City Living

Life in downtown Sacramento is—surprise!—vibrant and thriving.
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city living
The rooftop deck at The Frederic. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

A big region where suburban living is the norm, it takes an adventurous spirit to choose downtown as a home. Lately, Sacramento is seeing that spirit in large doses.

Call it the Big Bang Theory of housing. After a half-century-plus of steady outward growth, the central city is asserting a gravitational pull of its own. Sacramento’s core is now one of the region’s fastest-growing housing areas.

“It took decades to get that ball rolling,” says architect and builder Ron Vrilakas. “My sense is the urban center has turned a corner.”

What’s the attraction? Builders, planners and residents say more people are looking for self-contained lifestyles in lively, walkable neighborhoods. Developer Julie Young calls it a turn to holistic living.

And there is simply more and varied housing available. Some of it, like the high-rise condominiums overlooking Golden 1 Center, is urban and dense. Other residential areas have a quieter suburban feel. Then there are the ambitious live-work-play hubs, such as the bustling Ice Blocks or the West Sacramento riverfront.

That said, the central city as a residential locus is not yet fully mature. There is a paucity of condominiums and not enough housing for minimum-wage workers. Several eventual downtown-defining areas, such as the railyards, are still early in their development. COVID and homelessness also create uncertainty about downtown’s future.

So where does downtown living stand today? And where is it headed? We visit six emblematic new housing areas and talk with some of the adventurous spirits who live there.

Ice Blocks

city living at the ice blocks
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

The Ice Blocks urban-lifestyle village perches on three conjoining blocks at 17th and R streets. Safeway is a block away. So is light rail. The state Capitol is 12 minutes on foot.

PROFILE: This vibrant village is unique in the region and is arguably the heart of the downtown-housing “Big Bang” movement. Its 140 apartments—with another 70 yet to come—overlook streets packed with restaurants, chic stores, offices, gyms, hair salons, a craft brewery, a speakeasy and a Philz coffee. See’s Candies just showed up. Anthropologie is on the way. So is Salt & Straw ice cream.

PRICE: Listed rents in early July ranged from $1,700 a month for a 432-foot studio to $2,600 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit.

leslie amani entertaining friends in her ice blocks apartment city living
Leslie Amani entertaining friends in her Ice Blocks apartment. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

STYLISH: The redevelopment site, former home of Crystal Ice, mixes new and old. Beast + Bounty restaurant is in the shell of a former hardware store. “That’s the sweet spot of design,” says developer Michael Heller. “Old has the character. You can’t recreate soul in a new building.”

deck at the ice blocks
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

LIVE, WORK, PLAY: “We have made a very determined effort to choreograph everything that a fun and vibrant neighborhood would want,” Heller says. “Our goal was not to repeat existing concepts in the market but to add new fresh concepts for the community to enjoy.”

HISTORY LESSON: A quarter century ago, developers wanted to build rows of office buildings on R Street. City officials said no. They held out for more human-scale development with residences. It took time, but R Street is now very much alive.

Ice Blocks resident LESLIE AMANI, owner of Elevate Coaching and Consulting, loves the neighborhood’s variety. Among her favorite things: TITLE Boxing Club, Device trivia night, Nico Wine, the Bark Park (“my dog loves it”) and music at nearby Ace of Spades.

leslie amani
Leslie Amani. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

“I was looking for a location that offered walkability. I happened to stop in midtown at Ice Blocks for an acai bowl and thought, ‘This looks perfect!’ Ice Blocks has an urban vibe. I’ve met amazing neighbors. It’s a fun place to socialize. I recently hosted a happy hour on the patio. We enjoyed cocktails and chatted around the fire pit while making s’mores.”

20PQR

city living at 20pqr
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

This row of three-story houses on 20th Street between P and R streets is part of a recent neighborhood transformation from industrial to residential. The Press apartments stand across the street.

PERSONALITY: This is modern vertical living. Ceilings are high. Each unit has a private deck up top and a friendly front stoop on a quiet, tree-shaded street below. You buy here if you want to live in the heart of the city, but with a relaxed lifestyle, says Chisay Arai of Guide Real Estate. “The rooftop patios (afford) a daily vacation from the bustle.”

entertaining friends city living
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

PRICE: A 1,722-square-foot house recently came on the market at $824,900, featuring 3 bedrooms and 4 baths.

