Food, wine, street art and Wild West history make an adults-only weekend in Sacramento a fun way to spend a few kid-free days. Don’t miss the Johnny Cash mural in this “tweener city.”
Farm-to-Fork Festival. Photo credit: Styles/Belator Media
Disclosure: The writer was hosted for this trip.
“Friendly and modest” described almost every Sacramentan we encountered on a recent adult getaway to the California state capitol.
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“We’re a tweener city,” our Uber driver told us when I asked him what he liked about his hometown.
A what? “We’re in between San Francisco and the mountains,” he explained.
Anything else you like?
“Mmmm,” he paused. “Well… the food’s OK.”
I quickly learned what a huge understatement that was. Despite the city’s humble demeanor, Sactown is a lot of fun. Offerings range from an outstanding farm-to-fork culinary scene that takes full advantage of its agricultural riches to a cool mural art culture and a wild west history.
Here are some fun things to do in Sacramento:
“John Sutton came to find gold, but found treasure in the soil instead,” says Elizabeth Anderson, one of the organizers of Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival. Locals have been reaping the bounty of the fertile valley ever since, and once a year, Sacramento shares its flavors with thousands of revelers.
Starting at Tower Bridge, more than a mile of food and drink vendors line the street. They sell everything from food truck favorites and baked goods to fine wine and craft brews. The only thing they have in common? They’re all local.
“The festival is authentic and intrinsic to the community,” said Elizabeth. “It gives people the chance to see, smell and taste what we take for granted all the time in Sacramento.”
Though the festival takes place over three weeks in September, you can taste the hyper-local flavours anytime at restaurants, like Chef’s Table, Farmhaus Fresh, Grange Restaurant and Bar, Localis and the Red Rabbit. Or taste artisan products, baked goods and organic fruit at the Midtown Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Great soil produces superior wine, too. We learned that on a picnic day trip to nearby Bogle Winery. Not only is the ground fertile because of floods from the Sacramento River and silt from the mountains, the warm days and cool nights are particularly suited to wine making.
We sipped our way through a flight of tastings. We started with an easy-drinking Californian rose and ended with a full-bodied reserve red. Along the way, we learned about the history of the winery that went back six generations.
As delicious as these wines are in the tasting room, they are even better savored outside with a picnic lunch. The tables on the property are set in the shade with a view of the vineyard. Families are welcome, but there is an adult-only section. It’s much appreciated if you’ve left your kids with Grandma for some quality adult-only time.
“We encourage picnicking here,” said a staff member. “And checking all your problems at the bridge on the way over.” This was easy to do in an enchanted spot like Bogle’s.
Mural, Mural on the Walls…
“Graffiti artists, sometimes on the run, migrated here from the larger cities.” Says says Jenn Kistler-McCoy, our guide and owner of Sac Tour Company. She was explaining how the culture of murals began in Sacramento. At the start, it may have been a sub-culture, but this city has since embraced outdoor art. There are more than 800 murals in the downtown core alone. An annual festival sees dozens of new murals painted every year.
On our walking tour through downtown Sacramento, Jenn fed us tidbits and tales about the murals and the artists. Some were well-known, like Shepard Fairey, a street-art celebrity, whose arresting 15-story Johnny Cash mural was a commentary on the prison system.
Other artists were local, like Maren Conrad, who painted a tribute to Lady Bird, an Oscar-nominated coming-of-age story that brought Sacramento into the limelight. We ducked into Improv Alley, where uncommissioned murals colorfully adorn the brick walls. Our tour flew by punctuated by “Wows!” and “How cool is that!” as we admired the murals. Some towered above the city, acting like landmarks, and others were tucked away behind buildings with garbage bins parked in front.
Other Fun Things To Do in Sacramento
There are plenty of other fun things to do in Sacramento:
- Wander around Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also a lot of fun to browse the shops in the 19th century buildings that were built at the beginning of the Gold Rush.
- Check out Sutter’s Fort. Before the Gold Rush started, there was this settlement, an agricultural and trade colony that was abandoned when gold was discovered in 1848.
- Tour the Capitol Building. Afterwards, admire the serene rose gardens and the many tree varieties of Capitol Park.
- Visit stellar attractions like the Crocker Art Museum, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento Zoo, Fairytale Town, California Automobile Museum, Leland Stanford Mansion, Effie Yeaw Nature Center, State Capitol Museum and the California Museum. Or choose one of the terrific free things to do in Sacramento with kids.
- Revel in the arts. On the Second Saturday of each month, midtown’s art galleries and restaurants showcase culinary, visual and performing arts for locals and tourists alike.
- Ride the American River Bike Trail. Running for 32 miles between Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and Beal’s Point on the west shore of Folsom Lake, it offers paved paths, amenities and most importantly, beautiful river views.
- Watch mermaids and mermen wave their tails at the Dive Bar. The tank above the bar holds 7,510 gallons of water, so you can enjoy your drinks and an underwater performance.
- Indulge in BBQ and brews at Urban Roots. You’d be forgiven for thinking that BBQ this good couldn’t be found anywhere but the South. But this northern Californian restaurant is the real deal. Fun atmosphere, too, with seating choices on the outdoor patio, in the restaurant or inside the actual brewery, surrounded by barrels.
- Sip an old-style craft cocktail at the Shady Lady Saloon. This speakeasy offers a menu full of classic and less common cocktails. All are beautifully crafted and pair perfectly with the 1920’s décor and live music that jazz up this favourite local hangout.
We stayed at the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn Sacramento Airport Natomas. Located seven minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from downtown, it’s an ideal location if you’re driving; it has free parking. And you likely will need a car. Public transport is limited in Sacramento.
Modern, comfortable and reasonably priced, its amenities include an outdoor pool, business center, fitness room and room service.
The hotel also did a good job of reflecting the flavors and character of Sacramento with locally-inspired dining, whether it was the full-service Garden Grille & Bar or a local treat from The Shop, which is opened 24 hours. The chocolate caramels from Andy’s Candy Apothecary I brought home for the kids were a huge hit.
Another way the Hilton Garden Inn paid homage to the city is with its own murals. As we sipped a Judy Greer signature cocktail, we watched as Natomas artist, Amie M. Tokuhama-Chapman, painted a mural of flowers, farm fields and a plane. It was a lovely tribute to this underrated culinary capital with an artistic flair.
About the Author
This post was written by Jennifer Merrick. After teaching English as a Second Language abroad for 7 years, she has now settled down in Toronto. But her feet continue to itch and she travels whenever she can with her family, writing about their adventures in numerous online and print publications.