Great Neighborhoods

What do all great neighborhoods have in common? Hint: It’s not (necessarily) about the houses. People&emdash;and how they interact with their buildings, their environment and one another&emdash;are at the heart of every terrific community. Read on to find out why these 10 neighborhoods are standouts.

There was a time when telling someone you lived in Sacramento may have come out sounding more like an apology than a proclamation. Maybe we lived for too long in the shadow of that spectacular City by the Bay. Or perhaps we underestimated all the gifts the region has to offer: great weather, wonderful recreation, relative affordability.

Whatever the reason for our sheepishness, we seem to be shaking our long-held inferiority complex. The truth is, the Sacramento region is full of wonderful neighborhoods&emdash;both new and old. At first glance, the neighborhoods profiled here appear very different from one another. Loomis, for example, has a slow-paced, rural flavor, while Winn Park is full of the sort of activity you’d expect from an urban neighborhood, and Shelfield Oaks, although suburban, is anything but bland. What do they have in common? People who take pride in where they live, feel a connection to others who live and work nearby, and readily invest their time and talent in their community. They prove that it takes more than just houses to make a great neighborhood.

Winn Park, Sacramento

This midtown neighborhood along the Capitol Avenue corridor is best explored on foot, and why not hoof it with so many destinations within easy walking distance? Winn Park residents can do their banking, get a haircut, enjoy good eats and see a play&emdash;all within blocks of home. Those who work downtown can enjoy a pleasurably brief commute on foot, bike or bus.

Winn Park is not just a terrific place to live&emdash;it’s great to visit, too. The neighborhood has emerged as a bustling dining, shopping and entertainment district for fun-seeking folks throughout the region. As a funky and inviting counterpoint to downtown Sacramento, Winn Park is one of those unique neighborhoods that make Sacramento, well, Sacramento.

Bounded by:
J, R, 29th and 19th streets.

Curb appeal:
High-water bungalows, broad-porched Craftsmans and ornate Victorians&emdash;many beautifully renovated&emdash;are interspersed with whimsical storefronts and lovely four-plexes and other apartment buildings under a massive canopy of trees.

Neighborhood culture: From tattooed hipsters to professionals with young families to active retirees, Winn Park is a neighborhood where just about anyone can feel at home. The atmosphere is decidedly urban&emdash;folks don’t move here for the sprawling yards or the solitude&emdash;yet it exudes a warm and homey charm. Residents pride themselves on being on a first-name basis with shopkeepers and baristas. The intersection of 20th and K streets is the epicenter of Sacramento’s lively gay bar district, Lavender Heights.

Amenities: Too many to list. Locals have their pick of fine restaurants (Biba, The Waterboy, Mulvaney’s Building & Loan) and watering holes (The Distillery, Monkey Bar, Press Club, Rubicon Brewing Company). Boutiques such as Blush, Dara Denim, Shoefly and Le Petit Paris offer shopping nonpareil.

Traditions: Thanks to an active neighborhood association, Winn Park residents can mix and mingle at several annual events, including a pancake breakfast, National Night Out celebration, jazz concert for children and festive holiday party, which includes performances by four nearby theater groups.

Drawback:
Some residents say the local homeless population can be an occasional nuisance.

Asking price:
The era of finding a bargain in midtown is long over. Smaller two-bedroom homes can go for $450,000, while larger, updated residences can run $650,000 or higher. Not ready to take the homebuyer’s plunge? There are plenty of spiffy rentals that will place you in the middle of it all.

Meet the Neighbors

The Palkos, Winn Park&emdash;If you’ve ever harbored doubts about raising children in the city, the Palko family is proof positive that kids do indeed thrive amid the hustle and bustle.

Samara Palko and her husband, Peter, delight in the fact that their daughters, Abigail, 3, and Ruthie, 1, can soak up their lively surroundings&emdash;parks, restaurants, stores, galleries&emdash;without ever buckling into a car seat.

Being able to walk and having that accessibility is really wonderful, especially with kids. That’s a huge feature for us, says Palko. You’re not as hesitant to try something new because it’s right here.

Their home has even become a popular play-date destination for friends from other areas of the city. They learn to appreciate everything the neighborhood has to offer, too, Palko says. Some people can’t understand why we’d want to live in midtown, but they kind of get the picture once they hang out with us.

Arden Park, Sacramento

The vast intersection at Watt and Fair Oaks may be one of the busiest in Sacramento, but just a few blocks from the frenzy of traffic lies a neighborhood coveted for its quiet and calm. Arden Park is an almost bucolic antidote to the pulsing roadways that serve as its boundaries, and that is precisely what its residents find so appealing.

