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Illustration by Hans Bennewitz

A totally awesome ’80s cafe, a Delta cider that’s pear-rific, a Princely garden plant, an ice cream parlor with a deliciously dark secret, the first human-powered gym, the last typewriter repairman, groovy cherry blossom groves, teddy bear slumber parties, edible beer, imbibable cakes, and more. To borrow from Greta Gerwig’s description of her placemaking movie "Lady Bird"—which also made the list—here is our annual love letter to Sacramento and to the people, places and things that make it home. 


Written and reported by: Tori Masucci Cummins, Vu Chau, Jessica Rine, S.T. VanAirsdale, Kate Washington, Carla Meyer, Curtis Yee, Jennifer Resnicke, Hillary Louise Johnson and Will Moon
 

Hollywood Halo Effect

We already knew our city was a sleeper hit, as full of charm and verve as Sacramento native Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, Lady Bird, but now, thanks to the film’s “Certified Fresh 99%” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, best picture win at the Golden Globes and five Oscar nominations, the world does too. The movie launched a thousand new selfie spots and even a walking tour of its key locations (we feel for the residents of the suddenly famous “blue house”). The coming-of-age, mother-daughter story—which the auteur memorably called “a love letter to Sacramento”—has also inspired high-profile publications like Travel & Leisure (which lauds our “quiet charisma”), Food & Wine (which calls us “a place worth detouring for”) and The Washington Post (declaring us “worthy of the red-carpet treatment”) to wax poetic about our town. All this buzz—which, being Sacramentans, we’re decidedly not letting go to our heads—may happily attract new visitors, but above all, it has confirmed what we already knew: The River City is worth writing home about.

Photo by Merie Wallace, courtesy of A24

Map Genius

As a professional cartographer, Molly Roy puts places, spaces, stories and legends into unique perspective through the careful, colorful application of spatial data. In other words, Roy makes maps—exquisitely designed and expertly researched works of art that have found her collaborators from UC Davis (with whom Roy is creating an interactive history map of agriculture in California) to Harvard (for whom she is mapping a history of the Atlantic slave trade), and earned her admirers, such as acclaimed author and journalist Rebecca Solnit, who handpicked Roy as head cartographer for the 2016 book Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, which Solnit co-edited and Roy accompanies with imaginative cartograms described in a New York Times review as “things of beauty” (think lost Brooklyn villages, Staten Island as portrayed through the hip-hop visions of its native icons the Wu-Tang Clan, and a New York City subway map with stations renamed after female historical figures from each neighborhood). Now the 29-year-old Hollywood Park resident is in the early stages of her long-planned Sacramento Atlas, a rich showcase for centuries of local heritage—a map of the West End’s lost 1940s-era Japantown, for instance, or the vanished borders of Nisenan, Miwok and other Native American tribal communities that preceded white settlement in the 19th century. We can’t wait to see how we look on paper in the eyes of this talented placemaker. mroycartography.com

 

Taco Tasting Menu

Sacramentans are starting to embrace the omakase craze (the Japanese phrase means “I will leave it up to you”), or chef’s choice multicourse dining, mostly thanks to Kru, which popularized the concept after its 2016 move to swankier digs in East Sacramento. But even those not so much in the know could probably tell you that omakase does not involve tacos—or at least it didn’t until Patricio Wise, the innovative chef-owner of Nixtaco, began offering a 10-course “taco omakase” menu on Friday and Saturday nights at his Roseville restaurant earlier this year. The lineup changes every day, but based on a recent visit, Wise is on to something. Your meal might start with a palate-cleansing burrata on a blue corn tortilla, before going double chicharron as Wise tops a pork-fat crisp with his signature salsa verde pork. Meanwhile, the octopus taco holds a trove of tender seafood with a nice chile kick. The feast costs just $40-$50 and, if you’re lucky, will conclude with a thoroughly luscious rosemary-infused goat milk gelato—because Wise’s cuisine-hopping creativity extends well beyond south of the border. 1805 Cirby Way. Roseville. 916-771-4165. nixta.co​

 

Photo by Matt Klopfenstein

Place to Hear the Colors of the Wind

Is it a low-flying cloud? A grove of trees? An amorphous outer space disco ball? Federico Díaz’ sculpture Subtile, located on West Sacramento’s River Walk, roughly halfway between the Barn and the Tower Bridge, is what Winston Churchill would call “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The artwork, consisting of several thousand dangling mirror-like steel discs, mimics the waveforms of the gusting Delta breeze. As local joggers (who are routinely stopped in their tracks by its beauty) know, the sculpture never looks or sounds the same twice as it shivers and tinkles in the wind. Even if you’re no runner, don’t be surprised if you find yourself racing to the riverfront when the sky promises a dramatic sunset, just to catch the impromptu light show. Never has it been clearer how much public art can enhance the art of living in our fair region.

Photo by Christine Stein

Flowery Fro

One day in April 2016, artist Christine Stein was listening to Prince’s song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” while contemplating an ugly bush that borders her Citrus Heights home and wondering how she might spruce it up. Just then she happened to learn that the High Priest of Pop had passed away, and all signs pointed to an homage to the late musician. A few days later, she crafted a nearly 7-foot-tall acrylic-on-plywood portrait and affixed it to the base of the offending red-tipped Photinia plant, which Stein’s husband David groomed to create the rounded shape of a glorious Afro atop Prince’s head (Stein had previously created a similarly styled topiary honoring cult TV painting instructor Bob Ross). The psychedelic shrub, titled Prince at 432 Hz—a reference to a 2014 Facebook Q&A, during which His Royal Badness famously answered just one question over the course of three hours, regarding the benefits of tuning music to 432 Hz—now frames Prince’s likeness with a vibrant fro of flora and fauna. Long may it reign.

