Take the capital of America’s most progressive state, let busy lawmakers work from home and Sacramento becomes a laidback town with big city dining and amenities for staycation fun. Toss in temperate weather, bargain hotel rates and lots of outdoor recreation and you’ve got a perfect place to relocate — temporarily or longer term — during the pandemic.
At our visit, wildfires in surrounding areas were under control. Days were packed with sunshine. (Full disclosure: we hear there’s fog in January.) Fall colors were peaking. What more could you ask for in a pandemic-era escape?
Affordable Sacramento Staycation Options
Sacramento is youthful and very affordable. We found dozens of hotels at every price point starting at $85 per night. We found lots to do in the outdoors. Californians say Sacramento is to biking as San Diego is to surfing because there are so many trails right in town. The broad, clean Sacramento River is ideal for kayaks and river rafting.
Being able to have an excellent, affordable and sustainable meal afterwards is a bonus that should not ignored.
Sacramento is All About Local
The Farm-to-Fork Movement began in Sacramento, also home to California’s largest Certified Farmers Market (several locations daily). With 165 types of produce grown on more than 1.5 million acres in the Sacramento Valley, Sacramento’s markets will teach the kids where their food comes from better than any science class.
Chefs often create seasonal dishes highlighting the freshest ingredients available but in Sacramento it’s a new religion. Look for the names of farms which supplied the ingredients next to menu items. When the obsession with food sources became mainstream around 2012 – yes, before the pandemic — the Visit Sacramento tourism team capitalized on their city’s rich food scene and by calling it “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.”
The name didn’t stick with locals, however, until 2017, when a water tower seen from I-5 was christened with the slogan “Welcome to Sacramento – America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.” It was painted over what used to say, “City of Trees” and the trees are still there.
Dining Sustainably on a Sacramento Staycation
By sustainable dining, we mean restaurants which support the community, serve locally sourced food and prepare food so well, they sustain their guests. A top pick is Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, whose chef, Patrick Mulvaney, was a pioneer of the farm-to-fork movement, now celebrated by an annual two-week food fair. Visit their brick building or landscaped patio for a meal to remember of the freshest Pacific salmon, grass-fed local beef, roast duck from Sonoma County or tomatoes – a local specialty – done many ways.
The story at Mulvaney’s B&L is perhaps typical of the tightly knit restaurant community. During the pandemic, chef Patrick and other local restaurants founded Family Meal Sacramento to serve meal kits to those in need, which in turn became a model for California’s programs for the food insecure.
Other Sactown Culinary Highlights
In the capital of a state known for its food-forward lifestyle there are many fine restaurants.
On L Street in Midtown, diners arrive by scooter to claim their outdoor tables at places like Aioli, a Spanish bodega known for tapas and paella.
Find delicious wines and cheeses at The Rind, where we sampled a rich vegetable mac n’ cheese and grilled Brie and prosciutto before going (almost) next door to Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates for truffles. Coffee lovers should start the day at one of the three Temple Coffee Roasters in town, where farm-to-cup sourcing and roasting is the motto.
A Sacremento Staycation Favorite Hotel
The modern Hyatt Regency Sacramento is perfectly located across from the Capitol. There’s room to play around the Instagrammable “People’s Park,” a topiary of local citizens parading around the front lawn. You won’t find a children’s program but all ages will appreciate the large heated pool and sundeck.
Rooms are business appropriate and very comfortable for families, with fast WiFi and all the amenities you’d expect from this upscale chain. There are several dining venues and a stylish sidewalk breakfast café where your teens might just spot California’s handsome governor.
Sacramento’s Public Art Scene
Sacramento, especially the Midtown and Handle districts, is easy to get around on foot. Alternatively, appreciate the urban art scene on an e-bike using the Lime app or find a scooter or e-scoot from Lime, Bird, Jump and other competitors.
Wide Open Walls, the non-profit that runs the annual street art festival in August, sponsors a lot of important urban murals; this map is pretty up to date so you can check them out.
We’ve also heard that Jenn McCoy at the Sacramento Tour Company will soon reinstate her running and walking urban art and culture tours.
Staycate, Recreate and Acclimate Outdoors and In
On bikes, lead your family to Old Sacramento along the waterfront. Park your bikes to avoid the jostle of original cobblestones in this national landmark Western town dating to the 1840s. Then, look for River City Queen, a classic paddlewheeler waiting to take tourists upriver.
Browse the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento History Museum, California Auto Museum and other small collections and house museums when they reopen.
Stay Fit, Stay Safe on a Sacramento Staycation
The city’s heart may be Capitol Park. A colonnade of palm trees surrounds this classic, 40-acre botanic garden. Stroll, scoot or bike among the enormous specimen trees that are well cared for and much appreciated. In fact, 14 of the labeled trees there are the largest of their species in the state – print it out and see if the kids can find them using this tree guide.
The California Capitol, built in 1874 and modeled on the Capitol in Washington DC, dominates the center. In post-COVID times, the capitol, museum and grounds will reopen to the public for guided tours.
For a longer workout, try long distance and non-traffic cycling on the mostly paved American River Trail which runs 32 miles along the riverbank up to the Gold Country.
It’s just one of the green spaces in a city that claims the most open space per capita of any American city.
And just as that water tower once proclaimed, Sacramento is still the City of Trees, where more trees than people make it an ideal staycation destination.
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