The state capital turns a skeptic into a satisfied visitor
The Citizen Hotel in Downtown Sacramento is an oasis of charm and style in an otherwise shabby neighborhood. The park directly across the street is, apparently, the most popular place for homeless to sleep, and an entire block to one side of the hotel is boarded up and vacant. Aided by the fact that I visited on a weekend, when the masses of legislators and their staffs are gone, the empty storefronts and sparsely populated streets gave off an eerie, downtrodden vibe.
Or at least that was my impression when I first arrived. I soon discovered, after a few days, that there are thriving pockets of activity and plenty of high spirits to keep the challenged city afloat. The shining beacon of this new wave is certainly The Citizen Hotel (citizenhotel.com), where I stayed. Housed in an impressive tower built in 1926, the Citizen lays claim to being Sacramento’s only boutique luxury hotel. The grandiose décor—complete with marble, lots of red fabric, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—evokes elegance and importance. And, fittingly, many politicos and Golden State big wigs lay their heads in the hotel’s 198 rooms. My room was an Artist’s Loft, a chic, bright room with a straight shot view of the Capitol Building and a gigantic, plush bed.
My days in Sacramento were punctuated with touristy activities because, frankly, they seemed like the only thing to do. I took in Fort Sutter, a state historical park in the middle of town, from the car as I drove by. More interested visitors can tour the fort from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for $5 or less. A short drive away, I got a laugh out of Old Town Sacramento. The kitschy, Old West remnant of the original city was crawling with families and tourists, but proved entertaining and full of quirky, fun shops. The horse-drawn carriages, boat rides and saloons added some old-timey charm. I was content to stroll around, but there are also several museums worth mentioning in Old Town, like the California State Railroad Museum and Wells Fargo History Museum. I wrapped up my tourist rounds with a trip to the Capitol Building, which, for a news junkie, was actually rather exciting.
There was no shortage of good eats to be found, even for a vegetarian like myself. The Sugar Plum Vegan Café (sugarplumvegan.com) was particularly memorable, if not for the food then for the strong community atmosphere. I arrived at 10:45 a.m. to find every table occupied with patrons anxiously awaiting the famous unlimited brunch buffet, which starts at 11. Deducing that the apparent enthusiasm meant it was probably worth trying, I too purchased the brunch deal and, come 11 o’clock, piled my plate high with vegan lemon poppy seed pancakes, tofu frittata, biscuits and gravy, potatoes and fruit. Later on, a delicious soy latte from the Old Soul Co., an artisan coffee roasting company, kept me going. Andy Nguyen’s Vegetarian Restaurant and Bangkok@12 also served up impressive meals.
Although I did not dine there, the Citizen Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, Grange (grangesacramento.com), is said to do wonders with its menu of local and seasonal ingredients. I did, however, partake in Grange’s delectable cocktail menu that features fresh and inventive (if a bit pricey) drinks. I tried the French 75, a mix of Distillery 209 gin, blood orange, lemon and sparkling wine. For more adventurous drinkers, Grange offers libations like the Jalapeno: Hangar One vodka, house jalapeno brine, jalapeno stuffed olive, and blue cheese stuffed olive with a salt and black pepper rim.
Fueled by a few French 75s, I moseyed around the corner to K Street, where droves of club and bar goers hurried in and out of nightlife hubs. Here I found a true gem (and the highlight of my stay): Dive Bar (divebarsacramento.com). The name is a pun, as the bar is actually quite nice and features an unbelievably large saltwater fish tank. The best part? The tank holds real mermaids (OK—women dressed like mermaids), which was enough to land this establishment atop my Sacramento list. The drinks were stiff, the large crowd was eclectic and mellow, the under-the-sea/sunken ship décor was charming, and the mermaids were so much fun to watch. If crowds (or mermaids, for that matter) aren’t your thing, try Marilyn’s (marilynsonk.com) just down the street.
I didn’t go to Sacramento with high expectations, so it is fair to say that the city more than surpassed them. From certain angles, Sacramento may seems dreary, but from others (like my room at the Citizen, the patio at Sugar Plum, or inside of Dive Bar) it feels downright exciting.