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Eight of the best places to live in the Sacramento region.
As Dorothy famously figured out in “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s no place like home. But what makes a house a home and a neighborhood livable? You could consult real estate agents and check out websites. Or you could talk to folks who love where they live. That’s what we did. Come along as we explore eight neighborhoods in the region and meet people who are happy to call these unique places home.
Sheila Daniels, Thomas Fleming III, Randall Echevarria, Monte Hudock in front of Randall and Monte’s home
"Eden of California"
A stranger at a yard sale offered to give Randall Echevarria and his husband, Monte Hudock, a tour of her neighborhood. That stranger? She became their neighbor after the couple purchased a restored home, built in 1905, in that same neighborhood: the area around Broadway near James McClatchy Park. That story shows the kind of community you’ll find in Oak Park. “From the moment we drove to the yard sale and met Amy, we fell in love with the area,” Echevarria says.
Oak Park, Sacramento’s first suburb, was billed as the “Eden of California” by the original developers. Over time, it lost its appeal. Newer suburbs beckoned and lots of residents abandoned Oak Park in the 1960s. It fell on hard times.
That’s changing thanks to Oak Park Neighborhood Association, developer Ron Vrilakas and many others. Historic structures have been preserved and polished in pockets like the Triangle District, and new townhouses and loft apartments are going up. It’s a serious contender in the market again, according to real estate agent Pam Vanderford of Keller Williams Realty. Tempting features—affordability, iconic architecture and an active community—sweeten the deal.
On a recent Saturday afternoon in McClatchy Park, skaters shredded at the skate park while hoopsters practiced three-pointers and layups at the courts. Children played on the brightly colored playground equipment. Over on Broadway, people planned their gardens at The Plant Foundry (hard to believe it was once a tire store) or stopped at Vibe Health Bar for a healthy nosh.
The Broadway corridor is brimming with restaurants, stores and community-based events. For starters, La Venadita (vampiro taco, anyone?) and Oak Park Brewing Company offer fun food choices, while DISPLAY: California and Rire encourage shoppers to come in and browse. From May through October, Gather transforms Broadway and Third Avenue into a dining room on the second Thursday of the month.
A number of creative and maker types, including architect Dustin Littrell and married couple Janel Inouye and Ed Roehr, owners of Magpie Cafe and Nido, call Oak Park home.
REAL ESTATE: A mix of styles, including Victorians and Craftsman-style homes, along with newer lofts and townhouses. Prices are all over the place, from the low $160,000s to the mid- $300,000s.
HANGOUT: Underground Books, a bookstore managed by former Mayor Kevin Johnson’s mother, Georgia West.
GOOD TO KNOW: The farmers market in McClatchy Park is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays through October.
Driving the Forces of Change
“The neighborhood has changed quite a bit in 12 years.” That’s Oak Park resident Tamika L’Ecluse. She’s vice president of Oak Park Neighborhood Association, after serving two years as president, and a program manager for the Greater Sacramento Urban League.
Before moving to her neighborhood south of Broadway (where her then-boyfriend, now husband, Devon, owned a home), she lived in midtown. “It didn’t have the community feel that this neighborhood has,” she says. She wanted a neighborhood where she could go to the park, where life slowed down.
A visible shift in demographics and socioeconomics is taking place in Oak Park, L’Ecluse says. Houses that were falling apart are being renovated. Vacant lots are disappearing. Some longtime residents are being displaced as the cost of living rises, however, and there’s a lingering stereotype of violence. “I have to explain to people this is a pretty decent neighborhood with a lot of activism,” she says. Positive changes are encouraging residents to get involved. “With any community, it’s really up to the people to drive the forces of change.”
Jana Din and John Lee of the Riverlake community in the Pocket.
An Oasis Within an Oasis
With 15 parks and more than 180 acres of green space, including prime picnic spots, bike paths and scenic waterways, the Pocket- Greenhaven area is a suburban oasis just south of downtown Sacramento. Old Valley oaks thrive. Stately egrets and other waterfowl call it home. Not too shabby for a planned community created in the early 1960s.