AMENITIES: Open floor plan, chef’s kitchen, rooftop decks and two-car garage. But you might not use your cars. Safeway is a block away. So is a dog park and urban garden. Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op is a short walk, as are art galleries, cafes, restaurants and clubs.

juan and gary hosting a bbq on their rooftop patio. city living at 20pqr
Juan Torres and Gary Walker host a barbecue on their rooftop patio at 20PQR. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

TRAINS!: 20PQR lines up next to the freight train rail line that runs through midtown. Yet all 32 units sold within months of opening five years ago, a show of how strong demand is for for-sale urban housing. Some residents say they in fact enjoy hearing the rumble of the trains.

JUAN TORRES and GARY WALKER downsized to 20PQR from a suburban-style home that constantly required work. Now, their only toil is tending their veggie and herb plot in the community garden a block away.

juan torres and gary walker
Juan Torres and Gary Walker. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

“We wanted to downsize and have a less busy life,” says Walker. “We love it. The outdoor patio, you kind of forget you’re in Sacramento.” Adds Torres: “You walk to coffee, to the grocery store. The train noise? It’s part of the beauty of urban living. In fact, it puts me to sleep.”

The Frederic

the frederic
Tom Lopata relaxing in his apartment at The Frederic. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

The Frederic, which opened last year, straddles two worlds. Its front door is in the working world on stately Capitol Mall at Sixth Street. But it backs onto downtown’s playground, facing the L Street VIP entrance to the Golden 1 Center arena in DOCO.

PROFILE: The eight-story, 162-apartment building, named for Capitol architect M. Frederic Butler, is modest in stature but stylish in motif—a well-appointed project aimed in part at professionals in government or nearby law, architecture and lobbying firms. Apartments have chef’s kitchens with quartz countertops and plank flooring.

PRICE: The smallest available as of early July was a 559-square-foot studio at $2,086. The largest was a 1,116-square-foot 2-bed, 2-bath at $4,497.

rooftop at the frederic
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

WINE ON THE ROOF: There is an expansive rooftop gathering spot with outdoor movie venue, as well as a kitchen and nearby fire pits. Next to the patio is the 1848 Sky Lounge, with sliding glass doors, where residents have their own wine lockers. Downstairs, there is a bike room, mail package room with refrigerator, pet-wash station and 24-hour gym.

HISTORY: Decades ago, Sacramento razed residences to create Capitol Mall. The area since has been a dead zone at night and on weekends. The Frederic is the first step in bringing housing back. Plans are underway for high-rise residential nearby at Third Street and Capitol Mall adjacent to Crocker Park.

TOM LOPATA, a civil engineer from Massachusetts, lives on the sixth floor of The Frederic overlooking Capitol Mall. It’s the first time he’s lived in a downtown.

tom lopata
Tom Lopata. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

“I hear music and see people on Capitol Mall and I have to go down. There was a vegan festival and the food was really good. There was the Pride event. I went to the concerts. A few weeks ago, it was the World’s Strongest Man competition, come to find out. I had no idea. A guy was deadlifting a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was cool.”

West Sacramento

Santiago Chavez relaxing in his apartment at The Kind
Santiago Chavez relaxing in his apartment at The Kind. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

Perhaps the grandest urban renewal in the region is happening on a mile-wide swath of former industrial land on the Sacramento riverfront in West Sacramento.

PROFILE: Two distinct neighborhoods have formed. South of Tower Bridge is The Bridge District, anchored by a San Francisco-style enclave of glassy townhomes and by Drake’s: The Barn, a sprawling outdoor venue for food and beer. North of the bridge is the re-emergent Washington District, the city’s oldest residential area. Upcoming: condominiums on the bluff over the river across from Old Sacramento.

PRICE: You can spend $740,000 for a sleek glass-front home overlooking the curated oval Garden Park at Park Moderns. Or you can rent a workforce-friendly $1,300 studio loft at The Kind project.

