CITY SMARTS: Most people are surprised to learn that Sacramento, not one of the larger cities, is California’s capital city. Second only to Paris, France, in number of trees per capita, Sacramento is also known as the “City of Trees” or “River City” for the two rivers surrounding it: the Sacramento and American. It’s the former home of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also known as the “Governator.” Since California doesn’t have a governor’s mansion, Schwarzenegger had a suite at the Hyatt Regency across the street from the Capitol.
Sacramento’s history began with another colorful personality — Captain John Sutter. He landed on the banks of the American River in 1839, in what was then Mexican territory and received a 48,000-acre land grant from Governor Juan Alvarado. Sutter left his native Switzerland to escape debtors’ prison, leaving behind a wife and five children.
He built a fort originally intended as a trading post. Forward to 1848 when one of Sutter’s workers, James Marshall, discovered gold about 40 miles east of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. The California Gold Rush began in 1849 — the largest migration in human history. California became the nation’s 31st state in 1850, and Sacramento its capital in 1854.
Would-be gold miners came by ship and landed in what is now the Old Sacramento Historic District (www.oldsacramento.com) where they outfitted themselves for their journey into the mines. The area teemed with shops, hotels, saloons and bath houses and the population soon topped 25,000. Today, there are 500,000 people in the city and nearly 2 million in the metropolitan area.
Some 50 buildings in Old Sacramento have been restored or renovated to the 1850s-1870s and they house more than 100 shops and restaurants. Cobblestone streets, wooden sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages transport visitors to a bygone era. Notable among the Old Sacramento restaurants is the 50-year-old Firehouse (www.firehouseoldsac.com), located in an 1853 firehouse.
Most California visitors are familiar with the wineries in Napa and Sonoma, but the 200 wineries located a little more than an hour’s drive east of Sacramento in the Sierra Foothills are still a hidden treasure. Zinfandel is the predominant varietal and wineries are mostly small and family-owned where the wine maker may pour you a taste of his latest creation. www.sacramentowineguide.com
Sacramento’s reputation as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital is fast gaining ground. The area’s mild Mediterranean climate provides fresh produce year-round which is reflected on many restaurant menus (www.farmtoforkcapital.com) Sacramento’s Blue Diamond almond products are known around the world and local Sterling Caviar (www.sterlingcaviar.com) produces 80 percent of domestic caviar and supplies many upscale restaurants around the nation.
THE POWER PALATE: Consistently rated as one of the city’s best restaurants is Mulvaney’s B & L (www.mulvaneysbl.com) located in an 1893 firehouse. Try the house smoked salmon with Irish brown bread as an appetizer and relive your childhood by indulging in a Ding Dong for dessert. Ella (www.elladiningroomandbar.com) is popular with those on an expense account. The award-winning interior design and signature cocktails draw a refined clientele. The pappardelle with egg is one of the most requested menu items and definitely worth it.
CATCHING ZZZs: The Delta King Hotel (www.deltaking.com) is a riverboat, now permanently docked on the Old Sacramento waterfront. She’s the sister ship to the Delta Queen and the two sailed on overnight journeys between Sacramento and San Francisco in the late ‘20s and ‘30s before the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge were built. The Delta King served as a hospital ship during World War II and was sunk in San Francisco Bay for 18 months. Beautifully restored with 44 staterooms and a luxurious Captain’s Quarter is an exceptional alternative to the many corporate hotel chains.
FOOTLOOSE & FANCY FREE: The Crocker Art Museum (www.crockerartmuseum.org) is the oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi and recently opened a $100 million expansion to its original Victorian home. Check out the ornate ballroom, the serene early California landscape paintings by Thomas Hill or the expansive pottery collection. Jazz concerts and film series complement the museum’s collection. The California State Railroad Museum (www.californiastaterailroadmuseum.org) is the most visited interpretive railroad museum in North America. The engaging docents, mostly former railroad workers in blue-white overalls, will enthusiastically explain the intricate workings of the 21 exquisitely restored locomotives and cars on display. Don’t miss the $1 million toy train collection on the second floor. AT