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50 Things To Do in the Sacramento Region

by Elena M. Macaluso


1. Run to feed the hungry. You can’t call yourself a Sacramentan until you have participated in at least one Run To Feed the Hungry. This Thanksgiving Day tradition attracts some 25,000-plus people who come out to run or walk 3.1 or 6.2 miles in support of the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. The race starts near Sacramento State’s J Street entrance and winds through East Sac—and midtown for the 10Kers—and ends just east of Elvas Avenue and H Street, with locals cheering you on along the way.

2. Visit the zoos. Who knew we had two zoos in the Sacramento area, but we do! The Sacramento Zoo, located at Land Park Drive and 16th Avenue in Sacramento, and the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary, located at 403 Stafford St. in Folsom. Both offer educational activities and fun events—including overnighters with the animals—but each is unique in its own right. Bottom line: Make a plan to visit both! Sacramento Zoo: (916) 808-5888; Folsom Zoo: (916) 351-3527; 

3. Explore the old towns. Riverfront restaurants, bars, museums, theaters, kitschy shops and hotels dot the landscape of Old Sacramento these days, but a lot of history has happened on them thar streets. Check out the website—there’s always something going on. Folsom, Roseville, Fair Oaks and Elk Grove all have “old towns,” too. Wander through them all and get a little taste of history.

4. Watch the Kings. We nearly lost the NBA team to Anaheim a few years back. All the more reason to cheer on our local royalty. So put on some purple and head out to Power Balance Pavilion. You’ll be in good company. King’s fans have a reputation for being the league’s most vocal. www.kings.com

5. Tour the Capitol. It’s architecturally stunning, rich with history and free to the public. The California State Capitol Museum is open daily, except for major holidays. Note: The museum and the Capitol are one and the same, so as you are walking the halls, you are right in the heart of California’s working seat of government. The Capitol is located on 10th Street between L and N streets, downtown Sacramento. (916) 324-0333; www.capitolmuseum.ca.gov

6. Work out on the “bike” trail. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, better known as the American River Bike Trail, is the crowning jewel of Sacramento—at least for outdoor enthusiasts. On any given day, but particularly weekends, you’ll find cyclists, runners and walkers of all ages, sizes and abilities somewhere along its 32 miles. During the week, bike commuters take to the trail, which starts at Discovery Park in Old Sacramento and ends at Beals Point at the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area in the city of Folsom.

7. Go down to the rivers. Sacramento has not one but two rivers surrounding it: the Sacramento and the American rivers. On a (warm) day, you’re likely to see boaters, water skiers, kayakers, fishermen and fisherwomen, and others out enjoying the waters.

8. Browse the Crocker Art Museum. The museum has been around since 1885 but underwent a major expansion—unveiled Oct. 10, 2010, its 125th anniversary—which more than tripled its size. In addition to housing world-class art, the museum also hosts lectures, films, concerts and more. 216 O St., Sacramento; (916) 808-7000; www.crockerartmuseum.org

9. Hit some golf balls. With our mild weather, golfers can enjoy hitting balls just about year-round. Want to practice your swing? The driving range at Haggin Oaks is open practically 24/7 hours May through September. For a list of area golf courses—and links to their websites—click here.

10. Splish-splash at a water park. Picture it: A scorching 100-degree day, but you don’t mind because you are slippin’ and a slidin’ down the Dragon’s Den tube slide at Raging Waters (www.ragingwaters.com) or The Vortex at Roseville Golfland SunSplash (www.golfland.com/roseville). Both parks have wave pools and more kick-back “current” pools as well as other attractions.

11. Ice skate at our version of Rockefeller Plaza. OK, we might not have the East Coast’s colder winter climate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ice skate outdoors in the cooler months. The Westfield Downtown Plaza Ice Rink opens the first Friday in November at St. Rose of Lima Park and stays open through Martin Luther King Jr. Day so you can skate to your heart’s content throughout the holidays. www.downtownsac.org. If you’re itching to go ice-skating in, say, July (not a bad idea!), Skatetown Roseville welcomes you to skate, learn to skate, enjoy theme nights and more. www.skatetown-roseville.com

12. Amble up to Apple Hill. Only about 45 minutes from downtown Sacramento, Apple Hill is a fun, quick day trip. With some 50 ranches to visit, wineries, a microbrewery, arts and crafts vendors, fun runs, apple delicacies and more, Apple Hill is a must-do for fall. The place is hopping from Labor Day Weekend through Christmas Eve. Not sure where to start? Check out www.applehill.com. A tried-and-true favorite: High Hill Ranch, where you can shop for apples (and various incarnations of all things apple), peruse the crafts, stop in the fudge shop and indulge in a sweet treat—though sometimes deciding what to go for could take a day itself.