Jana Din and her husband, John Lee, purchased their house 25 years ago in the Riverlake community of the Pocket—named for a “pocket” bend along the Sacramento River. Upscale, custom-built homes with interesting architectural features (concrete lions, columns and chandeliers, oh my!) and three-car garages attracted other longtime owners and professionals like Din, a teacher at Galt High School, while a private lake created Instagram-worthy scenes before Instagram existed. It is an oasis within an oasis.
That picturesque lake draws nonresidents as well, attracting walkers, runners and bicyclists from other neighborhoods even though they can only admire the view. There’s a bridge where you can watch the sun set (and rise) and check out the ducks, geese and occasional turtle paddling below.
Din says she has everything she needs nearby. There’s a handful of shopping centers in the area, but you won’t find many fancy retail shops or gourmet restaurants.
REAL ESTATE: Look for apartments, duplexes and one- and two-story homes in a variety of styles and prices. Those mansion-size, custom homes in Riverlake, most built in the 1990s, don’t usually last long on the market; prices start in the $800,000s.
HANGOUT:Watch for wine steward Steve Graham’s special Friday-night tastings at Nugget Market on Florin—a deal at $5.
GOOD TO KNOW: Mayor Darrell Steinberg lives in the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood.
OBO' Italian Table & Bar
Moving Back Home
Ivy Nowinski grew up on 38th Street, next door to the Fabulous 40s, east of downtown. There, historic houses primarily from the 1920s and ’30s, tall trees and a tight-knit community provided the backdrop for her formative years. Since that time, she’s lived in other places, even though it’s said that once you’ve lived in East Sacramento, you’ll never want to live anywhere else.
That adage might have a grain of truth. When she and her husband, Robert Barter, had their first child, they moved back to East Sac, close to Nowinski’s childhood home. Her family still lives there, and she recognizes people she’s known for years when she goes for a run or shopping. “It’s great to be re-immersed in the community I grew up in,” she says.
Walkability was a big factor for Nowinski, an attorney who’s expecting her second child. “East Sacramento is probably one of the best for walking, but things are a little more spread out,” she says. McKinley Park, with its rose garden, impossibly cute playground, tennis courts and well-used jogging trail, is a six- to seven-block stroll, and there’s a long (long) list of good restaurants nearby: Kru, OBO’, Hawks Public House, Selland’s Market-Cafe, Cafe Rolle, The Mimosa House, Formoli’s Bistro and OneSpeed. This epicurean enclave also hosts V. Miller Meats and Corti Brothers, plus indie coffeehouses Chocolate Fish, Tiferet and Tupelo.
Nowinski loves their new home (built in 1925), which Vanderford helped them find. The neighborhood is attractive to young professionals like Nowinski, but there’s a lack of inventory. And it’s difficult to move into this sought-after neighborhood without a large amount of cash.
REAL ESTATE: Bungalows, Tudor, Craftsman and ranch-style houses, all with loads of character. Character often comes with a hefty price tag—even in the Thrifty 30s. Prices range from about $500,000 to more than $1 million.
HANGOUT: Burr’s Fountain, an old-fashioned diner and ice cream parlor.
GOOD TO KNOW: Drivers don’t always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, one of Nowinski’s pet peeves.
Ricky and Bojana Gutierrez of Boulevard Park
The Quiet Part of Midtown
To understand Boulevard Park, it’s important to know its history. E and J, 16th and 24th streets provide somewhat loose boundaries for this sweet and often overlooked neighborhood shaped like a rectangle. It’s the quiet part of midtown. Once the site of the State Fair, and a former “streetcar suburb,” the Boulevard Park Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Let’s go back to 1905. The State Fair had relocated, and developers created a residential suburb in its place with boulevards, landscaped medians and parks. Single-family homes sprang up in the decade between 1910 and 1920. Eventually, some of those houses were turned into apartments and multiuse buildings.
