More than a season, summer in Sacramento seems downright timeless. There’s just something about those warm evenings when the Delta breeze carries a familiar scent that leaves you guessing whether it came from a block away or out of some childhood memory. It’s magic without the illusion, though, because summer always keeps its promises of barbecues and swimming pools, tomatoes and Concerts in the Park.
From the river to Raley Field, and from farmers markets to Southside Park, Sacramentans have their staple summer destinations, those (not so) secret spots they’ve made their own and will haunt forevermore. Naturally this time of year primes us for reminiscing, but especially this summer, as many Sacramentans believe our city is on the cusp of a new era, heralded by urban development and the opening of downtown’s crown jewel, Golden 1 Center.
New growth may be as cyclical as the seasons, but one thing is surer this summer: The perception toward Sacramento is changing, and with greater anticipation for what’s on the city’s horizon, Sacramentans will probably look back on the summer of 2016 as one to remember.
To remind us what little things and big events make Sacramento summers special, Sacramento Magazine asked a handful of locals to offer their suggestions, and share what they’ve enjoyed in summers past and what they’re looking forward to in the near future.
“ You get the perfect temperature around 10 or 11 o’clock (p.m.). And people come out of their house, come out from behind their Netflix, come out and get engaged, more involved. That’s when the Sacramento energy really thrives, when all these different cultures interact. People still have an opportunity to own their city, and I love that concept.—BEN BRADLEY
Other than a four-year stint in the Army, Ben Bradley has always called Sacramento home. He debated moving away, “but I realized I had to come back to my roots. I loved the energy here.”
Lobbying on behalf of the California Cannabis Industry Association by day, Bradley turns to organizing community events by night. “I say I have a 9-to-5, and then I have a 5-to-9,” he laughs.
What began with private parties and get-togethers has turned into a concerted push by Bradley to activate public spaces. “We own these streets,” he says. “With permits and door-to-door knocking, a neighborhood can take them back.”
That’s just what Bradley did last summer by organizing a family-oriented block party in the Alkali and Mansion Flats neighborhood of midtown. “We announced it as an open house in our neighborhood,” says Bradley. “We left it up to the people to make it what it is: food and music, bounce houses in the middle of the road, Slip’N Slides. I had adults begging for adult hour in the bounce house, but I wasn’t about to tell that to the kids.”
Bradley then helped organize a second and larger block party in August, inviting vendors and musicians. People are now reaching out to Bradley to help set up similar events in their neighborhoods. “Everyone wants this. They just don’t know how to do it.” He says there should be events popping up around midtown throughout the summer, and Mansion Flats will host another neighborhood block party on July 3.
Bradley is also bringing pop-up events to the parks. First Sunday begins at 1 p.m. each first Sunday of the month, “and every park is something different,” says Bradley. “It’s always changing locations so you’ll have to find it, but people invite each other” through a Facebook page that Bradley creates for each event. “There’s no rules, no expectations, just people showing up and having a good time,” with bounce houses, kickball, barbecues, yoga and jugglers.
“The thing about Sacramento summers, the days last forever,” says Bradley. “I get lost in it under the sycamores.”
When not organizing events, Bradley will spend his summer hours outdoors at places like Cesar Chavez Plaza during the Wednesday farmers market. “It’s our town square,” he says. As if on cue, Bradley, while sitting on the patio outside LowBrau, receives a hearty hello from a passing bicyclist. “LowBrau is one of the best,” he chuckles. “You’re surrounded by so much culture. Summer brings the people out.”
“ I love Sacramento summer nights. There’s nothing like it in the world, and especially early evenings. It’s that time when everybody desires to be out, when it cools off and people get on their bicycles and ride around.—SHELLY WILLIS
A Southern California native, Shelly Willis sits as executive director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, a city-county joint agency that promotes art by organizing and funding art education programs in schools, while allocating 2 percent of city and country construction costs to facilitate art in parks, libraries and public spaces.
Willis laughs that she’s more a fan of the arts than an artist herself, but the appreciation of art is a great impetus for gathering in the community.
There’s no shortage of art-related activities this summer in Sacramento, and Willis put together a short list.
“Sacramento Mural Festival is a seven-day event that starts Aug. 20, and will feature more than a dozen artists from Sacramento and around the world,” says Willis. “They’ll be painting murals on the alley (K and J street alleys between 15th and 28th streets), and it’s free.”
Willis recommends the second and third weekends in September to take free self-guided tours of dozens of artist studios through Sac Open Studios, or on July 9 attend Crocker’s Block by Block party at Colonial Heights Library.
Some smaller, off-the-grid suggestions done on your own time: public art installations.
