A guide to Sacramento, California? No, I am not a Sacramento insider as you might have guessed. But I know someone who is!
People from all over the world are contributing their expertise and insight to readers of Foodietown.ca to help develop my series called “Insider’s Guide.” Every couple of weeks you can expect to read a new guide featuring a different area of the world.
This time around Heather Fortes, owner of a local food tour company, brings us to Sacramento, California. Heather, tell us a bit about yourself…
I’ve spent the last 30 years in professional photography and have worn some pretty great hats in the industry, including as a photographer shooting big on-location ad jobs, building and managing a state of the art in-house studio, with a crew of 25, for a major home goods store and art directing photography and video shoots all across the nation. It really has been a dream career. But I was ready for a change and couldn’t imagine next steps in the industry. So last December, 2018, I decided to create a business around a subject I love – food. That is how SacTown Bites was born.
We moved from the SF Bay Area to Sacramento 10 years ago, and the food scene was pretty uninspiring back then. But in recent years the city has really embraced its world-renowned agricultural status, as the Farm to Fork Capital of the U.S. This has attracted chefs from all over the country looking for a better quality of life that is affordable, while they can still practice their craft. Sacramento now hosts tons of great restaurants and is becoming a destination for food. Everything related to food has exploded. We now have over 70 breweries and a dozen wineries and tasting rooms in the area. Michelin included in their start rating this last year, and several restaurants we awarded recognitions, including a star. Sacramento is also the most diverse city in the U.S. Which means we have incredibly diverse options to choose from when it comes to eating.
Tell us a bit about your city or region…
Sacramento historically has not been a major city for tourism, but I definitely see that changing over this next year. My tours have been filling up with people from the surrounding area wanting to check out what all the fuss is about with the Farm to Fork movement. But I also get a lot of locals that don’t get out as much as they would like to and want to try new places. Yolo County and Sacramento Valley are the home to 11,000 family owned farms that grow every kind of produce, cows, pork, chickens and Sturgeon. About that Sturgeon, Sacramento produces 80% of the country’s caviar and it’s highly rated, and even shipped to Russia. We are surrounded by award winning wineries, olive oil makers, honey producers, etc.
Our weather allows us to play outside year-round. Biking and skiing are very popular – we are 2 hours from Lake Tahoe, an unsurpassed ski area. We have a green belt that runs along both the Sacramento and the American river and you can easily brag a Jump Bike and ride on the paved trail. Renting a scooter is also a great way to tool around and see different neighborhoods. We also have GIG cars and a robust Uber and Lyft community.
Rock climbing and bouldering are quite popular here as well and we host several gyms that feature ropes and bouldering. And we even have a 30k SF bouldering gym that also has kombucha and beer and cider on tab, and specialty coffee.
We recently built an arena that hosts the Sacramento Kings basketball team, and we just were picked to host a major league women’s soccer team, for which they are building a stadium and ‘lifestyle’ centre. People are moving to Sacramento from all over because of its beautiful midtown area, affordable housing and cost of living, and exciting food and drinks scene. We also host the largest mural festival in the nation that has brought mural artist from all over the world to paint on our walls.
What mistakes do travellers typically make while visiting Sacramento, California?
When traveling, it’s difficult to know where to go to eat. I know when I travel, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out best places to eat and searching out local places. It takes a lot of time. Our city has convenient, good chain restaurants, but you could be in any city and eat at one of those. Second, be brave and get out of the neighborhood you are staying in. It’s not easy to know where to go, but worth the effort.
How can visitors avoid making these mistakes?
First thing to do when you arrive – take a food tour. Food tour guides typically love food, and love talking about food. Not only will you get to experience a neighborhood, and several restaurants, all in a few hours, but you will also have access to an expert. Ask them where they like to eat. Tell them your favorite cuisine. If you love coffee, ask them where they go. This keeps the food dollars local, the traveler eats like a local and will most likely have a much more memorable and indelible experience.
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What are some must-see attractions in Sacramento?
For history buffs, Sutter Fort State Historic Park is a great must-see destination, right on the edge of Midtown, so close to lots of eateries. Even if you are not a train aficionado, a visit to the California State Railroad Museum is always fun for everyone – that is also located right in Old Sacramento Waterfront District, so you can make a day of it. Old Sac is a historic ‘town’ with wooden sidewalks and funky saloons and old timey candy shops.
Sacramento is the state capital of California and no visit is complete without a visit to the State Capital and the State Capital Museum. Near all of the above is the Crocker Art Museum, a historic site, as well as a contemporary art museum.