13. Wine taste at the other wine countries. Closer and less crowded than Napa, nearby El Dorado and Amador counties—and the Lodi region—grow award-winning wines and offer wonderful wine-tasting opportunities. Pack a picnic and go for the day, or stay at a romantic wine country B&B. Getting married and love wine? This is the place! For more info, log on to www.eldoradowines.org, www.amadorwine.com and www.lodiwine.com.

14. Experience the area’s cultural diversity. Attend the annual Festival de la Familia at Cal Expo in April, a celebration of nearly two dozen Latin cultures, and enjoy a day filled with music, dance, food and more. The annual Pacific Rim Street Fest in Old Sacramento happens in May, with dance performances, music, cultural presentations, and crafts and foods representing more than 15 Asian and Pacific Island cultures. Everybody’s Italian at the annual Festa Italiana, put on by the Italian Cultural Society every August. Attendees can play bocce ball, hear Italian music, dance, shop the Italian Marketplace and, of course, mangia Italian food. And you might just want to turn Japanese after attending the annual Japanese Food & Cultural Bazaar, held in August at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento. View Japanese exhibits and demonstrations such as flower arranging (Ikebana), classical dancing (Odori), a tea ceremony, Taiko drum concerts and (need we mention?) feast on plenty of Japanese food.

15. Cheer on the Sacramento River Cats. Spend a late spring/summer day or evening watching the Triple A affiliate of the Oakland A’s play at gorgeous Raley Field in West Sacramento. The team has won numerous Pacific Coast League championships since coming to Sacramento in 2000. But baseball aside, with entertainment throughout the game, various “theme” nights and a lovable mascot named Dinger, you can’t go wrong with a day at this ballpark.

16. Ride the “Screamer” at Scandia Family Fun Center—and try not to scream. Seriously, don’t scream. You will be asked to leave. Screaming is banned on the ride—which spans 165 feet and swings thrill seekers around up to 65 miles per hour—because it’s disruptive to nearby neighbors. 5070 Hillsdale Blvd., off Interstate 80 near Madison Avenue , Sacramento; (916) 331-5757; www.scandiasports.com

17. Tour a mansion or two—and while you’re at it, a fort. The Leland Stanford Museum, the Governor’s Mansion and Sutter’s Fort offer a wealth of history about the area. To whet your appetite: The Leland Stanford Mansion, the former home of the eighth governor of California (Leland Stanford), was built in 1856, was home to three governors in the 1860s, and later became the Stanford Home for Children. The Governor’s Mansion, built in 1877, housed 13 governors. (Current Gov. Brown never lived there but visited when Dad Edmund G. held the office.) Built in 1843, Sutter’s Fort, originally called “New Helvetia” (New Switzerland), has served as a trading post, a rehabilitation point for Donner Party survivors and a refugee camp for people displaced by the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

18. Go for a walk. From historical building tours to public art tours to neighborhood tours to cemetery tours, there are organized walking tours aplenty to get you intimately familiar with our fine city.

19. Go down under. You’ll never think of history the same way after taking an Old Sacramento Underground Tour. Get a glimpse into what life was like some 150 years ago while going below historic buildings and exploring excavated foundations, enclosed pathways and old artifacts while your tour guide recounts stories of days gone by.

20. Hit the bars. Sacramento’s nightlife has exploded in recent years, with brewpubs, wine bars and nightclubs peppering the landscape, especially downtown and in midtown. BarWest, deVere’s Irish Pub, Streets of London Pub, Firestone Public House, Track 7 Brewing Co. , 58 Degrees and Holding Co., Faces, Parlaré Euro Lounge, The Park Ultra Lounge, Social, District 30, MIX Downtown and Rail Bridge Cellars—and many, many more—the social scene offers plenty to do after hours in our fair city.

21. See a show at an historic theater. Head to the Tower Theatre (2508 Land Park Drive)—built in 1938—for an arthouse flick. Check out the Crest Theatre (1013 K St.)—built in 1946—for movies, concerts and other special events. Visit the Guild Theater (2828 35th St.)—built in 1915—for the same. Though modernized, each theater retains its historic charm.

