Visiting Old Sacramento: Long live the Delta King
In 1848 the smell of great wealth filled the clean California air. Afflicted by gold-fever, an estimated 300,000 prospectors, along with those who catered to them, found their way to California. Historic Old Sacramento, known as River City, was spawned along the Sacramento River shores.
Today California's capital flourishes and rambles in non-stop fashion through Lincoln, Folsom, Natomis, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Fair Oaks, Carmichael, and numerous other suburbs, neighborhoods, and distinct geopolitical cities. But Old Sac's 28 blocks remain, architecturally and geographically, much as they were a hundred and fifty years ago when it was the terminus point of the Transcontinental Railroad and the final stop of the Pony Express.
A Tribute to Pony Express Riders
The original State Supreme Court chambers, on 2nd street, are now home to retail enterprises.
The Supreme Court and Wells Fargo Building
In Old Sac, even the new is old again. Buildings that can't be salvaged are rebuilt to seamlessly blend into the style of the original architecture.
The Feel of History
And maybe a bit of pseudo-history?
If you love crowds, make your visit to Old Sac coincide with one of its major events. In May, the Pacific Rim Festival brought 25,000 tourists and locals to crowd the streets, parking was at a premium in the ramp (one car out, one car in) and a line of autos hovered in a patient queue waiting for entry as the streets of Old Sac were closed off and filled with booths. The Memorial Day Music Festival brought an even bigger crowd (more than 400 live musical performances by 70 bands were the big draw), Labor day is the Gold Rush festival, and there are even celebrations honoring Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day.
Saturday and Sunday afternoons are always lively, but on days of special events you can find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder struggling through the masses crowding the sidewalks. You'll fight your way to the cash register to pay for the treasures you've found at Evangelina's (be honest, did you sneak into the X-rated section?), get a beer at Fanny Ann's, or a caramel apple at Rocky Mountain Chocolate. If you aren't into people watching, or if you prefer a bit more laid back atmosphere to absorb your history, go early in the morning on weekends, or better yet, treat yourself to a week-day excursion to Old Sac and wander aimlessly as you picture what Old Sac was like when it was the only Sac.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate
...and more Shops.
If you're up for a different kind of hotel experience and want to steep yourself even further into the past, spend a night or two aboard the Delta King. How many times in your life will you have the opportunity to sleep aboard the ship that spent a decade as the reigning monarch of the Sacramento River?
The Delta King and its identical twin the Delta Queen are 285 foot paddle-wheel riverboats christened on May 20, 1927. A month later they began daily 10 ½ hour voyages between Sacramento and San Francisco. Rooms aboard the ships went for $3.50 a night and passengers were treated to live jazz bands, gambling, fine dining and prohibition-era booze. For travelers who found the $3.50 too rich for their budget, there was the option of bringing their own blanket and staking a spot on the cargo deck.
Today the Delta King makes sure you are comfortable. Although the rooms are expectedly small, they come with private bathrooms and the same amenities you've come to expect in other fine hotels: hair dryer, in-room coffee, flat screen TV, toiletries imprinted with Delta King. The hospitable staff will do everything in its power to accommodate your needs. You can pick up a bottle of local wine and enjoy sitting at a small patio table on deck as you watch the moon shimmer over the inky nighttime river. (deltaking.com)
Deck View of the Tower Bridge and Old Sac
Nighttime View of the Tower Bridge
Do you recognize the bridge from the TV series the Mentalist?
Unfortunately, Simon Baker aka Patrick Jane was nowhere to be seen
Make time during your trip to visit Old Sac museums. There are several to choose from: The Sacramento History Museum, the California State Military Museum, the Wells Fargo History Museum, and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum.
The Schoolhouse Museum
If time permits only one museum, let it be the California State Railroad Museum where you can see 20 restored locomotive and train cars, 1000 toy trains, and changing exhibits that will prove worth your limited time. The museum is also home to the lost (gold) spike of the Transcontinental Railroad. This is the ceremonial final spike driven to join the rails connecting the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory.
The Railroad Museum, fun for the entire family
For a different kind of adventure, consider the Underground Tour. In the 1860s and 1870s Old Sac successfully attempted to raise its streets to avoid complete ruin by floods. The legends hiding beneath the buildings and sidewalks are fascinating. (historicoldsac.org/programs/programs-underground)
Riverview dining takes you away from the bustle of tourists cramming the streets. The Rio City Cafe with an outdoor patio is the perfect place to watch the river roll along while savoring the Ahi Tuna or Pacific Pasta. It's the spot voted best river dining and best river view for 14 consecutive years by Sacramento Magazine. (riocitycafe.com)
Rio City Cafe
Patio Dining on Riverside
For an equally interesting dining adventure step aboard the Delta King and ask for a window table at the Pilothouse restaurant. You'll have an intimate view of the river's activity, while enjoying fine food and a look at the Mayan-looking Building on the other side.
A hearty breakfast before heading out for the day
The Ziggurat Building across the river
For more information about Old Sac, go to www.oldsacramento.com
[Postscript: With an increase in roads, bridges, and automobiles, river transportation lost favor and the Delta Queen and King spent a half-century seeking to reclaim a bit of their former splendor. During WWII both were drafted by the U.S. Navy and served in San Francisco Bay. After their military stint, the Queen became the flagship of the Delta Queen Steamship Company on the Mississippi, and today with new owners operates as a cruise ship on the Mississippi. The King floundered for years and by the mid-1980s was destined to spend 15 months partially submerged in the San Francisco Bay. It got a chance to return to its former glory when a private entrepreneur with a vision purchased the ship, had it towed to Sacramento, and proceeded with five years of total renovation, before it again became royalty of the Sacramento River as a 44 room hotel with an award winning restaurant, Delta Lounge and two theatre venues. It is permanently moored in Old Sac - a living reminder of days gone by.]
Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for wanderingeducators.com.
Julie is currently writing a weekly blog series entitled, "Ugly Shoes and Boomer Do Europe."
This series captures the humor and adventure of her rail trip from
Amsterdam to Budapest and then return river cruise back to Amsterdam.
Log on to www.jkroyce.com/blog to follow along.
All photos courtesy and copyright Julie and Bob Royce
Feature photo: Delta King