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basingstoke2 Jul 31st, 2010 07:01 PM

Quick Trip to Sacramento
I just came back from a quick, 2.5 day business trip to Sacramento, so this is just a few impressions from a first timer.

Arriving about noon, the airport shuttle to the hotel was very easy to find, and surprisingly inexpensive ($13) to the Hyatt Regency, downtown. My first impression riding in was mixed and the city seemed fairly empty, there were not nearly as many folks walking around as I thought there would be in a city of that size at that time of day. Settling in the hotel, picking up my meeting registration and making sure things were in order for my presentations the next two days took a couple of hours, and I was ready to tour. This first timer thought he would start with old Sacramento and the walk there seemed to be about a mile - just right. Turning right out of the hotel, it is a pretty straight shot down L until you have to detour a bit to find the underpass to get past the highway - some of the streets seemed a bit seedy though. Through the underpass, you come out right in the heart of things.

Old Sacramento was pretty much as expected after reading some guides, a mix of restaurants, souvenir shops and other tourist oriented businesses. The buildings were interesting and the wooden sidewalks gave everything an old west flavor. The museums was already closed so I gave myself a thorough tour with the idea of checking out restaurants for dinner. I nearly settled on the Firehouse, an upscale well-known restaurant that I had heard of back east, but wasn't feeling very upscale that afternoon and thought it would be nice to try a "fun" place. I had noticed when walking on Front Street, that Joe's Crab House seemed to be very popular. Crabs are good when you dine alone, since they occupy so much of your attention. Snagging a table after a bit of a wait, I ordered a Dungeness - Snow Crab combo. Service was fine and the IPA ale washed the spicy crabs down well. The Dungeness crabs were especially good- the portion was huge and came with corn on the cob and new potatoes.

Leaving the restaurant, the sun was beginning to set, and I was surprised to see that most of the shops had already closed. Retracing my steps to the hotel was kind of spooky, There were very few people on the streets and many of those that I saw seemed to be vagrants. I was hit up for change at least half dozen times before reaching the hotel.

The next day was a work day. With a two hour lunch break, I decided to walk in the park surrounding the capitol building and take the tour. IMO, Sacramento has easily the most beautiful capitol building and grounds in the US, and I have seen most. The grounds are spectacular, with giant specimen trees of all kinds and most are labeled. The Cedars were particular favorites. The capitol building reminds of the nation's capitol in DC. The free tour of the capitol building did not disappoint. Our guide was a font of knowledge, eager to convey it and entertaining as well.

After the day's work was done, I thought to turn left out of the hotel this time and see what there was in that direction. What a difference! Tree lined avenues, lively with people and so many attractive looking restaurants that my decision would be a tough one. The hotel is on 12th street and L and I walked a zig zag pattern between L and J until 28th street and an enjoyable walk it was. Almost every street had several restaurants with outdoor seating and most were full of folks seeming to have a fine time. Doubling back at 28th I decided on the Aioli Bodega on 18th and L, a restaurant of Spanish cuisine - a cuisine that I grew to love on several trips to Spain. We have a Spanish restaurant back home, but they seem to be few and far between. I managed to get a table in the back garden, next to a fountain. There were so many good sounding things on the menu that it was hard to make a choice. Passing on tapas, I tried to make up my mind between the braised lamb shank and the skirt steak. I chose the steak, simply because it came with an interesting sounding salad of arugula and fennel. It was perfectly done and the salad was a delicious combo indeed. The dinner was accompanied by what might be the best sangria I have had. Service was attentive.

The next morning brought a problem. I awoke with a flair up of a condition I have had several times, so knew the early symptoms well. Off in a taxi to the ER to see if my self diagnosis was correct - it was. The ER at Sutter General Hospital seemed more efficient than most - a good thing because I had another presentation to do later that afternoon, and before too long, I was off with a new antibiotic Rx that was quickly filled at the CVS
at J and 17th. Walking back to the hotel from there, I stopped for lunch at a place called Cafeteria, which it obviously was not, but a very attractive restaurant with seating in a lovely courtyard. They serve one hell of a good Cobb Salad and I recommend it. The tomatoes are marinated and the bacon bits are of the thick cut Irish variety- I nice touch.