22. Tap your toes at the Sacramento Music Festival. Held every Memorial Day weekend, the festival—formerly known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee—changed its name in 2012 to reflect its wide range of music: swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, bluegrass, Latin music and, of course, jazz. Whether you’re into the music or the people-watching, this four-day event is the quintessential way to kick off a Sacramento summer. (916) 372-5277; www.sacjazz.com

23. Do Dovewood Court during December. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the holiday spirit displayed at this Orangevale cul-de-sac each holiday season. Every house on the court—and we mean every house—is decked out in all things Christmas. Walk the court, drive the court, it’s all good in this ’hood. All the neighbors ask is that you bring nonperishable food for area food banks. www.dovewoodcourt.com/index.html

24. Go for fun at the California State Fair. Carnival rides, games, animals, exhibits, concerts and fried food—what more could you want? The fair comes to town each July and is a summertime must-do. (916) 263-3247; www.bigfun.org. Local fairs: the Sacramento County Fair, held in May, www.sacfair.com; the Placer County Fair, held in June, www.placercountyfair.org; the Amador County Fair, held in July, www.amadorcountyfair.com; and the Nevada County Fair, held in August, www.nevadacountyfair.com

25. Walk the crooked mile at Fairytale Town.  Walk the Crooked Mile at Fairytale Town, a low-tech fhildren's play park in William Land Park where fairy tales and nursery rhymes come to life. (916) 808-5233; www.fairytaletown.org. Afterward, head over to Funderland Amusement Park, located across the street, where the rides are all little-kid friendly (916) 456-0115; www.funderlandpark.com

26. Pick produce at a farmers market. Take advantage of living in our agriculturally rich region by enjoying farm-to-you fresh produce at area farmers markets. Depending on when you go—many are open year-round—you’ll find tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, sweet Bronx grapes, spinach, lettuce, herbs, winter squash, persimmons, pomegranates, mandarins, sunchokes . . . the list goes on and on. To find a market near you, go to www.cafarmersmarkets.com or www.california-grown.com.

27. Immerse yourself in the vibrant social scene at Second Saturday. These art gallery open-houses, held throughout the region, draw crowds, especially during warm-weather months. In midtown, start at the corner of 18th and J streets, near several galleries, shops and restaurants. Another option: Fair Oaks Village in Fair Oaks, where you are just as likely to run into neighborhood chickens as you are people. Other monthly art walks in the region: Winters’ First Saturday Art Walk, Davis’ ArtAbout Art Walk (the second Friday of the month) and Placer Valley Third Saturday Art Walk, which encompasses galleries in Roseville as well as High Hand Gallery in Loomis.

28. Meander down to the Delta. Though the closest town is only about 15 minutes from downtown Sacramento, the sleepy communities that make up the Delta region—Freeport, Locke, Walnut Grove, Isleton, Ryde, Rio Vista—feel a lifetime away. Wander through historic Locke, the only town in the United States built for and by Chinese immigrants. Taste wine at any (or all) of the nine wineries at the Old Sugar Mill (www.oldsugarmill.com) in Clarksburg. Have brunch at the historic Ryde Hotel (www.rydehotel.com) in Ryde. For more information, call the Delta Chamber at (916) 777-4041 or log on to http://www.californiadelta.org/.

29. Stroll the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden ("Moon Garden"). Ah, we can feel the serenity now just thinking of this tranquil garden located in the UC Davis Arboretum. Picture it: a sultry summer night, your honey by your side, the two of you taking in the fragrant scents of Chilean jasmine, mock orange and myrtle as you walk amid this garden, best illuminated by the full moon. Go at dusk. This place is a treasure. UC Davis campus, (530) 752-4880; www.arboretum.ucdavis.edu. Other walk-worthy gardens in town: Jensen Botanical Garden, 8520 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael; (916) 485-5322. World Peace Rose Garden, State Capitol Park, between 10th and 15th streets and L and N streets, Sacramento; (916) 381-5433. McKinley Park Rose Garden, H Street near 33rd Street, East Sacramento.

30. Catch a thrill on the water. Whether you are looking for a float trip suitable for the whole family or an adrenaline-filled-glad-I’m-in-the-water-because-I-might-pee-my-pants thrilling trip, there’s a portion of the American River (as well as other, nearby rivers) for every type of river rafter. There are numerous rafting companies ready to accompany you down the river. For local float trips, try: River Rat Raft & Bike, (916) 966-6777; www.river-rat.com and American River Raft Rentals, (888) 338-7238; www.raftrentals.com.