There’s Poet Park in South Natomas Park, “which has beautiful public artwork commemorating the work of our past Sacramento poet laureates. Or you can even paint public artwork in North Natomas,” Willis continues. “There’s a giant book, open to people who want to make art in public. People in North Natomas love it, but other people don’t necessarily know about it. In front of North Natomas Library, it faces the street, 10 feet tall and 14 feet wide, and anybody can paint on it.”
Willis also suggests the Franklin Urban Plein Air project, with several dozen artworks installed along Franklin Boulevard.
Lastly, Willis says take light rail south from Cosumnes River College Station. “Visit the artworks along the way. The stations recently opened this year, and there are four major projects by three artists along that route,” says Willis. “One artist, David Best, is really interesting. He used to do the temples at Burning Man, and this is one of the first permanent pieces he’s ever done. I don’t think it’s gotten any attention here in town, and I love it.”
“Generally Second Saturday is always a reason to get on your bike or walk and gather,” says Willis. “We also have two labs, and take them to Sutter’s Landing to swim, or we’ll walk along the levees in the early-morning hours and bird-watch just across the causeway at Vic Fazio sanctuary.”
“ If you want to do something, want to have some significant impact here, you can get in on the ground floor easily. It just takes a little reaching out, and there’s always something going on in the summer.—DEMETRI GREGORAKIS
Demetri Gregorakis grew up in Sacramento, though he began traveling the world in his teens. “I have family in Greece, so that made it easy,” he admits. Probably inspired by Europe’s vivacious nightlife, the co-owner of Blackbird Kitchen influenced the downtown restaurant’s decidedly nocturnal turn by incorporating more visual art and music. And it suits him: Gregorakis’ dream is to open his own nightclub.
For Gregorakis, the wonder of a Sacramento summer night is its unpredictability, the ability to start in one restaurant or bar and end up in an entirely new environment. The unexpected can happen.
Case in point: “I’ve spent an entire party naked,” Gregorakis laughs. “Nobody else was, but it was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. There’s photos to prove it, but mostly censored I hope.” Warm summer nights—yeah, it makes sense.
His usual start to an evening? “My favorite things are Shaun Slaughter’s parties. He’s a DJ who’s been around about 10 years. He’s a Sacramento staple.” Gregorakis also likes the THIS Midtown block party at LowBrau. “It’s on Second Saturday, and they close the whole block off, just like for farmers market, but at night.” The event features local and world-renowned DJs like Satin Jackets from Sweden.
“There used to be a huge house party scene in midtown, three or four nights every week, bands coming through.” That scene, says Gregorakis, “has kind of lived on through the artists. I always end up at Flop Haus on 21st and I. It’s this giant three-story Victorian, and a bunch of artists live there. One guy, everybody calls him Bear, is a professor at Sac State, and he’s used his street-level windows to create art installations.”
“In a way, you need to know the right people to get in,” but Gregorakis also admits Sacramento is still small enough that networking is easy. “If you just happen to be in the area, look up and if there’s someone there, ask to be let up and they’ll buzz you in. You meet the most random beatnik artists up on that patio.”
For the places you won’t need a secret handshake, “Shady Lady Saloon is unique and the aesthetic amazing—old world, Prohibition. Or Kasbah Lounge on J Street is this Moroccan place, so you sit along the walls, and there’s cool food and music, hookahs and belly dancing.”
Also, Blackbird will host alley parties throughout the summer, “with some kind of live art, and Shaun Burner always curates our parties.” Gregorakis says they’ll update events through Facebook.
Though Gregorakis admits he’s usually in bed during the day, he’s sure to visit Ponderosa Way Bridge above Auburn. “It’s like a swimming hole up Highway 49. There’s a bridge that people jump off. You’re not supposed to, but people do it anyway. It’s my favorite daytime summer spot.”
“We live in all times—not just our own—and one of the appeals of living in a city is that a walk through the city is a walk through time.—WILLIAM BURG
A volunteer at Preservation Sacramento and Sacramento County Historical Society, as well as author of six books on Sacramento history, William Burg first moved to midtown to be a part of its burgeoning music scene. That was 23 years ago, and back then “coffee shops were open until well after midnight, with an all-ages punk show,” he says. In other words, yeah, Sacramento’s growing, but it’s not like it hasn’t been there before.
He points to the West End, a neighborhood mowed down to make room for Capitol Mall. According to Burg, the West End had 5,000 residents and 127 bars at one point. Now that’s thriving nightlife, and they didn’t even need an arena.
A short talk with Burg and you’ll probably never look at Sacramento city streets in quite the same way. “People love buildings like WAL and Shady Lady, but don’t realize it’s a preservation building,” says Burg. History, he says, “is about city life, stories and people and events just as much as architecture. The buildings are just the tangible link to the past.”