That evening, my final in Sacramento, began with just sitting and reading in the park and walking around looking at the specimen trees, wending my way in the direction of the previous evening. I came upon the Peace rose garden and a beautiful find that was. The parks surrounding the capitol building are nearly worth a trip Sacramento just in themselves. Dinner was a no brainer, I had to try the lamb shank that I skipped the night before at the Aioli. This time I sat indoors because there was a fine guitarist playing classical Spanish music. The braised lamb shank was FANTASTIC! It was falling off the bone tender and covered in white beans and a sauce that the menu said was based on tomatoes, but tasted like it was based on roasted red pepper. Of course, that wonderful, beautifully spiced sangria had to come with it. As a last night in Sacramento treat, I tried the flan, and it was perfect - rich, light, creamy, and not overly sweet, just sweet enough, what flan should be, but so often is not.

My overall brief impression of the city is that it is a place that I would like to visit again. It reminds me some of my local Washington, DC as a mix of beautiful and somewhat seedy areas just streets apart, but like Washington, there seems to be much to do, fine dining and worth a visit.

SEW Jul 31st, 2010 08:22 PM

I enjoyed reading your trip report as i used to work in the vicinity of Aioli and often walked the perimeter of the Capital at lunch and was often taken inside on business. i always thought it was a beautiful building but have since moved to Wisconsin and toured the capital building in Madison and was even more impressed than I was in California.

Sacramento will always hold a place in my heart and you saw some of the best.

Hope your health rebounded and you are able to make it back

basingstoke2 Aug 1st, 2010 06:38 AM

SEW - thank you for your concern. Yes, I made it back just fine thanks to starting antibiotics early.

Daniel_Williams Aug 1st, 2010 07:52 AM

basingstoke2-- Thanks for this lovely trip report on a rarely-discussed destination (which I think makes your report quite useful for prospective travellers). Sacramento is a city that has piqued my curiosity but I've not yet bitten.

janisj Aug 1st, 2010 05:31 PM

Nice report and good that you are OK..

But - You should have told us :( -- there are a LOT of Fodorites in Sacramento. We could have pointed you to mid town in the first place (and away from walking L/K streets to Old Sac ;) )

Next time a GTG is in order!

MichelleY Aug 1st, 2010 06:11 PM

Yes!! Let us know when you are in Sacto again so we can plan a mini - GTG!!

Thanks for the report.

basingstoke2 Aug 2nd, 2010 06:43 AM

DanielW - thanks for the kind words. All in all, I found Sacramento a most pleasant place and it seems to be a good jumping off point for day trips to places like the gold country and even Tahoe.

janisj and MichelleY - A mini GTG would have been nice, even with the very limited time I was there. Perhaps next time whenever that may be. I am curious though and perhaps one of you would know - I was told that the top floor of the Hyatt Regency serves as the governator's home in Sacramento - Is that true? I asked hotel staff and they would neither confirm nor deny and the elevator button to the top floor does not operate, so it sounds like it might be.

janisj Aug 2nd, 2010 10:48 AM

He does stay at the Hyatt when in town (there is no state-owned Governor's house/mansion)

Dayenu Aug 2nd, 2010 01:30 PM

But there is a Governor's mansion, or is it like a museum now?

janisj Aug 2nd, 2010 01:54 PM

It is a large Victorian house and hasn't been lived in since 1967 (it is now a museum/state park).

Governors from the mid 60's up to Arnold either lived in small apartments (Jerry Brown) or in homes bought by foundations that donated them for use by the Governor's family (everyone else)

Maria and the kids never moved full time to Sacramento so there was no need for a full time family home.

Every few years there is a push to build a Governor's Mansion bu so far nothing's stuck . . .

Dayenu Aug 2nd, 2010 04:27 PM

First we need a governor who deserves a mansion :)

janisj Aug 2nd, 2010 05:08 PM

Well, that has been the case for nearly 44 years -- so it isn't an incumbent-specific situation :)

basingstoke2 Aug 2nd, 2010 05:13 PM

Who does your crystal ball say is going to win?

janisj Aug 2nd, 2010 05:37 PM

Right now - today -- probably Meg. But Jerry has a way of winning when it isn't expected.

Brown is slightly ahead in the polls (but w/i the margin of error) but w/ the big Democratic edge in registration that isn't good news for him.

Amie Aug 2nd, 2010 05:44 PM

You have a nice writing style and a great sense of adventure. Thanks for letting others know of another city to visit; it is not on my list but it is after your description.

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