Mention northern California and sweet memories of past visits to San Francisco and the Sonoma and Napa valleys drift through my mind.
This trip would be different though. Rather than repeat past performances, it was time to expand our horizons and explore other communities in the area.
A PROUD LEGACY
One hundred and forty-five kilometres northeast of San Francisco, Sacramento, California’s state capital since 1854, sits at the confluence of the flood-prone Sacramento and American rivers. It was near here in January 1848 that James Marshall discovered gold in the American River, which triggered the Gold Rush frenzy in the mid-1800s. Soon, despite warnings from native residents, canvas tents occupied the riverbanks and boats were so plentiful people could cross the river without getting their feet wet.
And then, in 1850, a devastating flood washed everything away. Determined to stand their ground, residents built levees to protect their settlement from future floods. Gradually, wooden structures replaced tents and Sacramento began to take shape. In 1861–2, torrential storms dumped more than 30 inches of rain, creating a vast lake. For nearly three months, Sacramento remained under water. The only solution was to destroy what was left of the levees so the water could drain, taking many structures and belongings along with it. Once again, refusing to abandon their city, Sacramentoans banded together to reroute the American River to the north, build stronger levees and made an unbelievable decision in 1864 to raise the city’s business district as much as four metres! One by one, buildings were hoisted as much as 15 to 20 centimetres a day. By 1878, the work was completed. Today, visitors can tour the Sacramento History Museum and take a fascinating underground tour.
Another delightful experience was our stay aboard the Delta King Hotel, a vintage riverboat moored in Old Sacramento. The 88-cabin riverboat and its sister ship, the Delta Queen, commuted between Sacramento and San Francisco from 1927 to 1940. Years later in 1984, the Coyne family purchased the partially submerged boat and, after five painstaking years, reopened it as a beautiful 44-room floating hotel with an award-winning restaurant, a bar and grill, a theatre and a wine school.
If you just plan to spend time in Old Sacramento, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, museums and attractions to keep you entertained for days. However, Sacramento is a delightful, easy-to-navigate walkable city. A three-kilometre stroll along L Street took us to midtown where more boutiques and restaurants abound. Along the way, we stopped in at the State Capitol where tours are conducted every hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A little beyond at L and 26th Street, we toured Sutter’s Fort, built in 1839 as a trading post. On another outing, we spent hours at the Crocker Art Museum, the oldest west of the Mississippi. Built in the 1880s, it now displays paintings, pottery and more, however, the stunning mansion itself is definitely worth a gander.
HUB OF THE BAY
A relaxing, two-hour Amtrak train ride from Old Sacramento brought us to our next stop—Oakland. Once a centre of urban strife—the Black Panther Movement started here—this city across the Bay from San Francisco has quickly emerged into a centre of urban cool. The weather is better here too. If it’s foggy in Frisco, chances are it’s warmer and sunny in Oakland. Deemed the “sunny side of the Bay,” the city averages 260 sunny days a year.
Perhaps the catalyst for Oakland’s resurgence began with the restoration of the art deco Fox Oakland Theater in 2009. Refurbished to its former glory, with a gilded stage, a Tiffany-style glass dome and Moorish ceiling designs, the theatre is a fine arts school by day and hosts some of the world’s best performers by night. The theatre’s rebirth encouraged an influx of boutiques, restaurants, bars and a Monday-night food market with live music and food trucks into the Uptown district. In addition, low rents and the city’s ethnic diversity began to attract new residents, among them top chefs, cutting-edge entrepreneurs and innovative business people who put Oakland in the spotlight.
Crowds gather at Jack London Square to enjoy fantastic vistas of the Bay and the many dining, drinking and shopping venues along this dynamic waterfront corridor. We came upon Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon (c. 1883) where author Jack London made notes for his future books. Adjacent to Heinold’s stands a recreated model of the cabin Jack London lived in during his Yukon days. Of course, we had to check out Oakland’s Urban Wine Trail to sample some of California wine country’s finest. For evening entertainment, head over to Yoshi’s, a jazz club and Japanese restaurant, which has hosted the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr. Reservations are definitely required.
From Jack London Square, it’s an easy stroll up Broadway through the Old Oakland, Downtown and Uptown districts. Better yet, hop on board Oakland’s free Broadway shuttle.
At the Oakland Museum of California, two exhibitions caught our attention. One documented front-line movements that created the state and another provided an insightful contemporary view on the legacy of the Black Panther Party. Admission is free on Sundays.
A walk around Lake Merritt took us past Oakland’s cathedral, an architectural wonder featuring a glass colossus with a 17.7-metre-tall image of Christ produced by sunlight passing through 94,000 perforations in aluminum panels. We also passed the Children’s Fairyland, the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s empire. At Embarcadero and Grand, we relaxed at the Grand Lake Kitchen to enjoy a US$5 deli meat plate and refreshments before sauntering back to the comforts of our spacious Bayside Hotel room with its balcony and pleasant views of the Embarcadero Cove estuary.
A SEASIDE GEM
Hop on board a ferry at Jack London Square terminus for a quick trip to the San Francisco Ferry Building to catch another ferry to Sausalito, a little seaside jewel in San Francisco’s backyard. Unbelievable scenery, “banana-belt” weather and a laid-back Mediterranean atmosphere will have you planning your return visit.
From our hotel room at the Hotel Sausalito, mere steps from the ferry landing, we looked down upon Bridgeway lined with boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. For souvenirs, check out Studio 333 at 333 Caledonia, the largest artists’ co-op gallery in the San Francisco Bay area.
Another interesting stop is the San Francisco Bay Model housed in an old World War II Marinship Shipyards Warehouse building. Developed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1957, the purpose of this giant 6,000-square-metre working model of the entire San Francisco Bay was to study human effects on the Bay and to help keep the Bay navigable for shipping. Admission is free.
As we had hoped, Sausalito encourages relaxation, but if you ever need a San Francisco fix, the bustling city is only a 30-minute ferry ride away.
While there is air service between San Francisco and Sacramento, consider renting a car for the 90-minute drive. Amtrak train service between Oakland and Sacramento is highly recommended. The BART system and ferry services in the San Francisco Bay area offer excellent and inexpensive means of transportation between Oakland, San Francisco and Sausalito as well as to and from San Francisco International and Oakland International airports.
More information is found at:
Visit Oakland: visitoakland.com
Visit Sacramento: visitsacramento.com
Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel Oakland: baysidehoteloakland.com
Delta King Hotel, Old Sacramento: deltaking.com
Hotel Sausalito: hotelsausalito.com
Ten22 Old Sacramento: ten22oldsac.com