Warm summer strolls are a perfect way to explore Sacramento’s history, and Burg quickly concedes the staples: Old Sacramento, California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento History Museum and Underground Tours, all of which will keep you relatively cool. But summer’s big historical event is Preservation Sacramento’s annual home tour on Sept. 11. This marks the tour’s 41st year, “but this will be the very first time we leave the grid,” says Burg. Participants will be welcomed into historic homes in Elmhurst, an architecturally dramatic neighborhood along T Street between Highway 50 and UC Davis Medical Center.
For those looking to find stories on their own time, Burg suggests downloading the Sacramento Heritage Walking Tours app. “There are three tours downtown, with a geolocation and map that tells you where they are, and you can click on them to find out more about the buildings. By this summer we’ll add three more tours,” continues Burg, “one called the Lavender Heights Walking Tour, talking about LGBT history in Sacramento, and another downtown tour that focuses on jazz clubs.”
Otherwise, Burg says there’s no place in Sacramento where its history is closer to the surface than the Southside Park neighborhood. Old Ironsides is Sacramento’s oldest bar, the first to get a license after Prohibition. St. Andrew’s AME church is the oldest African-American congregation on the West Coast, and the oldest mosque in the Western United States is in Southside at 411 V St. “It started in the late 1940s. The imam here and an imam of a mosque in Detroit have a friendly rivalry,” says Burg. On the north end of the park is Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (711 T St.), which is also the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “And if you walk up S Street, St. Elizabeth is one of the few Portuguese Catholic churches in America, and one of the oldest.”
Lastly and enthusiastically, Burg recommends Osaka-Ya— and not just for the shaved ice. “It’s the last trace of Sacramento’s Japantown,” he says, adding that on Aug. 13 and 14, the Buddhist Church of Sacramento hosts its 70th annual bazaar (buddhistchurch.com), featuring Japanese cultural performances, arts and cuisine.
To keep afloat history’s current, pick up one of Burg’s books at Beers or Time Tested Books, and join the mailing list at preservationsacramento.org.
“I’m having a good time testing out recipes and posting them on Instagram. It’s gone from like 200 followers early last year to about 37,000 people checking out my homemade burgers. I’m trying different ideas, but putting potato salad on one wasn’t my best idea.—RODNEY BLACKWELL
Before Rodney Blackwell started Sacramento Burger Battle, he was working from home, running an online forum for the T-shirt industry. As his business grew, “I found myself eating out more and more, which is how I learned about the Sacramento food scene. I’m a relative newcomer but looking at things with fresh eyes,” says Blackwell.
Blackwell likely has dined at every eatery on (and maybe even off) the grid while consulting for restaurants, “doing some marketing and building websites.” Other than that, says Blackwell, “I just eat—eating hamburgers, that’s pretty much it.” Burgers are Blackwell’s bread and butter, and there’s no better symbol for summer than patties on the grill. But if you ask the man behind Burger Junkies, essentially the bible of burger blogs, why he’s excited for summer, he’ll tell you, and no beef: It’s tomatoes. When they’re ripe, says Blackwell, “it’s like the official start to summer.”
“Tomatoes are what I look forward to every year. That’s coming from somebody who years ago wouldn’t eat a tomato, wouldn’t even look at a tomato, but now will go to farmers markets just to eat them straight.”
His favorite dish is tomatoes and mozzarella at Mulvaney’s B&L in midtown. “When tomatoes come in season, they do a dish like a deconstructed Caprese. They make fresh mozzarella in house, slice up tomatoes, add sea salt, basil and a little olive oil—it’s the best dish. I look forward to it every year. In Sacramento, we’ve got tomatoes like no other place in the world, heirlooms you can eat straight or sliced in a BLT.”
Blackwell looks forward to Sacratomato Week (July 18–23), which includes a family-friendly festival with a tomato theme at Sutter’s Fort.
It’s not all about tomatoes and burgers. The father of three frequents Gunther’s for ice cream, Osaka-Ya for shaved ice. “They’ll keep you cool for those hot days,” he says, as will a dip in the pool. “There’s a water park in Elk Grove called Morse Park; it’s called the spray ground. It’s free for kids, with hoses and colorful tubes the kids can climb under. It was actually a volunteer effort built five or six years ago, and my kids call it ‘Daddy Park’ because they saw me out there helping out.” Even though they have their own pool, they prefer visiting Wackford Complex, also in Elk Grove, “with three different pools and diving board. It’s almost like going to a coffee shop, seeing people you know.”
For Blackwell, a self-professed introvert, food and summer translate to community. “Food was one of the things that helped me get out more. Everybody’s gotta eat. People can talk about food. It’s something fun that I can connect with another person on.”
