During business hours, Marcia Eymann lives in the past, studying and celebrating Sacramento’s dynamic history. On weekends and evenings, however, she makes time to enjoy the city’s equally stimulating present—including its vivid street art and enviable culinary scene.
As far as she’s concerned, the combination of old and new makes for a perfect mix.
"Sacramento is a city that's rich in history, and this community truly embraces it,” says Eymann, who manages both the Sacramento History Museum and the Center for Sacramento History in her role as city historian. “There are so many people here who are multiple-generation Sacramentans, and there's a strong sense of heritage and community.”
Eymann always encourages visitors to experience different aspects of the state capital—ideally on foot. "The city is very walkable,” she says. “That's partly due to its lack of hills and also because of the grid, a street system that was set up in 1848. The streets run by numbers and letters, so it's really easy to get around."
It’s also easy to establish a basic understanding of the city’s formative years: “If you want to learn about Sacramento, go to the Sacramento History Museum and also go to Sutter's Fort, which is right by Midtown,” she says. “The fort was the first settlement within this region, founded in 1839. It was the beginning of what would become Sacramento. Also go to Old City Cemetery on Broadway. It's the oldest public cemetery west of the Mississippi River, and it's beautiful. It has a garden setting with raised plots and was designed to be Sacramento's first park. People from all over the world are buried there, and many of them came to Sacramento for the Gold Rush.”
Eymann enjoys strolling through Midtown, a roughly 12-by-22-square-block neighborhood that's filled with cozy cafes, sleek wine bars, and boutique shops. "It's always fun to walk around R Street—it has beautiful murals and great restaurants," she says. Along the way, stop for breakfast at Iron Horse Tavern, a cozy gastropub named for the locomotives that once roared along R Street. "They make a poached egg on hash browns that's delicious, and my husband loves their French toast."
Eymann also recommends a tour of Sacramento's "secret" neighborhood that's 25 feet below the sidewalks. "Most people don't know that Sacramento had to raise its streets and buildings because of severe flooding that took place in 1861 and 1862. As a result, Old Sacramento sits on a levee. The Sacramento History Museum's Underground Tours take you to these hidden places that you can’t see without a tour guide," she says.
The evening tour reveals a colorful version of the city's history, she says. "Sacramento was a rough-and-tumble Gold Rush city. The night tour tells the story of a tough city with lots of gambling and prostitution and not much law and order."
To get the full Sacramento experience, Eymann suggests a farm-to-fork meal with a view of the Sacramento River. "People are always surprised by the sight of the river in Old Town. You can get a great view from the balcony at Rio City Cafe. Or go to the Delta King riverboat and get a drink and some appetizers and sit out on the ship's deck. In the evening, you can see the lights up and down the river, and it's very relaxing."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Eymann says Sacramento visitors should try these can't-miss experiences:
Special-occasion dining: The Waterboy in Midtown is my favorite for a special dinner out. It's been around since 1996, and the food is amazing. Owner/chef Rick Mahan is a strong supporter of small local farms. The menu changes with the seasons, but it's always top quality ingredients. The dining room sits on the corner of Capitol and 20th and has huge windows, so you can watch people walking by.
Best bookstore: Locals will tell you that Time Tested Books on 21st Street is the bookstore to go to. They sell new and used books and have been around since the 1980s. It's owned by people who love both the classics and newer books. They hold a lot of book signings and readings, and they also carry vinyl records.
Take a sunset cruise: One of the prettiest sunsets I've ever seen is from a boat on the Sacramento River. People don't always realize how beautiful the river is, but when you take a boat ride, you see it. Sometimes you can even see sea lions going after the salmon. Hornblower has excursion boats that go out every day from the waterfront in Old Sacramento. Their sunset cruise is very popular, and they have daytime cruises, too.
Marvel at art: The Crocker Art Museum is a must. It's the oldest art museum in the western United States. Mrs. Crocker donated the family's private collection to the city. Probably the most famous painting is Sunday Morning in the Mines by Charles Nahl, which depicts the morality and depravity of mining camp life. The museum has a room with early California paintings that shows how artists saw the American West. They're loaded with mythic imagery. I love to go into the museum's original building—it's an incredibly beautiful Victorian that was the Crockers' home.
Savor a pint: Sacramento is famous for great breweries, but Track 7 Brewing Company is a favorite. The original Curtis Park location is near the old railroad tracks—that's where it gets its name. It looks like a huge warehouse inside. They make beers in all different styles and they're always changing the flavors. Their IPAs are really popular.