cream at Riverside and 8th Ave.
2711 Riverside Boulevard
Masullo Pizza is my idea of the perfect pizza place in the U.S.—the servers are friendly, the interior is stylish, the food honors what is local and seasonal, and the pizza is outstanding. Robert Masullo, the owner, takes pizza seriously, using a combination of expert technique and carefully picked ingredients to create beautifully simple and delicious pizzas. Greatness continues with the rest of the menu: the appetizers, salads (which change with what’s in season—I was once told that the oranges were from his friend’s tree), desserts, and selection of local wines and beers. Their freshly baked bread (shown above) is sold at nearby Taylor’s Market. I have loved Masullo since it opened about 5 years ago. Then again, I love just about anything from Italy—especially authentic Italian pizza. Masullo Pizza is located in the cute Land Park neighborhood just south of downtown. Outdoor seating is available. Open all day 11:30-9:00 on weekdays (until 9:30 Fridays) and 5:00-9:30 on Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
1526 H St, Sacramento, CA 95814, USA
The Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park is a Victorian-style mansion in central Sacramento. The interior’s details, including marble fireplaces from Italy and decorations from France, are beautifully maintained and evoke the rich history of California in the 20th century. The property was built in 1877 and bought for use as the governor’s residence in 1903. The last governor to use it as a residence was Ronald Reagan. Tours are available on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and cost $5 for adults and $3 for children over five. Don’t miss the gardens. On-street metered parking is available nearby.
1515 Q St, Sacramento, CA 95811, USA
Sacramento has declared itself the “Farm-to-Fork Capital” of the U.S. because of its location in California’s agricultural valley and its emphasis on products that are seasonal, fresh, and grown near the city. While the busy Sunday farmers’ market on X Street is open year-round, many small markets take place May through October at various locations in Downtown and Midtown Sacramento, including Fremont Park on Tuesdays 10:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In the summer, look for many varieties of stone fruits like apricots, white nectarines, and pluots. Cherries are usually available in June. Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries also appear in the summer. Fall highlights include apples and persimmons. The markets also sell fresh-baked breads and treats, flowers, and locally-grown nuts, while food trucks offer a variety of ethnic foods.
448 La Rue Rd, Davis, CA 95616, USA
When I want to experience nature and get away from the city, I head to Davis, just 20 minutes from Sacramento. Davis is home to University of California at Davis and the university’s 100-acre arboretum. I love walking the winding paths of the arboretum and wondering what interesting plants are waiting around the next turn. Some of my personal favorites are the huge collection of California oaks at the far end of the arboretum, the lake, the desert collection, and the redwood grove. Pack a lunch to eat at the picnic tables or on the grass around the lake. The 3.5-mile loop through the arboretum may be too long for a quick visit, but maps are available for you to choose which areas interest you, or you can join a guided tour. Maps and a tour schedule are available on the website (link below). They are also available at the arboretum headquarters, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
1315 10th St B-27, Sacramento, CA 95814, USA
This Neoclassical building from the mid-19th century stands at one end of a large urban park. The interior of the Capitol is worth a visit—its rotunda and historic rooms reflect the history of lawmaking and governing in this state. The small exhibits from every California county highlight the natural beauty and local specialties from all parts of the state. They line the downstairs addition, which is enhanced with Art Deco details and includes the governor’s office. Outside the Capitol is Capitol Park, one of my favorite outdoor spaces in Sacramento. The paths wind past trees from all over the world (a map is available), memorials, a succulent garden, and a rose garden at the other end of the park.
1217 18th Street
I remember when 58 Degrees & Holding Co. first opened—I was excited to finally have a wine bar in Sacramento, and it didn’t disappoint. The interior is classy yet comfortable, with a long bar and cozy couches and chairs. The servers were friendly, and the atmosphere was lively. The wine list is extensive with wines from all over the world, something that is not always found in this very California-centric wine region. The menu includes snacks and small plates perfect for pairing with a glass of wine. Brunch, lunch, and dinner menus showcase local ingredients. Open at 11:00 a.m. daily (except Tuesdays).
2966 Freeport Boulevard
Sacramento locals love Freeport Bakery for its beautiful cakes and yummy treats. Located in the cute Land Park neighborhood, just steps from other fun stops like Taylor’s Market and Marie’s Donuts, Freeport Bakery is a good place to get coffee, relax outside when the weather is nice, and indulge your sweet tooth with the spot’s famous cookies and seasonal treats. The bakery also sells great quiche and other savory items for a quick meal or snack.
3901 Land Park Dr, Sacramento, CA 95822, USA
This is a place where kids can be kids and burn off lots of energy while feeding their imaginations. Fairytale Town is a cute non-profit park across the street from the Sacramento Zoo. Kids love this place (mine included!). Nursery rhymes and fairy tales come alive here: there’s a giant shoe slide, a knights’ castle with roundtable, farm animals, a “crooked mile” that twists and turns through a tiny forest, an Owl’s tree house, Cinderella’s carriage, and much more. Admission is $4 on weekdays and $5 on weekends. Free parking is available on the streets or parking lots behind the park.
216 O Street
The Crocker Art Museum recently underwent a renovation, and the results are stunning. It feels like a “real” museum, the type you would expect to find in a big, thriving city like Sacramento, the capital of California. The permanent collection of paintings is housed in the old Crocker mansion, with beautiful details to be found in every room. The exhibitions as well as permanent collections of ceramics and Asian and African artworks are housed in the museum’s new modern wing. The light, airy space perfectly suits the purpose. There is also an inviting courtyard and cafe downstairs as well as exhibition spaces upstairs. The museum is located right in downtown Sacramento. Entrance is $10 per adult. Family-friendly activities are held frequently. Parking is available behind and in front of the museum. The gift shop has a nice collection of gifts, puzzles, wall hangings, and children’s items.
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