Garden Park at Park Moderns in West Sacramento
Garden Park at Park Moderns in West Sacramento. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

MASTER PLAN: The riverfront offers urban living that is outdoorsy, even athletic. There’s a bike trail, a riverside promenade and a new pier that hosts yoga classes. The two cities want to turn the I Street Bridge upper deck into an elevated park (after a new car bridge is built nearby). Sutter Health Park is home to the Sacramento River Cats, the San Francisco Giants Triple A baseball team.

the kind apartments
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

SIGNIFICANCE: Sacramento and West Sacramento had blocked residents from living near the downtown riverfront, Sacramento with a freeway, West Sac with industry. Now, West Sac is rectifying that. Sacramento will follow suit with its upcoming railyards redevelopment.

The Kind apartments resident SANTIAGO CHAVEZ, a downtown restaurant worker living in his own apartment for the first time, has a corner loft with a view.

santiago chavez
Santiago Chavez. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

“I love how affordable it is. It’s dope. I looked around at other prices and honestly I feel grateful and lucky. It’s close to everything. I can take a scooter to work.”

JULIE YOUNG of Urban Elements, codeveloper of The Kind apartments, is an advocate for holistic neighborhoods.

julie young
Julie Young

“We are craving a slower, more provincial lifestyle. To work, shop and live in a neighborhood is the ideal of community health. This is how cities should work.”

Albright Village

Homes in Albright Village have open-concept living spaces on the second floor
Homes in Albright Village have open-concept living spaces on the second floor. Photo by Tyler Mussetter.

This slice of suburbia in the city is nearing completion at 13th and U streets in Richmond Grove, an under-the-radar downtown neighborhood. Albright Village takes its name after businessman Sidney Albright, who built custom cars on this spot a century ago.

PROFILE: The project consists of 14 Spanish-style, three-story, 2,000-square-foot homes. Each has 3 or 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths and two decks. Kitchens have large islands. Garages fit two cars. The signature touch: small front yards with picket fences.

PRICE: $850,000 and up.

albright village exterior
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

FAMILY AFFAIR: Bay Miry and wife Katherine Bardis-Miry, part of the development team with Reynen & Bardis, are parents of a toddler. They wanted to offer spacious downtown housing for young families as well as empty nesters. Elbow room is key. “We wanted to emphasize space for folks,” Miry says. “Giving them everything they need.”

NEIGHBORHOOD: Modest, historic Richmond Grove is one of the least trafficked neighborhoods on the central grid. But change is underway: Urban Roots Brewery & Smokehouse is around the corner. Bustling R Street is blocks away. And other new housing is popping up around S Street.

residents walking at albright village city living
Photo by Tyler Mussetter

IMPORTANCE: The central city lacks roomy new single-family, for-sale housing. Albright Village developers purposely are building fewer houses on the site than zoning allows. If successful, it could encourage more.

POINT OF VIEW: “It takes a page from 1930s courtyard housing we saw there,” says Sacramento’s urban design manager, Bruce Monighan. “It’s a traditional-looking design with a modern take. It feels like it belongs there.”

Envoy

envoy rendering

This high-end apartment building is under construction at 11th and J streets, two blocks from the state Capitol, with an opening date of spring 2023.

PROFILE: Envoy (a reference to diplomacy at said Capitol) will be a seven-story steel-and glass structure with 153 higher-end apartments as well as offices, retail and entertainment below. Expect it to become a home away from home for professionals who deal with state government.

PRICE: Developers are watching the market before setting prices. The building will include studios and 1- and 2-bedroom units, some with dens, from 500 to 1,050 square feet.

TRANSFORMATION: This is the long-awaited catalyst project for one of downtown’s most anachronistic and unsightly blocks, J Street between 10th and 11th streets. “We’re taking one of the worst sites downtown and transforming it . . . giving it that critical mass,” says developer Riaan De Beer of Anthem Properties.

URBAN VIEWS: There will be a communal amenity deck with fire pits, eating areas and some of the most architecturally rich views in the city. Residents will gaze from the rooftop or from their “Juliet porches” at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the elegant Elks Tower and the state Capitol.

envoy construction

LOVE FROM CANADA: Anthem Properties of Canada chose this site three years ago for its first housing foray in California, calling the capital city an under-the-radar place to live with a big upside. Anthem has since launched several other downtown housing projects and opened a local office, suggesting it hasn’t changed its original opinion about Sacramento.