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Sacramento, with a metro-area population of nearly 1.7 million, is one of the state's fastest-growing areas. In addition to being the state capital, it is a thriving shipping and processing center for the fruit, vegetables, rice, wheat, and dairy goods produced in the Central Valley. In the past decade, it's also become an area of high-tech spillover from Silicon Valley, and more recently, a suburb for Bay Area workers seeking affordable homes.

The quantity and quality of downtown restaurants -- such as the Esquire Grill and The Waterboy -- have improved as well. This prosperous and politically charged city has broad, tree-shaded streets lined with some impressive Victorians and well-crafted bungalows. At its heart sits the capitol -- Sacramento's most visible attraction -- in a large park replete with flower gardens, memorial statuary, and curious squirrels.

The gateway to the Gold Country, the seat of state government, and an agricultural hub, the city of Sacramento plays many important contemporary roles. The continuing influx of newcomers seeking opportunity, sunshine, and lower housing costs than in coastal California has made it one of the nation's fastest-growing regions. The central "midtown" area contains most of the city's culture and much of its charm, though pedestrians-only K Street Mall is not quite as clean and vibrant as city planners would have hoped when the downtown-revitalization project was conceived. Ten miles west is the college town of Davis, which like nearby Woodland is beginning to feel more suburban than agricultural because many Sacramento workers are settling there.

Sacramento is far from a tourist town, but it does have its share of touristy activities. Visitors and locals alike enjoy spending the day walking through Old Sacramento, floating down the American River, or biking the shady paths along the Sacramento and American rivers. Locals fondly refer to their water-bordered town as "River City." And did I mention that in summer the weather is seriously hot? So much so that San Franciscans drive to Sacramento just to thaw out.
 
Sacramento is far from a tourist town, but it does have its share of touristy activities. Visitors and locals alike enjoy spending the day walking through Old Sacramento, floating down the American River, or biking the shady paths along the Sacramento and American rivers. Locals fondly refer to their water-bordered town as "River City." And did I mention that in summer the weather is seriously hot? So much so that San Franciscans drive to Sacramento just to thaw out.

Sacramento contains more than 2,000 acres of natural and developed parkland. Grand old evergreens, deciduous and fruit-bearing trees (some streets are littered with oranges in springtime), and even giant palms give it a shady, lush quality. Genteel Victorian edifices sit side by side with art deco and postmodern skyscrapers.

Wooden sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone streets lend a 19th-century feel to Old Sacramento, a 28-acre district along the Sacramento River waterfront. The museums at the north end hold artifacts of state and national significance. Historic buildings house shops and restaurants. River cruises and train rides bring gold-rush history to life.
Visiting Old Sacramento's museums is a good way to steep yourself in history, but the Gold Country's heart lies along Highway 49, which winds the 325-mi north-south length of the historic mining area. The highway, often a twisting, hilly two-lane road, begs for a convertible with the top down. You can come to Nevada City, Auburn, Coloma, Sutter Creek, and Columbia not only to relive the past but also to explore art galleries and to stay at inns full of character. Spring brings wildflowers, and in fall the hills are colored by bright red berries and changing leaves. Because it offers a mix of indoor and outdoor activities, the Gold Country is a great place to take the kids.


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