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Up The Road: Where To Now? Capital Sacramento

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Lisa Nottingham
Capitol rotunda detail (no special effects)

Benicia, San Jose, and Vallejo each took a turn as California’s capital city after statehood in 1850. But by 1854 Sacramento was hefty enough to wear the crown. When California’s gold fever subsided people still came, drawn by dreams of success and landed wealth. Growth meant jobs, the most important “field” being agriculture.

By the 20th-century valley, farming grew far beyond winter wheat to the irrigated field and orchard crops—from beans and tomatoes to cotton and rice, peaches and pears to almonds and walnuts. Companies like the California Packing Corporation (later, Del Monte) and the Libby Cannery became local economic mainstays.

So it was natural that Sacramento gained recognition as the nation’s farm-to-fork capital, generations later. Let’s hope the relaxed, exciting local food scene weathers COVID-19.

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Robert Couse-Baker
Inside the State Capitol, beneath the rotunda with Queen Isabella of Spain and Christopher Columbus

The biggest business in and around Sacramento today is government. When you head downtown (before or after eating) first stop is California’s spectacular Capitol. Beautifully restored in the 1980s to early-1900s style, it’s hard to miss in the center of Capitol Park, 10th Street and Capitol Mall. (The “mall” is between L and N Streets, taking the place of M in the downtown street grid). Original Capitol construction began in 1860, and took 14 years.

With its magnificent gold-domed rotunda, bronze and crystal chandeliers, rich woods, “Eureka tile,” and marble mosaic floors, the Capitol speaks of an era when buildings represented material goals married to high-flying ideals.

The red Senate and soft green Assembly chambers, on the second floor, echo Greco-Roman governmental tradition. Respective declarations—“It is the duty of a Senator to protect the liberty of the people” and “It is the duty of the Legislators to pass just laws”—are inscribed in gold leaf, but in Latin.

Capitol Museum exhibits include authentic 1906 re-creations of Governor Pardee’s anteroom and office suite, plus olden-days offices of the secretary of state, treasurer, and attorney general. At last report, the museum was still closed, Capitol and grounds tours on hiatus. If that’s still true, take yourself on an online tour. Either way, don’t miss the murals.

Sodai Gomi
State Capitol rotunda, second floor

From the Capitol, stroll to the first-class California Museum, known as the Golden State Museum when it first opened in 1998, at 1020 O Street. Here is the story of California before and since statehood, exploring the themes of place, people, promise, and politics. The perspective? Far from stuffy. Most exhibits popped up from the paperwork of everyday people’s everyday lives—photos, letters, journals—yet represent only a few file folders’ worth of the millions and millions of documents in the State Archives.

And oral histories. The museum’s California Indians: The First People presents the contributions and histories of native peoples in their own voices. Other people share stories of arrival and accomplishment. Climb aboard the 1949 school bus for a multimedia tour of California immigration history.

Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel

Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:

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Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.