Drive around (better yet, cycle around) Boulevard Park today and admire the grassy medians and wide streets intended for horse-drawn streetcars on 21st and 22nd. Gaze at the Canary Island date palms and other mature trees. Those big trees planted years ago provide plenty of shade in the summer. Count the porches. Count the people sitting on those porches. The neighborhood feels hip without the hype.
Now picture yourself living in the midst of history but within walking or cycling distance to everything busy midtown has to offer. The American River Bike Trail is a few blocks away. The neighborhood is diverse: old, young, students, artists and engineers. There are specialty coffeehouses nearby, as well as Moxie, an ultra-cool restaurant on 20th and H.
REAL ESTATE: High-water bungalows, Craftsmans and Victorians, along with newer townhouses and condos priced in the mid-$500,000s.
HANGOUT: Old Soul at The Weatherstone.
GOOD TO KNOW: Capitol Ace Hardware carries a selection of books about Sacramento’s historic neighborhoods.
Baby on Board
In 2001, Bojana Gutierrez left her home and family in Serbia and traveled to California to attend college at Sac State. Since then, she’s lived a great deal in midtown because she likes to walk or ride her bike everywhere. When they purchased their latest home, she and her husband, Ricky, chose a cozy charmer on a quiet street in Boulevard Park. They’re expecting their first child.
The couple, who are civil engineers, lease out the bottom half of their house and live in the top with their rescue dog, Xavi. A long staircase leads up to the front door and gives the house a Brooklyn-borough feel. “Each house [in Boulevard Park] is different,” Bojana says, which adds to this neighborhood’s charm.
If you’d prefer not to drive everywhere, Boulevard Park fits the bill. Gutierrez rides her bike to the light rail station and catches RT to work. Her husband cycles to his office in Natomas. In the evening, they might walk to Capital Stage or Harlow’s (both on nearby J Street) or ride their bikes to Golden 1 Center.
Katy Brown at The Cannery in East Davis
Old and New
Katy Brown, a poet and former social worker, jokes that Davis is where hippies go to retire.
She recalls a time when her East Davis neighborhood on Baywood Lane, bounded by East Covell Boulevard and Eighth Street, was more new than established, more rural than suburban: “When I bought the house, it was on the outskirts of Davis,” she says. “You could hear the trains, and on days when the wind was right, you could smell the cow barns. In the summer, the tomato factory sent the most wonderful smell through the streets.” The Hunt-Wesson factory closed in 1999, and those local farms slowly disappeared.
Time seems to stand still in Brown’s lived-in neighborhood, thanks in part to single-family homes built in the ’60s and ’70s. They’re safely tucked behind a sound wall but worth a closer look. Her neighbors have been her neighbors for decades. The original developer still lives across the street. It’s super kid friendly. Popular Slide Hill Park boasts an aquatic center with a splash pad and water slide, as well as a clubhouse for Girl Scouts. The streets are dotted with basketball hoops. Yards are dotted with trees and assorted gardens (and the occasional old VW van in the driveway). Children put up impromptu lemonade stands, blow bubbles and ride their bikes. “I can see myself staying there permanently,” Brown says. The neighborhood has Davis’ charm (college town, cultural diversity and civic involvement), but home prices are within reach for families.
But changes are coming to this part of East Davis. Nearby, Chiles Ranch will add 96 new homes with community gardens. And upscale farm living can be purchased a scant mile from Brown’s comfortable neighborhood. A mega farm-to-fork community called The Cannery, located on the site of the old tomato factory, offers a dazzling display of energy-efficient dwellings situated on a working farm. The concept is both trendy and timely; the residences are state of the art. You won’t get much of a backyard, but you will have an entire farm at your disposal.
REAL ESTATE: The Cannery runs the gamut—apartments to flats, townhouses to mega-homes—from the low $400,000s to $1 million plus. Home prices in the neighborhood around Slide Hill Park are in the $500,000s.
HANGOUT: Pub Quiz every Monday night at de Vere’s Irish Pub. Get there early to take advantage of happy hour and find a seat.
GOOD TO KNOW: Grab a piece of cardboard and have a go at Slide Hill Park’s concrete slide. It’s super fast.