31. Dine by the water. Sit outside at one of the many restaurants along the Sacramento River. You can dine at a different restaurant every day of the week. A few options:
• Alamar Restaurant & Marina, 5999 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 922-0200; www.alamarmarina.com
• Chevys Fresh Mex, 1369 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 649-0390; www.chevys.com
• Crawdad’s River Cantina, 1375 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 929-2268; www.crawdadsrivercantina.com
• Joe’s Crab Shack, 1210 Front St., Old Sacramento; (916) 553-4249; www.joescrabshack.com
• Rio City Cafe, 1110 Front St., Old Sacramento; (916) 442-8226; www.riocitycafe.com
• Scott’s Seafood on the River, 4350 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 379-5959; www.scottsseafood.net
• The Virgin Sturgeon, 1577 Garden Highway, Sacramento; (916) 921-2694

32. Board the Delta King. No, you won’t sail anywhere. This ship is permanently docked in Old Sacramento. However, you can dine at the Pilothouse restaurant, take in a murder mystery dinner show at Suspects, spend the night in one of the ship’s staterooms or (especially nice on a warm summer night) enjoy a relaxing drink in the outside lounge. www.deltaking.com

33. Patronize a local mom & pop shop. No offense to big box stores and chain restaurants. We love them! But we also fully support showing the love to the mom & pops that keep this city alive and vibrant. You’ll find them everywhere, so we suggest asking locals in the neighborhood you’re in for some great recommendations. Here are a few picks: When in the Greenhaven/Pocket area, stop by Pet Haven (352 Florin Road, Sacramento; 916-421-7387; www.pethaveninc.net) to pick up food, toys and perhaps some pet fish. In Land Park, check out Optimum Health (3220 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento; 916-443-6795; www.optimumhealthonpurpose.com) where owner Nancy Yilk and staff will direct you to a supplement to aid what ails you (and tell ya when seeing a doc is the thing to do) and, in the Arden Arcade area, cruise into the Dimple Vinyl Store (a small store located to the side of the Dimple Records building), where helpful staff will assist you in finding that LP (or 45) you’ve been looking for (2433 Arden Way, Sacramento; 916-239-3760; www.dimple.com).

34. Hit the drive-in. Our weather—especially during the summer—is perfect for a night at the drive-in. Pack some lawn chairs, some blankets (for when the famous Delta breeze kicks in) and some snacks and head to the West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-In (9161 Oates Drive, Sacramento; 916-363-6572; www.westwinddrivein.com). But be sure to buy a tub of popcorn or an ice cream novelty if for no other reason than to check out the retro snack bar and restrooms. By the way, admission is $7 for adults, $1 for children 5 to 11 and free for children younger than 5. What a deal!

35. Explore Effie Yeaw Nature Center. Located within the American River Parkway, the Effie Yeaw Nature Center houses exhibits, information, live animals and a book, and gift store. Outside, three self-guided trails allow you to explore the area. Check the website for tours and programs taking place at the center. (916) 489-4918; www.sacnaturecenter.net

36. Pick some berries. Patrick’s Mountain Grown Berry Farm allows visitors to pick berries straight from the vine during the summer. While paying for your pickin’s in the small store, be sure to taste-test some homemade jam. We’re sure you’ll be buying a jar or two to take home. (530) 647-2833; www.patricksmtngrown.com

37. Go on campus—without the stress of being a student. Nearly 100 years old, UC Davis’ Picnic Day is a Davis community favorite packed with entertainment, activities, exhibits and more. In addition, world-renowned performers grace the stages at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center and Folsom Lake College’s Three Stages. And don’t bypass student-performed theater, music and art shows at our two universities and five JCs: Sacramento State (916-278-4323, www.csus.edu), Cosumnes River College (916-691-7344; www.crc.losrios.edu), Sacramento City College (916-558-2111; www.scc.losrios.edu), American River College (916-484-8011; www.arc.losrios.edu), Sierra College (916-624-3333; www.sierracollege.edu) and the aforementioned UC Davis (530-752-1011; ucdavis.edu) and Folsom Lake College (916-608-6500; www.flc.losrios.edu)

38. Behold the Sacramento Ballet. Whether you attend the annual production of The Nutcracker, the more casual Beer and Ballet fundraiser or one of the company’s other productions, a day or night spent at a Sacramento Ballet performance will have you dreaming of pirouettes long after. (916) 552-5800; www.sacballet.org

39. Spend an evening (or an afternoon) at the theater. Our area is rich with wonderful local theaters offering productions for every age and interest. To name just a very few: in Sacramento, Sacramento Theatre Company (916-443-6722; www.sactheatre.org), Buck Busfield’s (brother of Tim) B Street Theatre (916-443-5300; www.bstreettheatre.org) and the always-entertaining Big Idea Theatre (916-960-3036; www.bigideatheatre.com). Also, visit Placerville’s darling Imagination Theater (530-642-0404; www.imagination-theater.org) and Folsom’s intimate Sutter Street Theatre (916-353-1001; www.sutterstreettheatre.com)

