California’s capital is a city on the rise, thanks to an acclaimed food scene and one of the most vibrant craft-beer communities in North America. It’s also a fine spot for exploring the history of America’s most populated state, which is also the one with arguably the most cultural importance. In recent years, Sacramento has become a gateway to California’s wine country and the state’s northeastern outdoors attractions, including Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Its airport is far easier to navigate than San Francisco’s and its downtown has been revitalized thanks to a new stadium and a fabulous hotel complex. Before venturing off to the rest of the Golden State, spend a night or two getting to know its attractive capital.
4 p.m.: Check into the Kimpton Sawyer
Opened in October 2018, the Kimpton Sawyer is a landmark property that brings a needed upgrade to accommodations in the city.
The rooms are large and easy to settle into. The luxury bathrooms are gleaming and elegantly appointed. Business travelers will appreciate the room-darkening curtains and rich amount of electrical outlets. The Kimpton is adjacent to the city’s new arena, Golden 1 Center, home to the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. The team’s offices are also in the hotel.
Room Rates: A weekend night in June costs $238, according to the hotel’s online booking engine.
5 p.m.: Happy hour at Revival
Fresh oysters, expertly crafted cocktails, California wines, and a wonderful patio with a view of the Golden 1 Center, are the highlights of the third-floor terrace bar at the Kimpton Sawyer. The other menu items are also tempting. Try the San Marzano meatballs, a savory dish with a decadent amount of cheese. Revival often has musicians at night, adding some pleasant entertainment to its stylish atmosphere.
7 p.m.: Tour Old Town
Like most cities, Sacramento has its origins by the water. Its Old Town starts on the Sacramento River and covers a few blocks of saloons, ice-cream shops, 19th-century architecture, and plenty of charm. The waterfront includes a moored floating hotel and entertainment center that was a former riverboat. Many of the Old Town shops and restaurants are tourist-focused. Some will seem tacky and kitschy, others will match the kind of ambiance you seek when envisioning the Old West.
9 p.m.: Dinner at Empress Tavern
Located beneath an operating movie theatre, the Empress is a culinary hideaway that provides a glimpse of Sacramento’s tastes. There is southern comfort food as well as American classics. The fried chicken features four pieces of delicious and tender meat served with a spicy honey sauce. Enjoy one the restaurants cocktails, such as the Over the Line, with gin, rum, seltzer water, and mint.
Late night: Bank
Located in a converted finance building, Bank is a food hall, featuring four local vendors and a bar that stays open until 2 a.m. from Thursday to Sunday, and until midnight the other four nights of the week. The stylish renovations retain the grandeur and splendor of the building’s historic origins, making for an ideal spot for a nightcap.
9 a.m.: Estelle’s Bakery and Old Soul Coffee
Start your day with a treat and some flavors of the capital. Estelle’s is a favorite pastry shop in the city while Old Soul pours some of its best coffee. Snack on a Parisian-inspired pastry at Estelle’s location adjacent to the Kimpton Sawyer and then walk two blocks to the nearest Old Soul franchise on the Capitol Mall for some fine java. Both are smart ways to start your day.
10 a.m.: State Capitol Building Tour
The exterior of the California State Capitol building will look familiar to many visitors. That’s because it was modeled after the national Capitol landmark in Washington, D.C. Inside, you will learn about the state’s political history and view portraits of California’s notable politicians, including former governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Guided tours are free and occur on the hour. Sacramento became the capital of the Golden State in 1854 and the building was built in 1868. It includes some fascinating history as well as displays on each of California’s 57 counties.
11:30 a.m.: Tour Sutter’s Fort
John Sutter was an immigrant from Switzerland who ventured west in 1839 and ended up as a pioneer in territory that then belonged to Mexico. He built a thriving homestead that attracted many people to northern California. Sutter’s Fort is now a state park that reenacts life in what its founder called New Helvetia (New Switzerland). The fort was the site of a battle during the Mexico-United States War and is the only remaining property that belonged to Sutter. The other properties were demolished by a horde of gold seekers who rushed to Sacramento and its surrounding areas during 1848-55. Entry to the fort costs $5 for adults.
1 p.m.: Alaro Craft Brewery
They drink a lot of beer in Sacramento. More than 70 craft breweries operate here — a large number for a city of only 500,000 people. Alaro is differentiating itself with an outstanding food program focused on Spanish tapas cuisine. Cubes of goat cheese and quince cheese are sublime and unique touches, the chorizo is perfectly flavored, and a pair of large gambas al ajillo arrive with heads-on as you would expect in San Sebastián. And then there’s the beer. The Alaro menu is laden with taste and a variety of choices. Dark beer fans will enjoy the Maria, a bold porter with a smooth finish, and those into light beers will find the Shieldmaiden, an Imperial blonde ale, especially easy to drink.
3 p.m.: Stop at the California State Railroad Museum
“Done!” was the single word that caused a stir on May 10, 1869. It was the first national message sent by telegraph in the United States, traveling from Sacramento to Chicago and New York. An electrical wire was rejigged to connect to both a golden spike and the nation’s power grid. When the spike was driven into the ground to mark the western end of the transcontinental railroad it sparked a jolt of electricity to burst across the nation, signaling that the ambition of a railroad spanning the country had been completed. It’s one of the historic moments you’ll learn about at the California State Railroad Museum, which is home to several beautiful locomotives of the past and a high-speed prototype of the future. As 2018 is the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the museum has many features tied to its origins and legacy worth exploring. Entry is $12 for adults.
4:30 p.m.: Visit the Crocker Art Museum
Not to be missed is this museum that features the largest collection of California art in the world. Several of the landscapes are immense and reminiscent of the work of the east coast-based Hudson River School of Artists, known for their depictions of the American scenery in the 19th century. If you’re visiting the Crocker on a Thursday, the museum is open until 9 p.m. and offers special programming, including movies.