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Old Sacramento is totally not what I’d expected. I knew very little about Sacramento before I travelled there, and it was a really nice surprise. On the underground tour our guide, Steve, told us all about the history of California’s capital city. He is so entertaining, I could have followed him around and listened to him for hours.
Sacramento has not been a town blessed with luck. When it’s not being burnt to the ground, it’s flooding. A 10ft levy that was built to protect Sacramento in the 1800s proved useless when the flood waters rose to over 20ft, and in fact only made the problem worse by effectively turning the area into one big reservoir when the waters started to subside. If this had happened to a town in the UK, us British probably would have just shrugged our shoulders, grabbed what we could and moved on to build somewhere else. This is the USA, though, where early white settlers believed it was their right to build coast to coast and ‘improve’ the land. So, most of Sacramento was raised about 10ft to it’s current level. Workers were paid $5 per day to crawl into floor spaces and operate hand winches. This painstaking work resulted in the buildings raising just 1 inch per day on average. It also resulted in a lot of crooked buildings and uneven flooring as all the winches wouldn’t be turned in sync. There are stories of buildings falling apart and people rolling out into the street, but miraculously no records of anyone being killed.
I’ve discovered something confusing about (renovated) old towns. You head towards the building that has a huge sign above it reading ‘General Store’, only to discover it hasn’t been a general store for 100 years and has now been converted into a coffee shop.
Purely by fluke, rather than planning, I explored Old Sacramento on a quiet day. From talking to the people who work there, I get the impression that it can get very busy. I managed to walk straight on to every tour I took, but on a regular day during the season I’d advise planning your time there.
The River Cruise gave me the opportunity to see Old Sacramento from the water. The boat takes you to the convergence between the Sacramento River and American River. You can see a definite line between the blue of the American and the green of the Sacramento. The beach at the convergence was full of families sunbathing and cooling off in the water. Considering the 102 degree heat, I couldn’t blame them.
After burning off some calories in the old town, I headed to Pieology in the new town for dinner. This is pies in the American sense, as in pizza. My veggie pizza on a gluten-free base with Daiya vegan cheese was heaven! Great pizza, friendly and efficient service – what more can you ask for? I was a little offended that the lady behind the counter didn’t immediately ID me when I ordered wine. Fair enough, I understand I rarely get asked in the UK anymore where there is a Challenge 21 policy. But here in the States they ID everyone who looks under 40! She asked the guy in front of me, although in all honesty he did look under 21.
Sacramento Underground Tour: $15
Hornblower River Cruise: $20