Chip Wallace, Louis Moore and local children at Main Drain Garden in West Sac
BRIDGEWAY IN WEST SACRAMENTO
Coolest ’Hood Ever!
Follow the yellow Tower Bridge into West Sacramento and you can’t help but notice there’s a lot going on. The Bridge District and Washington neighborhood are in the limelight (deservedly so), but there are other neighborhoods that have been quietly creating livable communities (and a magnificent garden) for over a decade. One such neighborhood is the Bridgeway development.
Here’s the scoop on Bridgeway: The houses—some have big backyards and pools—were built in the 2000s. Bridgeway Lakes Community Park, with its boathouse and lake, lets residents walk, play baseball, paddle by boat and splash. The area appeals to people with young families as well as retired folks who prefer a more rural setting but like a short commute to downtown.
Type Venice Street into your GPS (there are lots of neighborhoods here), then get out and walk through the surprisingly large garden running the length of this cul-de-sac in Bridgeway Island. Stop, close your eyes and imagine the ground covered in star thistle.
About 10 years ago, resident and artist Louis Moore removed those weeds and planted a few trees and daffodils on city property, paralleling the Main Drain irrigation canal. He had to haul water across the street to his guerrilla garden. More neighbors got involved. Soon, more trees were planted and the garden grew. The illegal plot was supposed to be a secret, but even the mayor knew about it. A couple of years later, West Sac offered the folks behind Main Drain Garden a deal. For nominal rent, the city would provide land and water; in return, the neighborhood had to set up a nonprofit organization and do all the hard work.
Decorated with Moore’s eclectic art, including a chandelier and tricycles hanging in trees, this garden produces a bounty of veggies and fruit, but it isn’t the only thing happening in this active neighborhood. There are breakfasts, movie nights and other community events. Walkers and cyclists—and there are many of them—make good use of the footpaths along the canal. A large bulletin board, shaped like a sunflower, keeps the neighborhood informed. The street is tricked out on Halloween, making it one of the coolest ’hoods in West Sac.
REAL ESTATE: Venice Street doesn’t have a high turnover. The average price for a house in Bridgeway Island is about $400,000.
HANGOUT: Sit at one of the hand-painted picnic tables in the Main Drain Garden and read a book from the Little Free Library box.
GOOD TO KNOW: In the summer, kids can sign up for Camp Lakeside, an all-day program offered at Bridgeway Lakes Community Park.
“Sowing the Seeds of Community”
Chip Wallace used to say he wouldn’t move to West Sac. He was concerned the community was past its prime. That was 16 years ago. Since that time, he and his wife, Samantha, have lived in the same house on Venice Street, across from the Main Drain Garden.
Retired now, he (accompanied by his dog, Mimi) spends almost every day working in the garden alongside his neighbor Louis Moore, tending to the roses, citrus trees, grapevines and dozens, if not hundreds, of other plants. Every season, a new crop needs to be planted. Compost has to be created. Local schoolchildren and other groups tour the garden; he’s the tour leader and chief garden guide. Although their neighbors pitch in on Saturdays (called community days), Wallace and Moore are the principal plant tenders.
Wallace is also the mastermind behind Venice Street’s elaborate Halloween festivities. Last year, he made tombstones for rock stars who had passed away. He’s been the president of the nonprofit organization that runs Main Drain Garden, unofficially called Friends of the Main Drain Parkway, for eight years. Their motto is “sowing the seeds of community.” It’s difficult to imagine Wallace living anywhere but West Sac or doing anything else.
Kerri Howell on Folsom’s Historic Truss Bridge
The Best Place to . . .
Are there drawbacks to living in Folsom? Not a lot. Just ask two-time Mayor Kerri Howell (she’s currently the vice mayor), a corrosion engineer and founder of Atlantic Consultants. Howell has a distinctive, husky voice and a helluva laugh.
