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Low-key, laid-back city undergoes dynamic renaissance, sprouting funky streets of trendy boutiques, microbreweries and restaurants run by upbeat young chefs. It’s a global phenomenon – and it’s the latest chapter in the history of California state capital, Sacramento. From Gold Rush wealth-generator to farm-to-fork hotspot, the city is one of the underrated rarities of Northern California. Here are the must-visit attractions in Sacramento.
You’re bound to imbibe some Californian history on vacation here – but it’s fascinating to get under the skin of The Golden State beyond Tinseltown and the Gold Rush. Enter the California Museum: the official historic reliquary of all things Cali, with signature exhibits covering the First Peoples and the Spanish Missions, highlighting the cultural, ethnic and individual contributions that have created the proud state of today. Since you’ll already be in Downtown Sacramento, head on for a slice of the celebrated banana cream pie from Frank Fat’s next door, and enjoy it in the peaceful neighboring California State Capitol Park.
Johnny Cash fans will know Folsom as the home of the prison where the Man in Black performed. The city is a few miles northeast of Sacramento, with a memorial trail by the aforementioned prison. If you’re more of a wide-open-spaces type, zip up your boots and make for Folsom Lake, a serene slice of nature. All around are opportunities for hiking, boating and maximizing that suntan. You can take a long hike through the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, but if that sounds too active, find a patch of sand at Granite Bay Main Beach.
Official residence of the Governor of California, the 30-room Governor’s Mansion was built in 1877, in a turreted Victorian gothic style that recalls Norman Bates’s home in the Hitchcock movie, Psycho (1960). Full of objects left by previous residents – a 1902 Steinway piano, hand-tied Persian carpets – it is a fascinating museum with daily tours, which hasn’t really changed since the Reagans moved out in 1967. Various governors have lived in different houses and hotel suites over the years, but the mansion was back in business when Governor Jerry Brown took up residence in 2015. Some speculate this unusual building is haunted – but you should be fine by day. Don’t miss nearby Leland Stanford Mansion – one of the official workplaces of the Governor of California.
Remarkable, one-of-a-kind art is something at which Sacramento excels, with murals adorning unlikely expanses throughout the city. They can be found by searching the #sacstreetart or #streetsac hashtags on Instagram. Unsurprisingly given their huge appeal, in August 2017 Sacramento held a Wide Open Walls mural festival, which brought together more than 40 local, national and international artists. They left the most astounding art in the region.
One of the two most prominent rivers surrounding Sacramento, American River runs for 120mi (193km), starting with the melted snow pack of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is inseparable from the history of California: the Gold Rush era began with the discovery of gold at Coloma in 1848. Naturally, outdoor activities are varied and plentiful: the Memorial Trail, from Discovery Park to Folsom Lake, teems with bikers, runners and roamers. During the warmer months you can also waterski, kayak, white-water raft or fish. Meanwhile, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center is a mine of information, with books and a gift store.
For obvious reasons (ease of transportation) this city began on the riverbanks, and today, Old Sacramento Waterfront is a historic marvel. It served as the western terminus to the Pony Express, and handled the first transcontinental railroad and telegraph. It has endured some memorable floods through the ages, and the (consequently raised) streets are home to more than 50 historic buildings; most house shops and restaurants. Some of the more notable destinations in Old Sacramento are the Sacramento History Museum, Evangeline’s Costume Shop and Wells Fargo History Museum.
Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.