You’d better believe he’ll be connecting with restaurants’ new burgers on the daily, which you can follow on Instagram (@burgerjunkies). Then you can go to Cesar Chavez Plaza on Sept. 15 for Sacramento Burger Battle to try them for yourself and to see which comes out on top.
“This is the last summer on the cusp, and I think people should be looking for new things that will help solidify Sacramento as this new place. After summer the arena will open, so it’s a big summer of anticipation.” —TRE BORDEN
After high school, Tre Borden left Sacramento and never thought he’d be back. In New York, the Yale graduate launched a tailor company and worked as party reporter for New York Magazine. He returned to Sacramento in 2008 to complete an MBA at UC Davis—and he’s glad he did.
A place-making consultant and producer (“building bridges is probably what I do best”), Borden facilitated urban art projects Bright Underbelly and Portal and curated the arts at Warehouse Artist Lofts. Borden was named Metro EDGE Young Professional of the Year in 2015.
“The events I’m excited about are the events that will brand Sacramento as a new second-tier city,” says Borden, citing the opening of The Barn in West Sac and the August opening of Railyards Boulevard, which will “basically take the grid and make it a third larger.
“One of the things I’ll be doing for sure,” he continues, “is spending time on the riverfront.” In particular, he has his eye on The Dune, which could be open by late summer. “The West Sac waterfront used to be covered in sand dunes, so Kimberly Garza, a landscape architect, had an idea to design a raised platform on the riverfront, like an urban beachfront.
“There’s also going to be a movie filmed here this summer by Greta Gerwig, an indie darling and Sac native. It’s a fictional account of her senior year in high school. Aug. 15 would be first day of shooting.” Actors Saoirse Ronan of “Brooklyn” and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” are involved. Borden hopes the shooting of the feature film in Sacramento will galvanize its film industry.
Borden also chairs Sacramento LGBT Community Center’s 30th Anniversary Pride Awards, held June 29. “This year we’ll have it on Capitol Mall,” says Borden. “It’s the first-ever gala and fundraiser to be held there.”
Summer is all about getting out and about, and Borden recommends checking out Sacramento’s food truck events (sactomofo.com). “It’s an opportunity to eat at someplace less established, plus it takes you to all kinds of different neighborhoods.”
“ It was a grassroots effort to bring the Kings from Kansas City. The River Cats have been the best-performing, highest-attendance minor league baseball team consistently since they launched. And now we’re seeing it with Republic FC.—ERIKA BJORK
Erika Bjork confirms, “I am definitely a sports person,” and good thing, too—for the vice president of marketing and communications for Sacramento Republic FC, it’s probably in the job description.
“Like most California kids, I played AYSO, but I can’t claim to be a soccer aficionado by any stretch of the imagination,” she laughs. “But there’s not a person out there who didn’t play soccer as a kid or isn’t a soccer dad or mom now.”
Compared to fans around the world, Americans generally have been late to the game, though Sacramentans are making up for lost time. Founded in 2012, Republic FC not only won a championship in its first season but has had the highest attendance during the last two years among 29 national teams. Bjork says Sacramento fans are loud and faithful, and with the new arena’s advent and a potential Major League Soccer stadium looming, Sacramentans have much to anticipate this summer.
First, there’s the pitch. Whether it’s a fastball at Raley Field or the grass at Bonney Field, fans can catch either in Sacramento all summer long.
A native of the Bay Area (which is home to AT&T Park, arguably one of the best parks in the nation), Bjork still claims, “Raley Field is one of the best places to watch a baseball game anywhere, and a great atmosphere for families.”
“There are three things that bind people to a place,” continues Bjork. “Civic amenities, like parks or arenas or museums. Then there are natural attributes, like the beauty of a place or its weather, and there’s also diversity. Sacramento has all three, and while I might be a little biased, I think match day for Republic FC is a great way to experience them all.”
Come game day, suggests Bjork, grab a bite and a beer with friends, then bike to Bonney Field, which offers free parking for bicyclists. Also, get ready for some summer playoffs, Sacramento. “Right now we’re on a similar path and record as we had our first year when we won the championship,” says Bjork.
Baseball and soccer don’t have monopolies on Sacramento summer sports. “Discovery Park is a launch facility and was one of the sites for Bassmasters [Elite Series] last year. I’m not a fisherman so to speak, but it’s a huge pastime both from a cultural standpoint and the history of Sacramento. The California Delta—we’re essentially smack-dab in the middle of it,” says Bjork, “which is great for floating, river rafting, waterskiing or just floating around on a boat.”
Baseball and hotdogs, bikes and Bonney Field, boats and the Delta—it doesn’t get much better. Otherwise, says Bjork, “living here for 20 years, one of the things I love most about summer is its evenings. It’s hot during the day but, man, when that sun goes down, there’s nothing like it.”