Art spotting and antiquing: 24 hours in Sacramento

Sacramento mural

The Sacramento sun seeps into my skin, vanquishing any last trace of fog that might have followed me from San Francisco. It's a toasty 95 degrees on this Saturday afternoon, and I've made the trip for the express purpose of attending the famed Sacramento Antique Faire

Since my partner -- who's never been to Sacramento before -- has accompanied me, we've checked into the historic Sacramento Hostel on the early side, with plenty of time to explore the neighborhood on foot. The early morning jaunt to the Antique Faire is our only set plan, and I'm looking forward to the surprises Sacramento has in store for us. 


4 p.m. -- Art in "The Kay"

We head out on foot towards K Street, a key locale in Sacramento's storied past. Last year, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership began rebranding the district as "The Kay." Though the campaign was met with some criticism, there's no denying that the area is at the core of downtown Sacramento's revitalization efforts, and it's a hotspot for public art, as we are about to discover.

Just past 9th Street, a slew of empty storefront windows are filled from floor to ceiling with colorful paintings including the psychedelic mural that rock concert poster-artist Frank Carson created in 1973. Full of fractals and trippy imagery, the painting is still stunning despite its noticeable wear. Nearing 8th Street, we stumble upon The Downtown Mural Project, a mural installation featuring 9 x 8 foot pieces from ten local artists. Bordering a vacant lot, the bold murals bring a warm community feel to "The Kay." 

At the end of K Street at 7th Street, a roaring bear catches my eye; it's part of an art piece painted on a metal Sacramento News & Review (SN&R) news rack. I initially assume the street art was done guerilla style but, as we spot another painted newsstand, and then another, it's clear that they're part of an organized effort: SN&R invited local artists to turn their boring red news racks into unique and vibrant art pieces which are dotted all over the city. The locations and details about the artists' creative visions are listed online and I learn that the bear newsstand is "Pissed Off" by artist Niki Kangas.

6 p.m. -- Bangkok@12  

After our impromptu art walk, we head back to the hostel and ask the friendly Front Desk Associate, Bryanfor a dinner recommendation. He unequivocally endorses Bangkok@12 Thai Restaurant, which is just three blocks away. The restaurant's interior is beautifully accented by Thai art pieces and both of our meals are fresh and flavorful. The standouts for me are the incredibly tasty "curry puffs" we order as an appetizer and the complimentary Thai coffee candies. 

8 p.m. -- Four and twenty blackbirds

On my previous visits to Sacramento, a flock of blackbirds painted on a 9th Street wall have intrigued me but I've never had the chance to discover what's inside, until now. It's a restaurant called Blackbird Kitchen + Bar, and we decide to have an after dinner drink. It's apparent that Blackbird is the hip place to be on a Sacramento Saturday night. The interior is packed with folks in fancy dress, and though we're not up to dress code, the staff couldn't be nicer. They find us a spot at the end of their "raw bar," where customers are happily slurping away on oysters and wine.

9 p.m. -- Fun and games in the Sacramento Hostel

In the hostel's common room, we play a game of Scattergories and then have a blast finding National Geographic magazines from our birth months and years amidst their extensive collection. The cover story on mine -- A Long Last Look at Titanic (December, 1986) -- details the underwater robotic exploration of the doomed ship. Thumbing through this echo of the past gets me excited about the treasures we'll encounter at the Sacramento Antique Faire.


6 a.m. -- Rise and go to Temple

Caffeine is a nonnegotiable for such an early start, and thankfully, Temple Coffee opens at 6 a.m. on Sundays and is only three blocks from the hostel. Temple brews fantastic coffee and espresso, and is a mainstay of Sacramento's budding artisan coffee scene. I'm still coming to terms with my gluten intolerance -- I miss bagels so much -- so I'm overjoyed to learn that Temple offers three gluten-free pastry choices! It's rare to find even one gluten-free choice at many coffee shops in San Francisco, so this is a real treat. I choose the morning glory muffin: chock full of juicy pineapple morsels, coconut, and raisins. With caffeine coursing through our veins and tasty pastries in our bellies, we're ready for the main event. 

7 a.m. -- The Sacramento Antique Faire

Have you ever wondered where to find vintage cameras, mannequins, a cow hoof canteen, and a unicycle all in one stop? Probably not, but chances are that the Sacramento Antique Faire just might have whatever oddball items you are in search of. Held on the second Sunday of each month from 6:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., this vast vintage wonderland is tucked beneath the freeway on 21st Street between X and Y Streets. I recommend getting there on the early side, as antiquing is serious business for some folks who are more than happy to snap up the best of the one-of-a-kind treasures at the crack of dawn. 

Billed on their website as "Part adventure, part history lesson, and part treasure hunt!" this monthly convergence of vintage and antique dealers from all over Northern California is a sight to behold. Spanning two blocks, the Faire is full of hidden treasures -- some that will make you smile, some that will make you laugh 'til your belly aches, and some that will inspire deep ruminations about time, history, and the human tendency to imbue such power and emotion into material objects. By its very nature, every Faire will be a different experience but here's a few general tips and takeaways I gathered during my visit:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Your feet will get tired walking though the labyrinthine Faire. 
  • Buy some warm, freshly popped kettle corn ($6 for a "small" -- the bag is huge). I forgot to take a picture of ours, probably because I was too busy stuffing my face with it. 
  • The Faire is the perfect place to find a unique gift for someone. It's also an ideal place to pick up a little piece of backpacker-friendly vintage Americana like campaign buttons (Viva Dukakis!) or a collectible toy.
  • Bargaining is welcomed here. Most vendors anticipate it, so don't be afraid to start with a low offer, and then meet in the middle for a deal that will leave you both satisfied.
  • There is an ATM on the grounds, and some vendors do accept credit cards but I recommend bringing cash so you save yourself some trouble and avoid the ATM fee. 
  • Even if you don't buy anything, the $3 admission is worth the smorgasbord of historical gadgets you'll see. Where else are you going to see David Bowie and Frank Sinatra records next to a Harley-Davidson poster and a cheese slicer? Or a coffee table that looks like a massive watch in a 1960s model living room (hello orange couches!)? You're likely to get a history lesson too, like I did when I learned the story behind the Asbestos Sad Iron

2 p.m. -- An arty au revoir 

After the Faire, we have a light late lunch at Firestone Public HouseThen, while searching for a gas station before the drive home, a huge mural at 26th Street and J Street catches my eye. Created by artist Joshua Silveira, the mural features five oddball characters in the throes of conversation and laughter, and one curmudgeonly fellow who appears to be yawning or sneezing. The hyper real visages are so full of life and emotion that I almost expect to be showered by the giant drops of spittle flying from one of their mouths. As we depart, I reflect on how fitting it is to end the weekend the same way it began: stumbling upon Sacramento's surreptitious treasure of community art. 

This story was written by Fiume Drummond Simnacher, Marketing + Communications Coordinator for Hostelling International's eight Northern California hostelsBorn in England, Fiume is a perpetual seeker of intercultural experiences, and has lived in Arizona, Argentina, and Nepal. She has called San Francisco home for the past five years. 

See Fiume's photos here and peruse our map of the Sacramento sights mentioned in this story. 

If You Go 

Stay overnight at the Sacramento Hostel, in the Gold Rush-era Llewellyn Williams Mansion.