Midtown Sacramento; hot-bed for foodies, nightlife, history and creative events!

Cyclists Rich Fowler, left, and Frank Allen of south Sacramento biked to Midtown for lunch at 'Tapa the World'!


Top photo, shoppers enjoy the Blue Diamond Nut and Gift Shop for specialty nut and gift ideas; below, the Midtown Farmers Market runs every Saturday, 8 to 1, drawing young, old and four-legged shoppers (photo courtesy of the MBA).

Young professionals enjoy a brew on the patio of Lowbrau, photo courtesy of the MBA.

Sutter's Fort, built in 1839, offers living history and lively events.

Tower Cafe, part of the Tower Theater complex in nearby Broadway District, is an eclectic eatery!

In 1839, nine years before the discovery of gold in Coloma, 47 miles distant, John Sutter arrived in Sacramento and began construction of Sutter’s Fort.  His road to fortune was in planting of grapes and wheat, and raising a huge heard of cattle.  He sent an employee, John Marshall, to find timber and build a sawmill; with discovery of gold, Sutter’s world changed overnight.

Fortune-seekers rushed to get rich, passing through Sacramento to get to the mines.  Others came and set up shop to provide equipment and food to the miners.  Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” and grew rapidly in the 1850s and 1860s; the area known as Midtown grew quickly around Sutter’s old fort.

Today the Midtown area offers some of our favorite destinations. J and K streets offer a wealth of cute and trendy shops, restaurants and nightspots. Sacramento, capital city of California, has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last 20 years, steadily becoming a slick, cosmopolitan and thoroughly visitor-friendly city – Midtown is heart of the action!

Midtown is defined as the area bounded by 16th on the west, Alhambra on the east, B Street on the north and US Hwy. 50 to the south. It’s just a dozen blocks east of the “big dig”; the new Entertainment and Sports Complex, better known as the new Kings Arena, going up on a six square block chunk of downtown.

Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the Midtown Business Association (MBA), notes, “the new arena, to open October, 2016, will seat 17,500 and is expected to be active many nights per year with King’s games and many shows and artists.  Those thousands of visitors will fuel Midtown restaurants and retailers, and we’re eager for that”.

The new arena and a surging economy have lots happening in the district.  Emily added, “several major developments are unfolding, including the proposed trolley system, the Ice Blocks Project, including housing and retail shops in the old Crystal Ice Plant, and a number of housing projects.  It’s an exciting time to be part of Midtown Sacramento!’.

She offers “take the time to stroll around the grounds of, or tour, Sutter’s Fort, re-built in the likeness of Captain John Sutter’s stronghold. Kids will delight in the old fort, complete with canon in the parapets and docents showing how life was in the middle 1800s”.

In addition to Sutter’s Fort, many reminders of Midtown’s history can be found including scores of old mansions and historic homes, many dating back more than 100 years, elevated to avoid the flooding that once plagued the river-bound city.  An historic walking tour map can be picked up in the MBA’s office.

I found Rich Fowler and Frank Allen, who biked into Midtown from south Sacramento, awaiting lunch, and asked them what they liked about Midtown.  Fowler noted he recently had taken his family “to a delightful dinner, and we walked two blocks down J Street for ice cream, a perfect family outing”.  Allen added “my wife and I find it such a classy and safe area for dinner and a show.  It’s the nicest place in town!”.


Restaurants, from old favorites to new faces, abound in the district.  They include Biba’s, Paragary’s (soon to reopen after a major remodeling), Ink, Bar West, Café Bernardo, Centro Cocina Mexicana, Plan B Café (the Sacramento Bee notes it one of the top 10 in area for best fries), Waterboy, Red Rabbit Kitchen, the Old Spaghetti Factory (good family food and rich history, in the old Union Pacific Railroad station) and Zocalo.  And don’t miss Rick’s Dessert Diner, for those who think desserts should be the main course!

Midtown is a hot-bed of upscale bars and night spots, including Blue Cue, Harlow’s, MoMo Lounge, Monkey Bar, Preservation, the Rind, Tank House and Block Butcher Bar (noteworthy for making their own sausage and specialty whiskey cocktails). A unique eatery is the Federalist, operating out of shipping containers, specializing in pizza and beer.  The MBA’s web site and Facebook pages offer good guides to these repasts.

Live theatre is a Midtown specialty, with the venerable B Street Theater offering award winning plays.  Newer small theaters include the Capital Stage and the William J. Geery Theater, with restaurants and night spots just a block away or closer! The nearby Wells Fargo Music Circus and Community Center Theater help round out a growing live theater scene.  Pick up a copy of Sacramento News and Review, a lively guide to what’s going on or check their web site, www.newsreview.com.

With such robust epicurean and night-spots, it’s no surprise the area is a hot-bed of active events. The Midtown Farmer’s Market is well attended each Saturday morning at 20th and J Streets, from 8 AM to 1 PM.

Second Saturdays are big events, running from 5 to 9 PM; in May, ‘Wine Down, Dress Up” features the wines of Lodi and a local fashion show, on Capital between 18th and 19th.  June, July, August and September bring ‘THIS midtown’, with indie bands playing to big crowds.

Sutter’s Fort does not miss out on special events, with ‘Sacratomato” coming on July 25 at the fort, an event focused on all things tomato, including food, drink and fun.

Getting around Midtown can be done by car, on foot and all of it by bicycle.  This part of the city is quite bike-friendly, and along the north side of Midtown, the American River Bike Trail offers a placid tour just beyond the city confines.

Calendar a visit, better, a weekend trip, to our unique capital city – bustling shops and eateries, live theater, living history amid world-renowned museums, kids and family activities – all just an hour away!

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J Street and go east through downtown, into the Midtown area starting at 16th Street.

What’s nearby:  To the north, the Jedidiah Smith Recreation/Bike Trail; to the west, both downtown Sacramento and Old Sacramento; to the south, the Broadway District (check out the Art-deco Tower Theater and adjacent Tower Café).

What to take: Good walking shoes and your camera!

Where to stay: A notable place to stay, the Amber House, an AAA-4 star bed and breakfast getting top reviews; other nearby motels and hotels can be found in the Midtown District and in downtown Sacramento.

For more info:  Sacramento Midtown Business Association, 919. 20th Street, (916) 442-1500, www.mbasac.com; Downtown Sacramento Partnership, 980 9th Street, (916) 442-8575, www.downtownsac.org.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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