The Visitor’s Guide To Sacramento
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I first wrote this post back in 2014 when Sacramento was hosting its first major track and field meet in quite some time to give new visitors some practical tips for visiting the town — where to eat, drink and run.
But even since USA’s three years ago, there’s a lot new in town. Sacramento has emerged as one of the fun mid-sized cities in the ilk of Austin and Portland, except with crappier music than Austin and crappier beer than Portland. As a result, a ton of Bay Area hipsters in search of cheaper rent have moved in, causing the inevitable spike in rent and making us longer-time residents to feel 😡. We also have a new downtown basketball arena. Thankfully it’s not basketball season so you’re spared from watching the awful Kings play.
Recently, I’ve been joined by new Sacramento resident Justin Britton. He’s provided some clutch recommendations here as well. So, without further adieu, here’s a guide of places to run, see, eat, and drink during your stay in California’s capital city. If you have any feedback, please feel free to tweet at us @RunLiao and @Justin_Britton.
Where to run
Sacramento is blessed to have the American River Parkway, a 32-mile trail system that runs along the aforementioned river. Many parts of the trail are shaded (great for the warm Sacramento summers) and include multiple trail options to run on including single track, cinder surface adjacent to the paved bike path, etc.
There are numerous locations where you can hop on the trail, including on the Sac State campus, at Cordova High School (recommended by Olympian and Sacramento resident Kim Conley), and at Rio Americano High School. There are bathrooms along the way (roughly every 1.5 miles, and it has dirt to run on along the outsides).
There’s also a good amount of parks in the area for shakeouts. Many are soft 1-mile loops.
McKinley Park is located downtown, with a soft 1 mile loop. Curtis Park is just outside of downtown, a 1 mile loop and is very shady. Land Park, a few minutes outside of downtown, is a running hotspot for locals. There’s a dirt path which you could get 3-4 miles on for one loop and a mile paved oval within the park. You could also run around the place where Kevin works, at the California State Capitol, just about 1 mile as well.
If you need to get on a track for a tune-up and Sacramento State is closed off due to competition, we recommend taking about a 20 minute drive out to Folsom Lake College. There’s a beautiful track with a few miles of warm-up trails right next to it, open to the public (with a $2 parking fee-except on the weekends!).
What’s better than brunch after a morning run?
The answer: nothing…and Sacramento has plenty of options to fulfill your mid-morning appetite.
Highlighting them all is Tower Cafe, located just south of the downtown grid and next to the the iconic Tower Theatre. Pretty much every choice at Tower is a solid option, but the French toast in particular is a can’t-miss item.
A new addition to the Sacramento brunch scene is Meet & Eat located by the aforementioned Land Park. Service is quick, coffee is tasty and the Eggs Benedict is their specialty, if you’re into that sorta thing.
Some people have a gluten intolerance, some people just like good food. Both of those people can enjoy the food that Pushkin’s Bakery and Pushkin’s Restaurant serve. The bakery is 100% gluten-free and the restaurant offers both vegan and non-vegan options. The bakery is a staple of Justin’s diet and has great breakfast sandwiches and lunch options, as well as baller treats. The restaurant is more entree, sit-down style and only recently opened.
You’re in California…so MEXICAN FOOD!
For all of you out-of-staters coming to California, you have to try our Mexican food. It’s no accident that a FiveThirtyEight analysis found 16 of America’s 19 best burritos were found here in the Golden you, Nate Silver, for reinforcing California is the best at…EVERYTHING.
In Sacramento, your best bet is Chando’s Tacos, which has a sit-down location not far from the track in addition to their downtown and Arden locations. If you’re looking to get a bit more off the grid, Lalo’s Restaurant is my favorite Mexican food joint in town (if there on the weekend, order the barbacoa lamb meat).
Plenty of places for a pre-race meal
Like in any major city, Italian/pasta joints are aplenty and are solid choices for a solid day-before-race meal. Places like The Old Spaghetti Factory and Olive Garden are safe (albeit boring) solutions.
The truest Italian cuisine experience can be found at Anthony’s Italian Cuisine. It’s the authentic, family-owned Italian joint that every town needs and loves.
For those who will be here for the whole week and might be staying in an AirBnB while you’re cooking for yourself each night, we highly recommend the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The local elite team, NorCal Distance Project, frequents this spot often as they serve the freshest produce and food in the area. What their biggest secret may also be is their burrito, in case you’re living on the wild side.
No matter if you’re from New York or Florida, you can appreciate good pizza and there’s one pizza spot in Sacramento that you have to try while you’re here. The Federalist (oh man, I’m drooling while I type this) has the best bread this side of the Rocky Mountains (I’ve fact checked this.) It’s midtown and easy to find, and has plenty of seating, a good amount of beer on tap and bocce ball for those who want to show off their ball tossing abilities. I think I eat here three times per month. Bring your pets inside, they’re cool with it.
Runners love coffee…
So there are plenty of places that get hyped up from Instagram pictures of lattes to just people hearing bad word of mouth references. I spend a lot of time in my week at coffee shops, editing pictures (Justin here, so hate on me with these choices if you care to) but don’t go to Temple more than once while in town, it’s over rated.
Here’s a few places that I recommend with some good vibes and savory java.
–Identity Coffee on the corner of 28th & O in midtown. Super friendly, and plenty of places to sit. My usual is a coffee in their funky mugs, but their affogato is too damn good not to try in this heat.
–Old Soul Co. is for sure a must-try while you’re in Sacramento. Couldn’t leave it off this post as its food is up there with the best in town and every time you go in there, you feel like you’re part of their family. There’s now three locations, Oak Park, midtown and by the Capitol.
–The Mill is a very swanky coffee spot, located just two blocks from the aforementioned Old Soul midtown. They make some killer lattes and have an outdoor patio which you may want to avoid in this weather, and a fair amount of seating inside too. If you want a snack while you’re there, go for their homemade waffle, it’s pretty damn good.
…and ice cream…
The two absolute go-to ice cream shops in town are Gunther’s and Vic’s. Ask any Sacramentan which of the two they prefer and prepare for a length debate. Try both and decide for yourself! If you’re feeling a bit Euro, Devine is the place to wet your pallet with gelato instead of ice cream in Sacramento.
If you’re a donut and ice cream fan, be sure to swing on over to The Parlor in the Fair Oaks district. Oh baby, you’ll cover your daily sugar allotment in the first few bites of their special ice cream in a hot donut pairing.
Similar but not in the ice cream category — the best place to wet your chocolate sweet tooth is Ginger Elizabeth. The hot chocolate is so good that it’s worth getting in this 100+ degree heat, trust me.
…and beer, too!
If you’re looking for great beer and great track conversation, you have to go to Citius Mag’s live shows at Hoppy Brewing Company after the meet every day.
But if you must go elsewhere, others spots to consider are Track 7 Brewing Co (h/t Kevin Yamamura), Pangaea Bier Cafe (vast selection of domestic and foreign brews on tap), New Helvetia Brewing Company, and Rubicon Brewing (tasty burgers and West Coast-style IPA’s).
Old Sacramento has preserved the Gold Rush-era part of town, everything from the mid-19th century architecture to horse-drawn carriages loping along on the streets. The area is full of shops and restaurants, and is also home to the California State Railroad Museum. Find a full list of attractions here.
This may not be necessary for anyone, but as we both can attest to, Jimmy’s Garage is the place to go to get your hair cut in Sacramento. Not only do they make you look better than you did when you came in, you also get a glass of beer on tap or wine if you’d like. A win-win for both parties.