Mention Folsom to folks who aren’t from this area, and what often immediately comes to mind is the state prison, made famous by Johnny Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues,” or perhaps Folsom Dam, which supplies water and flood control to Sacramento and helps create two lovely lakes. But locals know that Folsom is so much more than a prison, a dam or even a bedroom community to the state’s capital. This city of 73,000 residents (in 2011, per the most recent census data) boasts gorgeous neighborhoods, great schools, a high-tech business hub, myriad shopping and dining options, a historic downtown district, civic activities and events galore, a thriving arts community and a state-of-the-art performance complex, not to mention outdoor recreation opportunities at every turn. Indeed, people have been flocking to the Folsom area, seeking treasures and the good life, since the Gold Rush. Some things never change.
Here are 10 reasons to check Folsom out this summer.
1. TWO LAKES AND A RIVER
During the valley’s hot summers, people from throughout the region head to Folsom Lake, Lake Natoma and the American River to cool off. These water spots provide a boatload of outdoor fun, from water skiing, sailing and boating to swimming, hiking and fishing. Popular beaches along Folsom Lake include Granite Bay and Beals Point, where you’ll find barbecue pits, a snack bar and overnight camping. The smaller Lake Natoma is a favorite among those seeking a quieter day on the water, with its 5 mph speed limit for motorized watercraft. It’s also home to the Sacramento State Aquatic Center, where the public can rent canoes, kayaks, hydro bikes and more, and take classes in just about every water sport imaginable. The center is renowned internationally for its rowing course and hosts the annual West Coast Conference Pacific Coast Rowing Championships.
2. FOODIE HEAVEN
A number of locally owned restaurants have become landmarks in the community, such as Visconti’s (a family-run Italian place), Mary’s Gold Miner Cafe (gigantic breakfasts), Karen’s Bakery (the cinnamon rolls!), Sunny Garden (a Chinese food favorite) and Bidwell Street Bistro, where the French onion soup and duck confit will remind you of your last trip to Paris. At Back Bistro, an unassuming spot in a mini-mall, locals gather for food-and-wine pairings. And you can double your deep-dish pizza pleasure with two Chicago Fires—one on Sutter Street, another at the Palladio. For American River views, reserve a table near the window at Sudwerk. Hamburger addicts will have no problem getting a delicious fix in Folsom, where a number of gourmet burger joints have set up shop among In- N-Out and other fast-food giants. Places to grab a great burger include Islands, Smash Burger, Red Robin, Burgerocity, Johnny Rockets, Mel’s Diner, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers and The Habit, which could very easily become one.
3. SUMMER CONCERTS AT THE PALLADIO
How are your “hump” days shaping up this summer? The Wednesday Night Summer Concert Series takes place at the piazza within the upscale Palladio outdoor shopping complex. Practically every genre of music is on tap to please music lovers of all ages, from southern rock and R&B to The Beatles and beyond. The series runs through August. While you’re there, enjoy some dinner and do some shopping: The Palladio continues to attract coveted restaurants and retailers.
4. A SATURDAY FARMERS MARKET
It should come as no surprise that, in the region dubbed America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, Folsom is jumping on the fresh and-local wagon as well. This May, the Historic Folsom Farmers Market opened on Sutter Street around the Historic Railroad Turntable and Public Plaza. Every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., more than 45 certified local farmers sell farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, milk, flowers and baked goods. Shoppers are treated to live entertainment and surprise performances. Says Stephanie Rodgers of the Folsom Historic District Association, “It’s not just a farmers market; it’s an event!” The market is expected to run year-round.
5. TWO LIVE THEATRES
The arts scene in Folsom ramped up considerably when Three Stages at Folsom Lake College opened in 2011. This $50 million award-winning venue attracts top-name artists from around the world while offering a spotlight for regional performing arts groups and for students attending the adjacent community college. Three Stages has announced it soon will change its name to the Harris Center for the Arts. Sutter Street Theater is an awardwinning live theater venue in Folsom’s Historic District, offering two concurrently running productions year-round. Run by the husband-and-wife team of Mike Jimena and Connie Mockenhaupt, the theater presents Showtune, Folsom Gold and Harold & Maude this summer for grown-ups; Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr. and Stuart Little for the kids.
6. FOLSOM CATTLE DRIVE AND RODEO
For the past 52 years, the Folsom Pro Rodeo has been a flagship event every Fourth of July weekend, attracting more than 20,000 attendees. The festivities kick off with a cattle drive on July 3, when the rodeo’s four-legged stars strut their stuff down Historic Sutter Street starting at 6 p.m. The rodeo runs July 4–6, with a fireworks show every night choreographed to patriotic music.
7. $5 MOVIE TUESDAYS
Folsom is fortunate to sport two movie theaters: Century Folsom 14 and the newer kid on the block, the 16-screen Palladio 16 Cinemas. On Tuesdays, bargain-hunting moviegoers pay just $5 a ticket at either theater, all day long. That leaves extra cash for an endless tub of popcorn and a soda.
8. HIKING AND BIKING TRAILS
Every weekend, swarms of cyclists and packs of hikers take to Folsom’s 32-plus miles of trails to live out the city’s motto, “Get Fit in Folsom.” For an easy ride, pedal leisurely with your family on the scenic American River bike trail that connects Folsom Lake to Old Sacramento or try the paved Humbug-Willow Creek Trail that passes by a children’s play area, bird refuge and restaurants. Serious cyclists looking to break a sweat and possibly some records can hit the Salmon Falls/Darrington Trail, a 16-mile unpaved trek in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area that winds into El Dorado Hills, offering up incredible views along the way. Other trail routes can be found at spinfolsom.com.
9. ZOO AND PARKS
For animal lovers, it’s worth a trip to the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary, a different kind of zoo that provides homes for animals mostly native to North America that can’t be released back into the wild because they were orphaned or injured. Families with young children can hop aboard the Folsom Valley Railway, adjacent to the zoo, for a memorable ride on an authentic miniature steam engine. Pack a picnic lunch and take your pick of nearly 40 parks within city limits. Enjoy a game of beach volleyball at Lembi Community Park or make your way to Cummings Family Skate and Bike Park, where skaters and BMXers can perfect their skills on the ramps and bike tracks. The park also features a basketball court, tot playground, concession stand and dog park aptly named Fido Field. Athletes don’t have to spend all their time outdoors, however. The state-of-the-art Folsom Sports Complex houses indoor (and outdoor) soccer fields, basketball courts, and batting cages, plus a teen center, arcade and cafe.
10. HISTORIC SUTTER STREET
One of the most iconic aspects of Folsom’s Gold Rush history, Historic Sutter Street draws shoppers, foodies and art lovers along with history buffs. Walk the cobblestone streets and imagine what life was like here in the 1850s. This charming city landmark underwent an $8.4 million renovation that was carefully planned to preserve the street’s historical integrity. The district buzzes with activity all year long—art walks, antiques fairs, car shows, ice skating in the winter. Some of the most popular spots on Sutter Street include Folsom History Museum, Snooks Chocolate Factory, Bag Lady (great purses!), Hacienda Del Rio restaurant, Sutter Street Steakhouse (a hidden gem at the far end of the street), Hampton’s on Sutter bar and grill and the historic PowerHouse Pub, one of the busiest live music and dance clubs around.