Springtime on the American River Parkway
Looking about Sacramento and the surrounding region, one can imagine tromping off in any direction and finding something great to do. No long distances need be trod to find a suitable jumping-off point or bucolic setting or placid scene. Or good food and drink.
Many of the individual opportunities are familiar and enjoyable on their own. Considered as a collective, it gets even more energizing. Take a fresh look, and it appears there’s quite an array, enough to fill even a long dance card.
Now that spring is upon us, let’s check out some of the possibilities.
Wine and picnic
Wine country starts close to home for Sacramento, and it welcomes people looking to focus on their favorite varietals as well as others looking for a relaxing day picnicking near vineyards.
Barely outside the city’s southern limits, venues such as Bogle and Scribner Bend wineries flank the Sacramento River, so regardless of what side of the stream one is on, it’s the right side. Several wineries are represented at The Old Sugar Mill, a converted monolith often alive with music, food trucks, special events, and room to picnic.
Wine picnic 1A: Go to a foothills wine country and settle in. Holly’s Hill is an especially picturesque Fair Play venue with views that roll gently across hillside vineyards, climb and come to rest on the high Sierra’s elevated eminence. Nourishment for the soul, even as that fine lunch and appropriate wine are consumed.
The Sierra foothills have several distinct wine areas, all close enough to Sacramento for a day of picnicking, wine tasting, even some general wandering around.
Downtown art walks
Second Saturday art walks put a spotlight on the creativity helping midtown’s heart beat, but that monthly communal event is not the sole opportunity to take in that which brightens and edifies the city.
Collections, both permanent and on loan at the Crocker Museum downtown, share the city with individual pieces that serve as accents throughout town. A massive mural on the underside of the Capital City Freeway at 8th Street between W and X streets is as enthralling as the numerous pieces of art on downtown utility boxes, primarily between 7th and 17th streets. The 12th Street underpass mural and other projects are part of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission’s cooperative efforts to elevate the city’s appearance. Work by noted artist Jeff Koons will appear outside the new downtown arena.
People looking for another kind of art might consider checking out the California Automobile Museum on Front Street. The collection of motor vehicles there is extensive, and the place remains somewhat of a hidden treasure.
River Cats on the green
Sure, it’s tougher to help the ump call balls and strikes, and Dinger is a much smaller image as he cavorts atop the dugouts, but staking out blanket space on the grassy knoll – known as Home Run Hill – beyond the right-field fence at Raley Field provides a more-than-satisfactory place for watching the River Cats play their Triple-A opponents during the Pacific Coast League season.
Fans there create a family-friendly community, spreading blankets that mark their territory and letting the kids loose.
Ticket prices vary slightly, but usually they cost $10 and are considered general admission, providing fans a panoramic view of one of minor-league baseball’s best venues.
The River Cats’ start the Pacific Coast League season on April 7 and play their first home game on April 15.
The paved Old Sacramento-to-Folsom route runs through a large portion of the American River Parkway along the park’s namesake river, overland east of Sacramento, back to the river up to Lake Natoma and beyond to its turnaround at Beal’s Point on Folsom Lake.
One of the best parts of the trail is the abundant places to have lunch or just relax and watch the water roll by. Oh, and the wildlife: deer, coyotes, squirrels, plenty of birds.
Know that the trail is but one cycling opportunity. Saddle up and head across the Tower Bridge into Yolo County, and the options multiply. Broad expanses of country road radiate from the city of Davis. Go south of that town, and it’s Kansas-like flatlands; head north and west and find orchard-lined roads, routes along creeks and a gateway into Winters and Lake Berryessa country.
Plenty of hiking opportunities exist close to Sacramento and only slightly farther afield, though still within do-it-in-a-day range. The following treks represent three distinct areas and with their own characteristics and charms.
▪ Climbing Mount St. Helens: The highest point in the wine country, the peak offers a challenging ascent on well-kept trails and some access roads, and a rewarding view at the top. Bonus: plenty of great places for nice refreshments in the area once the descent is complete.
▪ Choosing a favorite Quarry Trail Loop route in Auburn: Plenty of out-and-back options exist, but the 12-mile loop is the defining characteristic of the popular trail. So it’s great for just about everybody.
▪ Lagoon Valley Park is fine middle ground: Set between the twin sprawls of Vacaville and Fairfield, Lagoon Valley Park really is an oasis amid the bustle. As The Sacramento Bee's Jack Chang wrote: “It’s only slight exaggeration to say the park could keep the recreation-minded visitor busy for years. It’s that varied.” It’s also popular and, just 40 minutes from Sacramento, an easy drive.
Spring and fall are ideal seasons for dining al fresco in Sacramento, and eateries throughout the city’s reach – downtown, midtown, East Sac, Land Park, Pocket, and on and on – offer the opportunity to eat outside after the winter chill is gone and before the summer heat becomes oppressive, as well as appetite depressive.
In fact, most sections of town featuring restaurants and cafes have abundant outdoor dining options. The capital has embraced that style of eating out.
Birds at Cosumnes River refuge
Yes, the bird watching is excellent, but the Cosumnes River Preserve is also a great place to hike with the purpose of getting some exercise on the trails and boardwalks or to stroll and check things out at a more genial pace.
Sandhill cranes, those huge, ancient air beasts, can be seen in some numbers most of the year, but from fall until late winter they bring their strutting, loud-squawking, wonderful-wingspan act to the refuge and other valley spots in force. They aren’t overly skittish, and opportunities to get relatively close-up looks at them are frequent. Note: It can be a bit unnerving to stand flat-footed and be basically at eye level with a bird. Thrilling, but a little weird.
Spring? It’s when the preserve’s wetlands are swelled with runoff, new vegetation freshens the scene and wildlife raises the activity level to a nice hum.
Bonus: Heading south out of Sacramento on Interstate 5 or Highway 99 to Twin Cities Road exit off either freeway is the most direct route, but several country roads through beautiful green valley countryside do the trick, too. And it can be spectacular.
Old City Cemetery
It’s cool, and it’s cool, a place redolent of rich history and a tree- and shade-strewn setting that encourages shirt-sleave strolls for visitors paying respects as well as engaging the echoes of Sacramento’s Western past.
The Old City Cemetery Committee website provides links to names of notable people buried there, historical information about the place, information about guided tours as well as self-guided tours.
The website states: “Visitors will discover the burial sites of Sacramento mayors and California governors as well as memorials to Civil War Veterans, Volunteer Firemen and the victims of the 1850 Cholera Epidemic.”
The cemetery can be found at Broadway at 10th Street, between Muir Way and Riverside Boulevard.