Trees are revered in this verdant neighborhood, which earned a well-deserved National Arbor Day award for its valiant replanting efforts. Resident and tree enthusiast Alan Hirsch describes how many of the streets in Arden Park are like cathedrals, thanks to tree limbs that curve like gothic archways high above the pavement.

Bounded by:
Arden Way, Fair Oaks Boulevard and Eastern and Watt avenues.

Curb appeal:
The neighborhood has a decidedly laid-back feel, due to the absence of curbs and sidewalks and the ubiquity of informal ranch-style homes situated on generous lots.

Neighborhood culture:
Friendly and unpretentious. Families flock here to take advantage of spacious yards, good schools a relatively short commute to downtown. Clubs for walkers, gardeners and crafters keep residents active while strengthening social bonds.

Amenities:
A short car ride to an enviable selection of restaurants, grocery stores and shops. Two parks support a variety of outdoor activities, including swimming, soccer, softball, volleyball and tennis. Looking for a good read? Arden-Dimick Library at Watt and Northrop avenues features special sections for children and teens.

Drawback: Traversing pedestrian-unfriendly roadways like Watt, Arden and Eastern on foot can be daunting, forcing residents to travel by car even for close-by errands.

Asking price:
Expect to pay $550,000 to $750,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath home on a quarter-acre (or larger) lot.

Downtown Loomis

You’ve got to hand it to the residents of Loomis, population 6,300. They’ve managed to preserve the genuine charm of their small town despite being situated in one of California’s most rapidly developing counties. You’re more likely to find a feed store than a Starbucks here, and that’s just how the locals like it.

Loomis offers everything from opulent gated developments to pastoral ranchettes. But it’s the downtown that anchors the community, keeping alive its historical roots and tightknit social fabric.

Community service is a way of life here, and people take deep pride in supporting local causes with their time and money. Perhaps the best example of this generosity is the renovation of the Blue Goose Fruit Shed, a packing house turned community center that has attracted $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations in three years.

The historic building, once a hub for California’s tree fruit industry, is now host to community meetings, theatrical events and cowboy poetry readings. The rustic wooden structure is also home to Blue Goose Produce, a quaint market featuring locally produced goods and friendly service you won’t get at the mega-mart.

Bounded by:
A rural area roughly bounded by Taylor and Horseshoe Bar roads and Interstate 80.

Curb appeal: Charming, century-old clapboard farmhouses and Craftsmans with picturesque (but not fussy or overly manicured) yards. You half expect to find an apple pie cooling on every porch railing.

Neighborhood culture:
A warm, embrac-ing community is how downtown resident Elizabeth Schweigert describes it. People take pride in knowing their neighbors and eagerly pitch in when a helping hand is needed. Prefer anonymity? Loomis is not your place.

Amenities:
Taylor Road, Loomis’ main street, is filled with unexpected treasures. Main Drug Store, with its old-fashioned lunch counter, is the gathering spot whether you’re hankering for a milkshake or need advice from a friendly pharmacist who actually knows your name. The gorgeous High Hand Nursery, with its impeccable grounds, is like a Zen retreat, a tranquil alternative to the big-box competitors. Locals get caffeinated at the whimsical Wild Chicken Coffee.

Traditions:
The Loomis Eggplant Festival in October celebrates the rotund vegetable with art, entertainment and tasty eats made with&emdash;what else?&emdash;eggplant. Perennially popular student activities like 4–H and band receive wide com-munity support.

Drawback:
Encroaching development threatens the small-town atmosphere treasured by locals.

Asking price:
It’s somewhat uncommon to find one for sale, but homes downtown can fetch anywhere from $300,000 to $550,000 depending upon size and condition.

Meet the Neighbors

Elizabeth Schweigert, Downtown Loomis&emdash;I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, declares the vivacious Elizabeth Schweigert, whose 1913 Craftsman home sits a block from the main thoroughfare in downtown Loomis. It’s easy to see why: The friendliness of the town and its people is almost contagious, even to the most cynical urbanite.

While quick to point out that she’s not a Loomis native&emdash;I have lived here for about 50 years and I am still a newcomer, she jokes&emdash;Schweigert insists outsiders quickly feel at home.

As new people come in, they just fall into place, she says. I have friends in places where they don’t even know who lives next to them. Here, if you want to give of yourself, you meet people and you just become surrounded by the warmth that is there.

River City Commons, Sacramento

Half-plexes are beautiful, too. That could be the unofficial motto of this striking South Natomas neighborhood filled with tidy yards and quaint cul-de-sacs. Homes in River City Commons may be modest in size, but they make a bold and stylish statement about neighborhood density and design. The development is proof that great neighborhoods come in all shapes and styles&emdash;an important lesson in this age of McMansions and sprawl.

