Discover baseball, river walks, and culture in the capital city

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Sacramento was once California's forgotten middle child,neither as beautiful as San Francisco nor as smart and stylish asLos Angeles. But these days the capital city radiates a new vigor.A hit ballpark with a championship Triple-A team is helping torevitalize downtown; a waterside promenade and an improvingrestaurant scene have added interest to the riverfront.

Of course, this sense of renewal might just be because the cityis at its best in spring. A spectacular rose garden is burstinginto bloom in Capitol Park. And wildflowers are starting to popalong hiking and cycling trails and in parks edging the Sacramentoand American Rivers.

Still, some things about Sacramento remain unchanged, includingits laid-back demeanor. Things are so casual at Raley Fieldballpark, for example, that you can take a blanket and picnic towatch the game from Home Run Hill, grass seating behind theoutfield.

FRIDAY

Had a long drive into Sacramento? Pause to refuel at Fox &Goose ($; call for hours; 1001 R St.; 916/443-8825), an old collegehangout. Try an English-style lunch of bangers and mash, washeddown with one of the 17 beers on tap.

Old-school art. Sacramento has a number of first-ratemuseums, and one of the oldest and best is the Crocker Art Museum(closed Mon; $6, $4 seniors and students, ages 6 and under free;216 O St.; 916/264-5423), across the street from Crocker Park.Pretty as a wedding cake, this Italianate Victorian is famed forits collection of early California works, including Thomas Hill'sgigantic Yosemite.

All aboard. You don't have to be a rail buff to enjoy thetrain exhibits at the CaliforniaState Railroad Museum (10-5 daily; $4, ages 16 and under free;I St. at Second St.; 916/445-6645). Weekend steam-train trips ($6,$3 ages 6-12) fire up this month; clamber aboard for a 40-minute,6-mile round-trip chug alongside the Sacramento River. When you getback, take a short stroll on the Riverfront Promenade, which beginson the east side of Tower Bridge at the foot of Capitol Mall.

Waterfront grub. The perfect end to the afternoon is towatch the river roll by from the deck at Joe's Crab Shack ($$; 1210Front St.; 916/553-4249) over a dinner of broiled shrimp andbarbecued Dungeness crab.

SATURDAY

Start by roaming Capitol Park (10th St. at L St.; 916/324-0333),the 40-acre garden surrounding the California State Capitol. Aprilis orange-blossom time, so stroll under the giant citrus trees― remembering the state's once-abundant groves ― andinhale. Follow your nose to the park's year-old World Peace RoseGarden (free; 800/205-1223), stuffed with 701 rose bushes.

Peek under the dome. A visit to the California StateCapitol Museum (free; guided tours 9-4 daily; 11th St. at LSt.; 916/324-0333) can be surprisingly inspiring. The museum islocated within the meticulously restored Renaissance revival-stylecapitol building, the center of state lawmaking and a wonder ofearly 1900s craftsmanship, with lots of sculptures, murals, andgold leaf.

Culture vulture. Time your visit right and you can join afree guided Art in Public Places tour by the Sacramento Metropolitan ArtsCommission (916/566-3992); you'll see a downtown chockablockwith more than 50 sculptures, murals, and paintings. Tours areavailable the second Saturday and last Wednesday of each month (Apr10 and 28) or by appointment.

Small-plate lunch. If you think this town lacks spice, theSpanish-style tapas at Tapa the World ($$; closed Mon; 2115 J St.;916/442-4353) will change your mind. In the evening, come back fora glass of wine and live guitar music.

Where Sacramento started. Drive down L Street to find thetown's first center of power. John Sutter had a flourishingagricultural empire before the discovery of gold, which led to hisruin. Touring Sutter's Fort State Historic Park ($2-$4; 2701 L St.;916/445-4422) gives you a peek at life in the 1840s, includingSutter's bedroom (elegant, for the frontier). See the world'stiniest basket at the State Indian Museum State Historic Park ($2;2618 K St.; 916/324-0971). The state's first residents, up to300,000 Native Americans, were spread among 120 different languagegroups.

Italian dinner. Head a few blocks down J Street to theCalifornian/Mediterranean-themed Lucca Restaurant & Bar ($$;call for hours; 1615 J St.; 916/669-5300). Start with somepaper-thin zucchini chips, then move on to the honey-glazed lambbrochette.

SUNDAY

Spend a morning walking the Sacramento River, busy withwater-skiers and river-rafters. Grab a wake-me-up espresso andsomething to munch on at an Old Sacramento favorite, SteamersCoffee & Tea Exchange (101 K St.; 916/448-9404).

Take a hike. Wind along the green, tree-shaded 1-mile trailthat connects Old Sac to Discovery County Park ($4 per vehicle;Richards Blvd. at Jibboom St.; 916/875-6961). It's a wide, leveltrail, perfect for a morning jog, and it continues throughDiscovery Park and beyond. Start early and you may surprise littlegreen or great blue herons prowling the shallows.

Ride an otter. For a mini-cruise on the Sacramento River,hop on one of the jaunty, banana yellow vessels operated by River Otter Water Taxi(call for seasonal schedule; $6 round trip, $3 ages 12 and under; LSt. Landing at Front St.; 916/446-7704). The taxis start up inmid-April; allow an hour to ride the four-stop loop.

Mudbugs, anyone? Crayfish, aka mudbugs, are served simply atCrawdad's River Cantina ($; 1375 Garden Hwy.; 916/929-2268). Pair abucket of boiled crayfish with a beer and you'll be in heaven.

Batter up. The Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, lastseason's Pacific Coast League champs, play their home opener April16 at Raley Field ($6-$18; 400 Ballpark Dr.; 916/376-4700). Theteam's schedule includes many Sunday-afternoon games, and there arefireworks on opening night and at every Saturday-night game. Aboveright field, a kids area has a play structure, bounce houses, and agiant slide. Relax at a game, cooled by the river breeze, and youmay feel Sacramento has scored, even if the Cats don't win.

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