Let's get right to the point. This is a great town for a holiday.
Stop it. Stop the eye rolling. This is serious.
Sacramento and the nearby hills, rivers, towns, farms, vineyards, the general blend of small-town roots and big-city zing, and the high-caliber food, wine, art, music, energy and easy sociability make this a very fun place to be a tourist, even if you live here.
So think of this as a guide to sightseeing near home, plus a way to have a little fun over this holiday, or any time that works.
First thing, don't go to the Capitol. When Aunt June and Uncle Ted come from Iowa, sure. Maybe. The building is impressive. The inhabitants? Maybe less so. Save the Capitol for when you want to hold a news conference.
Also, bag Old Sacramento. No offense, because there's lots going on there, some very good restaurants, a growing charm, some very nice people. Just saying: Think a little more broadly.
Instead, here are few different local vacationlike days to help see this region whole. First, the stay-in-town version:
Start with breakfast in the central city. You'll need nourishment. We have a big day planned. And Sacramento's core is both Victorian and vibrant a pretty swell combination and it may be at its best in the morning when the sharp light makes you see the trees and architecture and makes you feel the possibilities of the day. Where to go? Too many choices.
Thinking Sacramento classic? Fox & Goose is still legendary, so is Tower Café. A bit more upscale? Grange and 33rd Street Bistro are very Sacramento. Want something newer? Bacon and Butter, the Porch (on weekends) and Orphan near McKinley Park all have good food and a genial vibe.
Next stop, the Crocker Art Museum. If there is one place in this region that will erase those silly we're-not-major-league notions, it's the Crocker. The building by itself is world-class, with angles and views from every hall, corridor and nook that show a city outside the Crocker that is lively, contemporary and, well, cool.
Then, pop into one of Bee staff writer Allen Pierleoni's favorite city-center delis to provision for a picnic, or hit Taylor's Market on Freeport Boulevard, before you cruise through Land Park and the Sacramento Zoo. It is a great zoo. The place has a tropical air, so it feels like an excursion, and it's the right size for actually seeing the animals.
If you need some exercise after the picnic, walk, run, cycle, you name it, on the American River bike trail, as Bee staff writer Blair Anthony Robertson suggests. And really look around. This is one of the longest and best bike and nature trails in America running through the heart of a metropolitan area. It is a treasure.
Then finish the day in Historic Folsom. (Light rail lands right there, by the way.) It always feels like you're on vacation there, like it's far away and hidden, and the area is sprouting restaurants, pubs and wine bars. There's also a large building for parking, and it's free.
Or try a day in the Delta.
It's a jewel of a region with an almost-mystical nature to it. Does anyone you know go to the Delta enough? On the weekend start with breakfast at Freeport Grill. The town is barely off the freeway. Then there's the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, another eight minutes farther down the road. Central Sacramento is closer to the Old Sugar Mill maybe 20 minutes than to Folsom or Roseville or even Carmichael. The buildings are intriguing and majestic. Inside 10 wineries are represented. Enough said.
Next, just drive around the Delta. Take in the graceful landscapes, the way trees tie the sky to the levees, the farms and little bridges, the feeling that each home or town is a quiet outpost from urban life. Take in the reminder that we're close to this vast open place, quirky, serene, changeable and at the whim of nature. For dinner, think about Al's Place in Locke, famous for potent drinks, good steaks and throwing money to the ceiling.
On another day, go for the foothills.
All roads lead to somewhere great. Check out the rustic Gold Rush town of Ione, then have breakfast at Clark's Corner, Ione's unofficial village hub. Choices from there include wine tasting in Amador County up Shenandoah Road and a bit farther into Fair Play, or angling toward charming little Sutter Creek for a day (and maybe an overnight) feeling like you're in the old West.
Another foothill direction: Straight up Highway 50 to Placerville, breakfast at Sweetie Pies at the top of Main Street, wander Main Street for a shot of Hangtown charm, then wine taste in El Dorado County wine country around Apple Hill, down Pleasant Valley Road, maybe back to Fair Play, and looping down into Amador County.
No wine today? How about heading for the American River (when it's a bit warmer) and either paddling into some of the best whitewater rafting in California or wandering around Coloma and hiking the trails along the river where gold was discovered.
If you need a place to spend the night, Eden Vale Inn just up Lotus Road may be the best country inn in the region, or the state.
And yet one more foothill route:
Interstate 80 to Auburn, then north on Highway 49 to the sibling towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City. Grass Valley is the likeable throwback working town. Nevada City is more Victorian and quaint. Both are filled with shopping, inns, wine-tasting rooms, restaurants and lots of reasons to wonder why you don't live there. And Auburn and Nevada City have theaters that are on Bee staff writer Carla Meyer's list of favorites.
This can go on.
Pick your direction, pick your activities, pick whether you want foothills, mountains, rivers, farms, a bustling city, small towns, wineries, busy restaurants, elegant settings, cheery pubs, neighborhood joints, history, galleries, theater, art, places to dance, places to sit quietly, places to throw money at the ceiling, old school, new school, or just a really good sandwich and a local beer.
The point is, this is a great town for a holiday. Even if you go to the Capitol.