40. Compete in the “World’s Oldest” and only nonswim triathlon: Eppie’s Great Race. Ever say to yourself, “Man, I’d do a triathlon if only I could kayak instead of swim.” Step right up to the Eppie’s Great Race, my friend. The race—which takes place every July—consists of a 5.82-mile run, a 12.5-mile bike ride and a 6.35-mile kayak. You can take on all three legs yourself or form a team. Founded by restaurateur/entrepreneur Eppie Johnson, the race raises funds for Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services. (916) 480-0270; www.eppiesgreatrace.org

41. Love a parade. Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. at the March for the Dream “Marade” (march and parade) in January (www.mlk365.org), gay pride at the Pride Parade, which kicks off the Sacramento Pride Festival, in June (www.sacramentopride.org), veterans at the Veterans Day Parade in November (www.cityofsacramento.organd the holiday season at the Christmas Parade in Placerville in December (www.placerville-downtown.org). And if that’s not enough parade, there are numerous Fourth of July parades to choose from on our nation’s most patriotic holiday.

42. Museum hop. Learn about California history at The California Museum (916-653-7524; www.californiamuseum.org) and about all things science and space at the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center (916-575-3942; www.thediscovery.org). Railroad buffs will want to check out the California State Railroad Museum—train rides are available on weekends April–September (916-445-6645; www.csrmf.org). Car enthusiasts will want to cruise into the California Automobile Museum (916-442-6802; http://calautomuseum.org)

43. Attend an outdoor concert. There are many to choose from during the dog days of summer: Pops in the Park in East Sacramento, Friday Night Concerts in the Park in downtown Sacramento, Live on the Boulevard in El Dorado Hills or the summer concert series taking place in both Roseville and Folsom.

44. Go back in time at two annual festivals. Watch exquisitely costumed dancers waltz (and polka) to a choreographed storyline, all set to the music by the family of Johann Strauss at the Strauss Festival of Elk Grove in July (www.straussfestival.com). Fans of the Bard won’t want to miss the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival in William Land Park, which takes place in June and July (www.sacramentoshakespeare.net).

45. Find your way to a fruit festival. Foodies (or should we specify fruit-loving foodies?) will want to check out the BerryFest (www.feedmestrawberries.com), which takes place in Roseville Mother’s Day Weekend, the Courtland Pear Fair (www.pearfair.org), which takes place the last Sunday in July in the quaint Delta town of Courtland and the Mandarin Festival (www.mandarinfestival.com), which takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving in Auburn.

46. Catch the Causeway Classic. This annual football game between Sacramento State and UC Davis is a fall tradition around these parts. The two schools—separated by the 3.2 mile Yolo Causeway (hence the name)—have been battling it out each year for more than 50 years. It doesn’t matter which team you’re rooting for, if you like football and you like a good college rivalry, you’re sure to have a good time.

47. Look up to the trees. Did you know that Sacramento has been referred to as the “City of Trees”? And with good reason: From the palm trees on the perimeter of Capitol Park to the river birch on the banks of McKinley Park pond to the eucalyptus trees of the University Arboretum at Sacramento State and the verdant archways over midtown’s streets, our trees shade us from summer sun and show us their colors come fall. Explore for yourself: The Sacramento Tree Foundation has maps of popular parks and the trees that inhabit them. Go to www.sactree.com/treetours to download your copy.

48. Go the distance or cheer on others at the annual California International Marathon. The 26.2-mile run from Folsom to the state Capitol, held the first Sunday in December, brings athletes from all around the world. Participating in the marathon makes you intimately familiar with every nook and cranny of Fair Oaks Boulevard—you cover nearly the entire stretch of road. Feel the rush of running through the (normally) traffic-heavy intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue. And get chills up and down your spine as you cruise down L Street toward the finish line, the pulse of the crowd providing you with momentum. www.runcim.org

49. Pedal around town on a bike. It saves you money on gas, it makes it easier to find parking, it’s good for the environment, you get some exercise and you get to take in the sights. Many businesses—especially in the downtown and midtown area—offer bike racks and the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates (www.sacbike.org) provides free bicycle valet parking at some events.

50. Eat a local tomato. Seriously! We’re not called “Sacratomato” for nothin’!

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