Despite the fact that half-plex inhabitants share a common wall, privacy and noise reduction are optimized by the homes’ clever design and configuration. Tom Fowler, an avid gardener who moved to the neighborhood in 1998, was attracted to the area’s woodsy feel and mature plantings, which he found reminiscent of the Mendocino coast.

Bounded by:
Truxel Road, West El Camino Avenue and Bannon Creek and Millcreek drives.

Neighborhood culture:
The distinctive architecture tends to attract creative types, as resident Mark Soble puts it. The simplicity of the homes has proven ideal for busy singles, couples and young families who prefer airy, unfussy interiors. Privacy is highly valued here, but neighbors do gather for community meetings and barbecues. 

Amenities:
Bannon Creek Elementary School, supermarkets, restaurants and retail stores, all within close proximity. For a monthly fee, home-owners have access to a private pool and spa, tennis and basketball courts, horseshoe pit and barbecue and picnic area&emdash;like a communal backyard (but without the mowing).

Drawback:
Even with guidelines in place, preserving architectural integrity has proven challenging in some instances. The homeowners association is working with residents to educate them about landscaping and renovations appropriate to the style of the homes. 

Asking price: A 1,300-square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home can be had for around $300,000&emdash;a relative bargain for an established neighborhood a five-minute drive from downtown Sacramento.

Curtis Park, Sacramento

Curtis Park possesses that enviable combination of beauty and brains. Yes, many of the homes here are drool-worthy, but the area’s attractiveness runs more than skin-deep. Residents are known for their can-do attitude and long history of citizen activism. In 1976, they rescued a 1920s-era elementary school from demolition and, after considerable sweat equity and fundraising, established a bustling community center unrivaled in the region.

Today, the Sierra 2 Center for the Arts and Community is the heart and soul of this picturesque neighborhood a few minutes’ commute from downtown Sacramento. Want to learn to speak Italian, dance a Brazilian samba or inspire a budding ballerina? Sierra 2 is the place to do it. And its senior center hosts an array of activities, from ukulele lessons to a weekly movie matinee.

Saving Sierra 2 really brought people together, says Julie Gerth, a Curtis Park resident who runs the center. She adds that when it comes to building social capital, having a building helps a lot.

Bounded by:
Sutterville Road, Freeport Boulevard, the WX Freeway and Highway 99.

Curb appeal:
Built primarily in the early 1900s, properties in Curtis Park exude a vintage feel thanks to stunning architecture (styles range from Spanish Revival to Arts and Crafts to Storybook) and majestic trees that line the streets.

Neighborhood culture: Being a good citizen is definitely in. One example: In an effort to think global, act local, the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association recently partnered with SMUD to create the state’s first-ever neighborhoodwide program to slow global warming through energy conservation.  

Traditions:
Home and Garden Tour (spring), Music in the Park concerts (summer), Wine Tasting and Silent Auction (fall). Neighbors share food and fellowship at a social gathering on the first Friday evening of every month.

Drawbacks:
Residents report that speeding traffic, car break-ins and vandalism are concerns.

Asking price:
Smallish fixers can be had for around $400,000, while roomier remodels can run as much as $700,000.

Phoenix Field, Fair Oaks

Long before houses occupied this tract of land northeast of Sunset and Hazel avenues in Fair Oaks, the area was home to the bustling Phoenix Field airport. During its operation from the late 1940s to the ’80s, residents in adjacent homes could taxi planes directly from their yards to the runway&emdash;a clever mode of commuting even before heavy congestion plagued Highway 50. 

Today, the airstrip is long gone. In its place are serene streets and cul-de-sacs with names harkening back to the site’s aviation origins: Runway Drive, Hangar Court, Airborne Way. Residents include retirees, middle-aged professionals and young families who appreciate the neighborhood’s close-knit atmosphere.

Bounded by:
Madison, Filbert, Sunset and Hazel avenues.

Curb appeal:
Attractive two-story production-built homes, many with three-car garages, sit on roomy lots with pretty landscaping.

Neighborhood culture: Phoenix Field’s cul-de-sacs have evolved into micro-communities where neighbors host potlucks, barbecues and progressive dinner parties whenever they can find a reason to celebrate, be it Memorial Day, Fourth of July or New Year’s Eve. Resident Mike Fallis says it’s the friendliness and openness at such gatherings that make everyone from ages 3 to 73 feel welcome. Other sure bets for bumping into neighbors: front-yard gardening and dog walking.

