Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga named the Sacramento River and Valley for the Holy Sacrament, a land where “canopies of oaks and cottonwoods, many festooned with grapevines, overhung both sides of the blue current. Birds chattered in the trees and big fish darted through the pellucid depths. The air was like Champagne.”
A Swiss settler, John Sutter and later his son, helped make the area a commercial success, beginning with a trading colony in 1839. The town grew quickly in the 1850s, downstream as it was from gold strikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and became the California state capital in 1879.
Between 1927 and 1940, the Delta King steam paddle boat made daily trips between San Francisco and Sacramento, a Prohibition-era journey of almost 11 hours, with drinking, jazz bands, gambling and fine dining. Refurbished and permanently moored along the Old Sacramento riverfront, it’s again a city icon, with a 44-room hotel, two restaurants and two dinner theatres.
Established in 1885, the Crocker Art Museum is one of California’s leading art institutions, with fine collections of Californian, European, Asian, African and Oceanic art, plus international ceramics works and many touring exhibitions. The Sacramento Zoo, in shady William Land Park, has hundreds of rare and endangered animals, including primates, lions, tigers, kangaroos, giraffes, birds, amphibians and reptiles.
The gayest neighbourhood is in Midtown. Lavender Heights, around pedestrian-only K Street, has a number of bars and restaurants, along with some art galleries, museums and shops. Area stages include the Crest Theatre and the California Musical Center.
Local colleges, including Sacramento State University, contribute to a youthful and energetic scene in this place the locals call “Sactown.”
The Tower District, one of Sacramento’s oldest neighbourhood commercial areas, is anchored by the old art-deco-style Tower Theatre, now a cinema. Ethnic restaurants and specialty shops make the area a favourite of residents in nearby Land Park, Southside Park, Poverty Ridge and Sierra Curtis — and of out-of-towners, too.