If you are a Silicon Valley native, “a school bus ride to tour the state capitol” probably sums up your experience of Sacramento in a nutshell. Yet beyond the city’s rich political history, there’s much more to experience. Full of young creatives and innovative entrepreneurs, today’s Sacramento is building a hip community that promotes socially responsible businesses and locally sourced products.
A cup of joe is a great way to kick off any adventure, and Midtown Sacramento has a handful of coffee shops to choose from. If you enjoy your caffeine with a side of sunshine, Temple Coffee Roasters’ S Street location has a large patio perfect to lounge in while enjoying your specialty coffee selection. Roasting its fair trade beans on-site daily, this “Farm to Cup” coffee house always has unique brews to try, which are made possible by its direct sourcing program.
The Mill is another coffee-worthy Midtown option. They’re now serving made-to-order Belgian waffles, and these artisanal breakfast beauties can be whipped up simultaneously alongside your coffee beverage of choice.
From there, you can explore several points of interest within a two-mile radius of Midtown. Head to the Crocker Art Museum, the first public art museum founded in the West, which hosts one of the state’s premier collections of Californian art. Stroll the halls of its historic mansion, amongst antique Asian ceramics and ornate furniture. Then step over to its modern pavilion, to view large-scale landscapes and figurative works.
A stone’s throw away from the Crocker is a tourist favorite, Old Sacramento, a Wild West time capsule. Located along the Sacramento River, the historic old town will carry you back to the era of the California Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad. Grab some taffy at The Candy Barrel and pop into O’Grady’s Old Time Photos for a picture-perfect memento.
If mingling with contemporary citizens is more your pace, make your way to the R Street Corridor. This once-thriving warehouse district is now a mixed-use neighborhood full of artist lofts, craft-cocktail bars, and stylish boutiques. A little over a mile long, the industrial quarter is very walkable. You’ll want to stop on the corner of R Street and 12th for happy hour at the Bottle & Barlow, a local watering hole with an art deco–inspired bar that’s attached to an upscale barbershop. Pick a drink from their seasonal selection, or have some fun and ask for an off-menu surprise.
When hunger strikes, head back to Midtown to a bevy of foodie-style restaurants. The Porch Restaurant and Bar boasts a savory menu, featuring a contemporary twist on classic southern dishes and drinks. Enjoy your meal and Sacramento’s fine weather on its charming porch patio. Be sure to order a whiskey cocktail crafted from their 52-bottle bourbon library, and their grilled Brie, with a delectable house-made jam.
Another local favorite, Lowbrau Bierhall is an understatedly posh eatery. Its communal style seating makes for a great family dining spot. Pair any of its gourmet sausages with a Bavarian pretzel or duck fat fries. Try one of their specialty beer cocktails spiked with an authentic schnapps.
Or indulge in French-inspired California eats at Paragary’s. A stylish bistro originally established in 1983, its chic and fresh interior design is the perfect backdrop for the locally sourced and carefully curated fare.
Why not end the day with a sweet treat? Dabble in chocolate heaven at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates. Sink your teeth into a Fleur de Sel caramel, a creme fraiche, or hazelnut praline bonbon. Toss in a batch of their luxurious macarons to take home—they are only available as an in-store purchase.
Stop for a quick pit stop before heading onto the highway. Gunther’s Ice Cream store looks almost the same as it did when it opened in 1940. Cruise inside for some good old-fashioned ice cream made from original recipes developed by the Gunther family.
Reminiscent of Silicon Valley before the tech boom, Sacramento’s community and culture provide a much-needed escape from the Bay Area buzz. An easy two-hour drive from the South Bay, it’s definitely worth heading upstate to California’s capital for the burgeoning food, style, and art scenes.
Places to Visit in Sacramento
Written by Monica Cruz-Hernandez
Photography by Julie Johnson
This article originally appeared in Issue 8.1 Sight and Sound.