When asked why they enjoy living in Sacramento, most residents (or 'Sacramentans') will tell you it's because the city is so close to everything else. If you want to go skiing, you can be on the slopes of Tahoe in two hours. If you want to gamble, you can be at a blackjack table in Reno in 90 minutes. If you want a big exciting city, San Francisco is just a couple of hours away.
Basically, Sacramento is a city for the type of person who walks into a Mexican restaurant, tries to decide whether they feel like a burrito, a quesadilla or a tostada, and then just leaves in a whirl of confusion, stating that they're not hungry after all.
The city has a light rail system that can take you cheaply from downtown into the outer reaches of Sacramento. If strapped for cash, you can actually ride it for free and just hope an inspector doesn't happen to be looking for tickets at that particular time. Of course, it's all quite irrelevant because there is absolutely nothing worth seeing outside the downtown area. The respectable bus system is also irrelevant for the same reason.
The centerpiece of this town is the state capitol1. Sacramento became the capital of California in 1854, and this is the only reason that the city is anything other than a place where you'd grab a quick snack while your bus was refuelling at the Greyhound station. In the year 2004, voters elected Arnold Schwarzenegger - star of the films Terminator, Predator and True Lies, among others - into office, thereby proving that maybe democracy wasn't such a great idea after all. You might get a peek of him at the capitol, but it's not likely. Entry to the capitol is free, as are tours, which meet on the basement floor.
Walking around the capital lawn, you will notice what is probably Sacramento's best feature. Food literally grows on trees here - if you make the effort of inclining your head upwards five degrees, you will see that the streets are lined with orange trees. You can make use of them as a free and refreshing meal. There are always plenty to be had, since the residents of Sacramento continue to buy their oranges in stores for reasons that are completely inexplicable to anyone with a working neck.
Leaving the capitol, you can walk about eight blocks west onto Capitol Way until reaching Tower Bridge. This bridge spans the Sacramento River, connecting Sacramento with West Sacramento. While at the bridge, you may hear a tremendous whirling alarm that would send most sane people running for cover under the nearest orange tree. No aerial attack is taking place, however. Instead, this alarm signals that the bridge is being raised to allow a boat through. It is a rather impressive sight, as the entire middle section of the bridge is lifted vertically into the air to make way for what is normally just the same steamboat going back and forth, carrying inexperienced hollering drunks on its bow. As you watch the massive section being lifted up, no more than a foot away from where you stand, the temptation can be quite powerful to leap onto the elevating portion and ride it to the top. This is inadvisable, unless you have enough money for bail. Even if you can afford the bail, this effort is - sadly enough - futile and pointless. The ride will last about two seconds before the bridge comes to a screeching halt, cars begin to honk and an alarm very different to the previous one (chiefly because you know it's directed solely at you) begins to go off. Instead of having the brilliant view of the river for which you had hoped, you will instead find yourself running back into the city while trying to avoid those damn cameraphones that seem to be everywhere nowadays.
Assuming that you get past the bridge without incident, the last stop of interest will be Raley Field, the park for Sacramento's minor league baseball team, the Rivercats. If you're into baseball, then this would be a good place to relax. If not, then it's still a good place to nap and/or hide out.
K Street and Old Town Sacramento
Only a few blocks to the north of the capitol and running parallel with Capitol Way is K Street. By day, this street is rich with oddities. Insane people, drunk people, drugged people, poorly-educated and just generally ill-behaved people: it has them all. Take your time strolling along the road and listen to the conversations - it'll save you the price of a movie ticket. After midnight, however, this street becomes completely empty. Take your time strolling along the road, listening to the sound of your footsteps mingling with the singing of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, which is piped in through overhead speakers all night long. If you have a partner, this is a great opportunity to dance in the middle of a road at two in the morning. If you're drunk and alone, it's also a great opportunity to dance in the middle of a road at two in the morning.
As you walk to the west, the street turns into an open-air shopping mall. By day, there is little to distinguish this mall from any other. At night, however, it takes on the same empty charm that K Street has. The escalators have stopped moving, the stores are all closed and the entire place is empty, but the mall is filled with the sounds of classical music. This bizarre environment makes it rather easy to imagine that the world has suffered a nuclear holocaust and you and your party are all that remains (especially at three in the morning with a headful of whisky). However, you are advised to keep the post-apocalyptic rioting to a minimum.
Finally, your westbound wandering will get you to Old Town Sacramento. This was once a gold rush town, but it is now just one more tourist trap masquerading as historical reality - unless, of course, gold rush towns were actually filled with sweet shops, pizza buffets and jewellery stores, in which case this representation is spot-on.
Sacramento is known as River City on account of its two major rivers - the American River and the Sacramento River. If it's some exercise that you're seeking, then nowhere is better than the American River, which is cleaner and more easy-going than the Sacramento River. Ignore the tales of drowning victims, and go for a swim. Even in the summertime, this water is freezing and it offers just the adrenaline rush that you will need after having been in Sacramento for too long. Keep swimming until numbness begins to set in. Then come back to the shore, grab some oranges and lay down on your towel for a pleasant snack and a nap.
If you're in town between September and January, you definitely want to try to get up to the Nimbus Hatchery at 2001 Nimbus Road. During this time, salmon return to their place of birth, after years of swimming in the Pacific Ocean, so that they can be clubbed in the head (if male) or slit open from head-to-end (if female) and the next generation can be born. It's quite a sight to see.
What's The Weather Like?
Sacramento has only one really severe season - summer. During this season, you will find great utility in a moistened towel wrapped around your neck. The heat is often unbearable, but the city offers a very simple solution to this problem (see River City - above).
Sacramentans will tell you that it rains all the time in the winter. Only an inland Californian would believe this to be true, however. It may rain once or twice a week during that time of year, but never to enough of a degree to severely dampen your spirits or your towel - as anyone who has ever hitchhiked through Ireland would most certainly agree.
Where Can I Grab A Drink?
There are two types of cities in the world - cities where you can trust in the local bars to keep you happy, and cities that are BYOB2. Sacramento is very much the latter. While a bar-crawl is not out of the question, it is advisable that you bring a bottle to keep you company on the trip. It is not unusual, especially on the weekdays, to spend the bulk of your evening walking up to bars, pulling on their doors, realising they are locked and then asking, 'What the hell kind of bar closes at 10pm?' Old Town Sacramento is your best bet, but even that's not always very reliable.
So Where's the Best Pizza Buffet?
Walk eastbound on K Street until you're within spitting distance of the Convention Center. To your right is the best buffet in town.
Are There Train Tracks?
There most certainly are. Walk about fifteen minutes north from downtown, and there are plenty to be found. If you're not fussy about direction, there's a 60% chance you'll be able to get a slow-moving train.
Warning: do not stay in Sacramento for longer than one month. Side-effects of such a stay will include alcoholism, excessive weeping and a fanatical devotion to syndicated television sitcoms.
Our thanks to Tav's Dad for the photograph.