As you enter
Sacramento, California from the airport, you could be in any
midwestern town in the country. Miles upon miles of farmland,
the horizon in all directions without so much as a bump.
As the smog parts, the faint silhouette of the city skyline fades in
and out of view. After a few miles of open road down Interstate
80, it starts to look like California. Vast stucco-walled
subdivisions stretch out to meet the lettuce fields, and the freeway
is now lined with the likes of Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and McDonald's.
From Northgate, it's a short trip south of I-80 to the heart of the latino community. Carl's JR and Subway suddenly give way to
countless tacquerias, and Ross Dress For Less is replaced by dozens of
run-down corner grocery stores with their names written in Spanish.
now, down Del Paso, leads you on a confusing but charming jaunt
through curvy neighborhood roads along the bank of the American River.
This part of town is noticeably older and shabbier the further you
drive. Turning South down Marysville takes you down a typical
eight-lane California city street, with countless strip malls, chain
stores, and chain restaurants lining the roadways. A sidetrip to
Cal Expo reveals the lovely Exposition Center and Water World water
park in the same complex. As I exit off I-80R to downtown, I'm
taken aback by the abundant foliage. It's like I'm in a flat
version of Portland!
the strictly one-story southeast downtown area, I reach the
building. As with most capital cities, the Capitol area is the
highlight of the city. Lush parks and palm-lined streets
surround the Capitol, with poetry readings on the front lawn and
tourists taking photographs in front of the rose-lined fountain.
A quick look around tells you one place where all the money goes to in
this state. The government buildings are all magnificent, as is
the Convention Center, and the Expo Center. Perhaps the
grandest building, ironically, is the brand-new Department of Social &
Health Services building, located at the east end of the downtown
The mall is
yet another misguided American attempt to emulate the thriving
European pedestrian mall. As with most American pedestrian
malls, this isn't really a pedestrian mall at all. It's a
transit mall. The light rail runs right down the middle, which
means that instead of thriving night life, high-class shopping, and
gourmet sidewalk cafes, the mall is filled with transients, pawn
shops, and run-down abandoned storefronts. Instead of
tourist-laden hangouts and trendy restaurants, it is filled with
Subway, Quiznos, Rite-Aid, several huge bank towers, and numerous
convenience stores, tattoo parlors, and run-down tacquerias.
When will this country learn? A pedestrian mall has to be more
than just pedestrian! It also has to be a destination.
Night clubs and restaurants are a destination. Rite-Aid and
convenience stores are not. The mall does have a few highlights,
though. There is a Hard Rock Cafe, a shopping mall, an Imax
Theater, and an independent films theater. The east end is
markedly better than the west end (coincedentally, the transit turns
north out of the mall near that end) with a few trendy cafes, a
brewpub, and outdoor patio seating. In short, every portion that
is pedestrian-only is nice; every portion that isn't, is not.
of downtown is pretty hit-and-miss. On one side of the street
will be lovely foliage and beautiful buildings, while the other side
consists of run-down buildings, parking lots, and chainlink fences.
The exception to the overall blandness is Old Sacramento. This
historic area has been nicely restored and filled with tourist shops.
The Old West theme includes river boat tours, horse carriage rides,
and old-time photos for all. Once again, the problem here is the
traffic. What should be filled with tourists wandering the
cobblestone streets is instead filled with vehicles. On summer
weekends, the entire area is jam-packed with cars. Every time
you cross the street, you're almost run over. Every time you
turn a corner in your car, you almost run someone else over. You
can't relax and stroll the area because you have to watch your back.
You can't take any good photos because you can't go into the street,
and there are always cars in the way. You can't really drive
through here anyway with all the foot traffic, so why not shut it
Sacramento was pretty unremarkable. Flat as a pancake, filled to
the brim with lackluster chain stores and without much character.
The Capitol area was quite lovely, and with some effort by the City
Council, the downtown mall and Old Sacramento could turn Sacramento
into a tourist destination. If only they sunk as much money into
the community as they do into their own buildings...