Amenities:
Grocery stores, shops and casual eateries, mostly housed in shopping centers, are a short drive away. Just south of the development, Phoenix Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Depending on the season, you’ll find soccer, Little League or lacrosse matches in progress while young ones roam the nearby playground. Fido can get his exercise, too, at the off-leash dog park, with canine wading pools perfect for cooling off during the summer months. Late April is the best time for nature lovers to meander through oak-shaded paths to view the vivid wildflowers ringing the park’s protected vernal pools. Cyclists and joggers can easily access the majestic American River Parkway adjacent to the park.  

Drawback:
Built in the early 1990s, the development lacks the mature shade trees found in more established neighborhoods.

Asking price:
The going rate for spacious three- and four-bedroom homes is in the high $500,000s to mid $600,000s.

 

Beamer Park, Woodland

Although developers today would balk, the delightful Beamer Park neighborhood took nearly 40 years to build out completely, which is one reason such a wide variety of architectural styles are represented here. On a single street, you might see a Mission Revival home alongside a Western Shingle or Tudor cottage. It’s this eclectic mix that makes the neighborhood stand out.

Inhabitants of the leafy enclave take architecture seriously, indeed. We tend to talk about our homes more than our kids, says resident Danielle Thomas with a chuckle. Still, you won’t find any obvious trophy homes here. Residences are elegant yet understated. The neighborhood’s entryway arches, roundabout and fountain are pretty, not pretentious.

Bounded by: Woodland Avenue, Sutter, Beamer and North College streets.

Curb appeal:
Classic homes constructed by master builders like William Fait and Joseph Motroni are situated beneath enormous shade trees. Every house is different, yet each one fits perfectly into its surroundings.

Neighborhood culture: Woodland is a town that’s very much in touch with its past, and Beamer Park is no exception. Many of the current residents descended from families who settled here when the development was first established decades ago. Today, families with deep roots in Woodland mix with a small crop of newcomers, many with younger children. Residents band together for neighborhood causes, spearheading renovations of the nearby park and entryway arches and working on a plan to revamp the central roundabout with new landscaping. They also help keep crime at bay through an active neighborhood watch program.

Amenities:
A few blocks south is Woodland’s classic Main Street, a charming commercial district boasting an old-fashioned drug store, inventive dishes at Tazzina Bistro and the art-deco State Theater, which has been showing first-run films for 70 years. Beamer Park, with a playground, tennis courts and picnic tables, caters to residents young and old.

Drawback: A park and school situated along busy streets has made traffic safety a concern.

Asking price: Residences tend to stay in the same family for generations. (Death or divorce are the only times homes become available, say real estate agents.) In the rare instance that one goes on the market, expect to pay $550,000 and up.

Holly Hills Lane, Cameron Park

It’s hard to imagine a neighborhood with a bigger heart than Holly Hills Lane. The loop of about 40 homes east of Cambridge Road in Cameron Park has no formal neighborhood association, but that hasn’t prevented residents from forming a tight social network built upon community service.

Their signature event, a spectacular holiday light display, originated six years ago when two residents, Bronnie Stanfill and Jackie Schrader, were looking for an uplifting neighborhood activity to bring people together following the Sept. 11 attacks and the loss of a dear neighbor to cancer. Today, the event has flourished into an all-out extravaganza attracting thousands of visitors each winter.

In conjunction with the festivities, residents adopt two needy families each year and invite visitors to contribute to a canned-goods drive benefiting local food banks. One evening each December, revelers are treated to free hot chocolate and coffee, baked goods, candy canes and a cozy fire pit for keeping warm. Now that’s hospitality.

Bounded by: Not a full-fledged neighborhood, per se, but a street that loops off the east side of Cambridge Road just north of Highway 50.

Curb appeal:
Although it’s a two-minute drive from Highway 50, the neighborhood has a somewhat rural flavor, with unpretentious ranch-style homes nestled into an oak-dotted hillside.

Neighborhood culture:
Generosity is de rigueur here, but residents don’t wear their good works on their sleeves. We’re just a typical neighborhood, says resident Shelley Mills with sincere modesty. 

Amenities:
Cameron Park Lake, a restful setting where locals can swim, fish, walk, jog, play tennis or enjoy a leisurely picnic, is two miles north. Golfers can hit the links at the nearby Cameron Park Country Club. Have a Tony Hawk wannabe in the family? Kids can perfect their ollies and airwalks at the skate park at Christa McAuliffe Park.

Traditions: Labor Day potluck, Easter egg hunt.

Drawback:
Residents who work downtown face a grueling commute.

Asking price:
In the $400,000-to-$500,000 range.

