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A view of downtown Sacramento
Photograph: Flickr/Sean Davis/CC

What to do, eat and see in Downtown Sacramento

Downtown Sacramento is full of fun things to do like arcade bars, food markets and delicious coffee shops

By Garrick Ramirez

Sitting at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, Sacramento was a commercial hub during the Gold Rush, and became the Golden State’s capital in 1854. Today, the Downtown Sacramento neighborhood is a delightfully walkable, cultural center filled with a lush tree canopy—Sacramento has more trees per capita than any city in the U.S.—scores of museums, and some of the city’s most notable restaurants. Sacramento earned the title of America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, and you’ll discover why at hotspots such as Ella and Mulvaney’s. Plus, the arrival of the Golden 1 Center infused the area with a thriving nightlife including a fun barcade and fashionable rooftop lounge. Here’s your itinerary for exploring downtown Sacramento. If you're looking for old-timey Sac, don't forget to check out the Old Sacramento Waterfront, too. 

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Sacramento 

Downtown Sacramento guide

The shiny exterior of the Golden 1 Center with people entering and exiting
Photograph: Flickr/CommScope/CC

1. Golden 1 Center

The stunning home of the Sacramento Kings does double duty as a music and performance venue. Unveiled in 2016, the architecturally striking, LEED-certified basketball arena shifted downtown’s cultural hub west of the Capitol with over 40 home games, touring acts such as Kanye and Lady Gaga, and an eatery- and shop-filled plaza. And in true Sac fashion, the arena’s food program sources 90 percent of ingredients from a 150-mile radius. Even without tickets, you should check out the public art dotting the plaza including Jeff Koon’s flashy “Coloring Book #4,”  ten giant dart sculptures from Gale Hart, and a lush soundscape from Bill Fontana.

The arcade-like interior of a bar
Photograph: Flickr/Arcade Perfect/CC

2. Coin-Op

Coin-Op takes a classic 80s arcade and levels up with cocktails and a lengthy draft list. Rescue Princess Pauline from Kong, guide a frog through busy traffic, and battle Chun-Li at stand-up arcade games and pinball machines strewn throughout the subterranean space. There’s also a kitchen serving up pizzas, and a light-strung patio set with Jenga and jumbo-sized Connect Four.

Sacramento, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Sac Tour Company

With a gloriously flat expanse dotted with mature shade trees, Sacramento is a joy to stroll. Former journalist and history instructor Jenn Kistler-McCoy shows off her adoptive city via tours that explore the city’s history, culture, and surprisingly verdant beauty. Choose from three  informative tours—most offer walking, running, or biking options—that include filming locations for Ladybird, the award-winning film by SacTown native Greta Gerwig and notable Sacramento sites such as the Stat. 

The front of the California State Capitol building
Photograph: Flickr/Katrina Templeton/CC

4. California State Capitol Museum

Inspired by D.C.’s Capitol Building, California’s gold sphere-topped version features art, history, and 12 blocks of serene gardens. Completed in 1874, the neoclassical structure is open to the public with free, daily public tours—offered each hour from 9am to 4pm—beginning in the rotunda under the 128-foot high oculus of the inner dome. You’ll learn the history of California’s early years, and if legislators are in session, you might spy bills being debated in the Assembly or Senate galleries. Yet, the Capitol’s most stunning feature might be the 40-acre garden-filled park that surrounds it, offering a peaceful respite from the politics inside.

A business plaza with the sign DOCO
Photograph: Flickr/Wayne Hsieh/CC

5. Downtown Commons

Located a free throw’s distance from the Golden 1 Center, this lively downtown development teems with buzzworthy shops and eateries. Head to this sleek outdoor complex to glimpse the latest downtown hotspots such as Flatstick Pub which hides an indoor, Sac-themed mini golf course, 40 local beers on draft, and hidden speakeasy bar, The Trophy Club. You can also sip bubbles at Fizz Champagne Bar, shop modern skate-inspired apparel at Get a Clue, and clink margaritas over pork belly tacos at Polanco Cantina.

A table with a coffee to-go cup and pastries
Photograph: Flickr/jen/CC

6. Temple Coffee Roasters

While Temple’s farm-to-cup slogan may seem hokey, you’ll hardly mind after sampling their various single-origin pour-overs, cold brew blends, and creamy, foam-topped lattes. Their downtown locale features a roomy, industrial-chic space, free WiFi, and fresh baked goods including a sizable vegan and gluten-free assortment. Try one of their loose-leaf tea drinks such as Bliss, a soothing blend of peppermint tea, coconut milk, and honey.

Kimpton Sawyer Hotel
Photograph: Kimpton Sawyer Hotel

7. The Revival

Situated on the third floor of the stylish Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, this sleek hotspot serves up craft cocktails and refined bites in a chic setting. Nosh on duck carnitas tacos and bacon-spiked avocado toast while sipping a spiced Holiday in Jalisco made with tequila and baked apple. The lounge spills out onto a lush, landscaped pool deck, overlooking the Golden 1 Center, and ringed by private cabanas. Just leave the baseball caps behind as a dress code is enforced on weekends.

The awning and outside of Frank Fat's
Photograph: Flickr/rocor/CC

8. Frank Fat's

One of Sacramento’s oldest restaurants, this James Beard Award-winning institution hosts the city’s power brokers. Founded in 1939, this family-owned eatery dishes up elevated Chinese-American dishes such as its famed pot stickers and honey walnut prawns. Yet, what’s made it famous isn’t on the menu. It’s rumored that the restaurant, located steps from the Capitol, was home to more than a few secret handshake, political deals. Today, you’ll still see famous faces in the dramatically lit dining room, finishing up a meal with Frank Fat’s signature banana cream pie.


9. Mulvaney's B&L

Set in the airy interiors of an 1893 redbrick firehouse, Mulvaney’s dishes up expert New American plates—spring garlic ravioli, thick pork chops with butterball potatoes and fig chutney—showcasing regional produce and housemade ingredients. Co-owner and chef Patrick Mulvaney is a fixture at local farmers’ markets, nabbing the day’s best produce to inform his daily menus. Don’t miss the one thing that rarely changes: house-smoked salmon with Irish bread!

A neon sign that says Ella Dining Room & Bar
Photograph: Flickr/Sean Davis/CC

10. Ella Dining Room and Bar

If you tire from hearing about farm-to-fork, it’s only because Sacramento has so many thoughtful, talented kitchens, with Ella a fitting example. The K-Street staple is perennially packed throughout the day thanks to a lively atmosphere and founder Randall Selland’s seasonally driven menu including steak tartare and a killer fried chicken. During happy hour, party’s in full swing when discounted oysters and craft cocktails fuel the humming dining room.

The interior food hall of a former bank
Photograph: Flickr/Sean Davis/CC

11. The Bank

This palatial, all-day food hall fills three floors of a former bank building with bars and eateries. The Bank showcases six food vendors and a 33-foot full service bar under the soaring ceiling of the former lobby. Chow down on burgers from Station 8, ahi bowls from Poke Bros, and charred, thin-crust pies from Platypus Pizza. In the former downstairs vault, find 68 self-service taps where you can pour your own pints. On Sundays, the mezzanine swings with ballroom dancing and lessons.

The exterior of the restaurant Mother
Photograph: Flickr/Matt Walton/CC

12. Mother

Even meat-eaters won’t want to pass up this vegetarian eatery thanks to utterly flavorful, downhome grub from chef Michael Thiemann. The crispy chicken-fried mushroom po’ boy slathered in vegan aioli is legendary, as is their soulful chile verde stew with corona beans, roasted pumpkin, hominy, and smoked pickled peppers.

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