The brand-new General Manager over at HI-Sacramento, Marc Johnson, hasn't been in town long. This consummate traveler's fresh off a string of stints living in Washington, Texas, and even London. But even though he just unpacked his bags in Sacramento a few months ago, he can already tell there's something special about this town. "The more I see of it, the more I want to see," he says.
This month, Marc took some time out from calculating budgets, greeting guests, and keeping the hostel running smoothly to tell us how first-time visitors can jump right into the local lifestyle. Here he shares his must-sees, must-dos, and, most importantly, must-eats for newbies in California's State Capital.
"Temple is my favorite coffee shop in town," Marc says of this airy café just a few blocks from the hostel. "They're coffee aficionados; all the folks who work there are really students of coffee and can tell you anything you want to know about it. They have an amazing variety of coffee there, as well. I like to get their cold-brewed ice coffee. But you have to be careful: it'll blow your head off, because somehow it retains more caffeine than normal coffee!"
La Bonne Soupe Café
"This place has fantastic food," says Marc. "It's a little hole-in-the-wall place that was started by a chef from France, and they still use his original recipes. There's always a line out the door. The lamb stew is monumental; I've never had anything like it!"
Marc says this Midtown eatery serves his favorite Mexican food in the city. "They serve the best carnitas I've ever had – and I've lived in Texas!"
Home to thousands of acres of boutique farms, the Sacramento region's known as "America's farm-to-fork capital." And with over 50 farmers' markets – many of which operate year 'round – the city brings its bounty right to you. Marc hits the farmers' market at W Street and 6th Street every Sunday. "I get a lot of vegetables and fruits for juicing, and anything else that might catch my eye – there's such a variety there! I also try to purchase as much of the hostel's morning breakfast fruit as possible there."
Find a comprehensive list of local farmers' markets here.
Downtown & Vine
"Urban Wine Country" is the theme at this downtown tasting room, carrying vino from 12 wineries and four regions, including Northern California. "They do wine flights, so if you're not sure what you want to get, you can get three samples of a variety of wines," says Marc. "They also have great appetizers." (Tapas start at about $4).
Don't let the name at this place fool you: this isn't a run-down, no-frills bar, but rather a cool lounge with a nautically influenced décor. "They have a 7,000-gallon tank above the bar and sometimes they have a live mermaid in there," says Marc. "It's a really cool thing to go see, or at least walk by!"
The Naked Lounge Downtown
Coffee house by day, bar and music venue by night, the Naked Lounge is a hot spot any time of day. But Marc's favorite time to visit is Monday nights, when the venue – about a block from the hostel – hosts free, live jazz shows. "All these really good jazz musicians, who all have their own bands and do paid shows elsewhere, come here and you get to hear them for free."
"I went and saw a Sacramento band called !!! (pronounced "Chk Chk Chk") here the other night," says Marc. "It's a nice open space with an open dance floor, and the acoustics and sound are fantastic."
The restored Gold-Rush-era buildings of Old Sacramento are a must-see, Marc says, even if the 28-acre State Historic Park is a little heavy on the kitschy souvenir shops. "It does have all the touristy stuff there, but in certain places, you really can get the feeling of what it was like 100 years ago," he says. "You can walk down cobblestone streets and wood porches, just like the ones people hang out on in any Western movie you've ever seen. They also have all these original balconies above the buildings, and at one point, you're walking down a dirt road. It's really cool."
Ready to start exploring Sacramento for yourself? Stop by the hostel to say hello to Marc and the rest of the staff, and get even more insider tips for enjoying the State Capital like a local!
Photos courtesy of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau
Stay at HI-Sacramento, located in a beautifully restored Victorian mansion in the heart of California's state capital