Shelfield Oaks, Carmichael

Over a 30-year period, local builders Bill and Jim Streng constructed nearly 4,000 residences in the Sacramento region, and this modernist development tucked into the bluffs of the American River in Carmichael is considered by many to be their finest project.

Locationwise, it’s like a little slice of heaven&emdash;the green, peaceful, butterflies-in-the-air version&emdash;
despite its proximity to the often hectic and noisy Fair Oaks Boulevard. Thankfully, the bluffs protect
inhabitants from the cacophony of cars, allowing the river below to serve as background noise. The
absence of streetlights and power lines lends a rural ambiance.

Like most Streng homes, these midcentury beauties are unfussy and unpretentious. With few exceptions, owners have preserved the integrity of the architecture and avoided inappropriate embellishments, letting the clean lines speak for themselves. In a setting this perfect, you don’t need much else.  

Bounded by:
Fair Oaks Boulevard, Claremont Road and River Oak Way.

Curb appeal: Think subtle, not showy. The 1960s homes, with their low-slung roofs and simple lines, are perfectly nestled between old-growth trees that, along with the architecture, promote both privacy and a connection to the outdoors.

Neighborhood culture:
Streng homes have always attracted buyers with an artistic sensibility, and that still rings true in Shelfield Oaks. The enclave of 50 or so homes is populated by artists, teachers, psychologists and those seeking a contemplative life, privacy and a relationship with nature, as resident Anne Klink puts it.

Amenities:
The neighborhood lies just steps from a stunning section of the American River. The 400-acre Ancil Hoffman Park and its Effie Yeaw Nature Center are two miles away. Carmichael Public Library is also nearby, as are grocery stores, banks and shops. 

Traditions: Neighbors celebrate the summer and winter solstices with potluck gatherings. Cleanup of the local park is also a neighborhood affair.

Drawback:
Proximity to the American River attracts some less-than-courteous visitors who can create litter and parking problems.

Asking price:
Although they go on the market infrequently (people who move here tend to stay), homes hover in the high $500,000s due in part to a renewed interest in mid-20th-century design.nd talent in their community. They prove that it takes more than houses to make a great neighborhood.

The Up-and-Comer: Oak Park

Oak Park has seen its share of hard times. A depressed local economy and rampant crime threatened to unravel the social fabric of Sacramento’s oldest suburb. Walk its grand boulevards today, however, and the optimism among residents and business owners is palpable. No doubt about it: The neighborhood is in the midst of a major comeback.

One signal of the resurgence: Homeownership rates are on a dramatic rise. Several years ago, as few as 8 percent of the homes here were owner-occupied. Today, that figure is an impressive 60 percent&emdash;and growing. The result, some say, is an energetic citizenry that’s more invested in making the neighborhood a great place to live.

Former NBA star Kevin Johnson, the mastermind behind the St. HOPE community development corporation, has helped fuel the renaissance. His infectious fervor for reviving the commercial district and public schools on his childhood turf has attracted major redevelopment dollars and reignited a sense of pride in the neighborhood.

Doggedly persistent, caring neighbors have also carried their weight. As many as 100 citizen activists attend the monthly neighborhood association meetings. (Most such neighborhood meetings are lucky to draw a dozen attendees.) Oak Park may always encounter challenges, contends 18-year resident Tom Sumpter, but its people and their intense passion for the area are the mainstays of this great neighborhood.

Bounded by: Fruitridge Road, Stockton Boulevard and highways 50 and 99.

Curb appeal:
Although some blighted areas remain, Oak Park is rich with architectural jewels, including striking examples of Victorian, high-water bungalow and Craftsman homes.

Neighborhood culture: In a word: diverse. If Sacramento is the most ethnically integrated city in the nation, as Time magazine reported in 2002, then Oak Park surely can take part of the credit. The sheer variety of races, cultures and faiths both grounds the neighborhood in tradition and gives it its urban edge. Best place to catch up with neighbors? One of the many barbershops, where the banter is as sharp as the scissors.

Amenities: People come from throughout Sacramento to get religion in Oak Park, which boasts the greatest
concentration of churches in the region. A burgeoning visual and performing arts scene, anchored by the 40 Acres Art Gallery and historic Guild Theater, has attracted nationally recognized artists to the area.

Traditions: Neighborhood clean-ups the second Saturday of each month, a Christmas toy drive, a well-attended National Night Out celebration (including an international potluck) and community barbecues.

Drawback:
Crime is a persistent concern, but residents say they are making headway, thanks to creative programs like Cops & Coffee, a monthly gathering where residents and police partner to thwart crime.
Asking price: Fixers can be found for less than $200,000; remodeled homes run into the low $400,000s.

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