Guidebook for the Young and the Restless

There are scores of things to do with kids in this family-friendly town, but when a toddling tyrant is jumping up and down on the foot of your bed on a Sunday morning shouting “I’m boooored!” it can be hard to remember just what they are. That’s why the sleep-deprived among us love 1,001 Things to Do in Sacramento with Kids (and the Young at Heart). Written by Sabrina Nishijima, an East Sacramento mom of two, the self-published guidebook, which was released on Feb. 14 and has sold over 2,000 copies, suggests a slew of local activities suitable for your brood, including classic go-tos like a River Cats game at Raley Field, a visit to the California Railroad Museum or a trip to the Capitol (where she recommends walking a slinky down its outdoor steps), as well as lesser-known adventures like renting an electric guitar or thumb piano from the Library of MusicLandria, kicking it with the Sacramento Republic FC players at a summer clinic, or playing lawn games at kiddo-friendly adult destinations like Clarksburg’s Julietta Winery. Featuring a whimsical cover illustration by local artist Sarah Golden, this compendium of mini missions—which can be found at area shops like Avid Reader, Beers Books and Display: California—will have everyone feeling the bloom of youth. sactownkids.com

Photos by Melissa Babasin

Way to Bundle Your Joy

When graphic designer Jennifer Kesler set out to decorate her baby daughter’s nursery in 2012, she wasn’t thrilled by the pastiche of pastels at the baby stores. So the Roseville resident decided to take matters into her own hands, combining her eye for sharp, bold design with her head for sewing (a skill passed down from her mother and her grandmother), to create Pitter Patterned, a line of organic cotton baby blankets and quilts in witty and aww-dorable motifs and colors that pop like the proverbial weasel. Is your tiny tot your moon and stars? Cover him in a constellation blanket that depicts the night sky. Want to inspire a global go-getter? Envelop her in a cozy world map cocoon. You can also pass down your foodie fanaticism with a blanket dotted with doughnuts, sushi or pretzels—or swaddle your wild thing in a shroud adorned with lions or tigers or narwhals (oh my!). And for that bespoke touch, Kesler can incorporate your wee one’s name onto any of her patterns—we love the Heirloom Arrival Blanket that brandishes all the important newborn details (lest fatigued new parents forget). Whatever the design, these darling duvets are simply too charming to keep under wraps. pitterpatterned.com

Cajun Comeback

With its dusky, golden-brown roux and jalapeño-based heat-delivery system, Celestin’s gumbo was for years the best thing to chase the blues away on a rainy day in Sacramento. After owners Patrick and Phoebe Celestin closed their midtown eatery in 2011, you could still find the bayou stew in town, but none hit that same spot. Now the restaurant is back—in a more compact iteration in East Sacramento that opened in March—and so are the many splendors of its variations on the theme, including the loaded, $20 “Celestin’s gumbo.” The bowl’s sustainable shrimp and scallops and organic chicken impress, but it’s the sausage—small grind, smoky, unusually creamy in texture—that rolls your eyes back in your head and transports you to that other Delta in Mississippi. The secret? This sausage is neither sustainable nor organic, but it is something your mom or maybe grandma used to serve up on Sundays: Hillshire Farms’ Polska Kielbasa. Given that Spam is now considered cool in culinary circles, we’re all for Celestin’s leading the way for a Polska Kielbasa comeback. 3610 McKinley Blvd. 916-258-4060. celestinsgumbo.com

 

Nose for Business

Tyler Monk began his olfactory adventures as a teenager growing up in Camino, bottling dried flowers with lavender or rose oils to sell at nearby Apple Hill. The floral scents gave way to charred meat and wood smoke when Monk, now 37, began a long stint working in area restaurants, culminating in a general manager gig at Sacramento barbecue spot Fahrenheit 250. Then, four years ago, Monk revived his interest in perfuming, experimenting with Indian peppermint and Madagascan ylang-ylang and introducing his LuVandus line of clean, earthy and gender-neutral scents last year. The fragrances go for $85 per 50-ml bottle, and $25 for items such as body wash and lotion, and are available to sniff and savor at local boutiques like midtown’s Boar Haus, where Monk recently set up shop and will mix custom fragrances for patrons (you can also order LuVandus products through its website). He even snagged a coveted pop-up appearance at Nordstrom Arden Fair in April. Our favorite off-the-shelf scent has to be Oren, which starts out strong with peppermint before evening out with juniper, Siberian pine and finally, smoke—a bit like a barbecue restaurant and a bit like Apple Hill in the fall. luvandus.com

 

Satirical Political Portraitist

During Jerry Brown’s first term as governor, Laura Harling got the job cleaning his bachelor pad after a colleague threw her back out trying to make his bed, which was then just a bare mattress on the floor. In 1989, amused by her former client’s Spartan, hippie-inflected lifestyle, Harling sculpted him in the lotus position, clad only in a Gandhi-inspired loincloth. The send-up made it into Harper’s Magazine, Photo by David Kempkerand Harling—who studied art at Sacramento State and spent 19 years as a state janitor before going to work as a prison teacher and retiring in 2001—became the capital city’s unofficial sculptor emeritus, her three-dimensional political cartoons widely published around the country. Here’s Schwarzenegger at his desk, a taxidermied head of Gray Davis mounted on the wall above him; there’s shirtless Putin onstage, backed up by the members of Pussy Riot. In other works, George W. Bush channels Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove in a piece titled Li’l Smart Bomb, Bill Clinton twinkles as a satyr with a sax, and Gov. Brown does the tango with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. And the El Dorado Hills artist hopes to debut her newest Jerry-Gavin piece at this year’s State Fair. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but politicians make strangely intriguing models. lauraharling.com