She’s usually surprised when she finds out Folsom has made another “best of” list, but at the same time she isn’t surprised. What’s not to like? She ticks off several points: Strong business community. Volunteerism is high—3,000 people showed up last year for Community Service Day. The city is stable financially. Unemployment is low. Cultural diversity. Miles of bike trails. A vibrant historic district. A cool truss bridge. Here’s more: Two lakes—Folsom Lake and Lake Natoma. Cool hangouts like Chicago Fire Pizza and Karen’s Bakery. Affordable housing. And don’t forget Sutter Street’s nightlife scene.
Folsom has retained an almost Mayberry-like charm despite all the publicity it has received. City council meetings are broadcast, and it’s easy to recognize Howell’s voice. When she’s in the grocery store, folks feel free to approach her or call her directly.
What about Folsom State Prison? Even that’s worked in the city’s favor since Johnny Cash sang about it. You don’t notice the prison, Howell says. The land around it looks pastoral.
Howell has lived in Willow Creek Estates, off East Natoma Street, since 1985. It is a family-friendly neighborhood, offering rolling hills, tree-lined streets and well-maintained homes built in the 1980s. Folsom Lake’s recreation area and Mormon Island Wetlands state park are close by, as well as shopping centers like Palladio at Broadstone. What about her neighbors? They’re the best, naturally.
REAL ESTATE: Average sale price in the $400,000s for a house in Willow Creek Estates.
HANGOUT: The Fat Rabbit, a British-style pub.
GOOD TO KNOW: Folsom is the best place in California to raise a family, according to WalletHub and Thrillist.
Pam Vanderford and Tony Vanneman with Polly at their home in Ashley Woods
ASHLEY WOODS IN GRANITE BAY
Nature With All the Amenities
Ashley Woods, a popular gated community in Granite Bay off Roseville Parkway, was designed with the cul-de-sac in mind. A cul-de-sac, meaning “the bottom of the bag,” is a closed street with a large turnaround at the end. In this chic neighborhood, the cul-de-sac promotes privacy, style and spaciousness. It looks like a movie set, with classy brick walls, wrought-iron fences, well-tended lawns and leafy trees.
House prices are modest by Granite Bay standards (about $650,000 to $800,000), but you get a lot of bang for your buck. There’s enough room to spread out, with or without kids (Granite Bay High School is nearby), as the homes are roomy. According to Keller Williams real estate agent Pam Vanderford, “The houses are starting to show their age a little bit.” (Many were built in 1998.) But they have the features you’d expect in a Granite Bay home: pools, fireplaces and outdoor kitchens. Some houses have fireplaces in the backyard, so you can live well both inside and outside.
Wide sidewalks encourage residents to get out and move. A greenbelt behind many of the houses, with oaks, a stream and lots of grass, is a perk for dog owners and non-dog owners. It gives this neighborhood a rustic air. “I love the rural feel. There’s still a lot of land. It feels open and spacious. It doesn’t have the density [of other areas],” Vanderford says. It’s nature with all the amenities.
There’s a Safeway and Starbucks nearby, and upscale restaurants like Hawks and Farmhaus are a short drive away. Interstate 80 during peak commute times can be a challenge, but that might be a small price to pay.
REAL ESTATE: Not a lot of availability (only 250 homes in Ashley Woods).
HANGOUT: Bushnell Gardens Nursery.
GOOD TO KNOW: It’s a 30-minute drive to downtown Sac during non-commute hours.
Falling in Love with Granite Bay
Pam Vanderford attended grammar school at Our Lady of Grace in West Sacramento. She grew up there. Later, she moved to East Sacramento, another great neighborhood, where she raised her children. So what convinced this Sacramento native and veteran real estate agent to move to Ashley Woods in Granite Bay? It was love, of course.
She fell in love with the house first. “When they opened the front door, that was it,” she says. She got tears in her eyes. She recalls Tony Vanneman, her partner for the last five years, saying, “If we don’t get this house, it’s not going to be good.” He also knew it was the right house for them. They’d been looking for a house to buy together for a year. “My negotiating skills went right out the window,” she admits.
The house reminded her of houses from her past, and the neighborhood brought to mind her West Sac roots. Like Dorothy, she knew she was home.