Capitalize on spring with hepcats, River Cats, and miles of winding bike paths.
In Sacramento," wrote Mark Twain, "it is fiery summer always, and you can gather roses, and eat strawberries and ice cream, and wear white-linen clothes, and pant and perspire." It's true that roses bloom most of the year in Sacramento's lush parks and gardens, but nowadays you can dine on, say, grilled Muscovy duck breast, and the berries come with zabaglione.
California's sprawling capital entices visitors with a dizzying variety of things to see and do, indoors and out—you can visit museums and halls of government; take to the miles of biking and walking trails; or run the rivers.
A map of Sacramento shows astonishing expanses of green. Even the residential areas feel like parks, with long stretches of Dutch elms arching overhead, transforming the streets into cool green tunnels. The downtown park surrounding the capitol sprawls like a forest over 12 city blocks. Near 15th Street, weeping cherry trees ring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a series of panels and life-size bronze figures in evocative wartime scenes that were in-spired by news photographs.
In William Land Park, south of downtown, kids love the crayon colors of Fairytale Town and its many play settings—King Arthur's Castle, Cinderella's Coach, the Little Engine That Could. Across the street, the zoo specializes in en-dangered species.
At McKinley Park in East Sacramento, kids squeal in the playground while their elders stroll down the paths and through the flowered arches of the rose garden. Look for the celebrity roses, such as the Ingrid Bergman and the George Burns.
But the most impressive stretch of open space is the 5,000-acre American River Parkway, strung along some 23 miles, from the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers to Nimbus Dam. Running its full length—and another eight miles to Folsom Lake—the paved Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail buzzes with bikers, joggers, and amblers. Ancient oaks and sycamores grow along the river. Birders may spot egrets and herons. You can rent a bike in Old Sacramento and ride the mile-long connector path to the trailhead in Discovery Park.
At Nimbus Fish Hatchery on the American River, millions of salmon and steelhead are raised for planting in California's rivers and lakes. Drop 5 cents for some fish food, toss it in the tanks, and watch the water boil. During the fall and winter runs, fish leap up the hatchery's ladder.
Downriver, laze away a summer day by renting a raft or kayak from American River Raft Rentals and drifting from Sunrise Boulevard down to C.M. Goethe Park.
Back downtown, you can admire the capitol, begun in 1860, just 11 years after the Gold Rush. An excellent example of 19th-century Renaissance revival architec-ture, it was restored to its original splendor in the late 1970s.
From there, take a walk down tree-lined Capitol Mall to the moderne-style Tower Bridge, designed by Alfred Eichler. Across the bridge lies Raley Field, where baseball fans cheer the Triple-A River Cats at home games. Or stroll the half-mile promenade of River Walk.
Facing the pretty park at Third and O streets is the Crocker Art Museum, the first public art museum in the West. The Crocker has earned renown for its attention to California art, from the 19th-century Western landscapes of Thomas Hill to contemporary paintings by Wayne Thiebaud and ceramics by Robert Arneson.
Some 20 other museums and historic sites are spread throughout Sacramento. Perhaps one of the finest is the California State Railroad Museum, largest of its kind in North America. The museum captures railroading's heyday with an awesome collection of historic steam and diesel locomotives, sleeping and dining cars, and also period settings. At 27th and L, venerable Sutter's Fort, established in 1839, recalls early pioneering days with a blacksmith's shop and livestock quarters. On the same grounds, the State Indian Museum exhibits a fine collection of California Indian baskets as well as photos and artifacts relating to Ishi, the last of the Yahi Indians.
Sacramento's warm climate encourages outdoor dining. In Old Sac, sit on the deck of the Rio City Cafe and gaze upon the busy boat traffic on the Sacramento River. Or hop River Otter Taxi, a little rub-a-dub-dub ferry, out to several eateries on the Garden Highway—Tokyo Fro's Sushi on the River and Crawdads River Cantina among them. At the popular Tower Cafe, at Broadway and Land Park, dine beneath the palms and pines. Later, you can browse Tower Books and scan newspapers from, say, Israel or Jamaica. Tower Theatre, across the street, shows high-end art flicks and foreign films.
Sacramento's biggest draw in May is the annual Jazz Jubilee, the largest traditional jazz festival in the world. For four toe-tapping days, you have a choice of more than 1,200 separate concerts, from Dixieland to zydeco.
As for Mark Twain, he would have loved the ice cream parlors. Locals escape the "fiery summer" at Vic's, on Riverside Boulevard, where booths evoke the '50s and the ice cream—and air-conditioning—provide the welcome cool.
Photography courtesy of David Monniaux/Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published in May 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.