If you are traveling with little one, Sacramento had many options for excursions including, the Sacramento Zoo, Fairy Tale Town and Funderland. All three are in South Land Park near each other. The zoo is perfect for younger kids. Fairy Tale town is exactly that – built for toddlers to slide down slides and climb on fairy tale themed structures. Funderland is a mini amusement park designed for little ones.
Looking for something more grown up…Sacramento offers underground tours and ghost tours. We have awesome specialty markets if you are an aspiring chef, or avid home cook. You can hop on a brew bike tour and pedal around and drink beer at several establishments. Need to get out some angst – try ax throwing, we host as many as three bars that offer ax throwing (before you start drinking!). Need even more relaxation, you can do a sensory deprivation soak at one of our many float spas. If you visit during the summer, a float down the river can’t be beat. I could go on… 😉
What are some great places to stay in Sacramento, California?
Everyone is looking for a unique experience that fits their budget. Starting with The Citizen Hotel, is sits right downtown among all the action and above renowned Grange Restaurant. It has a big city feel. Also downtown in DOCO (Downtown Commons) is the Sawyer. It is right next to the arena and surrounded by eateries, and fun things to do (see above). It also is home to the best rooftop bar in Sacramento with 360 degree views. Sacramento offers many affordable, quality brand hotels, such as Courtyard Marriott, Best Western and Embassy Suites by Hilton to name a few. There are also numerous Bed and Breakfast and Inns to choose from, each offering a unique experience. If you want to see the countryside, the Hotel Winters is a must. It’s a brand new, upscale and modern hotel dropped into the town Winters that has nostalgic charm. But, don’t be fooled, Winters has amazing wine tasting rooms, breweries, a distillery and award-winning eateries. (I’m planning on creating a farm tour by van in this area in the Spring.)
Is Sacramento known for a specific dish or drink?
Despite our award-winning restaurants and chefs, and Michelin recognition, Sacramento still loves its’ roots. Burgers and fried chicken are a thing here. There is a bit of a competition on for who makes the best fried chicken. West Coast IPA style of beer was invented here in the 80’s and many of our breweries continue to make that style too many accolades. Ramen. Ramen, ramen ramen. We love it. And, we have so many great places that make amazing ramen. Vegan and plant based eating is sweeping the country . Sacramento chefs are paying attention and adding vegan option to even the meatiest menus.
What new trends do you see emerging in Sacramento?
I mention plant based above. It’s big here. We also have a bakery and restaurant dedicated to being 100% gluten free. California’s and millennials in general are looking for healthy alternatives. One trend I am excited about is low ABV cocktails. Many bars are now offering low ABV or alcohol-free cocktails so people can imbibe to suit them. (Note: I am waiting for more CBD related food opportunities! I really want to create a comprehensive tour on this subject but am trying to find a chef to partner with!)
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What are some great places to eat?
Let’s start fancy and date night:
The Kitchen – Chef’s dinner that is immersive and interactive. The were awarded a Michelin Star in 2019.
Make reservations months in advance
Localis – Does an amazing Chef’s tasting, similar to above but more low-key.
Origami Grill – OG is a fast-casual Asian blow place. Once a week they host a small chef’s tasting that compares to each of the places mentioned above.
Canon – by far my favorite. Sophisticated without being stuffy. Great cocktails, open kitchen and ever changing seasonal menu that is truly inspired.
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Magpie Café – California Comfort Food, lovely outdoor seating area.
The Porch – Low Country Southern, outdoor seating on the porch. Think Chicken and Waffles.
Bacon and Butter – Unsurpassed in their food and presentation. Be prepared to wait 2 hours. It’s worth it.
Pushkin’s Kitchen – all Gluten free but satisfies both meat eaters and vegans. Modern interior with outdoor seating.
Fox and the Goose – perfect place to go if you were out late enjoying our awesome cocktails or breweries the night before.
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Chando’s Tacos on Arden – the original taco stand founded by local boys that ditched corporate America and make incredible street tacos
Mother Earth Baked Goods – I call her the tamale lady. Housed in an industrial building with a roll up door, she makes authentic tamales and offers healthy ingredients and vegan and vegetarian options.
Momo’s Meat Market – legit BBQ. That means smoked!
Luigi’s Pizza – some of the best hand-tossed pizza around
Pangea Bier Café – wins best burger at the burger fest every year. Family friendly.
Ming Dynasty – the real thing, Dim Sum
Shangri La – Palm Springs inspired décor in a converted funeral home. Upscale food and cocktails.
Osaka-ya – one of only three manju bakeries left in Northern California. They make fresh mocchi, not the Trader joe’s kind, authentic.
Mahoroba Japanese Bakery – this place! They have everything from éclair to yakisoba breakfast rolls.
If you want to join Heather on her SacTown Bites food tours please visit www.SacTownBites.com